When "Hustle & Flow" producer Stephanie Allain ran across a newspaper article that reported 42.4 percent of successful black women have never been married, a reality she had seen reflected in her own life, she knew she had to take the story to the big screen. By putting a new twist (interracial relationships) on an old genre (romantic comedies), Allain birthed the idea for "Something New," a film she hoped would trigger some much-needed discussion about a topic often kept under wraps.
Out Friday (February 3), the flick stars Sanaa Lathan ("Blade") as Kenya McQueen, a black 30-something workaholic who has thrown her personal life out the window in order to rise up the ranks of her high-profile accounting firm. ("Some of us just have to work harder to stay in the game," she says of the male-dominated industry.)
While Kenya's professional life is precisely on track (she's thisclose to making partner), her love life is suffering a severe drought. She hasn't had a date in two years, and any prospective male quickly loses points if he fails to meet the criteria on her "list," a set of characteristics she requires from her potential partner. At the top of that list? An educated, charming black man.
Sanaa is finally forced out of her comfort zone when she meets Brian (Simon Baker), an attractive, single white blond-haired, blue-eyed landscape architect who throws her life into flux when sparks begin to fly on their blind date. The film focuses on a young black woman dealing with the aspect of an interracial relationship from all sides as friends and family would rather her find her own "IBM" ("Ideal Black Man"), society still isn't quite as accepting as it should be and Kenya herself struggles to come to terms with her own innate biases.
"Kenya has all these characteristics she needs to have in her mate, but the person she ends up meeting doesn't fit a lot of that criteria," Lathan said. "I think that's a lesson that your heart is going to fall in love with who it's going to fall in love with, and it's not necessarily what's on paper."
"If you're in love and there's that chemistry, that's what it's all about. At the end of the day, would I love to be married to a black man? Absolutely, but I don't walk around with labels," co-star Golden Brooks added.
Allain admits the film will ruffle some feathers because there are still many who consider the subject of dating outside your race a taboo. "But it's not," she said. "It's happening, and part of what the issues are has to do with people creating their box and not wanting to step outside of it. But in this day and age, it's time to break down those boundaries and explore what it is to be the human race."
Actor Henry Simmons, who is also featured in the film, says he is seeing an increase in interracial couples among younger people. "I think it's because they're exposed to more things. Anytime you don't have knowledge of something, you tend to have fear of it, but that can always be broken through," he said.
Plugged as the first film to tackle the relationship of a successful black woman with a less-successful white man, "Something New" also marks the big-screen directorial debut of Sanaa Hamri, who spent years helming music videos for an eclectic array of artists including Mariah Carey, Sting and Common. "I wanted to do a project that dealt with character and humanness, and I found that in this script," she explained. "It talks about bringing people together despite prejudices, and that's always been a theme in my work."
Lathan said it was empowering to work with a director (Hamri), writer (Kriss Turner) and producer (Allain) who are all African-American women. "Never before have I been in this position where [there are so many] strong, smart black women at the helm of a film," she said.
"It's a film for the new millennium," Allain added. "If this had been made 20 years ago, it would have highlighted the things that keep people apart, but we're showing what brings them together."
Check out everything we've got on "Something New."
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