By Olu Alemoru, Staff Writer
In a banner year for black movies — including “The Butler,” “Fruitvale” and “12 Years A Slave” — and television with Kerry Washington’s electrifying portrayal of Olivia Pope in “Scandal,” the streak continues with a highly anticipated romantic comedy sequel.
“The Best Man Holiday,” a follow up to Malcolm D. Lee’s 1999 “Best Man,” reunites him with its ensemble cast, including Taye Diggs, Morris Chestnut, Terence Howard, Nia Long, Sanaa Lathan and Regina Hall.
Meanwhile, alpha male Brian (Eddie Cibrian), a wealthy lawyer, enters the “Black Pack” as Long’s significant other and gives as good as he gets when hanging with the fellas.
This time the gang are enjoying a Christmas get together at football star’s Lance Harper’s (Morris Chestnut) upstate New York mansion. Lee deftly handles the ensuing plot and sub plots, delivering a crowd-pleasing mix of humor, pathos and heart.
Last week the filmmaker talked to L.A. journalists about how the sequel came about, his original inspiration for the movie, why his characters have so resonated with audiences and is this a new Hollywood renaissance for black films?
Social media exploded when photos of a cast reunion dinner surfaced a couple of years ago. Was it plain sailing to get the green light?
Yes and no. I called everybody in late 2011 and said, ‘I’ve got an idea for the sequel, but I want us all to get in the same room again.’ I told them, ‘If you like it, great, and if you don’t, then at least we’ve all seen each other again. It was a great dinner, the drinks were flowing, it was a very high bill I was paying for, but I was glad because they liked my idea. I saw there was a good bit of buzz, but I didn’t know how to quantify it and didn’t know if that was going to translate into a movie getting made.
I worked on a draft script, but still needed the okay from the studio (Universal Pictures). So I said to them let me get my cast together for a read-through. I told the actors, ‘This cast reading is going to make or break us.’ We did a table read for all the studio executives and by the time we got into our cars we knew they would sign on.
What was the original inspiration for the story and why do you think it has resonated for all these years?
The first movie was inspired by ‘The Big Chill.’ I was 13 when that movie first came out; every time I saw it, it revealed something new to me about the characters and what they were going through. In the 80’s there was the ‘Rat Pack’ and this is ‘The Black Pack.’ This is a collection of really talented actors, who embodied their roles so thoroughly in the first movie, which was a movie that spoke to a generation of African-American people that were educated, sophisticated and going to college. So, I think that was refreshing for audiences that hadn’t seen themselves like that on the big screen. The movie has stood the test of time; it’s been on heavy rotation on BET and HBO for years.
Does your movie and this year’s crop of Black films signal a new day in Hollywood?
We’ve seen these kinds of things before. When Spike came out with his movies everybody was going to see them, then John Singleton came out with ‘Boyz in the Hood’ and all these hood movies followed. Then you had ‘Waiting to Exhale,’ ‘Love Jones’ and ‘Best Man,’ a slew of Black romantic comedies, a couple of which didn’t work. So, they were like forget it. But what I think is different now is there is a greater diversity of product, from ‘42’ to ‘Fruitvale,’ ’12 Years A Slave’ to ‘Baggage Claim.’
The business has shifted a lot. [Not so long ago] I was talking to Chris Rock and he was like, ‘Man, this Black shit is over, ain’t nobody making anything.’ I was like that’s not true, because nothing works until it does. Nobody knows anything. You don’t know what people are going to respond to; people are always surprised by stuff. Nobody thought ‘Think Like A Man’ would make $96 million and no one ever thinks Tyler Perry’s movies are going to make money, but they do. You’ve got to stick to your guns and keep moving forward.”
Sanaa Lathan and Taye Diggs reprise their roles in the sequel to ‘Best Man.’