Terrible made-for-TV movies are my anti-drug and have been since I was a child. Back then they were often called “Movies of the Week” and were usually based on true stories. The “based on a true story” tag was used liberally because often that just meant, “Once there was a person who lived in a place,” and that was enough truth for them.
When I got older, networks stopped making MFTM and they all ended up on Lifetime with the moniker “Lifetime Movies.” Eventually Lifetime began producing its own tales of murderous women and of men who are always too good to be true for the first 20 minutes and then lost their shit over something like a fork being left in the sink. From a mental-health standpoint, they are pretty terrible. From the standpoint of a person who loves terrible movies, they are everything.
When I’m in the mood for lighter fare (less sexy murdering and more romance), I turn to Hallmark. Hallmark and Lifetime movies are basically the same: badly written, badly directed, badly acted and very Canadian. The difference is that Hallmark specializes in heartwarming romantic comedies with a faint wisp of “eau d’Jesus” lingering in all their scripts.
Last winter, I stumbled upon the 2014 Hallmark Channel movie When Sparks Fly. It opens with a young woman who must choose between her hometown boyfriend and a job opportunity in Chicago. Hallmark movies hate independent career women in big cities; they’re like white versions of Tyler Perry movies in that way.
The movie then moves us 10 years into the future. Our heroine is a big-time journalist with a big-time boyfriend living it up in Chicago. One day she gets a video call from her best friend back in Smalltown, Not Chicago, who announces that not only is she engaged, but the wedding is in two weeks! She needs the main actress to come home even though, for some reason, she hasn’t been back to her hometown in 10 years. Where is this town? Nambia?
Best friend from Nambia has two more bombs to drop: First is the reason she’s getting married so soon. If this were Lifetime, we would assume she was pregnant and it was a shotgun wedding, but since this is Hallmark, the reason she gave was, “I’ve always wanted to have a July Fourth-themed wedding.”
Lies. Nobody in the history of ever has wanted that. Anybody who says that their dream wedding consists of tacky American-flag motifs is a damn liar, and I want to see the manager. Not even the most “Tell those NFL crybabies to stand for the anthem” bride-to-be would want that. Tammy Lawnran (Tomi Lahren) wouldn’t want that. NOBODY WANTS THAT.
The second bombshell—and I feel like she should have led with this: She’s marrying our heroine’s ex-boyfriend, who apparently never made it to Chicago because who the hell knows.
*Cue dramatic music.*
I had many, many questions at this point, but our fancy career woman takes all this as completely normal.
Next thing we know, she leaves everything, including her fancy-lawyer boyfriend, to be maid of honor, save her family’s fireworks business (didn’t I mention that?) and write a story about the annual July Fourth fireworks celebration. Yeah, they kind of sneaked that in there.
I’ll spare you the details so I don’t spoil this masterpiece, but the whole time I’m watching this movie, I’m completely confused by the lead actress. There was something I couldn’t quite place my finger on: “Is this chick black?”
Hallmark took great pains to establish her whiteness: Both actors playing her parents were white; the entire town was white (save for a few extras randomly holding ice-cream cones in the background); she was from a small town that was “famous” for its fireworks display. The movie was doing all in its power to convince us that she was basic-ass “all-American” (Hallmark) white.
The actress did have a Jennifer Beal vibe—Jennifer, incidentally, was in a Lifetime movie I watched last week, and her ethnicity didn’t come up, either. It didn’t really matter because (spoiler alert) her husband was trying to gaslight her and pass off his mistress as his long-lost daughter. She had more important things on her mind, but I digress.
I decided to Google the actress to see if my black-dar was off. I will admit that she did read white at times, but something about the way her hair moved was giving her away. However, I’ve been wrong before—I’m looking at you, Channing Tatum.
I’d never heard of her, but I learned that the actress has a black mother and white father and was raised in Compton, Calif. I read further to learn that SHE considers herself biracial but accepts that she reads white.
Fast-forward a few months later, and Twitter is abuzz about Prince Harry’s new “black” girlfriend. Although, because I was a child of the ’80s, Princess Diana and all the royal scandals were part of my childhood and I remember clearly the day she died, I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about the British royal family. I liked how carefree Harry was and how stoic Wills appeared, so I do remember taking note of all the random blond white Africans Harry was always dealing with, but I wasn’t really invested. Well, that was until I saw that Harry was now dating my old friend Big-City Journalist, aka Meghan Markle.
Over the last week, and several public appearances later, the possibility that Markle might marry into the British royal family has increased. And trust me, I know all about imperialism and colonialism, and I’ve seen the original Broadway cast of Hamilton (I try to slip that in whenever I can), so this isn’t about worshipping the royal family. I just can’t help getting a little thrill that a kinda-black girl from Compton may become a royal.
It’s random, mindless distraction, just like those movies; it helps get my mind off the mayhem that may befall us at any given time. I’m also really glad that she left her journalism career behind, because who pitches a story about a fireworks display to the Chicago Post?
Maybe she’ll be better at princessing.