Find someone who makes you realize three things: one, that home is not a place, but a feeling. Two, that time is not measured by a clock, but by moments. And three, that heartbeats are not heard, but felt and shared.
I was in Chicago, when all of my recent LA friends, screened the “Best Man Holiday.” And then I was in LA, when my childhood friends went in droves to make an evening out of the film’s opening weekend. With my new choice schedule and bi-coastal digs, I missed out on all the sisterhood that warmed me up for the likes of “Sex and the City” movie outings just years prior.
Afraid of spoiler alerts, I stayed away from social media as it related to the movie knowing it would be some time before I saw it myself. Reviews were not an issue as they traditionally omit elaborate plot details. What was inescapable is that I would see this movie alone at a later date and therefore, in the meantime, observe the reactions of others as they collected their thoughts on the film.
Unarguably and most unexpected was when I learned hurriedly, as I stepped into my journalism class late at UCLA, that my Chicago circles’ reactions to both the film and its reviews had collided with my LA academic life in the worse way. Scott Bowles, my Reporting class professor, who daytimes as a USA Today film reporter, called the film “race themed” in the title of his review.
That day, as I listened to my professor’s account on his review of the film, I began to dive into and comb through the heated reactions of this very review from my colleagues and friends back home. I stood back and began to question why the strong reactions and see how I could connect the two viewpoints before they discounted the other.
How was the film being received? Had it done well at the box office, exceeding expectations during a busy weekend? How was the “Best Man Holiday” promoted? And did this affect the way the movie was viewed and reviewed?
“Best Man Holiday,” took a page out of a typical movie promotion’s handbook; take a sizeable well-known cast and circulate them either as an entire group or create smaller cast clusters to multiple traditional mediums. Feed them messages for their social media pages. Buy large out of home placements in major markets making the cast appear even more larger than life. Host smaller screenings amongst B and C list actors as well as reality TV stars. Tease. Leak. Subtly spoil. “Best Man Holiday,” promoted itself traditionally on a mass marketing frenzy as a feel good holiday film.
The publicity run would be lit by niche media and spread to total market territory enabling it to compete with large studio movies like, “Thor.” So why if “Best Man Holiday” was accepted during its publicity run as a universal themed movie, was race still a factor in the reviews?
Before I moved to LA, I would continue to connect to a colleague and childhood associate, who happened to also be an aspiring, director, Jeanette McDuffie. McDuffie’s production credits include Abduction, Miami Vice, Memoirs of a Geisha, Tyler Perry’s Daddy’s Little Girls and the 77th Annual Academy Awards. She also recently completed her studies in the MFA program at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts.
McDuffie says, “there are so many beliefs in Hollywood rooted in race that become business practices, the problem becomes that there haven’t been enough good films properly marketed to make the case for more good films produced by black filmmakers and inclusive of black cast members. Hollywood tells on itself regarding this practice when articles become marketed as niche or race themed films. When there is little diversity in the media and within senior decision makers, films become tagged as other.” McDuffie says she moved and pursued a career in film, because growing up black, she grew exhausted of believing she was an “other” and whites were “standard and universal.”
Films promoted as about a specific race, as other, or a niche film run the risk of being attended less by audiences. “When movies are marketed as niche or racial, it is dangerous because it gets marketed less and receives less credit,” says Luvvie Ajayi.
It was Luvvie Ajayi whose reaction would pop up on my search engine first. In addition to working on a couple advertising campaigns together (she as an influencer and talent), Ajayi is also a writer and social media strategist who’s been blogging for 9 years. Her award-winning pop culture humor blog, AwesomelyLuvvie.com <http://www.awesomelyluvvie.com/> won Best Humor Blog of 2009 from the Black Weblog Awards, was chosen as one of BlogHer’s 2010 Voices of the Year, and was recognized as one of blogosphere’s best by Black Enterprise in 2012.
Her blog was linked to Bloomberg News for her being quoted as saying if “Best Man Holiday” was race themed, then “Girls” (an HBO series) is ‘race-themed’ too.” She said to me during a phone call later, “If the film was an all white cast, would the themes have been said to be about race. Critics are unable to see pass color even when color has no place in this film.” Ajayi further went on to say, she didn’t read the review other than the title and knew little of Bowles.
But who are the other critics? They are not all white. Buried in the bursts of anger that exploded on the Internet was an unassuming and under-the-radar blogger, Odie Henderson, a contributor on Roger Ebert’s now posthumous website. Henderson says, “The Best Man Holiday has the potential to become a staple of Christmastime movie watching in the hood.” Fifty-two comments later, and Bloomberg News still didn’t pick up on the inner racial opinion and review of “Best Man Holiday” done by Henderson. But as USA Today knows and has worked vehemently for, when their voice speaks, the country listens and they were listening this time.
The voice this time was Bowles’. Bowles, a recovering crime writer who covered beats in Detroit, the nation’s capital and Atlanta, now turned film critic for USA Today was equally if not more unassuming than Henderson. A twitter feed of one post, Bowles had no idea that two hours into his posting of the review, it would become a trending topic.
Bowles, known for coining and copywriting the term “carjacking,” is visibly and rhetorically open, honest, responsible and vulnerable in his reporting and journaling as noted by his peers and students. It would be these written and personal characteristics that maintains Bowles respected, unassuming nature.
So how did a good-natured reporter get jammed into an anonymous lashing on social media? According to McDuffie, beliefs become rooted as practices and seep into the extensions of the industry. Viewpoints are flat because diversity is slim. And when diversity is slim, the accepted general voice goes unchallenged and unchanged.
McDuffie says, “I’m so passionate about images in the media, because they inform much of what we believe to be true about ourselves and the world. It is dangerous when those viewpoints are narrow.”
“Best Man Holiday” was a movie for everyone and race was not a factor according to Ajayi. The film, for a race of black people, was no different than it was for all races, a time to escape. But for black people, it became a victory. A film that was embraced by one culture and accepted by dozens of others as demonstrated by the numbers. According to Cinemablend, “The Best Man Holiday” banked $30 million against its $17 million budget, falling behind at #2 to “Thor” for both the films’ opening weekends.
It was a time where black people felt they did not have to fight for progressive thought or explain away their background through a haphazard stereotypical plot of a film. It was a movie that did not include themes of racial profiling, apartheid or slavery. According to Dana Orr-Williams, equal parts avid moviegoer and best friend, “Best Man Holiday” did what many films are made to do, create a space and a brief moment for mass audiences alike to forget and escape.
Being labeled as a race film by so many critics of various backgrounds who bought into this ideology, for Orr-Williams, lead the film to become a masked reminder, that not even in a movie theater when the lights are dimmed and the subject is universal, could they forget, they were black, and still fighting. “Best Man Holiday” was a groundbreaking holiday gift to the movie industry and moviegoers alike that was feared to have been stolen before Christmas even arrived.