(The Root) —
“You know, people really know me from The Best Man. I’ve done five other movies since then, but it always comes back to The Best Man. It was time to do the sequel.” –-Malcolm D. Lee, director, The Best Man Holiday
The year is 1999, and a consistent stream of films directed by black directors has been making a dent in Hollywood for more than a decade. At the top of the decade, you’ve got Spike Lee, Robert Townsend, John Singleton, Mario Van Peebles, George Jackson, Bill Duke, Kevin Hooks, Doug McHenry, F. Gary Gray and the Hudlin and Hughes brothers making films that are literally changing the face of Hollywood.
Black films are turning major profits and showcasing tremendous black talent in front of and behind the screen. Hollywood is buzzing with action-packed universal stories, featuring black casts, writers, producers and directors. Add to the mix the official takeover of popular culture by hip-hop music, art and fashion, and you’ve got the ingredients for success.
Against this backdrop, black films in the late 1990s begin to more fully explore themes of love, friendship, family and memory. Films like Love Jones (1997), Soul Food (1997), Eve’s Bayou (1997), Hoodlum (1997) and indie darling Hav Plenty (1997), make their way onto the big screen. Jeff Friday, Byron E. Lewis and Warrington Hudlin launch the Acapulco Black Film Festival (now the American Black Film Festival), creating a place where members of black Hollywood can network, collaborate and celebrate black film.
Among the most celebrated of the decade is a film by director Malcolm D. Lee, a young man being watched as much for his training at New York University’s prestigious graduate film program as for his family ties to the most prolific and celebrated contemporary black filmmaker of the 20th century, Spike Lee (his cousin).
Malcolm Lee makes a film that would prove that movies featuring black casts with universal storylines not only are desired by audiences but also can make money at the box office. In October 1999, The Best Man debuts, starring a who’s who of black talent (Sanaa Lathan, Taye Diggs, Nia Long, Morris Chestnut, Terrence Howard, Harold Perrineau, Regina Hall, Monica Calhoun and Melissa DeSousa). The story, about a group of friends coming together to celebrate a wedding while discovering just how much they don’t know about each other, resonates with audiences to the tune of $30 million, despite an “R” rating for language and sexuality. A film that was made for roughly $9 million is a solid hit.
Fourteen years later, Malcolm Lee is back with The Best Man Holiday, the much-anticipated sequel to a film that is as important to the canon of black film as it is to audiences that love the film and what it represents. When asked what prompted him to make a sequel to such a beloved film, the director said it was the right time. Lee stated, “I always wanted to do a follow-up at some point. I didn’t think that I wanted to do a sequel right away, because there were people encouraging me to do a sequel, a television show right away. I wanted other stories to tell as an artist. I didn’t want to be pigeon-holed as an artist, telling only one kind of story.
“I had said to myself even back then that I would revisit these characters 10 years later just to see what kind of life they have lived. I’d let the characters live some life and me live some life so that I would have some kind of story to tell. So when it came to wanting to do it, the time was just right.”