This weekend, A Madea Christmas will be released nationwide, and millions of Tyler Perry fans will get a chance to see their favorite cross-dressing granny leave her mark on the holiday and make it eternally hers. Will it be a success? Most Tyler Perry movies are - to the continual surprise of everyone in Hollywood (NOTE: Hollywood is always surprised when a (perceived) "black film" does well) - so there's no reason to doubt it. But, the real question might be: are white people going to see it? And, if not - why?
I ask because I encountered a surprising amount of subtle racism from friends and co-workers when I announced I had just seen The Best Man Holiday. Not familiar with that movie? It's a Christmas-themed sequel to 1999's romantic dramedy, The Best Man, released back in November. Written and directed by Malcolm D. Lee (Spike's cousin), The Best Man Holiday stars a (nearly) all-black ensemble cast, made of up of talented, likeable actors such as Taye Diggs, Morris Chestnut, Terrence Howard, Harold Perrineau, Nia Long, Regina Hall, and Sanaa Lathan, among others.
Now, granted, I see almost everything in the theater, but I was sold on The Best Man Holiday based on my fondness for the original film and its cast. I thought the trailers were solid, and presented the film as a warm, funny tale about a group of friends gathering for the holiday. When the opening weekend box office take was announced - over $30 million - I knew I had to see it. The thought of it as just a "black film" never crossed my mind. It just looked like a good film. Period.
Yet, when I told people I had seen it, I was a bit taken aback by some of the responses. Oh sure, on the surface the comments seemed mild and harmless - a little joshing around to the guy who goes to see all the movies. But, upon further reflection, I think there may be more to them. People sarcastically said things like, "Yeah you did!" Others joked, "Man, you do see everything, don't you?" or "Really?" or "I bet that's a fun movie." Like I said, not much to these comments. But do you think people would say the same thing (or anything, for that matter) if I saw something like Last Vegas? No way.
It couldn't be the quality of The Best Man Holiday they were knocking. They hadn't seen the movie. It looked good enough. The cast is appealing. It's a Christmas movie and those are usually fun this time of year. The reviews were positive (67% on Rotten Tomatoes). So, what is it then that was so weird? I might be reading waaaaaay too much into this, but I think it's the fact that I was going to see a so-called "black film."
I don't think that's fair. Why should audiences be so limited in their movie choices? Better yet, why do we even have to label them as "black films" or "white films"? Who cares? Just because a movie stars a bunch of black actors doesn't mean it should be limited to a black audience. Last year, I really enjoyed Think Like a Man, another perceived "black film." It's probably one of the better romantic comedies of the past few years, and yet, I'm betting a lot of people haven't seen it or even given it a fair shot.
So, I propose we throw out audience-limiting labels and just embrace movies on their own terms. Let's end the subtle racism in moviegoing. If a movie looks good, go. See it. And, if you find yourself the only white person or black person in the audience, own that, embrace it. I may not have loved The Best Man Holiday (here's my review), but I'm certainly glad I saw it.
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