I just came from seeing the new romantic comedy, Jumping the Broom. As a lover of Romantic Comedies, I liked the film, and actually had been looking forward to seeing it since some of the trailers sometime earlier in the year emerged. I like Paula Patton (I thought she was comedy in “Just Wright”) and of course, I adore Angela Basset (I mean, who doesn’t?), Loretta Devine and the comedic styling’s of Tasha Smith. I don’t really have any feelings for or against Mike Epps or Laz Alonzo (who is positioned to be the next Morris Chestnut, but who is also not my type. meh.) The rest of the cast is just amazing and lovely to look at, and with the good costuming, great scenery and lighting, and eye candy wise, good stuff. (Pooch Hall, Gary Dourdan (woof), and of course the amazingly hot Meagan Goode.)
The class issues that everyone keeps mentioning that are the basic conflict in the film are definitely there. After watching it, I discussed the film with my girl who I went with. She mentioned that yes, we expected caricatures, (we aren’t expecting depth, its a RomCom!) but it was interesting that there really was such a heavy handed theme of ‘questioning the blackness’ of educated, wealthy black people that both of us noticed, and didn’t like. I added that the reveal of a family secret in the film is what ‘brings them down to the level’ of the working class black people in the film, so they are able to see that they are ‘not so different after all’. awwww.
I enjoyed Loretta Devine’s character transformation over the film, and Mike Epps was clearly there for comedic relief, because the film really could have worked without him, and pushed it more toward a drama, but I know Hollywood ain’t ready for critical or black drama with character depth. (deep sigh). I could have done without the TD Jakes cameo or the ‘way to easily’ wrapped up ending.
But again… I’m there for the love and the romance. One of my favorite parts in the film was the relationship between the Angela Basset character and her husband, the sexy Brian Stokes Mitchell. I liked the depth of their relationship and how it was a great representative of black love, forgiveness and partnered commitment on screen. I also adored the opening sequence of the film that showed black and white photos of black weddings since what looked like the advent of photography in the early 1900’s.
Overall, I want to encourage folks who love “Rom-Com’s” to see and support the film. It’s about 20K times better than “Something Borrowed”, which I also saw this past week. (I’m outing myself, but I read the book during a forced self care time away from cultural theory. I like the book, but do not like the film, at all really. Meh. But that, is another blog post). Let me also be clear that I’m writing this first part of the review from that genre’d perspective. The deeper analysis is below.
So, In a world full of Tyler Perry films as offerings to those of us who want and need a romance flick with an all black cast, without someone bursting into gospel music or being overly heavy handed on the Christian themes, this film definitely filled that happy, hetero, escapist, fun space for me.
Go see it!!
Down to business: THIS NEXT PART CONTAINS MAJOR FILM SPOILERS. DO NOT READ THIS IF YOU HAVE NOT SEEN THE FILM AND ARE PLANNING TO DO SO. THIS WILL RUIN THE FILM FOR YOU.
I actually didn’t know that there was a family secret that was going to be revealed during the film. I was completely thrown off sitting in the theater when suddenly, the two sisters, mother of the bride, Angela Basset’s character and auntie of the bride, Valarie Pettiford’s character (whom I love from “Half and Half”) are fighting about the fact that Valarie gave Angela her little girl when she got pregnant as a young woman in Paris, and Angela and Brian raised Paula as their daughter.
What? Really? I’m sitting inside a theater watching an escapist film that is unknowingly about adoption? Of COURSE it is!! gah!
Okay, okay. deep breaths. This film is loaded with themes of same race and kinship adoption in the African American / Black community. First, a disclaimer, I just came from the film, so I haven’t had time to think about these things in a deep theoretical way, this is a blog posting and is just me writing some thoughts down, introducing some issues connected to adoption that I hope to put up for discussion, but also because I plan to explore them deeper at a later time.
Onward: I have to say that Loretta Devine does an amazing job of making me hate her in the film. From her irrational dislike of the bride and the brides family, to her crazy selfish and absolutely horrible, just… mean –lashing out when she reveals that she has overheard the fight between Angela and Valarie, and that, whoops, Paula – you need to check yourself honey, because these people who you think are your parents, don’t even love you enough to tell you that you aren’t their kid!
Ouch. That shit was cold, Loretta, cold.
But what is important about this moment, the moment she lashes out and actually does turn Paula’s life upside down, is the way that things unfold and how the themes of adoption, secrecy and notions about shame and the Black family play out in the storyline.
One of the more powerful issues for me is that aunties, grandmothers, uncles raising other family member’s children, happens ALL the time in our families and in our communities, but nobody connects them to adoption. Further, no one connects the secrecy and shaming aspect of unwed parents to the overall historical discourses of adoption, reproductive justice, family and who is and who isn’t an ‘appropriate’ black parent. This is the kind of discourse that continues to impact our notions of what is and isn’t neglect, and moments like this in Jumping the Broom offer an opportunity to either uphold or push back against a society that relies on a social welfare system that was set up not to support black mothers and fathers, wed or not.
The model of ‘keeping it in the family’, is an adoption model I prefer over a model that doesn’t put family preservation first, and as we know, the keeping it in the family model has deep connections to the history of slavery in the African Diaspora and models of family outside western colonial ideology. For hundreds of years black families both domestically and internationally have been taking care of our own children, even as over and over colonization and the social welfare system continues to attempt to take them from us. Yes, to take them from us for white desires, (historically, for more slaves or, contemporarily, trafficked for adoption or to fulfill infertility or ‘savior’ desires.). But I digress. (do I?)
The way that Paula’s birth mother, Valarie, is shamed over and over by her sister, Angela’s character (adoptive mother) to keep quiet about telling Paula the truth of her heritage is totally driven by Angela’s fear of losing a connection with her daughter, and somehow of Valarie taking ‘her rightful place’ as Paula’s ‘one and only’ mother.
I understand perfectly that the reveal of adoption / parentage was a script device that put an obstacle in front of the bride and groom to overcome, but its clear to me, that the script writers have no clue as to how life changing, and how much being adopted in general, (let alone the ‘late reveal’ that seems to be a common pattern in same race adoptions) has a life long, major impact on our lives as adopted people.
These are people she is supposed to trust? I have heard stories over and over from same race adoptees (White, Black, Asian) whose parents kept the fact that they were adopted a secret, when there were people in the family who actually knew, and either kept the secret from them, or assumed that the adoptee knew and that the family just never talked about it, or that it was private. These same families have a moment like the moment in the film, where a cousin or someone outside the family reveals to the adoptee (child or adult) that they are adopted. Do people think that these moments aren’t life changing? Or that the solid ground beneath your feet when you are told something that changes who you are forever doesn’t earthquake and have everlasting tremors on your body and heart?
What about having adoption NOT be a secret? What about Angela and Valarie’s characters working together over a lifetime to ensure that Paula does indeed feel loved and secure, by never keeping her adoption a secret, by embracing the fact that her family is so loving and caring that they support one another by parenting collectively. What about Valarie or Angela and Brian as a couple, explaining to Paula from birth, year after year, whenever she has questions about her mother or her situation, but always, always being truthful and supporting her through the complicated nuances of the circumstances.
The model of ‘ownership’ adoption, connected to the nuclear family is the model that is portrayed in this film. There is no room for an extended family where mother and father roles are blurred, where the entire family takes on the parenting of a child. The non nuclear model is unable to exist in this film. I saw in Angela’s character the very real fears of dis-attachment that I see in adoptive mothers who choose to adopt internationally instead of domestically, because they are afraid one day the child will leave them, or that the mother will come searching for her child and take them away. Uh, if you lie to your child, or hide their history, or are afraid of how they are different from you so you deny it, what, I ask you, can you expect? Why not believe in love enough to know that your child understands that what you are doing is loving them enough to let them have love from multiple places in their life?
What about a world where Paula’s character is respected and not left unprepared for such a moment of reveal, pain, distrust and for her entire life as she knows it shifting under her feet?
and… Really? One conversation of explanation with her birth mother after the reveal is enough to get her back on track to the wedding? Her father isn’t even her father! Who is her father? Where is he? What does he look like? Paula’s character has half siblings and a whole other family to consider now. but of course, the film doesn’t go there. Why would it?
During the moment when Valarie’s character is sitting with Paula after the reveal, telling her, “I’m glad I gave you to (Angela), she could give you so many things that I wasn’t able to give you”, my stomach had a moment where I flashed back to hearing my own birth mother on the phone. She told me that she asked for me to go to a white family, and she was so proud of her decision, because look how I turned out. What? Ok, I get it, you need to tell yourself that to cope with the situation as it stands but realistically, you gets no props for how I turned out. That’s ALL my moms and pops. But then, is that an argument for the fact that she was right? That she should have done what she did? I’m not sure, but my circumstances aren’t like Paula’s character, no one could hide the fact that I was adopted from me, I’m black, my family is white, its not a secret.
Ugh. But backing away from the personal, I had an extremely hard time with the ways in which the depth of adoption and disconnection from roots was swept away in the film. I’m sorry, but Loretta’s character would have been kicked the hell out my house. I’m not saying that the messages of forgiveness, or moving on, or even the one about family accepting each other regardless of all our faults are bad ones. I’m saying adoption is a lifelong issue. I’m saying that an adopted person, even if they are a kinship adopted person, deserves to know who their parents are and that they deserve the respect of knowing upfront, their entire lives, so these moments of emotional devastation don’t happen. I don’t think that people who aren’t adopted actually understand how important knowing your heritage is.
I’m still pushing against the narrative of gratefulness that tells adoptees they had better be grateful for our lives, because ‘it could have been so much worse’. I’m looking for a black community and a larger world that wants to embrace unwed parents who need support to keep their children, instead of stigmatize them and make them feel ashamed.
I’m looking forward to hearing what you all think and in the meantime, I’m gonna go see Thor. There better not be one dang thing about adoption in that film or I’m cracking skulls!