Nov. 09--Almost 15 years ago I sat in a movie theater with my college friends, dreamy-eyed, watching "The Best Man."
We had high hopes of making it. And the characters in the movie were in the early stages of success -- an author, a football player, a television producer, a do-good teacher.
Life and love post-college may not seem like a big deal. But this movie had an all-black cast, people that actually looked like us doing good things. We didn't see much of that back then. We had our "Love Jones" romance, we had Queen Latifah's hit show "Living Single." This was 1999. "Girlfriends" hadn't yet debuted.
When Jordan Armstrong flashed across that screen during "The Best Man," we wanted to be that powerhouse TV producer oozing independence, style and smarts. As college juniors that sounded like perfection. Did we want to try and steal someone's man like Jordan contemplated? No. But a life like hers? It was a dream.
Fast forward to 2013: We are living it. There are no professional athletes in our group, but there are bustling careers. There are marriages, mortgages and so much more. And after all these years, "The Best Man Holiday," a sequel of that rom-com that we fell in love with so long ago, arrives at theaters next weekend.
For the first time in a long time, a steady flow of movies and television shows are featuring diverse casts. In fact, last year's box-office hits "Think Like a Man" and "Jumping the Broom" led to the return of this old favorite. This year has been one for the books when it comes to black-oriented films: "The Butler," "12 Years a Slave," "42," "Fruitvale Station," "Temptation," "Baggage Claim," "Peeples," and there's more to come -- "Black Nativity" and "Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom" among them.
But is this a movement or passing trend? Can this year kick open the door for Latino and Asian films? Will diversity rise higher than tokens? Will film and television really start to explore what America looks like, the way Shonda Rhimes does with her multiracial casts in "Grey's Anatomy" and "Scandal"?
A recent study by the University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism says communities of color are still underrepresented on screen.
Researchers found that more than 75 percent of speaking characters in the top 500 movies between 2007 and 2012 were white.
"At the core, this is a visibility issue," Katherine Pieper, research scientist at Annenberg's Media, Diversity & Social Change Initiative, told the Los Angeles Times. "Who we see in film sends a powerful message about who is important and whose stories are valuable, both to international audiences and to younger viewers in our own country. ... Are films communicating to audiences that only certain stories are worth telling?"
Here's the thing. My story is worth telling. So is yours. Because when the stories are told well, they aren't just black movies for black people. They are great stories that universally connect us.
At a recent screening of "The Best Man Holiday," I sat in the theater next to a clothing designer, a radio host, a lawyer, a politician and a financial adviser. They were black, white and everything in between. We all had the same reactions: laughter, tears and more laughter.
This is a sequel that has a real-time story line. The characters are reuniting after 15 years for a holiday weekend. There have been marriages, kids, layoffs, illnesses, friendships gone wrong and then some. Like real life, there are highs and lows. There's drama. When I watched this movie, the characters weren't where I wanted to be. The characters were where I am today, minus the mega-mansion that a football career bought Lance Sullivan. But not even millions of dollars can protect you from life.
In your teens and 20s, you look at everything and think it's so shiny and simple. When I saw "The Best Man" as a college kid, we thought life amounted to a series of check marks: graduate, get a job, get married and have some kids if you want. It's so much messier than that. People grow apart, your interests change. Marriage and kids are awesome, but they're work. Finances and health can be a struggle.
In life, you don't just make it, you are constantly living it. But one thing stays constant, no matter what color you are: Good friends are a necessity.
Jenee Osterheldt's column runs on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. To reach her, call 816-234-4380 or send email to email@example.com. "Like" her page on Facebook and never miss a column. You also can follow her at Twitter.com/jeneeinkc.
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