Why The Best Man Holiday Isn’t “Race-Themed”

best man holiday race

I wasn’t even going to blog about The Best Man Holiday. I was going to go in and watch the glorious reunion of Nia Long, Taye Diggs and company and just enjoy it. But after what USAToday tweeted about the film’s success at the box office, I realized I had to. Here’s the tweet in case you missed it:

Screen Shot 2013-11-17 at 7.48.17 PM

Race-themed. When I think of race as a theme in film, I think of it as the way theme is defined. Here’s how Merriam-Webster defines it.

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“The main subject that is being discussed in a piece of writing, a movie, etc.” Themes are what a film is about. If a film is race-themed, then it is about race. So imagine my surprise when I saw USAToday describe The Best Man Holiday as race-themed. Forget “race-themed”: I struggle to see how the film is about race at all.

Like its predecessor, Holiday focuses on the intertwining lives of  a group of men and women: authors, football players, mothers, fathers. It’s about the bond of friendship and the tests of its strength. Financial worry. Parenthood. Marriage. Grief. Forgiveness. But what exactly does race have to do with grief aside from the fact that, in this instance, the people struggling with grief are black?

Well, nothing.

What USAToday’s tweet reveals is that white audiences are unable to see black people as beings separate from their blackness. A movie featuring a black cast surely can’t be about universal themes that any audience can relate to, this line of thinking goes: the subject matter must be about mysterious black things that only black viewers can comprehend; it must be black inside-jokes; black references; black experiences. Black movies are for black people—not for everyone. Black people are defined by their blackness and so are their films, and USAToday’s tweet tells us that explicitly.

Every day we are bombarded with movies and television shows in which white faces, white families, white marriages are plugged as the “default” experience…and no one would say that these films are about race. No one would say, “Oh, that’s an all-white cast. It must be about what it means to be white in America.” No one. Black audiences go see these films, despite their almost entirely white casts, because if black audiences only went to see films in which the cast looked like them, they’d see maybe five movies a year in mainstream theaters. Tops. Why not the same for white folks? Why was I the only white person in the theater for Best Man Holiday today? What is it about a black cast that is off-putting to white audiences? Do we really need to see ourselves reflected endlessly back at us to enjoy a film? Why did white audiences flock to see Django and 12 Years but not Holiday? Why can you relate more to a film about chattel slavery than you can about nine affluent people and their families? These are questions that need answers.

This is not to say that films with black casts are never race-themed. Of course they are. If a film is about race, then it’s about race. But Best Man Holiday is not. A film’s themes do not become about race simply because its cast is not white. Not only does this notion bind black actors to their blackness, it Others non-white experiences, casting white films as default, and everything else as “everything else.” Films with white casts are then provided with the benefit of universality: free to be any genre, take on any subject matter or theme. A film with a black cast, no matter its story, is “race-themed,” tied to the race of its actors simply by virtue of their blackness.

If we describe Best Man Holiday as “race-themed” we must ask ourselves the following questions.

Is football race-themed?

Is pregnancy race-themed?

Is marriage race-themed?

Is trust?

Is cancer?

Is friendship?

Is God?

Because these are the things that Holiday is truly about. Universal lessons of brotherhood and faith, the tests of love and the frailty of the human heart: these things are no more about race than love itself. To say this film is about race tells black actors—and black audiences—that no matter their experiences, their heartbreaks, their vows, their tribulations…at the end of the day, before they are human, they are black. This violent oversimplification of black roles not only dehumanizes black lives, but it perpetuates in white people the idea of their Defaultness and the lie that all experiences are relatable through whiteness.

We’ve all had our hearts broken. We’ve all been in love. We’ve all had a best friend at some point in their lives. How stunted is your imagination, how crippled is your notion of life, if the people on screen with broken hearts, the people in love, the people mending their friendships, have to look like you in order for you to feel a connection with their humanity?

Oh, and by the way…in case you didn’t know…

This blog actually is race-themed.

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60 thoughts on “Why The Best Man Holiday Isn’t “Race-Themed”

  1. THANK YOU FOR THIS!!!! I was just having a conversation with a friend of mine who is mixed (black and white) about how “race” still plays an enormous role in America. He constantly is argumentative about how black people need to move on and stay out of the past, things are not the way they used to be. Its extremely unrealistic for any person living in America to think this is still not a big problem. I believe in moving on as well but if I had children I would teach them to love and accept “all” people BUT stay aware that not “all” people will accept YOU. When you know the history of this country you are better equipped to deal with life in America. You will know when someone is classifying you as a “black” person and not a being having an human experience. You will then know how to stand up for yourself and maintain your dignity.

    • kimyatta says:

      Cherisse…so true…I can’t believe that people still think it’s not an issue…My twelve year old daughter was just called the N word at school by a classmate. Then the other classmates laughed…Not only is race still an issue in America….it keeps being regenerated because unfortunately children are learning at home that it’s “okay” to treat someone differently because of race.

    • oliviaacole says:

      Excellent points, Cherisse!

    • Impower You says:

      This is the best advice: “..I would teach them to love and accept “all” people BUT stay aware that not “all” people will accept YOU.”
      Do you have a blog post with this theme? If so I’d like to read it. My family is multi-racial, so i am constantly looking for topics to share with my younger family members when they deal with obvious racism.

  2. Alison Loris says:

    Cherisse, so true. Try asking your friend when WHITE people are going to move on and stop obsessing about race.!

  3. Your posts are always so thought provoking and informative! Thinking about it, there’s a guy I work with(he’s white) and he’s a movie buff like me so we are always discussing movies. As far as movies with black casts goes he loved The Color Purple, Django, 12 years a slave and others like it, but has never seen any movies that feature modern black people dealing with mundane things. I’m not sure why that is? I used to think it was unusual that my boyfriend(who’s biracial-white Colombian and Haitian) only liked to watch movies with black casts, because racially he can pass for white but he confessed that he related more to the experiences in multicultural casted movies. But often he’s the only “white” looking person in the theatre.

    It’s a shame, there’s an author I follow religiously who’s Cuban like me and she has had a similar problem trying to get her book made into a movie. It’s basically about 6 affluent Latina women making their way in life but she’s been told that the only way it would get made would be to cut out all her Afro-Latina characters(because black people from Latin America confuse people from the USA), make some of her characters struggling because it reminded them too much of what “white ” women and their friends go through(right cuz white women are the only ones that can be successful) and to make some of them from the hood and going through baby mama drama. It’s as if this is the only way white audiences perceive minorities. No wonder they don’t see our experiences as “universal”, studio heads only want to tell stories of us oppressed!

    • oliviaacole says:

      You echo so many of my own sentiments. Thank you for sharing your thoughts here.

    • Impower You says:

      Once again mainstream media proves to be a waste of time, talent, and energy.

    • oreowriter says:

      Thank you for this!! Every time I go see a “regular” movie, or frankly, when I watch most TV shows, I always ask why, why, why can’t this movie be cast with people of color. Any color.

      It’s also amazing to me that when I ask my otherwise terribly educated, smart, successful white friends about this, they say things like “Well, if The Change Up was cast with black guys, then it would have to be a black movie.” It’s like they truly do not see that black people are the same as people…even though they’re friends with me.

      Fascinating. And yes very frustrating that stories of minorities are expected to be primarily stories of inner city/colonization struggle.

      Here’s to hoping that author’s book gets made!

      • oliviaacole says:

        Thanks for reading, oreowriter. “It’s like they truly do not see that black people are the same as people.” It is exactly that which I hope we can combat.

  4. follow back please and thanks..

  5. Olivia, once again you are doing what you do best. Thank you.
    I will confess that I’ve not see this film, but that’s because I’m unable to afford going to the movies, so I see about six per year of any type. I will see this when it’s at the Redbox, and I look forward to it.
    This line, ” This violent oversimplification of black roles not only dehumanizes black lives, but it perpetuates in white people the idea of their Defaultness and the lie that all experiences are relatable through whiteness.” is fantastic. That pretty much sums up the struggle we are facing here.
    While I was reading your post, I was reminded of the Rue controversy from Hunger Games. I’m sure you’ll recall how audiences were shocked to realize Rue was *gasp* black. It was clearly written that way in the book, but many readers placed a white face over the black girl in their minds because, well, white…what else would she be?
    Being reminded that this “defaultness” is omnipresent in our culture makes me wonder how I will sell a novel when all the major characters except one villain are people of color. We’ll see!
    Thank you again for a deep and meaningful post. I will be sharing this everywhere I have a social media presence.

  6. […] a wonderful piece on how “The Best Man Holiday” isn’t a “black” movie, my fellow blogger Olivia A Cole dissects how we are still […]

  7. Despite many advances, we are still a racially divided nation and society. As this poster stated, blacks will go see almost any movie regardless of the cast or subject if it’s something they think they’ll like. But many whites simply have no interest in seeing any films or TV shows for that matter, that don’t have a majority white cast. Perfect latest examples: “Gravity” and “TBMH.” We went to see the former in great numbers and they didn’t (or haven’t yet) gone to the latter in any large numbers. For the record, I saw TBMH in Rancho Palos Verdes, CA – a predominantly white area near Los Angeles – on Saturday night and it was a diverse audience.

  8. kimyatta says:

    Wow Olivia…as always..you’re spot on….Loving this blog!

  9. Interesting. I saw this movie Saturday with a friend of mine and I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised at how many white people filled the theater for the 9:30pm show! I thought this was testimony that this movie was not just for black folk but here we go with this USA today BS!!! I don’t believe race ever came up in this movie not even when Nia Long’s character introduced her boyfriend!!!

  10. Well stated and informative. Now I need to actually see the movie, couldn’t go without the lady haha. Keep doing your thing and I’m sure people can’t wait for your BOOK! God Bless

  11. Brava!!! What a well written and spot on article! Shame on you USAToday for putting my blackness before my humanity.

  12. I enjoy reading your from your blog Ms. Cole! I like the fact that you right articles from a woman’s pov who happens to be white. You go girl!!!

  13. Omg! Just earned yourself another fan!!! The message and delivery was loud and CLEAR! You definitely took the words right out of my mouth. Its amazing what people will allow media to encourage. I can only image how many people agreed with that tweet or saw nothing wrong with it. Great job!

  14. “We’ve all had our hearts broken. We’ve all been in love. We’ve all had a best friend at some point in their lives. How stunted is your imagination, how crippled is your notion of life, if the people on screen with broken hearts, the people in love, the people mending their friendships, have to look like you in order for you to feel a connection with their humanity?” This is a question we have had to answer many times as a culture, Olivia. The answers have never been encouraging. A brilliant and beautiful post…

  15. Socialkenny says:

    I just hate these sort of films. I mean, isn’t there other roles for black cats!? Why are the same movies with the same theme coming out year after year over the past 20 years when it comes to black films? #Crazy!

  16. All sorts of Amen to this.

  17. sweetofstyle says:

    Thank you for this piece. A few years ago, a friend of mine said he was searching for a movie and his roommate (who’s white) said, ‘don’t tell me you’re watching another black movie!’ I was taken aback. I had to ask what is a black movie and I wondered if that makes the majority of movies released annually ‘white movies.’ -_-

  18. Lola McCall says:

    I really appreciate this blog post so much! Thank you so much for writing this. I would have not seen it if it wasn’t shared around Facebook. I am really happy that it was. I can truly appreciate your perspective and unbiasedness. Thank you for this great read… btw I can’t wait to see this movie :)

  19. Impower You says:

    Well done. NPR also talked about this and our “language of expectations”. http://www.npr.org/blogs/monkeysee/2013/11/18/245941099/the-best-man-holiday-and-the-language-of-expectations

    I stopped consuming mass-produced entertainment years ago and don’t have any better expectations for this movie as any other drama-comedy. Still it’s both heartening to see a mostly all black cast can be in a blockbuster movie that isn’t about the ghetto and disheartening that it’s been turned into such a surprise.

    Love and Basketball is the only other really successful modern themed movie with an almost all black cast that comes to mind. It wasn’t set in the ghetto and had an amazing plot that wasn’t race themed. It was a feminist movie if anything.

  20. jayday317 says:

    *Gives standing ovation* Excellent article! This brings up so many questions that deserves answers and I hope we get some from the right people.

  21. While at first glance I notice that the basically the entire cast is black, I also notice some of my favorite actors and actresses in it – Taye Diggs (my crush since first hearing him sing Rent – swoon), Nia Long ( a strong and underplayed actress, if you ask me), Terrance Howard (the name speaks for itself), and Regina Hall ( I can’t stop thinking of her role as Brenda in Scary Movie and it makes me laugh every time). Also, Eddie Cibrian (what has he been in since Third Watch…? Anybody? Yeah, nothing, but he’s still good.).

    That being said, I don’t believe that just because this is the first think people notice, doesn’t mean it should be the only thing people talk about.

    I grow tired of the arguing back and forth over black and white issues and it scares me that people still raise their kids to think this way. That people can still condone the KKK as a group with an opinion and allow their child to wear a KKK “costume” for Halloween (,– true story, and it made me sick to my stomach). I have a pretty strong opinion on certain things too but I don’t go burning people with gasoline and lighting crosses in the front yards of those that oppose me and my opinion.

    I’m a humanist, everyone exists for a reason. No, I don’t think it has to do with God, I think it’s because if we were all the same it’d be a pretty boring world to live in. Think of the movie Pleasantville, with Reese Witherspoon and Toby McGuire. Yikes.

    I wish people would just accept what is what and move on. Stop using “this is how I was raised” as an excuse and instead become the difference and raise your kids to think for themselves. Raise them to embrace each other’s versatility, rather than fear it and try to destroy it.

    I laugh every time I see the trailer on television and while I haven’t seen the movie, it’s not for lack of trying. My 2 & 1/2 year old is just so not into “adult problems” and would rather watch Yo Gabba Gabba. So, Netflix it is, per usual, after tiny human is in bed. Take this comment with a grain of salt, it’s an opinion. You know what they say about opinions, don’t you? Opinions are like assholes, everyone has one :D

  22. olivia, love, love your comments

  23. Osei Sankara says:

    Ms. Cole, I just read your article in Huff Post. Interesting perspectives. I am curious: Did you see After Earth? If so, what did you think? If not, why?

      • Osei Sankara says:

        Ms. Cole,

        Thanks for your reply. For some reason I missed this until now, so my chime-in is a bit late, I realize. I see you have been quite the trooper, taking head-on the issues of race in the media, and I’ve seen you referenced a few times by some of my Facebook friends, where they have shared some of your more recent posts, including the one about Beetee in Catching Fire. You are quickly becoming an ally to the Communities of Color that are actively fighting against this Death Machine, known as Holly Would, and for that I applaud you. I only hope that you continue to choose to fight the good fight and not loose sight of some of the facts that you have so eloquently articulated, which We have seen time and time again a la Tim Wise and others. Keep up the good work and know that as long as you are sincere about what this is all about, you have an ally in me.

        On to my question. I read your “review” of After Earth, and was glad to see your analysis. I say review in quotes only because there would be those who would not credit it as such. While I have *much* more to say on the film, and on films in general and how they portray specifically Black Males, I felt your comments began to capture a perspective that we seldom see in the “mainstream”, which from my reading, you seem to be consistent in expressing. in an attempt to *not* hijack this thread, let me close this by providing full disclosure, and add my comment on Facebook about this particular review and why I made the connection to After Earth. I will be ardently reading your future posts and am always open to further dialogue. And once I can carve out the time, I fully intend to bring the counter-narrative from a Black Male Afrikan-Centered perspective to bear on the “underground movie review” scene. Thank you for your courage.

        Posted to Facebook on November 19th:

        “Hmmm…While I agree with the criticism about the USAToday Tweet, labeling the film as “race-based” is incorrect, I disagree a lot with the author (whose race I tried to figure out first when I looked at her picture, and which she confirmed later by admitting she is white) and her conclusions about how amerikkka sees itself and the unique “racial perspective” that films like this one “cross-over” into the main stream. even though I’m not sure where I sit with this term that she discussed about the “mysterious black things” these movies divulge, there is some truth to it.

        This mainstream generation is getting its own modern-day glimpse into “The Black World” through these films, and it is starting to sell. Steve Harvey’s “Think Like A Man” was a part of the same phenomenon. The question that I have is “Are they the 21st Century of Amos & Andy, Stepin Fetchit?”, which although obviously degrading and blatantly racist, give that same “view behind the curtain” to totally different linguistic, philosophical and cultural perspective that the mainstream only gets glimpses of. White amerikkka has always been fascinated the “exoticness” of Cultures of Color, while dehumnizing them and attempting to mimic them as the “new in thing” at the same time (e.g, Miley Cirus twerking)

        In addition, the issues that she raises actually are themes on the “genius” of White Privilege. All of the questions that she asks in the paragraph highlighting the *fact* that “Everyday we are *bombarded* with movies and television shows in which white faces, white families, white marriages are plugged as the ‘default’ experience… and no one would say that these films are about race.” This is, IMHO, the definition of White Privilege. It’s not necessary to say, it’s “normed”. I’m glad she’s asking the questions, but is she ready to go deeper to see that she also exercised her own white privilege by making the *choice* to go see the film, which is “abnormal”?

        Lastly, I’m glad she asked the even more critical question about Django and and 12 Years, but, IMHO, didn’t go far enough to look at a film like After Earth that didn’t break box office “records” and was slammed by almost every white critic in the country, as they *totally missed* the deep, touching story about a Black Man raising a Black Boy. *I* am recommending that film to every Black Man I know and urging them to see it with their own son, if they have one. Messed me all they way up and I’m so glad I bought it to make a part of my permanent library to show to Black Men into perpetuity. But our author, from my perception, didn’t identify even an issue with the discourse that was taking place around this movie, and apparently “believed the hype” that it was a terrible Sci-Fi film that aggrandized Jayden Smith (who “can’t act” according to the critics) and was laced ti Scientology messages. In fact, I’m gonna write her now to see if she saw it, and if she did, what did she think, and if she didn’t, why.

        OK, I’ve gone off enough about this. Me and a couple of Brothers are talking about reviving the In Living Color skit, but making it real, “Sneakin In Da Movies”, as there is a desperate need for other, racialized, perspectives out here on mainstream films, but, honestly, I have a hard time financially supporting them, thus it might have to be a “liberated” review show. If only i had that kinda time. Stay tuned!”

  24. I like that you stated things like, “Is football race – themed?” right. Ignorance at it’s best always trying to divide and conquer “quietly” with categorizing everything as race – themed.

  25. I just posted this article ‘Who Told You, You Had To Eat Salads All Day’ http://wp.me/p3XZqY-9F with Usher on the cover of a Health magazine. Is that magazine and my article now race-themed? … No.

  26. Oh, Olivia – I cannot express how much I love your writing and your brilliant articulation of current events. You simply took the thoughts right out of my head. Thank you for this post. You nailed it!

    -Tina B.

  27. JLandry21 says:

    Reblogged this on Jovan Landry and commented:
    Check this out!

  28. Jossy Rivera says:

    My girlfriend was watching this movie the other day. She even said this was a “black movie”. She is black and I am not not but I love movies. I tried watching this movie and I barely knew any of the actors in it. She knew all the actors because she always BET. I don’t watch T.V because the median sucks. I mean its not a black theme movie but its intended for a certain audience. Just like Twilight Samurai is intended for Japanese or Amor es Perros is for Mexicans. Most of your articles are about race and I hope you get to open your eyes one day and actually travel the world to see how beautiful the world is and it doesn’t need to always be about race.

  29. Minaa B says:

    Great post! Your blog is inspiring and its so good to see someone who see’s the reality of the world we live and freely talk about it with no regrets. I saw this movie with two of my close friends whom are white and they were not the only white people in the theater either, this movie obviously isn’t about race, its the uniqueness of love that everyone in the world can relate to. Not just black people. Thanks for this fearless post!

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