The following interview appeared in the February 20, 2006 issue of People Magazine


Is Love Colorblind? A Palette of Opinions on Film Romance

By Teresa Wiltz
Washington Post Staff Writer

In "Something New," when the blond and buff hottie steps on-screen and, with a masterful gesture, sweeps the caramel-skinned heroine into his arms and then into bed, a roar goes up in Howard University's Cramton Auditorium. A few cup hands to mouths, their boos ricocheting through the room. Others stand up, pumping fists in solidarity, hooting and hollering, "All righty then !" And when the hunk whips out the nail polish and paints the honey-dipped beauty's toes scarlet? The largely female audience squeals, apparently embracing the film's thesis, as uttered by one character: "At the end of the day, it's not about skin color. It's about the love connection."

Well, yeah. Except when was the last time that you saw a white Adonis literally worshiping at the feet of an African American beauty? Or saw a chick flick in which the Kate Hudson/Meg Ryan/Cameron Diaz character sips her no-foam lattes at Magic Johnson's Starbucks and comes equipped with some hair issues and a full-throttle ethnic moniker like "Kenya?" Indeed, the glossy romantic comedy "Something New" presents a new paradigm in the Hollywood Shuffle. It is perhaps no coincidence that it arrives in a package written, produced, directed by and starring black women.

The quick version: Kenya is a product of the black bourgeoisie (doctor father, academic mother, debutante cotillion, Ivy League degrees). She's beautiful, rich, black -- and alone. She's looking for a man, specifically, a black man. Fixed up on a blind date with Brian, a white landscape architect, she bolts. Still, family and friends are dismayed: "Are you skiing the slopes? Are you sleeping with the enemy?," asks her lawyer brother. Then an eligible black man begins pursuing her. But she can't stop thinking about the white guy. It's an equal opportunity love triangle. The film hits theaters Friday.

The question that's burning up movie message boards: Is "Something New" a step forward -- or backward? Even in 2006, in this post- Loving v. Virginia world, the notion of black/white love still comes fraught with some heavy-duty historical baggage.

Says Kellina Craig-Henderson, local psychologist and author of "Black Men in Interracial Relationships: What's Love Got to Do with It?": "We're still back where we were 60 years ago, when it comes to race and sex."

So let's talk about the baggage: Yes, folks of all colors have been mixing and matching since the beginning of time. After all, fully 70 to 90 percent of African Americans are estimated to be of mixed race, according to a widely quoted statistic. But much of the history of race-mixing is filled with danger and ugly images, such as lynchings just for the perception of untoward interest in a white woman; sexual exploitation and rape of black women working as domestics in white homes at the hands of their slavemasters and, later, employers.

That was the reality, but on the big screen, black women from Sapphire to Beaulah were Aunt Jemimaed, neutered, erased. Or they were crazy sluts like Carmen Jones. Or, in the case of "Pinky," "Showboat" and "Imitation of Life," if they were deemed beautiful, "tragic mulattoes" cast as the love interest of a white man, white actresses were cast in these roles more often than not.

So no wonder the on-screen love connection between an African American woman and a Caucasian man is almost always viewed through a political prism. (Never mind last year's "Guess Who," a loose remake of "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner," which had little to do with interracial love and everything to do with the ebony/ivory slapstick of Ashton Kutcher and Bernie Mac.)

African American men get to play the romantic lead these days. But not, as Will Smith bemoaned in an interview to promote his movie "Hitch," with a black woman, because then the movie will be deemed "black" and not worthy of big-bucks marketing. He can't kiss a white woman, he says, because that's deemed too scandalous for mainstream consumption. So lighter-skinned Latinas like Eva Mendes and Jennifer Lopez get to split the difference.

Even in "black movies" such as 1992's "Boomerang," and 1999's "The Best Man," the romantic fantasies of black women are given short shrift. Notwithstanding Halle Berry's "Catwoman" and "Die Another Day" roles, African American women rarely get to be the chased-after babes.

Which is why, at Howard, they were cheering.

"We build our role models on the media," says Asso Aidoo, a 21-year-old senior who says she's headed for Wall Street after graduation.

Given the "reality of black women," Aidoo says, where suitable African American suitors appear to be in short supply, watching a character in a movie finding love outside the racial box was heartening.

After all, the statistics are grim: The filmmakers refer to the statistic that 42.4 percent of African American women are not married and the higher their socioeconomic level the less likely they are to wed. Only 5 percent of black women marry outside their race. ("Something New" writer Kriss Turner originally named her movie "42.4.")

So this is a primal thing, fueled and fed by generations of feeling erased.

"In so much of the movies and television, we're these hard. . . kind of chicks," says Turner. "There's a time for that when we can be strong, but there's also this soft side that we can be . . . a very soft, yummy, tender, sexy, beautiful, desirable side to the black women that we don't see."

Writer Debra Dickerson, who married a white man and has two children, wrote about this yearning to be recognized in a Salon essay analyzing her discomfort with last year's megahit comedy "Wedding Crashers:"

"But somehow, by the end of the parade of weddings crashed and women laid, I realized I was sad. It took me an entire martini to figure out why: The crashers seduced their way through every culture and every ethnicity but mine. Why didn't Owen [Wilson] and Vince [Vaughn] want to seduce me, too? Why don't they want to dance with my nana at a wedding?"

"Something New" doesn't necessarily advocate for black women dating white men, says its producer Stephanie Allain. "We wanted to put something on film that we haven't seen before. . . . Why shouldn't we have choices as women? Just as we can be sitting at a table [in a business situation] with 12 white men looking at us for our opinion, it was high time to show a woman in that position being sought after by a lot of different men. . . . It echoes the promise of endless possibilities that haven't always been available to us."

The concept of endless romantic possibilities appeals to at least a handful of the Howard students who milled around after "Something New." For freshmen Reginald Darby, Jennifer Onyeador, Alexandria McBride and Jason Woolfork, who are African American, interracial dating is no big deal. Most of them are from the burbs, and back home, they say, they either dated interracially -- which their parents don't like -- or didn't date at all. Coming to historically black Howard changed that for them. But they're still open.

Mostly, they're open to love.

The way Brian grabbed Kenya in the movie and kissed her?

"You've got to take charge," Onyeador says, grabbing Darby by the collar and shaking him a little. "I wish that would happen to me."

"He wouldn't give up," McBride says. "He loved her. And he just came and took her."


She's Gotta Have Him

A woman agonizes about race in 'Something New.'

By Allison Samuels

Jan. 30, 2006 issue - Interracial relationships aren't exactly new in Hollywood movies—remember "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner"? But what was the last romantic comedy in which the babe was black and the hunk was white? The aptly titled "Something New," directed by Sanaa Hamri and written by Kriss Turner, offers just such a romance. Kenya (Sanaa Lathan), a well-educated thirtysomething CPA in search of the perfect African-American mate, finds slim pickings. On a blind date, she meets a white landscaper named Brian (Simon Baker), who has a we-are-the-world attitude toward relationships. She's reluctant to date him again but hires him to work on her new house, and eventually ... but why ruin the surprise?

At first glance, this role reversal doesn't seem to make box-office sense. Thirteen percent of African-American men marry outside their race, as opposed to just 5 percent of African-American women. But another statistic suggests there might be an audience for "Something New": 42.5 percent of African-American women are unmarried. "I'd heard so much about the issue of black women not being able to find men that it was a natural subject to tackle," says Turner, who's also the executive producer of UPN's "Everybody Hates Chris." "I knew I really had an idea when I discussed this with Chris Rock and he said black women should explore their options more in dating."

Unlike many African-American films of the past, "Something New" uses black high society as a backdrop, including eye-candy cotillions that introduce the young daughters of upwardly mobile parents. And it goes to great lengths not to criticize or stereotype African-American men. Kenya's requisite short fling before finding true love is with a suave African-American lawyer (played by Blair Underwood). Still, says the film's producer Stephanie Allain (who also produced "Hustle & Flow"), "we wanted to encourage African-American women and women of color to think more outside the box. We've been reluctant to do that for a long time. We've been very loyal to black men, but times have changed. We also wanted to make sure the guy was hot. The typical blond, blue eyes—hot."

Unlike other interracial films, which play the differences between the partners for laughs, "Something New" focuses on the similarities. "We show how the two people share their worlds with each other," says Allain. "They both compromise to be in each other's worlds." Which isn't to say there aren't comic possibilities. When Brian takes Kenya hiking, a rainstorm gives her major hair problems. When she takes him to a black comedy club, Brian ends up the butt of a joke: "Either you're getting your swirl on or you're with your probation officer."

But all kidding aside, this is a movie whose star takes its message personally. "I've dated interracially in the past," says the Yale-educated Lathan, "and it's good to know you have the option. To be in a film where a black woman is desired by all men is something I feel grateful to be a part of." Audiences may feel the same. Guess who's coming to a theater near you.

A fresh shade of love: ‘Something New’ takes unusual look at interracial-romance puzzle

By Lauren Beckham Falcone

From “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” to “Jungle Fever” to “Crash,” interracial dating and the big screen are longtime partners. But what makes the movie “Something New” (opening Friday) something to talk about is that it’s told from a professional black woman’s perspective.

“I’m just glad I don’t have to sit through another ‘Booty Call,’ ” said Kemi Chavez, a 30-year-old stay-at-home mother of two. Chavez, who is black, is married to a white man and said it’s about time her story is told on the big screen.

“There’s this stereotype among black women that if you date a white man, it’s like, ‘Oh, she must have given up,’ ” said Chavez, who lives in Maryland. “My husband and I ended up together because we have so much in common and he’s my best friend. But my mother thought I was going through a stage, and my friends just thought I’d get over it.”

“Something New” tells the story of Kenya McQueen, whose career is skyrocketing while her love life is lacking. After another Valentine’s Day spent working late, Kenya agrees to a blind date with Brian Kelly, a landscape architect who happens to be white. Despite reservations, sparks fly, as does the vitriol of her family and friends.

“I think it’s great to see a woman’s perspective on this subject,” said Kristen Bellamey, 27, a public-relations executive in Boston. “You know, I grew up in Pennsylvania in a predominantly white town, so dating white men was in the comfort zone. And while I never got any flak from my family and friends, I do notice people, especially black men, make eye contact with me in a ‘what are you doing’ sort of thing. I’m like, ‘What difference does it make? I’m with the greatest guy ever.’ ”

About.com relationship columnist and author Jeff Cohen said most interracial relationship problems aren’t between the couple. They usually are caused by family, friends and society.

“I get a lot of e-mails from people saying they are a very happy couple, but we just don’t know if we can make it through all the glances and family pressure,” he said.

Cohen thinks movies tackling interracial relationships strike a chord with audiences because “everyone knows relationships are tough.”

“And when you can relate in some way, it touches your heart,” he said.

Not everyone is thrilled with the concept of the movie, however.

“When I first saw the trailer for this film, I was infuriated with the attitude of some of the characters onscreen, belittling their black female friend for possibly going out with and possibly falling in love with a white man,” said 35-year-old Philadelphia resident Bill Larson, who is biracial. “This world is filled with so much hatred, it is rare indeed when two people find true love and happiness in such a world, no matter their skin color, religion, etc. A film that, at least in its previews, seems so down on the idea just, to me, perpetuates that hatred and separation.”

Margina Dennis, 38, of Framingham, who is married to a white man, said she doesn’t see the movie as divisive and looks forward to Hollywood’s take on interracial dating. But she admits she didn’t take as many lumps as the film’s protagonist.

“My family has always been very open and didn’t make any judgments about my husband,” she said. “They welcomed him open arms. There was a little bit of reservation from his family, but once they got to know me, that went away.”

Still, she endures judgment from strangers.

“Usually black males or older Caucasians,” she said. “I don’t let it bother me. It’s their problem, not mine.”

Chavez said the more the public sees something, the more they accept it, and, hopefully, “Something New” will set off just that.

“It’s like black women don’t have permission to date white men, especially in Hollywood,” she said. “You see all these interracial couples, but it’s usually a black man with a white woman. Diahann Carroll, Diana Ross, Thandie Newton, Aisha Tyler, I think they all have white husbands, but you don’t see them. Maybe soon we will.”

Simon Baker: The white guy for the role

By Stephen Schaefer/ Movies

Simon Baker was exactly what was prescribed for the lighthearted, interracial romantic comedy “Something New,” opening Friday.

“Visually, I wanted that iconic blue-eyed blond thing,” producer Stephanie Allain said about her search for a white guy who would generate enough heat that Sanaa Lathan’s character could abandon her resolve to date only African-American men.

The first time Baker sat down to read with Lathan, Allain said, “We knew. We’d auditioned 40 guys already.”

Baker and Lathan hit it off.

“We had a ball and got on really well. I think two people either jell together or they don’t,” he said.

The 36-year-old Aussie, best known for three seasons on CBS’ “The Guardian” and as Rachel’s (Naomi Watts) boyfriend in “The Ring 2,” was surprised to find himself a romantic comedy hottie.

“I’ve never set out to be a romantic figure in movies,” Baker said during a one-on-one interview. “In fact, I hadn’t done a romantic role before. And in this, I was pretty much the straight man. The jokes were all around and about me.”

Unlike earlier films that made racial differences the entire focus, “Something New” achieves a nice balance, Baker said.

“The social issue with race and the collision of two cultures and the humor and drama that comes out of that social issue - it’s essentially two people falling in love, two people getting out of their head and trusting what they’re feeling.”

For Baker, trusting one’s feelings is a motto for how he lives.

Baker’s looks won him work in TV commercials and then a series. By the time he was 22, he trusted his gut and took the plunge: He moved to America with his wife, actress Rebecca Riggs (“Farscape”), and their 2-year-old daughter.

“I had nothing lined up. We had enough money to last about 10 weeks and we thought, ‘We’ll see what happens.’ At the time, it didn’t seem that adventurous, but in hindsight it was. We lived here for 10 years.”

Baker won a role in his first Los Angeles meeting. The film was the instant classic “L.A. Confidential.”

This past year Baker and his family, now expanded to three children, returned to Sydney.

“My family is a great solid foundation for me,” he said.

Race and relationships

By Joel Stratte-McClure

How truthful is the depiction of single black professional women and their relationships with white men in "Something New"? Is all of that attitude, humor and sarcasm about interracial contact an exaggeration?

That's what everyone was talking about at the after-party at the Cabana Club following the movie's premiere - attended by Prince (who sneaked in through a side door), Queen Latifah, Gabrielle Union, Randy Jackson, Mark Ruffalo, Mary Kay Place, Brenda Strong, Arielle Kebbel and Zach Braff - in the Cinerama Dome at the ArcLight on Tuesday night.

"Wisteria Lane is a fantasy, but this is dead-on reality," said "Desperate Housewives' " Alfre Woodard, who joins a cast that includes Sanaa Lathan, Simon Baker, Golden Brooks, Donald Faison and Blair Underwood in the film that opens on Friday. "This is a segment of black society concerned with status, class and breeding that usually isn't parodied on film."

What's the message for career-oriented black women? "The problems are real but women put a lot of the pressure on themselves," said Lathan, who plays a stressed-out corporate exec who falls for a white landscape architect. "They should learn not to worry about what everyone thinks."

The script is partially based on the life of screenwriter Kriss Turner, who's a producer on "Everybody Hates Chris." "I'm 42, still single, don't have kids and am asking the questions posed by many professional women, black and white," said Turner. "What happened to my life? Why do I have to continually prove myself at work? Are things so bad that I've got to find a white man?"

And what's a white guy's role amid this existential drama? "He knows he loves her and doesn't care what color she is," said Baker. "Like any guy, he's foolishly optimistic."

Then there's the profound point contained in a line delivered by Earl Billings.

"The boy's just white, he's not a Martian." Things could be worse.

Something New Not the Same Old Rom-Com

Source: Heather Newgen

In Focus Features' latest romantic comedy, Something New, Kenya McQueen (Sanaa Lathan) is a successful career woman who knows exactly what she is looking for in a boyfriend. Maybe too much so. She has quite the list of expectations and is not willing to compromise until she is set up on a blind date with Brian Kelly (Simon Baker).

Needless to say, he is not someone she has ever imagined herself with and her girlfriends' advice is not helping matters. Neither is the fact that after she decides to give Brian a chance, her perfect match, Mark (Blair Underwood) enters the picture. Now Kenya must choose if she should stay true to her outrageous demands or her heart.

At the Los Angeles premiere of Something New, ComingSoon.net caught up with the director and a few of the cast members who told us their thoughts on their characters and finding the perfect person.

Director Sanaa Hamri explains the movie is really about Kenya's struggles with race and how she never expected to fall in love with a white man.

"The movie is about an African American woman who is looking for love. She has a list of the type of man that she wants to have. [Being with a white man] was not part of the list… she has issues with it because she feels like she should be with the list."

Golden Brooks plays Suzzette, one of Kenya's closest friends and laughs about the idea of finding the perfect companion. In the film she actually pushes Kenya to not be so hung up on her idea of the ultimate guy.

"She dreadfully encourages and enforces Sanaa's character to step outside of herself and just open up," Brooks said.

Brooks said she actually learned a little something from her character.

"[Suzzette is] the girlfriend in the group who is not going to be without a man and she's going to find a man by any means necessary regardless of anything. It's really important to her to be with someone and I think she lives in fear and she doesn't want to be part of static. I learned living in fear and pressuring yourself to hurry up to be on some time clock and find the perfect man. It's not reality. You'll drive yourself a little crazy," she laughed.

Donald Faison is Nelson, Kenya's younger brother who is considered to be a womanizer, but Faison doesn't agree.

"I don't think that's what he is. I think he is a guy who just hasn't found love yet and just doesn't want to waste his time on dating someone if he doesn't see a future."

In addition, Faison gave some advice for people who are dating.

"I think interracial dating is a great thing and I think everyone should do it. Date somebody outside the race."

Henry Simmons plays the neighbor of Keyna. He admits he doesn't approve of Brian in the beginning because he is white, but learns to accepts him.

"You can never judge a book by it's cover. It's what's on the inside that counts. That's the most important."

Hamri loved the script and was amazed by the all-star cast that was attracted to the project. She explained where the idea came from and said she hopes "people will learn to step outside the box and the matrix you've created for yourself."

She added, "The concept came from Kriss Turner, the writer who wrote this article called 42.4%. Which is 42.4% of black women who don't get married especially if they make a lot of money. So she decided to write this."

Something New opens February 3rd.