A successful black woman unexpectedly falls in love with a white man and the rocky road of their relationship offers some fresh insights into changing attitudes and erasing prejudice. That's the story of a film romance now at American theaters and Alan Silverman has a look at Something New.
Kenya is a talented business manager whose career is on the rise, but feels stuck on the ground floor when it comes to her love life.
Her friends say she is being too picky, but Sanaa Lathan, who stars as Kenya, says the character's dilemma is no movie invention.
"The writer's inspiration was the cover story for Newsweek a couple of years ago," she explains, "that said 42.4% of black women aren't married and it's because we're climbing up the corporate ladder so much faster and our male counterparts are either going to jail, dying or dating outside the race. So what do you do? What do you do if you want to have a family?"
What Kenya does is give in to a co-worker's offer of a blind date with a man she's never met before; and when they do meet, Kenya is shocked to see that his race is not what she expected.
Kenya is attracted to Brian, but, Lathan explains, it's her personal attitudes, not social pressure that make her hesitate.
" We are so used to seeing this issue dealt with with a black man and a white woman and this is really one of the first times you see it on the big screen with a black woman and white man," Lathan says. "The difference is it's usually the couple against the world; but in this case it's really her. Her friends are really not against her. Her family is really not giving her too much [trouble]. It's really her own prejudices ... her own struggle with it. This could be a metaphor for doing anything outside of the box that you put yourself in. It could be a relationship with someone of a different religion or dating somebody outside of your class lines ... anything. When you step outside of your 'comfort zone,' how do you deal with that?"
Australian actor Simon Baker adopts an American accent to co-star as Brian; but Baker says he also had to learn about contemporary American racial attitudes to understand the character's plight.
"In the beginning it did limit me in a sense because I was afraid of offending people," he says. "I didn't know the politically correct terms: can I refer to myself as 'white' or do I have to say 'Caucasian?' Can I say that you're 'black?' What are the rules here? I don't want to make mistakes and, at the same time, I want the character to be true to a love story. When people first meet each other, it's a process no matter what race, color, gender ... whatever. It's about discovering each other."
Something New makes something of Hollywood history as the first studio film with black women as producer, writer and director. It's the feature debut of veteran music video director Sanaa Hamri, who says the goal is to give audiences both entertainment and a true image of middle class black life in Los Angeles today.
"The tone of the piece is to create characters that are true to us and also present African-American situations in a different light than Hollywood has been presenting," she says. " I was sick and tired of seeing movies that rely on punchlines and 'court jester' moments ... stuff that felt so broad that the audience is not invested emotionally into these characters. So it took a lot of work with the actors to create that environment so that when the presentation came, you felt that you had a piece that is "Something New," especially for us, when we don't have that many movies out there that really represent us in the best light."
Something New also features Taraji Henson, Blair Underwood, Mike Epps and Alfre Woodard. It was shot on location in some Los Angeles neighborhoods rarely showcased on film.