by Russell Contreras
During the break, I took time away from our capitalist shopping centers and headed for the theater to catch a good flick. Knowing that I had already seen the best
that was out there (Il Postino, Four Rooms) and was not going to touch the ones that suck (Grumpier Old Men, Tom and Huck), I decided to go see Waiting to Exhale with my posse of Latina homegirls. It cannot be denied that I was curious as to what the big fuss was about, and I was extremely anxious to see a movie in which minorities were not blown up at the end or were the hunted criminal. To my gratification, what I experienced was a pretty decent film.
The film, a modest adaptation of Terry McMillan's novel of the same title, was a good example of what a minority, middle-class-based film can do if given the chance.
Within its first week of release, it became America's No. 1 film, surpassing all those action flicks and Anglo-Saxon love
stories. The wide draw was such a surprise to studio executives and the media that one political cartoonist drew a piece calling the massive audience the "Million Woman March."
Now there are many things one can conclude from this occurrence -- the film has a universal appeal to women of color, the four women in the film have nice bodies, the soundtrack is cool, Angela Basset rules so much that every film she's in kicks butt -- but all these rationalizations would be missing the accuracy by a wide margin. No matter what is alleged about the "universal appeal," the ethnicity of the characters is important. It cannot be ignored, nor should it be ignored.
Hollywood consistently makes films that appeal to white Anglo-Saxon males between the ages of 18 and 24. Movie executives claim that "other" films of the past have not done so well and are not worth the risk financially.
Unlike the "other" films that movie executives were talking about, this movie was written, directed (although by a man), and controlled by African-Americans. In general, the "other" films of the past were not. This film was also very appealing to African-American females, who, by the way, are dying to see many more films like it. Other movies were not. (Have you thought about how appealing flicks like Judge Dredd or Father of the Bride II are to African-American females?)
There is a lot of good stuff out there that can entice this surprised of an audience to spend its money. But far too often, most of this material ends up in the back rooms of art museums and underground theaters never to be heard about in popular culture. A Toni Morrison, an Ana Castillo, a N. Scott Momaday, or a Rudolfo Anaya novel would make a good film. The audience that craves them has taste, money, and would go see the films on their opening night -- even though after some films some men might insist on leaving their cars in their garage. Forever.
Contreras is a senior history and English major.