It took getting to this age and finally watching movies that were classics during my childhood to finally understand why I had to grow up first before I was allowed to watch them. The '90s and early '00s were a phenomenal era for black cinema and truly, much like in my experience, they can be fully appreciated years and years after the fact.
I remember being in high school quoting movies like Love Jones (1997) and Love & Basketball (2000) like a bird on my social media, thinking I did something. In hindsight, I did, because that period, marked by auteurs like Spike Lee, brought to screen languages, experiences and characters that only we would know and then later appreciate for their success and the possibilities they gave us.
As far as Hollywood cinema goes, black characters were often limited to working-class roles or token status (Hi, Stacey Dash).
So, when Malcolm D. Lee (Spike Lee's cousin) made his film debut in 1999 directing The Best Man, that was history right there. In this romantic comedy, drama ensues leading up to a wedding but what matters more is not the story but its devices.
The leading man (Taye Diggs) is an author, his best friend is a successful ball player, and the women in the production are intelligent and successful in their own lanes.
While never allowing the characters to stray too far from audience relatability, the movie does a tremendous job at tackling issues of young adulthood, success, romance and navigating the friendships that will carry you throughout your journey.
For a directorial debut, this is something I appreciate about this piece of work. Set mostly in the present, we are thrown back to the college experiences of the characters that led them to this point, which gives us insights into each character without relying too heavily on dialogue to reveal their stories.
This pays a kind of respect to audience members as well – we understand it on instinct because we know people like these in our real lives, we either grew up with them, look up to them or we have become them.
Its sequel, The Best Man Holiday (2013) follows suit. Reuniting the cast from the events of the 1999 film, as many times as I have seen both, it does a seamless job at making me feel like I grew up with the characters as my aunties and uncles.
The gap between the two is so important because I feel that when you watch them both again (back-to-back if you're fancy), you'll notice how The Best Man Holiday adopts the style and technique of its predecessor and then fine tunes the central themes around friendship, relationships and emotional maturity.
It is a tool that's necessary given that The Best Man is largely about tearing apart the black male ago. In zooming in on the sexual history of Harper (Taye Diggs) and Mia (Monica Calhoun) which ultimately causes all hell to break loose – it is a story about black love and double standards.
It is the fact that the groom shamelessly expects (and even announces) that his bride will forgive his many discretions over the years but the thought of one of hers causes him to spiral. His ego cannot handle it and Quentin (his best friend, played by Terrence Howard) does a fantastic job at drawing this out throughout the film.
This is the part of the script that I think, without explicitly laying out, allows audience members to debate over the dynamic of double standards. It allows us to draw our conclusions about what types of behaviours men are excused for in relationships, while women are crucified.
With the passing of time, much has been forgiven and we go on holiday with The Best Man cast. This time, the issues are deeper and while it still maintains its humorous aspects and the characters also remain true to themselves – Lee leaves the audience with other open-ended debates and I think I love him for it.