Eat Pray Love is out on DVD now, and before I get into my little diatribe, let me first say that if you didn’t see it in the movie theater, what are you waiting for now? What’s there not to love: there’s Julia, beautiful scenes of India, and Javier. Need I say more? I know I’m going into a little rant here, but I’m still encouraging you to see the movie. It’s definitely entertaining, for whatever issues I might have with it.
I was excited about the movie being made as soon as I first heard about it because I was a crazy fan of the book. And when I say crazy I mean Oprah-book-club, shout-from-the-rooftops, call-your-girlfriends-and-cry-over-it-together cra-a-zy. Now I say this knowing all the naysayers of the book, and to them I shrug: You go nuts over your books and I’ll go nuts over mine.
But there was something troubling me about the film version of the book, and it all started for me with the trailer. It had me pulling my copy of the book of the shelves to scour for an answer to a perplexing question.
First let me talk a bit more about the movie. The scenery was lush and beautiful (as I knew it would be), Javier was lush and beautiful (as I knew he would be) and Julia with her hair and lips was lush and, (well, you get the point). But as I’d feared, the movie did not quite live up to my love of Elizabeth Gilbert's original heart-wrenching book. The book (and some would say this is a criticism) was a perfect escape from life, and didn’t make light of the need for that escape. The movie somehow fell a bit short of that for me. It turned what were much more real characters in my head into caricatures.
But that wasn’t my biggest problem. My biggest problem brings me back to my book-scouring question that came up when I first saw the trailer. Who was this Delia character, played by Viola Davis? For the life of me, I could not remember her from the original. Where did this Black Best Friend (BBF) come from, and why was she suddenly in the movie when she wasn’t in the book? The book that sold millions and had fans all over the world waiting for the movie. The book that I thought was near perfect, so much so that I brought extra copies for two of my friends.
And then I realized it: Hollywood thought Julia’s character needed a Black sidekick. To what purpose? Throw us a bone to get us into the theater? And by us I mean me, in the eyes of Hollywood. A Black woman between the age of 18-49. I’m guessing the Tyler Perry demo that we now know reads books, shops, goes to movies, has money and is willing to spend it. Insert huge sigh here. I was insulted and continued to be throughout the movie. The movie I had waited so long to see.
In order to placate myself I talked to my husband about my issues (probably more than he would have liked), getting into author stuff like characterization and internal dialogue all trying to reason out the reason for this character. In the end I couldn’t do it. I didn’t need to be pandered to in that way. You see, I would have seen the movie either way because I loved the book and Julia and, well, there was Javier, dang it!
I would love to see Viola in her own big budget starring role which this Oscar-nominated and Tony award-winning actress deserves. Not as the sidekick. It felt like I was watching Nights in Rodanthe again.It doesn’t matter that she is a Black woman, but me being a black women, yeah that would make me pretty happy too, because I’d love to see more starring roles for women in general and, yes more with Black women and all women of color.
I’m so sick of this sort of add-on role of the BBF in Hollywood: The fringe black character who is clearly placed there as nothing more than a sounding board for the main White character. She has no real storyline or depth that moves the story forward. Just the occasional funny line or wise bit of wisdom for an a-ha moment. In an ensemble cast, she’s girl number five on the far left.
My favorite character who breaks this mold is Tara from True Blood, played by Rutina Wesley. The BBF that is a true BFF (best friend forever) in every way. She’s a character with depth and a story all her own that just about equals the main character’s. She’s clearly not just background noise or someone put in to pander to a demographic. In an odd way, I have not had so much fun with two such characters since—and I’m totally dating myself here—Cher and Dionne from the movie Clueless. Two Black and White best friends that seem completely authentic and made for each other.
So are you listening, Hollywood? I think it’s time to smarten up and get more creative with relationships between women on film—let’s make it equal and not separate.
Kwana Jackson is a writer of Women’s fiction and Young Adult, a former fashion designer, a wife, and a mother of teen twins who have a love of knitting and a strange obsession with “reality” TV.