I’m a big fan of New York magazine, in large part because of its cultural coverage and willingness to give a platform to artists, institutions and subjects that other mainstream publications might not. A case in point is the slide show the site just devoted to the upcoming coffee table book Vintage Black Glamour, which showcases rarely seen photos of black leading ladies, many from Hollywood’s golden age. (I also once wrote about the first black supermodel, Donyale Luna, for nymag.com.) But even publications with the best intentions can make editorial missteps fueled by lack of diversity, and I was reminded of this when taking a look at the site’s recent list of “The 25 Best Romantic Comedies Since When Harry Met Sally.”
To say the list lacks diversity would be an understatement. There is only one film that made the cut that does not star white casts, the Taiwanese film The Wedding Banquet. I wouldn’t have a problem with this if the rest of the list consisted of films that were better than some of the ones omitted. But in what universe is Knocked Up better than Boomerang, which boasts one of the best comedic ensemble casts in film history?
Of course, there’s a catch. Boomerang’s cast is predominantly black, and New York magazine, for all its strengths, does not have a track record to be proud of in its treatment of black romantic comedies.
Two years ago the site published an article titled, “Can the Romantic Comedy Be Saved?” The article laid out how poorly romantic comedies had done in recent years to make the case that they are on the verge of extinction. But the article carried this bit of contradiction almost as an aside: “The highest-grossing rom-com of the year was Kevin Hart’s Think Like a Man ($91 million), and that film never truly broke out beyond its predominantly African-American target audience.”
The fact is, with black Americans being around 13 percent of the population, a film that grosses nearly $100 million at the box office clearly broke out beyond its predominantly African-American target audience. But New York magazine obviously had trouble seeing a project with a predominantly African-American cast as “mainstream,” even though the box office for Think Like a Man buried some of the movies included on the magazine’s recent “Best of” list.
I’m not saying Think Like a Man should have been guaranteed a place on the magazine’s list. I am, however, saying it’s not a surprise that neither it nor any other groundbreaking black comedies made the cut.
Most likely still stinging from some of the criticism the magazine elicited for its earlier Think Like a Man dis, the editorial team behind its “Best of” list issued this disclaimer:
And, while African-American rom-coms, as exemplified in films like The Best Man and Waiting to Exhale (and this week’s About Last Night), have thrived during this time, we couldn’t agree on any titles we felt were strong enough to warrant inclusion on this list.
Which is precisely part of the problem. Two white males could not agree on the best romantic comedies starring a black cast, so they omitted them from the list altogether instead of trying another strategy—like perhaps asking someone who is not white and male for input. I am certainly not arguing that being white and male prohibits someone from being a capable critic of all sorts of projects. I am arguing that the cultural references you grew up with and are surrounded by on a daily basis can affect how you view culture, including romantic comedies. So perhaps it’s not surprising that a white male would view comedy—as well as romance—through a different lens from those of us who are not white and male.
David Edelstein and Bilge Ebiri, the authors of this list, should have solicited input from a more diverse roster—including women—to make sure their list wasn’t a colossal misfire. In fact, women have been the primary filmgoing audience for romantic comedies, which makes all the more disappointing and bizarre the fact that, clearly, these two men curated a list that few women or people of color would co-sign.