In the fall of 1999, I remember going out on a Friday night to the movies with my crew to see The Best Man. Seeing some similarities between our group of friends and the beautiful Black people in the movie, we couldn’t wait to see it. As was our custom, if a Black movie came out, we were going to see what it was about. In the words of Issa Rae and now Wale, we were “rooting for everybody Black.”
At 17 years old, I wasn't interested in the idea of getting married, but from the previews I saw, I thought that this could be a good flick about Black love and relationships, plus Nia Long was in it. With a unique plot, The Best Man tapped into the often-ignored market of young, aspirational, professional Black young adults who wanted to go to the theaters to see and hear stories from people who looked like them.
Written and directed by Malcolm D. Lee and produced by his cousin Spike Lee, The Best Man tells the story of Harper Stewart (Taye Diggs), who has written a novel about relationships that is catching fire in the literary world. He attempts to keep secret the fact that his new book is loosely based on the lives of his group of friends. Harper travels to be the best man at his friend Lance’s (Morris Chestnut) wedding, and he reunites with all of his old friends from his past.
But trouble is brewing when an advance copy of the book makes its way into the hands of his ex-flame Jordan Armstrong (Nia Long). Harper attempts to keep it under wraps, but everything goes wrong and threatens to derail the wedding of Lance and Mia (Monica Calhoun).
I was familiar with a lot of the cast, who seemed to be in every new African-American film that was hitting theaters during that time. So The Best Man felt like a grand exclamation point on a decade of Blackness.
As I watched the movie, I remember that my eyes were transfixed on the screen wondering how messy the whole scenario was. This was wild! I kept thinking to myself, “How could your best friend sleep with your woman?” Next, I thought, “Somebody ain't gone make it to the end of the movie.”
When the film was over, we all wanted to crash a reception like Lance and Mia’s so we could do the Electric Slide to “Candy” by Cameo, which evolved into a new tradition in Black culture. The Best Man was an instant hit among Black audiences opening at number one at the box office and went on to gross almost $35 million, tripling its production budget.
The Best Man became one of my favorite films. When it became available on home video, I rented it from my local video rental store on VHS (I know I’m dating myself) and kept it for months, refusing to return it until the cops showed up to my door.
However, as an older man who is now married, I am seeing the film through new eyes. So, in celebration of the 20th anniversary of the classic film, here’s a list of what The Best Man got right -- and wrong -- about Black love.
What The Best Man Got Right
Black Love Is Mad Complex
The Best Man gives a vivid portrayal of the complexity of Black love and relationships. Black love is never a monolithic endeavor, but a myriad of diverse experiences. The film showcased upper-class, professional Black people, at various levels in their respective fields, still struggling with making meaningful relationships. Without question, Black love is mad complex and The Best Man navigated the rugged terrain of relationships by displaying a mix of couples and singles working their way through personal and professional challenges. There was no "one size fits all" reaction to the twists in the narrative, with conscience and crudeness coming from unlikely places.
Love From A Man’s Perspective
Typically, romantic comedies/dramas are told from the perspective of a woman who is usually depicted as desperate for love at any cost. But The Best Man comes from the angle of love from a Black man’s point of view. Harper has to come to an understanding of his love for Robin (Lathan) as a man who shies away from commitment, Lance and Mia have to come to terms with their love for each other in spite of their past indiscretions, and Harper and Lance must learn to love each other again after discovering details of the past to repair their friendship. In one helluva weekend, The Best Man showed us how Black men can grow in love.
Not All Black Men Cheat
While “Black Men Don’t Cheat” is becoming a popular colloquialism, many Black women can attest to a different reality. But there are plenty of Black men in loving, committed and monogamous relationships. At the same card-playing scene, there were other voices who didn’t endorse the hyper-masculine narrative about sexual conquest that was being spewed out. Merch (Perrineau), who is seen as weak man because he defers to strong-willed Shelby (De Sousa), provides a dissenting point of view into the conversation when Lance and Quentin are both in cahoots regarding the male obligation to womanize. Even Harper chastised his crew, who have patriarchal views about relationships, and calls them “cavemen” because of their views.
Forgiveness Is A Two-Way Street
Lance has to muster up everything he has in him in order to forgive both Harper and Mia. In the film, Lance must consider all the times that Mia forgave him for his indiscretions. Lance says he forgives Harper because of his Christian faith, but he forgives Mia because, at the end of the day, he simply loves her. Forgiveness is an essential ingredient in any long-lasting relationship.
What The Best Man Got Wrong
The Best Man depicted the ideas of Black love, sexuality, relationships and marriage through the lens of comedy and drama that sent audiences on a roller-coaster ride of emotions.
But The Best Man is not without its issues. Now with all The Best Man got right, here’s what the film got wrong.
Independent Black Women Can’t Get A Man
Professional, independent, driven Black women often suffer in the marketplace of love, and in The Best Man it’s no different. Jordan (Long) is described as being the only one in the crew that is more driven than Harper, is successful in her career but not so much in her love life, meanwhile Harper has been in a relationship for two years with Robin.
By the film’s logic, Jordan must downsize the largeness of who she is to fit into a relationship with a man with a small ego and narrow perspective. Shelby was castigated for being domineering while Mia and Robin, who are more submissive, both get their man. Unlike her male counterparts, Jordan and Shelby can’t have their cake and eat it too.
Marriage Is The Cure For Everything
Any married person will tell you that marriage is one of the best things that can happen to you, but it’s not easy. In fact, it's a daily challenge. In The Best Man, marriage is portrayed as a magical cure for every relationship issue. When Harper proposes to Robin at the wedding reception, he had just been trying to hook up with Jordan the night before, and it was revealed that he slept with Mia. That’s a lot to get over in a day if you were Robin. Even Lance views his marriage to Mia as a purifying tonic for all of his years of reckless womanizing. Just because you get married, all of the unresolved issues and relationship dilemmas that you have don’t disappear overnight. In fact, getting married will bring all of those issues to the surface sooner or later.
Men And Women Can’t Just Be Friends
The Harper and Jordan dynamic in The Best Man is great for the spice that it adds to the storyline. The sexual tension between them is undeniable, but it continues an underlying theme throughout the film that suggests that men and women can’t have platonic relationships. According to the film, eventually they have to get it in. Even Harper and Mia, who were friends, slept together.
Harper is in a committed relationship with Robin, who happens to be at home. Everyone knows about his relationship status, but Jordan, his boys, and even Harper himself expect that he’ll finally “seal the deal” with Jordan after all these years. They’ve been friends since college, and almost hooked up then, but on the weekend of the wedding, with his girl at home, they plan to finish what they started as undergraduates. Harper and Jordan are friends, but they’re both open to exploring the benefits they can get, too.
Nevertheless, even with these minor blemishes, The Best Man was an overall delight to watch, and even after two decades remains a funny, sexy and heartfelt depiction of Black love on screen that we can still be proud of.
Photo Credit: Everett