The Best Man Holiday_poster

What, really, is “race-themed” material? It’s a question that media publication USA Today forced us to ask ourselves when it prematurely ran the headline on Sunday, “Race-Themed Movie Nearly Beats ‘Thor’ At the Box Office” (it’s since been “corrected”). It was a reference to the fact that The Best Man Holiday, the sequel to Malcolm D. Lee’s directorial debut back in 1999, racked in millions at the box office in its opening weekend in theaters and nearly outsold Thor: The Dark World. But it was bigger than that, of course. Blogger JasFly perhaps put it best – Holiday was simply not expected to do that well. It was underestimated. But more importantly, it was considered lesser-than.

It’s been a pretty big year for “race-themed” movies, to use USA Today’s words. The Best Man Holiday is just the latest in a string of theatrical releases this year that have emphasized Black issues and prominently featured African-Americans in their casts. It stands alongside 42, Fruitvale Station, 12 Years a Slave, The Butler, and Black Nativity will join its ranks in just a few weeks. But the truth is that Black audiences weren’t expected to bank on The Best Man Holiday. We’re expected to show up for Tyler Perry movies (speaking of which, A Madea Christmas is also coming out later this year…). We’re expected to endorse buffoonery or pure comedy (like Kevin Hart’s stand-up movie Let Me Explain) more than we do anything else.

And this isn’t limited to movies. African-American fiction, African-American publications like Ebony and Essence, all of these might fall prey to the “race-themed” title. It presents an interesting, if frustrating dilemma – Black media insists to create a space for Black people that we’ve either never had access to or that we’ve had to force our way into. Why shouldn’t we cater to Black audiences? Why shouldn’t we be invested in seeing our stories, our people, put on display for the rest of the world? We’re deemed segregationist for essentially building our own chair to sit at a dinner table that we’ve finally been invited to… even as people are still hesitant to touch our hands when we ask them to pass the potatoes our way.

At the same time, to distinguish something as “race-themed” or solely “African-American” threatens to limit our reach. By highlighting the “ethnic” and “race-themed” nature of The Best Man Holiday, USA Today essentially implied that there was no reason for anyone who wasn’t a person of color to go see the movie; and that’s not true at all.

I was 13 years old when the first The Best Man came out. It was one of the first movies I’d seen when my cousin got his brand-new DVD player (DVDs were just breaking out back then), and I’d watched it with my family. I was too obsessed with trying to see if there might be some Monica Calhoun side-boob action in the scene with her and Harper in the studio, or if Regina Hall (before her “breakout” in the Scary Movie franchise) might really do some stripping for Murch. As a writer, I understood Harper’s desire to keep his work secret at first. I understood Jordan’s personality, not as something “aggressive” or “intimidating,” but welcoming a worthy man to accept the challenge of a Black woman who was actually doing her own thing in her field. I couldn’t help but laugh at Terrence Howard’s “ain’t shitness.”

Hollywood didn’t bank on MY generation showing up for The Best Man Holiday – those of us who experienced the first movie as teenagers and would experience the sequel as young adults and professionals. Malcolm D. Lee’s sequel did so many things right, primarily because now we have that life experience under our belt and we can truly relate to the characters. Now we know what it’s like to have college friends who have become like extended family, so when we meet again, it’s always a good time, if a little messy. We now have friends who are married and have families of their own. Hell, some of us ARE the friends who are married with a family now. We’ve experienced the death of friends who passed way too soon. We’ve experienced that feeling of inadequacy amongst our more successful friends. We’ve experienced that longing to go back to the past, perhaps to even change the past, the desire to fix a past wrong, the desire to rekindle an old flame… the desire to make up for lost time. I related all too well when **spoiler alert** Jordan breaks down and tells Harper that she feels like she missed so much because she was always busy, that she felt bad she had become “too busy for her best friends.”

And while director Lee does highlight some things that do resonate with the Black community – proudly displaying upwardly-mobile Black people, dressed super sharp in luxury cars, who AREN’T gangsters; the issue of interracial dating, much more prominent now than it was back in 1998 (and I’ll admit I took issue with the subtle message that was sent, that only a white man could truly handle Jordan’s formidable “strong Black woman” personality, but I digress); images of Black families displayed prominently on-screen, by way of a secondary cast of beautiful children; the attention to one health issue in particular that affects Black Americans more than anyone else – he also appeals to universal feelings.

Crises of faith where we find ourselves questioning God? Being jealous of your mate’s best friend even after she or he has already married you? Consistently at war with your past as you try to move forward and build your future? These aren’t race-thematic or race-specific feelings. These aren’t just Black issues – they’re EVERYBODY issues, things many of us can relate to. In calling The Best Man Holiday race-themed, USA Today disrespected Malcolm D. Lee’s attempt at a Black movie with human issues. It implied that non-Black people wouldn’t enjoy the movie just as much. And most of all, it suggested that Blacks weren’t capable of producing something worth watching.

If you haven’t seen it, I promise The Best Man Holiday is one of the best cases out to prove that otherwise.