Young Black children need to see themselves on screen, not struggling, but succeeding.
( @malcomandmariefilm / Instagram )
We need to address the ongoing issue of representation in films revolving around Black love. Not only is there not enough, but when there is, it’s saturated with toxic renditions of love that we’re better off without. To make things worse, Hollywood has successfully managed to market hyper-masculinity and unhealthy attachments. Sadly, people eat it up, not realizing how the implications of that film can influence them.
I grew up watching romantic movies. Some could say it was to compensate for the lack of romance in my own life, but it was an enjoyable endeavor that I shamelessly indulged myself in. Between every Julia Roberts flick I could find and A Walk to Remember, I found comfort in these classics.
As a result, I managed to browse elaborate lists of romantic comedies and dramas, and once I was old enough to be able to interpret what I was watching, I realized something: the narratives of Black films followed a pattern. They also had polar opposite representations of men and women in the plotlines when compared to White romances. Where the women in White films were usually soft and innocent, Black women were portrayed as ‘bad,’ temperamental and stereotypically sassy. This isn’t a new revelation by any means. A study done at Georgetown shows us that while White women are often victimized by infantilization, Black women are being forced to mature at a much faster rate, as seen in adults' mentalities.
The industry had succeeded in marketing troubling storylines for these Black couples. While the films were overall deemed as “funny” or “heartwarming” (depending on their category), directors often pushed a specific narrative with Black men. This overarching depiction resembled trauma porn, something that has become all too common in what little POC narratives we’re given to consume as an audience.
Let’s talk about a super recent example of this issue: Malcolm & Marie, starring Zendaya and John David Washington. In this film, which follows a Black filmmaker and his girlfriend, we are taken through the many tensions in their relationship. Sometimes, they become explosive. The two are undoubtedly a toxic pair, and the impactless 35mm shots don’t do much to cover up this truth.
So how has Hollywood failed to provide us with a wholesome Black love story yet again? Well for starters, director Sam Levinson may be to blame. He is an overwhelmingly white man trying to explore the complexities of being Black within work and love. It’s no surprise the movie falls short, but it is disappointing nonetheless.
Don’t get me wrong, exploring these issues through film is important. Movies are a fantastic tool for education that evoke empathy in ways a classroom can’t sometimes. However, pure and uplifting representation may be even more necessary. Young Black children need to see themselves on screen, not struggling, but succeeding. Experiencing joy, falling in love. In a piece written by Hunter Harris, they reflect on the lack of these films.
“So now I’m waiting. There’s no ‘Love and Basketball’ for the current generation of young black moviegoers (the kind of black sports love story I grew up overhearing my cousins whispering about). The dreamy Terry McMillian romances of the nineties have been Eat, Pray, Love-d out. Where is the script that will keep a millennial Taye Diggs employed, or the black woman whose love isn’t narrated by Shonda Rhimes?”
(P.S. If you haven’t watched Love and Basketball, what are you doing?)
So while we wait for the next great film about Black love, (the clock is ticking Hollywood), let’s take a look at some statistics that emphasize this disparity. It was found in a 2015 Pew Research Study that 75 percent of the Black men married that year had found companionship with other Black women. Interracial relationships are extremely common, which is just another reason why this lack of representation is so abysmal. And remember interracial isn’t just white and black.
Instead of putting on another Tyler Perry movie, watch some Poetic Justice instead. Because who doesn’t want to watch Janet Jackson and Tupac fall madly in love?
Madeline Murphy is an Online Editor at Rowdy Magazine. She’s currently studying Journalism with a minor in Women’s Studies. Madeline can be found making Apple Music playlists, trying Nigella Lawson recipes and binging SATC. She’s fiercely passionate about social justice and the power of words. Her Instagram is @maduhlinemurphy