Black women get even at movies

THE CAR PARK of the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza is where director John Singleton staged a vicious gang execution for Boyz N the Hood, his ground-breaking account of young black men who lead short violent lives.

A year later the LA riots swept through the streets surrounding the glossy shopping mall, but left it largely untouched - in fact, it was the command post for the National Guard.

A very unlikely kind of film - about black professional women, which lampoons black men - is now showing at the mall's gleaming new Magic Johnson Theatre. Waiting to Exhale has been a runaway success right across the United States. After it opened shortly before Christmas, noisy groups of African-American women began piling out of the packed cinema and into Gagnier's restaurant across the street. "They were discussing the movie," said the owner, August Gagnier, "and talking bad about men."

Directed by Forest Whitaker, the black actor who played the British soldier taken hostage in The Crying Game, Waiting to Exhale is set in Phoenix, Arizona. It stars the singer Whitney Houston and the acclaimed actress Angela Bassett.

It contains chapters from the lives of four black career women who have manifold complaints against black men, who are portrayed as coke-heads, frauds and second-rate lovers. Defying industry cliches, there is not a gun and hardly a good man in sight, but images of middle-class life, smart cars and champagne. Bitterly funny, the movie is a feminine riposte to the male angst exemplified in the Million Man March on Washington last year, and to black street language that renders all women "whores" and "bitches".

Riding on audiences 70 per cent female and 65 per cent black, it became Christmas's No 1 film, briefly topping Disney's Toy Story. Twentieth Century Fox, which paid $15m to make it, suggest it will earn perhaps three times that. The company is hoping to expand its appeal across the racial divide.

In Boyz N the Hood, Bassett played the stereotypical long-suffering single mother raising a troubled teenage son. In Exhale, when her wealthy businessman husband of 11 years leaves her for his secretary, she sets his BMW on fire and takes him to the cleaners in the divorce court.

The insult is worse because the other woman is white.

Gagnier's is one of the best-known African-American eateries in Los Angeles, discreetly stylish with a firmly middle-class clientele. Nursing a drink in the corner of the bar is Evelyn Jase, a twice-divorced saleswoman for Estee Lauder cosmetics, who went to the film with her 23-year-old daughter. It reminds women they have choices, she said, and explodes the myth that they need a man. "It is a film everyone should see. A lot of the men there were embarrassed because they saw themselves."

Across town at Mann's Chinese Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard, a young black woman is hurrying in with her companion and son. "I heard it was a woman's movie," she said. "That if people came to see it with their boyfriend, they would quit their boyfriend."

Houston plays a TV producer in an affair with the man who stays with his wife for the sake of the children. But the most telling role is Robin, a good-time girl played by former Eddie Murphy co-star Lela Rochon, in a permanent struggle to get out from under men who don't perform, sexually and otherwise.

Professor Todd Boyd, an expert on black Americanculture, charts Exhale's success in more cynical terms - it's based on a best-selling book, was released into a big holiday market, has a good soundtrack and casts one of America's most popular singers.

"It's a terrible film. Everybody is talking about women's voices but where was the woman director?" Nevertheless, he said, it could open new avenues the way that director Spike Lee blazed a trail for male black cinema.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Environmental Adviser - Maternity Cover

£37040 - £43600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's export credit agency a...

Recruitment Genius: CBM & Lubrication Technician

£25000 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides a compreh...

Recruitment Genius: Care Worker - Residential Emergency Service

£16800 - £19500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to join an organ...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Landscaper

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: In the last five years this com...

Day In a Page

The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

They fled war in Syria...

...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

Kelis interview

The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea