Disaster is imminent when publications include caveats before offering their content, especially if those caveats are an attempt to rationalize the exclusion of people of color. Such is the case with New York Magazine’s list of the top 25 romantic comedies released in the 25 years since the debut of When Harry Met Sally.
Instead of presenting the list without commentary, writers Bilge Ebiri and David Edelstein warn readers that the list isn’t exhaustive because it doesn’t include African-American romantic comedies, though those films are thriving in the box office and continue to have cultural significance.
There isn’t a single romcom featured on their list that stars a person of color because the writers “couldn’t agree on any titles” that “were strong enough to warrant inclusion on this list.” And that’s the problem. New York Magazine’s list features classic romantic comedies, like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, 10 Things I Hate About You, and Sleepless in Seattle, but it also includes films like Clueless, Forgetting Sarah Marshall and The Proposal. While all three films are entertaining, none capture the complexities of love in the way How Stella Got Her Groove Back, Love Jones and Love & Basketball do.
There’s nothing astounding about two white, male writers being unable to recognize the cultural importance of romantic comedies like Boomerang, Brown Sugar and The Best Man. Black Americans are accustomed to exclusion, which is often justified by the “well, it’s our point of view” rhetoric. Yet, as writer Keli Goff, notes, Ebiri and Edelstein could’ve sought additional opinions.
Two white males could not agree on the best romantic comedies starring a black cast, so they omitted them from the list altogether instead of trying another strategy—like perhaps asking someone who is not white and male for input. I am certainly not arguing that being white and male prohibits someone from being a capable critic of all sorts of projects. I am arguing that the cultural references you grew up with and are surrounded by on a daily basis can affect how you view culture, including romantic comedies. So perhaps it’s not surprising that a white male would view comedy—as well as romance—through a different lens from those of us who are not white and male.
Black romantic comedies matter. Seeing the tribulations of love communicated through the lens of Black folks in movies like Just Wright, Something New and Deliver Us from Eva can and do offer a different perspective than what most audiences are accustomed to seeing. It also allows Black moviegoers to see their experiences reflected in media. Recognition is critical to forming a complete identity. And clearly, Black folks seeing themselves matters.
Black romantic comedies are also commercial successes. Recent romantic comedies, like the Five-Year Engagement, combusted at the box office, while Think Like A Man grossed $91 million in its initial theatrical run. The Best Man Holiday also did extraordinarily well. The sequel raked in approximately $71 million at domestic and international box offices.
Yet, according to New York Magazine’s logic, the success of these movies, and their enduring significance can’t compete with films like Knocked Up, which can never be as amazing as Love & Basketball. This is a premiere example of how white privilege operates. Privileging their tales of love, of heartbreak, of triumph keeps Black romantic comedies out of the conversation.
Excluding Black American romantic comedies invalidates New York Magazine’s list, and proves again how critical it is to have media spaces catering to our needs and experiences.