WHY IT IS SOMETIMES BEST TO HAVE TO LOOK HARDER FOR TRUE REPRESENTATIONS
By T.T. Stern-Enzi
As an African American critic (one who is starting to wonder if I am more of critic who happens to be African American or an African American who happens to be a critic), I find it fascinating how I catch myself gazing at the frames—from multiplex big screens to streaming images on my computer or various-sized handheld devices—and performing complex degrees of intertextualization. I no longer merely seek to engage with narratives from the perspective of familiar reflections (the recognition of other black faces/characters) or begin to harp on that absence; now, I hunt for other marginalized peoples. Where are the women of note (thanks to the Bechdel Test), the Hispanic, Asian, and LGBTQ characters?
But what I’m searching for, much moreso than just the mere presence, is a sense of active participation in the communal narrative on display. We haven’t quite moved past the days of the black best friends of white protagonists, because movie worlds remain strangely as segregated as the Civil Rights Era, with all-white studio pictures (“Mother’s Day”) and all-black romantic comedies and dramas (“The Perfect Match”) that open under the cover of a media and marketing black-out on the smallest screens in urban theater chains.
Garry Marshall’s “Mother’s Day” offers exactly the kind of case study intertextualization I’m taking about. It is little more than the typical Hallmark holiday knockoff that the “Pretty Woman” director must see his version of the generically cartoonish cards in the pharmacy aisles that sing or chatter incessantly at you when you open them. There’s a cheap sentimentality in the effort, a lazy plea to say, “I remembered the day, but didn’t care to mark it in a meaningful way.”
So it should come as no surprise that “Mother’s Day” didn’t feature any black folks of note in its tired and quite clichéd collection of barely-sketched in mini-narratives. I actually found myself cheering for being excluded from this world, although that relief was immediately replaced by outrage over the transference of stereotyping from African Americans to the LGBTQ community.
In what was probably seen as a nod towards the progressive, “Mother’s Day” spotlights a storyline with Kate Hudson and Sarah Chalke as sisters hiding their families from their parents, since they have interracial (South Asian) and same-sex partners, respectively. Even in 2016, this feels like an outdated plot device, and it is handled in the clumsiest of fashions, reaching a pat resolution that would offend the sensibilities of a five-year old.
Is this truly where we are?
Thankfully, no. You just have to widen your search. On May 17, Joseph Graham’s LGBTQ Festival hit “Beautiful Something” debuts on Cable Video on Demand (VOD) and Digital HD via Ariztical Entertainment. Graham’s indie fest favorite, like “Mother’s Day” borrows heavily from the conventional notion of tracking and ping ponging between several character narratives at once. Of course, four diverse gay men populate his world, each of whom are struggling with concerns about love and relationships and the impact on their passionate artistic choices.
Graham’s sexual/sensual gaze is far more frank, capturing the totality of the male body—loins, eyes, lips and hands—in the service of defining and detailing the raw and boldly honest hunger for human connection that drives each character. This all stands in stark contrast to “Mother’s Day,” which seems content ogling Jennifer Aniston’s buxom or splashing Hudson with liquid, in order to get her to show her bra. Marshall sets up and executes these moments like a horny teenager with no idea of what else to do with his fixation on the flesh.
While far from perfect (where the ladies at?), “Beautiful Something” acknowledges a fuller bandwidth on its end of the spectrum. I had less to harp on here, because Graham respected his characters and the narrative, taking us on a cruise through an alternative underworld scene with people who, although they may not look like me or have the same kinds of romantic attractions, I wanted to be a part of my world.
“Beautiful Something” will be available on DirecTV, iTunes, Cable VOD, Dish, Amazon Instant, Google Play, Vudu and more. A physical release is planned for late summer.