After reading Tambay’s piece earlier today about Ava DuVernay’s "Middle of Nowhere" and its thematic connection to "Nothing But a Man" (HERE), I was immediately reminded of a piece I wrote exactly a year ago, last August, about Sidney Poitier’s now rather sadly forgotten and overlooked 1972 romantic drama "A Warm December," and the connection I made with that film and "Nothing But a Man" too.
So what better time to revisit the piece. But the whole idea for the article in the first place, came from a conversation I had with two friends.
We were talking about a black rom-coms they had recently watched. My male friend shrugged off and called it a “chick flick.” Of course, when the female friend heard that, she rolled her eyes and said “Why do you guys always say that? So name me a black romantic film that guys love.” My male friend immediately said "Nothing but a Man."
Now that may seem like a really unlikely choice for a black romantic film, but I understood what my friend was getting at, and I’ll get to that in the minute.
So then my female friend turned to me for my response, and I thought for a few seconds, and said “A Warm December,” to which she replied “I KNEW you were going to say that!”
I don’t know how she knew, but she did.
But the point is that, neither "December" nor "Nothing but a Man" are what anyone would consider to be “chick flicks”. Far from it. They’re romance films. Let me, at least in my opinion, explain what I think what the difference is.
Now, people would say there’s no difference between a chick flick and a romance film, as you call it. Just a different way of calling the same type of movie. Not at all.
By chick flick, I mean a lightweight film that deals with usually a shallow woman, complete with perfect teeth, who trips over herself trying to finally get some equally shallow, severely charisma-challenged, good looking stud with perfect teeth.
Her whole being for existence, her self-worth is totally defined by hooking up with this guy. And usually the woman has some “sassy” best friend who represents her conscience, with lines like: “Gurrrrrrrl you need love!”
I’m sure you can name a dozen of them right now, without even thinking about it too hard.
You don’t even have to see the entire film to know what it's like. The trailer always tell you the entire story, from beginning to end. And next time you go to see one, count how many guys are in the theater; and I don’t mean the weaklings who were dragged in by their wives or girlfriends (You can always tell those guys. They’re the ones with the look of extreme pain on their faces).
Guys hate films like that, like the plague. In fact, I dare say that most of us can’t understand what women see in them.
A romantic film is something else. It’s the kind of film that Hollywood always made during the early 30’s, all the way through the 1970’s. By the 80’s, that’s when romance films started to become more “chick flicky,” mainly because they reflect the stunted development and limited view of life that the filmmakers have - people who have lived sheltered lives and not, as a friend of mine likes to always say, “been beaten up by life.”
A romance film deals with adults who have bruises and pains of just going through life, day by day. They’re not perfect, nor glamorous, nor have perfect teeth; but they have deep feelings, emotions and want to be in love like those good looking people.
That’s what my friend was getting at with "Nothing But a Man." The film is about a lot of things - the psychological and emotional toll of racism, and just being black in America. But at the core of the film, is a love story.
A love story about 2 decidedly unglamorous, flawed people. Far from the young black professionals who live in expensive condos, which you know, in real life, they couldn’t afford. 2 people who have been given the runaround by life, but they keep going, doing the best they can. Actually, in "Nothing But a Man," the 2 leads are totally wrong for each other. But they see that each other has something in them that they desperately need.
Now with "A Warm December," which stars Sidney Poitier, who also directed the film, and Esther Anderson, it is, admittedly, a more glossy Hollywood concoction. But it also deals with what I’ve just talked about. It’s a film, about two adults, both of them with serious issues.
Sidney Poitier plays a doctor with a young daughter on vacation in London, where he's to participate in some motorcycle races. He’s also a widower, and despite his glib, charming air, he’s still trying, inwardly, to deal with grief and loss.
He soon meets a beautiful, equally charming woman (Anderson) who’s being followed by several different men, every time he meets her, which adds a sort of mystery element to the film. She also has a strange habit of disappearing at the oddest times.
But that does not stop them from falling head over heels for each other. And who can help them? Anderson's character is incredibly vivacious, with a genuine personality, a sophisticated wit as well as being an incredibly layered and complex person. She’s no superficial chick looking for a some equally superficial, dull stud. They hold no interest for her.
But her easy charm masks her pain.
It turns out she’s the daughter of the ambassador of a (fictitious) African country, and (WARNING: SPOILER) the dramatic twist is that... Anderson has sickle cell anemia, which could send her to an early death. So they're both faced with a dilemma: to decide whether to continue their blooming love affair, though knowing that it will evidently lead to a sad ending.
Now that’s no superficial chick flick. A tear-jerker for sure, particularly in one terrific scene where Poitier has no choice but to tell his young daughter, who’s grown very fond of Anderson, how sick she is. It’s not a film about superficial, pretty people being all superficial and pretty (Though, yes, I do admit that they both have perfect teeth). It’s a film about love and loss, and if the worst comes, how will one deal with it?
Now that’s a romance film that guys like, and I know women do too - that is, if they ever get a chance to see it. The really sad thing is that we don’t get "black romance" films like "A Warm December" anymore. Just rom-coms (heavy on the "com" part) with the same set of black actors cast over and over again.
By the way, as an addendum: after "December," Anderson went on to become a highly internationally-acclaimed avant garde artist, and celebrity portrait photographer, with her work shown in art galleries and museums around the world. She was also a documentary filmmaker. Her most recent documentary, "Bob Marley: The Making of a Legend," opened in the U.K. in December 2011.
Here’s the trailer for "A Warm December":