Over the weekend, Bishop T.D. Jakes’ Jumping the Broom hit box offices just in time for black families to celebrate love and Mother’s Day. Although the storyline closely resembled a Tyler Perry film, minus Madea, at least the characters were multidimensional in social hierarchy. However, it seems that contemporary black films, in the mainstream, keep following the same formula: Christianity, a bit of comedy, borderline coonery, a simplistic love story, and a stereotypical depiction of black poverty. Perhaps, this is a result of major distribution deals going to Tyler Perry or similar filmmakers with a strong Christian fan base. Or do black people only want to see black Christian love?
In real life, black love is not a monolithic entity. We love as Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, agnostics, atheists, amongst other spiritual beliefs. As the art of filmmaking should inspire originality and bring to life untold stories, it is disappointing to solely see black Christian love continuously played on screen. Our films have become stagnant, ignoring the numerous stories of black love and its various manifestations. If black love is not heterosexual and Christian, the film won’t make it beyond the independent circle. Where is the mainstream distribution for non-Christian black love stories? Heterosexual black Christians are not the only demographic that falls in love or gets married.
Where are the love stories of Black Muslim couples? Black lesbian and gay couples? Black Buddhist couples? Black polyamorous couples? Black atheist couples? Why not expose the diversity of love within our communities on the big screen?
Frankly, Hollywood continues to play it safe with black films instead of providing black filmmakers with the platform to expose the depth of our communities. There is more to black people than Christianity, incest, rape, drugs, poverty, and cursing mammies. Before Tyler Perry, we had films like Love Jones or Mo’ Better Blues in our homes without an omniscient Christian background. Is it too much to expect more contemporary diversity? Not every film needs to have a “come to Jesus” ending; not every love story ends in a church.
This is not a critique of Tyler Perry or Bishop T.D. Jakes. Simply put, it’s a plea for a larger conversation about the particular Christian storylines that are consuming mainstream black film. We have to tell Hollywood that we want to see more than black Christian love stories. And that doesn’t mean non-Christian equals negative or unhealthy images of love. It’s a call for diversity, an opportunity for a Muslim filmmaker like Salim Akil, the director of Jumping the Broom, to get the mainstream funding and green light to explore a black Muslim love story should he choose. And while independent productions, such as Moozlum, have gained insider popularity, will that narrative ever get a major Lionsgate distribution deal, like Perry?
Like other races, black people have multiple stories of love and marriage. Why should black filmmakers, with a desire to go mainstream, have to direct the same love narrative? Our imaginations are deeper. Our realities are diverse.
Is it time for a positive, non-Christian black love story to hit the mainstream? Speak on it.