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Where is the Black Rebecca Bloomwood?

DevilWearsPradaI watched Confessions of a Shopaholic the other day. Not exactly high art, but what can I say, I’m a typical woman drawn to formulaic romances. There’s something beyond the mushiness, the melodrama, the unexpected gags that make us giggle and, of course, the romance that keep women’s eyes glued to the screen. The average “chick flick” (apologies to those who are offended by that term) provides women with the opportunity to watch a normal woman rise above and become a heroine (and she, in turn, is saved by a dashing Prince at the end). It’s a formula that’s worked time and time again. While I generally had a hard time peeling my eyes off the screen while watching Confessions of a Shopaholic, I found myself thinking over and over again “must be nice…” Let me explain.

Confessions of a Shopaholic is about a woman named Rebecca Bloomwood who is addicted to shopping. She has twelve credit cards and more than $16,000 worth of debt, yet she still somehow manages to talk herself into buying nonsense items—even if it means spreading the expense over several credit cards. She’s dodging debt collectors left and right, and has recently been laid off from her job as a writer at a gardening magazine. When an interview for her dream job falls through, she decides to interview at a money magazine within the same media conglomerate.

Despite her lack of experience, Rebecca goes in for an interview with Luke (our designated Prince Charming) and after a series of lies and blunders she walks out with her tail between her legs, and without a job. That night she sends Luke a piece of hate mail in a hot pink envelope, with a $20 bill included instructing him to buy himself some new clothes. Of course, instead of balling up this lovely piece of mail and throwing it in the trash, wiping Rebecca from his mind forever, Luke hires her immediately.

Using the same candid style that got her the job, our heroine goes on to write an article preaching what she doesn’t practice (smart ways to spend one’s money), and becomes an overnight sensation, revitalizing the magazine. Another hour or so of blunders, tactless charades, long and meaningful stares shared with Luke, and outrageous lies, Rebecca falls from grace but is promptly swept off her feet by the man she loves. And they live happily ever after. Must be nice…

So I started thinking, after recovering from Confessions…, would a movie like this make sense with a black female lead? Of course, life doesn’t provide most people with the kind of luck that Rebecca Bloomwood has, but can we suspend reality a little better when our heroine is white? It certainly seems that way, since most rom-coms/chick flicks these days have main characters quite similar to Rebecca Bloomwood. The archetypal romantic comedy heroine seems to be the following:

  • White, independent female
  • From a middle to upper-middle class background (there are a few exceptions)
  • Who is striving to acquire or maintain a strong career
  • Who has a best friend/sidekick (a bland woman or a flamboyantly gay man) who sticks around for comedic relief
  • Who’s slightly quirky/bold (forward)/delightfully socially awkward, and
  • While she has glaring flaws, they are overlooked/easily forgiven by close friends and family.

I shuffled through my mind and thought about all my favorite chick flicks and pondered how different the films might be if the main character were a black woman. In my mind, a film like The Devil Wears Prada could totally work with Angela Bassett as Miranda (the devil in Prada) and Zoe Saldana as Andy (the heroine)*, despite the fact that no black females were considered for those parts**. The Proposal (starring Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds) could have worked with a black female/black male pair. To my knowledge, no black actors were considered for those parts either. In fact, I’m not aware of any rom-com starring a white actress in a role for which a black actress was also considered. Sure, some minor details would have to be changed to make it work, but is it so way out to believe that a black woman would have some appeal to the core, female audience?

Let’s compare box office numbers between two recent films- one with a primarily black cast, one with a white cast. Just Wright, according to boxofficemojo.com, brought in $21, 524,012 domestically. 27 Dresses brought in $76, 808,654 domestically. Of course, I should take into account budget (I haven’t found budget figures for either, but they are likely positively correlated to the box office figures). I don’t think that Kathryn Heigl is that much more impressive than Queen Latifah. They’re not very similar actors, but I think the level of talent is about equally matched, as is their level of attractiveness, their charisma, and their career profiles are similar (longevity, no big scandals, TV to film crossover, etc.).  Compare other films, and two things are apparent: 1. Chick flicks, on average, do quite well at the box office and, 2. Films of the same genre with black female leads, and a predominantly black cast do considerably worse.

What do you all think?  Should we have the black equivalent of Anne Hathaway, Kate Hudson, or Jennifer Anniston?  Would you like to see more black romantic comedies? If I changed the criterion above for the archetypal rom-com leading lady, making the first word “black”, instead of “white”, would it work? I, personally, would welcome a black Rebecca Bloomwood any day.

*yes that movie poster is the masterful work of yours truly ;)

**source: IMDB.com trivia

16 comments to Where is the Black Rebecca Bloomwood?

  • Wes Lawson

    I’d love to see more black romcoms, but knowing Hollywood, it would be urbanized and marketed as a “black” film, thus making sure no one would see it outside the target audience.

  • Darrius

    every time i hear about one of these lame sequels, horrible tv shows or video games turned into movies, and other Hollywood drivel, i think about how more original films could be created, particularly those starring black people. if only the studios believed that we are three-dimensional human beings. it’s almost like we are still 3/5 human in their eyes.

    • Obsidienne

      I share your frustration. With all the original scripts floating around out there (not to mention books that would make great film adaptations) you would think we’d have a consistent influx of good movies- and enough to go around for actors of all color.

  • Meh!

    I feel like we’re taken steps back with this post. Should there be black equivalents? Yes! But more importantly there should be more blacks period. I get a little pissy when we start requesting the black equivalents of white characters. The black “so and so.” But i get your point. I don’t think Latifah is a good comparison for Heigl though. I don’t think she’s thought of as romantic lead. I thought Gabrielle Union was perfect for those romcoms. Didn’t pan out though. Whatever happened to that Washington post writer whose book about single black women is being made into a movie?

    • Obsidienne

      Yeah, I see what you mean. My point was more about changing the archetype than finding the equivalent, if that makes sense. You’re right about Gabrielle Union, she’s a great leading lady for romcoms, but she does mostly dramatic TV roles these days. And I think you’re referring to the “Bitch is the new Black” movie. I haven’t seen any recent news- but I’m sure we’ll update you as soon as a cast list is made public :)

  • BluTopaz

    Hi Obsidienne, good to see another voice on S&A

    I mentioned on another post, the screenwriter for New In Town is a young Black man who wrote the movie with Gabrielle Union in mind. The producers basically told him the leads had to be White, so that was that. I am not sure if it was written as a rom-com, but it was a light hearted drama about a young, beautiful woman who finds herself having to reassess her life and along the way she meets her prince-and he was told to his face that this type of movie would not sell with a Black lead actress. That the movie tanked with a White actress probably escaped them, though.

    I usually think rom coms are sappy, but i know a lot of women enjoy watching them and would love to see more Black ones. I really liked Eating The Bones with Hill Harper a few years back, i think it would have done well if it had been marketed better. and to answer your last question, imo we don’t need the Black equivalent of those boring as hell White actresses

    • Obsidienne

      Ah, yes, thanks for bringing up “New in Town”. One wonders if the film would have been less obscure with a different cast, especially a black cast led by Gabrielle Union. I’ll have to check out “Eating the Bones”- I like Hill Harper. As for the boring white actresses, point well taken, and I agree ;-)

  • I’m not a great romcom fan. In fact, I might even go so far as to say that I detest them. In my opinion, romcoms do for women what the average (or below average) “urban” movie made by big studios does for black people.

    However, my tastes and views aside, I recognise that there are willing audiences for all kinds of movies and black people deserve to see as many diverse representations on screen of ourselves as anyone else (um, by which I guess I mean white people. lol).

    But seeing that, by and large, we don’t control the purse-strings, and looking at the current media fascination (in the US, anyway) with the “plight” of black women, it’s pretty clear that those with the clout to shape mass consciousness don’t seem to have the same agenda for black women as they do for white women. Black women as comedic relief/entertainment? Black women as victims? Black women as ethnographical case studies? Sure, why not? Black women as romantic prospects (especially for black men)? Um…

    And, as Wes implies above, the marketing of any such films is/would be lacklustre, at best, when compared to its “white” counterpart, even among its supposedly black target audience.

    The way I see it, budgets and marketing efforts spent on the average black movie seem more akin to big studios’ more, supposedly, adventurous/risky “independent” films, so it seems to me that that they might as well actually produce more independent-style films featuring black people than try to replicate formulaic romcoms or stereotypical “urban” films.

    The trouble with so many black projects is that they too often set out to be the black version of something that is creatively and intellectually dubious in the first place.

    If we’re considered a marketing “risk” then I’d like to see more “risky” projects featuring black talent, not try to imitate the bland ideas already being peddled by/to the mainstream.

    Interesting post though. Good food for thought.

    Welcome aboard, by the way!!

    :)

    • Obsidienne

      I would love to see more risky (i.e. creative risk) projects produced too, especially black indies. The problem with the film industry (esp. in Hollywood)is that the suits, the people with the money and power are not interested in taking the risk. I’m sure they see black films largely as a risk (a financial risk) to begin with.

      Thanks for the welcome aboard! I’m glad this topic is attracting some very thoughtful and thought provoking comments.

      • That’s my point – because they see us as a risk anyway, they should consider putting their money behind more creatively risky projects from/about/for us rather than the supposedly safe “urban” schtick they keep telling us there’s no real money in/market for anyway.

        Otherwise, what we end up with is poor imitations and bad/limited (mis)representations.

        • Obsidienne

          I’m all for it, especially as a filmmaker. But I wonder if they’d see this as a double risk? Is the assumption that the “mainstream” isn’t interested in seeing a predominantly black cast (of any genre), thereby making such a film financially risky as fewer people will see the film? Or is the assumption borne from pigeonholing us into an “urban” film genre, which is a failing genre, therefore black=urban films=financial failure? Or is it a combination of the two? Anyway, I like your idea. I wish more execs would tuck away some more creatively original projects under all of those lame big budget remakes (tent poles) they keep churning out, and give black filmmakers/actors a chance to shine in their “art house” divisions.

  • I personally love romantic comedies. I get that we need a broad representation of blacks in film, but I don’t see why romcoms can’t be a part of it. I have enough “realism” in my own life and see nothing wrong with escaping into a movie with a predictable formula. I don’t know that the failure of movies like Just Wright have more to do with people thinking blacks can’t be in these roles, marketing or the quality of the films themselves. I think black teen comedies like that one staring Raven and Martin Lawrence have trouble, too. We can’t fall in love or go to college in Hollywood??

  • tuesday

    Here’s the thing. We can do anything as long as we support it. Hollywood is racist, sexist, ageist…you name it if it doesn’t make money. As soon as the box office return is sizable, Hollywood is all for it. Black rom-coms, dramas, comedies tend to make their most money domestically with very little chance of making a sizable profit internationally. Typically our movies don’t tend to perform well internationally because our stories tend to be very “inside” and our themes are particular to our community. Disagree if you will but I’ve worked in this business for 20 years and I’ve seen the numbers. Studios invest in ventures where they stand to make profit. Domestic dollars tend to pay for a movie. Internationally dollars is where studios and investors really turn a profit.

    So let’s take your example of Just Wright. So far, it’s made just $9,589 internationally while 27 Dresses made another $83,450,665. If you’re a business man, who do you give your money?

    So if we want Hollywood to take us seriously and invest in our movies we need to make some changes. We need to start by telling stories that transcend race, stories where race doesn’t matter cause the story is so good. So our stories will be told all over the world and we as people are able to realize that we are more alike than we are different. Then we don’t need a black counterparts.

    • Obsidienne

      You’re absolutely right, I overlooked overseas revenue (those figures, sadly, are not surprising). One of the most important things any producer should focus on is making their movie internationally appealing (primarily through story and onscreen talent), and by and large black films don’t achieve that. And, of course, the bottom line is, well, the bottom line. Thanks for your insight.

  • Good match-up. Zoe Saldana and Angela Bassett would make a great combo, but only if Saldana played up her awkward, nerdy side.