Guess Who's Coming to Landscape?

Something New

reviewed by Steve Sailer

The American Conservative, March 13, 2006


During an Academy Awards season when we're pestered to pretend we admire liberal fantasies like "Brokeback Mountain" (in which he-man Heath Ledger plays the straightest gay ever), it's refreshing that the unheralded "Something New" honestly explores a genuine social issue -- the dire marital prospects of the upper middle class black woman -- with insight and no political axes to grind.

"Something New" is burdened with perhaps the most forgettable title since the straight-to-landfill 1979 Joe Mantegna film "To Be Announced," yet it proves one of the more acutely observed romantic comedies of recent years. It's not exceptionally funny, but as a lively social study, "Something New" is a small but worthy addition to the genre pioneered by Jane Austen.

Kenya McQueen (played by Sanaa Lathan) is an offspring of the traditional black high bourgeoisie, that reclusive and starchy class from which Condoleezza Rice emerged. Armed with a Stanford law degree and a Wharton MBA, she's up for partner at a top accounting law firm, and has just bought a house in Baldwin Hills, the black Beverly Hills. All she's missing is a backyard garden to relax in during her few hours away from the office and a boyfriend.

Like so many affluent black women today, she can't find a black man of comparable status. At Harvard Law School, for instance, black women now outnumber black men three to one. Moreover, according to the 2000 Census, black men are 2.65 times more likely to have a white wife than a black woman is to have a white husband. Because interracial marriage skims off so many of the most eligible black bachelors, African-American women (like Asian-American men, who face a mirror image "dating disparity") have become increasingly opposed to intermarriage.

Kenya's brittle attitude doesn't help her search either. Every time she's out with her girlfriends (also educated, attractive, and unattached), she ends up itemizing what they call The List of the seven not-so-minor prerequisites she demands in a man.

My 1997 article "Is Love Colorblind?" was the first look at the frustrations that interracial marriage causes both black women and Asian men. In response, I've received over the years several hundred emails, often quite eloquent, from women like Kenya offering their own views and experiences. The film's portrayal of the heroine rang true.

The script by Kriss Turner, a black woman who writes for Chris Rock's sitcom, is also admirable for how it handles the career subplot. Making partner depends upon how well she handles a major client's CEO, who is paying for a pro forma "due diligence" analysis of an acquisition he passionately wants to make. Most movies would concoct a bogus "social conscience" plot twist for the heroine to wrestle with, such as her shocking discovery that the target firm clubs baby seals. Instead, "Something New" offers a realistic problem, the kind of test of personal integrity that happens far more often in business: Kenya unearths evidence that the target firm would be a disastrous investment, but that's the last thing her client wants to hear.

Meanwhile, a friend sets her up on a blind date to meet a Brian at the Magic Johnson Starbucks. Brian turns out to be handsome, witty, and laidback. He is, however, very white. (He's portrayed by Simon Baker, yet another Australian leading man who can do a perfect American accent.) Adding to her discomfort, he can read her emotions. He knows she's racially prejudice, while he's not, and he is rather amused by her predicament. So, she ducks out after five tense minutes.

But when Kenya asks an acquaintance about finding a landscape contractor, the small businessman she's sent is Brian. Eventually, after many plausible complications, love blooms among her backyard's new bougainvilleas.

And that's when the trouble really starts. Love stories require resistance from society to be interesting, and "Something New" isn't lacking. Strikingly, almost all the objections come from blacks. Her mother and brother are rude to Brian because he's white and lower middle class. And Brian begins to tire of her kvetching about race. Then, her brother introduces her to an IBM ("Ideal Black Man"): a well-bred black lawyer, played by Blair Underwood ("LA Law") in the suave manner of Billy Dee Williams endorsing Colt 45 malt liquor.

The happy ending won't surprise anybody, but it's fun to see a movie, for once, where the white guy has more soul than the black guy.

Rated PG-13 for sexual references.


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