You should go see The Best Man Holiday when it hits theaters Friday, Nov. 15. I don’t know anything about what you like, but if your movie-watching habits are anything like mine, you’ve earned this film.
I like my films black. That doesn’t mean I like all black films. I don’t. I’m just more liable to go see any movie starring black people or about black people. If the movie’s poster has a black person on it, or the title has a hint of black in it (don’t ask me what I mean by that, just deal with it), I’m liable to watch the trailer, do some research on it and support it. This is how I ended up renting Hav Plenty in high school. I do not like Tyler Perry movies, but appreciate what he represents, so I buy a ticket for his movies even though I will end up sneaking into another theater to watch something else.
2013 has been good for a movie militant like me. Beginning with Michael B. Jordan’s performance as Oscar Grant in Fruitvale Station, it's been a banner year for brothers in Hollywood. Other highlights include Forest Whitaker in Lee Daniels' The Butler, Isaiah Washington in Blue Caprice, Chiwetel Ejiofor in 12 Years a Slave and what I can only assume will be a gripping performance by Idris Elba in the Nelson Mandela biopic, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom out later this year.
All of these films have gotten Oscar buzz for the men who starred in them, as they should. In the November issue of GQ, the magazine’s movie critic, Tom Carson, poses the question, “Wouldn’t it be a kick if this year’s best-actor competition pitted four deserving black thesps against a token white dude for a change.” He’s serious.
No one needs to be a well-established cinephile to see that the depth of talent in the black male acting pool is deeper than Denzel Washington. Jordan’s turn as Grant, the young father murdered by Oakland, Calif., police adds humanity to the tragic headlines we read back in 2009. Washington’s portrayal of D.C. sniper John Allen Muhammad is as chilly and dark as the man was himself. And to say Ejiofor is amazing in his role of Solomon Northup, a man born into freedom but kidnapped into slavery, is an understatement. The academy should engrave his name on their Oscar statue right now.
But if I’m being honest, all of the "powerful" and "thought-provoking" cinema is starting to wear on me just a little, which is why I was excited to attend a screening of The Best Man Holiday.
Malcolm D. Lee’s sequel to the popular 1999 The Best Man is not powerful like the other films I’ve mentioned, but The Best Man Holiday is as important as any of them. The four men who star in it, Terrence Howard, Taye Diggs, Morris Chestnut and Harold Perrineau, will probably not be nominated for any mainstream awards for their performances (though that’s less because of their performances and more because of the way most romantic comedies are bastardized by the establishment). But when I left the theater, the feeling I had was nothing like the way I felt after watching all those other films. I felt good, proud to see a film in which black men were smiling, and (spoiler alert) not dead or arrested at the end.
As Nsenga Burton Burton wrote for The Root the original The Best Man came out at a time when “black films in the late 1990s began to more fully explore themes of love, friendship, family and memory.” Films like The Best Man were all the rage, and the message they were sending was clear. “Not every black person has lived a heroic life, died a tragic death or interacted with famous people in a subservient capacity,” says Todd Boyd, chair for the study of race and popular culture at USC and professor of critical studies. “Black people do the same things that other people do … It's not so much a deeper message as it is a reflection of humanity in a society that has not always visualized or valued black humanity.”
Boyd helped make such a movie himself. He is the co-writer and a co-producer of The Wood. The charming film about three young men growing up in Inglewood, Calif., began a wave of feel-good black cinema like The Best Man and Love and Basketball, and it continued on through the early aughts. But as with the blaxploitation era of the 1970s and the ‘hood films of the early 1990s (Boyz N the Hood, Menace II Society, Dead Presidents), Hollywood treated the moment as, well, a moment. Says Boyd, “Black film has flared up periodically several times since the 70s. The question is, will this present moment be like those other moments or will black film finally transcend this cyclical tendency?”
There will certainly be people who see The Best Man Holiday as a guilty pleasure, a story that doesn’t represent the realities of black life. As Boyd told me, “Some people feel as though black existence should only be represented as struggle. And many of the people who feel this way are black.”
I felt it was important to go see Fruitvale Station during its opening weekend, the same weekend the jury in the State of Florida v. George Zimmerman trial was sent to deliberate. I felt, and still feel, stories like Oscar Grant's deserve to be made into movies, and once they are, they need support.
But on the night I went, a chilling coincidence took place.
While I was waiting in line to grab some movie snacks, a small commotion of people sighing and audibly seething erupted behind me. I received a text from a friend, “I’m so sorry.” I heard someone whisper, “Zimmerman got off.”
George Zimmerman was found innocent of killing Trayvon Martin.
In the theater, a woman screamed, “George Zimmerman was found innocent y’all!” as she ran out of the theater. But I, along with the rest of the audience, remained seated and prepared to watch a movie based on a true story, in which we already knew the ending, just as we heard the tragic ending to a similar story of another black man getting unjustifiably murdered.
The truth about all of the fine performances we’ve seen from black men this year is that they’re all based on true stories. Slavery, police brutality, servitude, unjustifiable imprisonment, senseless murder motivated by undiagnosed mental illness—these themes are explored in the lion’s share of movies made this year about black men.
The Best Man Holiday, on the other hand, is fictitious. But when Malcolm Lee told The Root that the film’s characters have grown up and that the film itself would be dealing with things like “mortgage payments” and other issues “that come up and change your life,” I was relieved.
I know the previews to The Best Man Holiday make it look like an extended version of the music video for Boyz II Men and Brian McKnight’s “Let It Snow,” but I loved every minute of it, not just because it’s a black film, not just because (spoiler alert) that brief little clip in the trailer of all four guys singing New Edition's “Can You Stand The Rain” actually plays out for the entire song, but because the audience in the theater, made up entirely of people who were the same complexion as the actors on the screen, was smiling, laughing and “yeaassss-ing” their hearts out.
For the length of the movie, whatever bad news we had going on in our own lives or saw being played out in the media was forgotten. Had there been an offering plate going around to fund a Best Man Part III, everyone would’ve given up all the cash they had. Because as proud as we may be over the batch of groundbreaking films we’ve seen released this year, we can still make room for a movie that makes us feel good about who we are.
Jozen Cummings is a contributing editor at The Root. His column, His Side, brings us men's perspectives on the latest events in news and pop culture. He is a writer for the New York Post, where he covers the blind date column, Meet Market, and writes for his own blog, Until I Get Married. Follow him on Twitter. He can be reached at jozenc@untilIgetmarried.com.
Jozen Cummings is the author and creator of the popular relationship blog Until I Get Married, which is currently in development for a television series with Warner Bros. He also hosts a weekly podcast with WNYC about Empire called Empire Afterparty, is a contributor at VerySmartBrothas.com and works at Twitter as an editorial curator. Follow him on Twitter.