The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Hitch: Black Eye for the White Guy

I remember watching an episode of "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" some months back, and turning to Tananarive and saying: "Wow. What a brilliant move on the part of Gay activists. They are sending a meme out into the culture: if you will tolerate us and allow us to contribute, you will get laid more often." Damn, that was clever. Will Smith is a genius. I don't know what he saw in the original script for "Hitch", but during the development process--which I suspect was painfully arduous--he and his writers figured out what I predict will be the first major successful black romantic comedy.
We've been talking about the pitfalls of black sexuality in cinema, and Smith may have avoided every single one of them, in a way that will set a role model for films to come, and also create a building block that desensitizes the audience to some major hot buttons.
1) there is no actual sex in the movie. So it doesn't get as hot as, say, "Jerry McGuire." That is really unfortunate, but possibly an intermediary stage, preventing audiences from "disconnecting" emotionally, and doing the "er--it's only a movie--what can I criticize to explain why I dislike this? Ah! the stars have "no chemistry"" (That great, inarguable, utterly subjective excuse for not enjoying such things.)
2) "Hitch" the "love doctor" has a strong "B" story about his helping a guy get the girl of his dreams. She is rich, beautiful, blonde. The guy is white. There is no way in hell this movie would make half the money it is going to make had the "B" story been about another black guy.
3) the coming attraction featured a great gag where Smith is kissed on the lips. My standard comment about black men in film is that they are either too young, too old, too fat, too gay, or too dead to have sex. The kiss reduces his "perceived cock-block" level. Subliminally, he becomes more harmless. Hell, partner, John Wayne would never have been kissed on the lips! When I saw that ad, I was awe-struck with admiration. MAN, this guy is smart. Instead of subliminal tension at the possible expression of black sexuality, white males with "that" attitude got to look forward to a moment when a "black stud" gets humiliated. My sincere admiration.
4) there are other guys in the film presented as more "together" than Smith. They are white.
5) Eva Mendes, his love interest in the film, is neither white nor black, exactly. For some reason this is more acceptable than if she were either. A possible explanation: a white woman would be off ground for obvious reasons. Need I even go there? I thought not. But why not a black woman? A possible reason is sociobiological: a fear of being out-bred by the "other". So two black people would "breed true" to create another black person (the question of whether it is actually logical to consider Smith, or Halle Berry, "black" is for another time.). A black person plus a dark-skinned Hispanic produces something else, something not quite so threatening. Just a theory.
No, the movie isn't perfect. It goes on a bit too long. But ALL of the films it will be compared to will be films with white actors, and EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM breaks the rules, and therefore, according to my theory, would have either died in development or died at the boxoffice had you simply transplanted black actors into them. Not one of them had to overcome what "Hitch" overcame. My guess is that "Hitch" will kill at the box office, and for good reason. Can't wait to see the returns.
Smith deserves his 20 million dollar status. First he chose to star in "Independence Day", which was arguably the first major science fiction film in history that actually took that bit about "If Aliens attacked, all earth would pull together" seriously--all the other films just showed white people pulling together. Almost every frame in that film was composed multi-culturally, and therefore it was, for all its flaws, a MAJOR piece of sociological science fiction, and subversive as hell. When Will Smith flies out of Earth's atmosphere and said "I've waited my whole life for this," tears were streaming down my face. I'd waited my whole life for a moment like that, as well.
And now "Hitch". A minor movie. A major milestone. Wow.


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