Where is the Black Rebecca Bloomwood?
I 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:
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
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