As a cinephile, I am always excited when a big blockbuster comes out. I take pride in being one of those people that flocks to theaters with the droves of others who take part in the excitement of opening weekend. So on Mother’s Day weekend this year, I got my best friend and made sure to go see Jumping the Broom at the Magic Johnson movie theater. Seeing a black movie at a black theater on a holiday weekend is an experience that goes far beyond the screen, with all the celebration and camaraderie of racial unity and excitement over the shared experience. The theater was packed, I actually had to wait for the next showing, and there were a wide cross-section of people from various age and socio-economic groups. For that moment, I could step back and feel the black pride building in the room.
Two hours later I left the theater satisfied. Jumping the Broom gave me everything I desire from a good movie: it made me laugh, cry, think, and swoon. I thought the casting was great, combining veteran actors known for more serious roles with popular characters who are often there for laughs or eye candy. The script was light and entertaining, but managed to touch on some important themes without trivializing or cartooning the issues that are common within the black community. It addressed the mother-son dynamic of many single parents, interactions between different social classes, love and marriage, and maintaining religious faith in a relationship as best it could with the limits of a two hour running length. To state it simply, it was a movie experience I enjoyed.
Many people I spoke with in the next few days also confessed their satisfaction at the movie for a variety of reasons: the attractiveness of the stars, strength of the message, and performances by the actors. A common theme was an appreciation by many people that T.D. Jakes had executive produced a film that was endearing, funny, and entertaining without resorting to the crass, lowbrow stereotypical humor that tends to be expected of most African American family films. While I was pleased to see a story and situations that depicted a more diverse version of blacks, I expected as much from a Jakes’ production as I had enjoyed his first two films, Woman Thou Art Loosed and Not Easily Broken.
As with most black films, I had never thought to check the movie reviews that Friday to determine if I would make it a priority. I had been sold from the trailers and the ensemble cast of some of my favorite black talent, so earlier this week after hearing such positive buzz all weekend from many of my friends and family, I was shocked to see its slamming by some critics. Especially since I find myself to be very critical of movies, generally. I stopped and pondered… did the race of the characters and the typically black jokes and interactions become lost in translation?
While I understand that the movie was not a festival hit or in line to be a contender for the next major awards show, it was also not intended for that purpose. In fact, most movies are not; case in point any romantic comedy or summer blockbuster action movie. Every week, many films are released and only a select few are equipped to even anticipate that kind of run. Most moviegoers return each week for one simple reason, to be entertained. So when I read Jumping the Broom’s EOnline Review with a grade of F, not only was I surprised, I was immediately infuriated.
The review went on to label it the worst movie of the year (shocking… they must have missed The Roommate, Big Momma 3, and Red Riding Hood) while totally missing the nuance of the cultural themes and moral undertones about family and relationships. They go ahead to label the family from the upper class as snobs for simply speaking French, declare Mike Epps as always unfunny, and go onto to suggest that such excitement as the addition of Madea would have greatly improved the quality of the film. While I would never expect someone outside the race to fully understand the idiosyncrasies of the black experience, I found this review to be downright appalling and racist. I am disappointed in E! for their failure at promoting diversity and their ethnic insensitivity.
While many other well-known critics gave the movie more favorable reviews, including the unofficial last say, Roger Ebert; what really hurt was the lack of outcry from within the community. Across the Internet, some people were actually agreeing with the review. While constructive critique is always healthy, what shocked me was the lack of pride,4 history and support from within the community for a movie by our own. If we cannot appreciate the work of our own, we cannot expect the same from outside our race.
For so long we have allowed artist and designers of color to fail before they even had a chance to try because we were so harsh on them out the gate. To build a great record takes time and we have to appreciate the positive steps we take forward. Jumping the Broom was one of the steps, so I would like to salute T.D. Jakes and Salim Akil for going against the typical mode and trying to make a film that celebrate and highlights a not so often viewed perspective of the black experience. They are working hard to create quality black films in the harsh Hollywood Environment. After coming in 3rd in the country during opening weekendit stayed in the Top Ten during the second week. That is something we can all be proud to see.