Rom-Com’s Crazy Date with Diversity
By Tarik Woodbine
February – what a mishmash of a month. It has the most random compilation of important, and not so important events, like: Ground Hogs day, Black History Month, President’s day, sometimes the 29th of the month shows up, and of course Valentine’s day. What a plethora of random things placed into such a short month – but for some reason it all works. Which brings me to another main event of February – Rom-com release. Unlike the month, Rom-coms don’t always offer a mixed bag of diverse offerings; and often times that diversity, if included, is stereotypical or just used as a device to move other characters’ stories along – not to investigate the actual diverse characters and their stories.
Fear not friends, diversity has made its way to rom-coms, and like the month of February, they’re mixing things up. The movies we’ll cover are successful because they embrace more than just the Rom-com; they blend genres. We’ll see a Coming-Of-Age story, an Action film, and a Holiday rom-com that all show minority characters in spaces we have not traditionally seen, dismantling stereotypes and rigid conventions to tell unique and loveable stories.
“Finally, audiences get to see Asian-Americans pursing indie band dreams, enjoying being American teeny-boppers, making bad decisions…essentially being fully-fledged human beings, not stereotypes.”
The Coming-Of-Age story is always held in high regard, and it’s because we’ve all done it. We’ve all felt the intense emotions of adolescent love that dragged us from middle school into adulthood. So, it’s only natural that a movie like ALWAYS BE MY MAYBE (Ali Wong, Randall Park) comes off as a tangibly relatable rom-com. At the center of this story, we have two Asian-American leads growing up and falling in love in San Francisco. On paper, this sounds ordinary, but as a film it’s illuminating. Most of the characters are minorities – BECAUSE SAN FRANSCICO. The film doesn’t harp on this, but the visuals say enough – the people in the film accurately represent the makeup of the city. THAT’S IMPORTANT. Finally, audiences get to see Asian-Americans pursing indie band dreams, enjoying being American teeny-boppers, making bad decisions…essentially being fully-fledged human beings, not stereotypes. THAT’S HUGE. These nuances and novel displays of culture were only made possible by blending the two genres.
Love and war; Action meets Rom-com? Foolishness? Nope, actually genius – as proven by LOVEBIRDS (Kumail Nanjiani, Issa Rae). First and foremost, this movie highlights an interracial pairing that is traditionally underrepresented in film – Asian men and Black women. And they’re in a relationship…WITH EACH OTHER! This demonstrates that there is no need to center a white protagonist in their love story. It also proves that minority leads can carry action movies all in a sweet one-hour and twenty-six minutes. LOVEBIRDS is not just February fodder; it manages to examine topics like racial profiling, classism, and the demise of relationships – all with humor! Like come on! Where else can you get an Action-Rom-Com that manages to be socially conscious without being too on the nose… LOVEBIRDS, that’s where.
“After receiving an incorrect fatal prognosis, Latifa cashes in her life’s savings to experience her dream vacation in the Czech Republic. She spends the whole movie finding herself, not someone else.”
Now, not to be predictable, but I saved the best for last – THE LAST HOLIDAY (Queen Latifa, LL Cool J). This is my personal and all-time favorite rom-com; it’s equal parts Christmas and love, a winning cocktail. What’s unique about this movie is that the lead, Queen Latifa, spends 85% of this romantic movie falling in love WITH HERSELF. After receiving an incorrect fatal prognosis, Latifa cashes in her life’s savings to experience her dream vacation in the Czech Republic. She spends the whole movie finding herself, not someone else. We get to see an African-American woman enjoy the fruits of her labor in real time, not needing a relationship to validate her accomplishments – that’s rare in cinema. AND ALL TO THE PICTUESQUE BACKDROP THAT IS THE CZECH REPUBLIC IN WINTER, OK?! The winter wonderland vibes keep our hearts soft as we watch Latifa find herself. By the end of the film, her love interest finally remerges with the great news that her prognosis was a false positive, and then they fall in love. She finds her person only after she is whole – after she has found herself. A valuable message to heed and warm the holiday heart.
Back to February.
For such a hodgepodge of a month, it truly stands out as one-of-a-kind and poignant amongst its peers. The same can be said for the three aforementioned films. They are distinctive within their class, not only because of their diverse casts and storylines, but even moreso for incorporating genres not often seen alongside rom-coms. These films embrace their novelties, differences, and waggish social commentary. In doing so they carve out a lane uniquely their own, delivering messages of hope, humor, and most importantly – love.