February 3, 2006
BY MAUREEN JENKINS Staff Reporter
Some folks call it "jungle fever." Others term it "getting your swirl on." A film hitting theaters today delves into a topic that's still liable to raise eyebrows -- interracial dating. Specifically, the black-and-white kind.
"Something New" explores virgin film territory on mixed-race relationships by featuring a thirtysomething professional black woman (Sanaa Lathan) who shocks even herself by falling for a white landscape architect (Simon Baker). For Lathan's character, Kenya, crossing the color line is a new frontier. In reality, many "real women" explore love across cultures, finding both challenges and rewards as they navigate this often-tricky landscape.
At least on the black-white side, "It's more loaded because our history in this culture is so intertwined," said Lathan, in Chicago recently to promote "Something New."
Still, "If there is a message to the movie, it's follow your heart," says Lathan about the film that's being targeted not just as a date flick and to blacks and professional women but also to the gay community. "Step outside that box you've created for yourself, that comfort zone."
We invited six female Sun-Times readers to view the film and to share whether it resonated with their personal experiences.
Q.Did "Something New" accurately portray either your own internal struggles when dating outside your race or the sorts of conversations that go on between partners?
Marge: When we came here and I started dating an African American, I kept my relationship quiet. The [disapproving] brother in the movie was my brother. We'd go out to different suburbs where nobody would see us. I could relate to [Kenya's] feelings -- like "What is everybody going to say? What are my parents going to say?"
Angelia: My daughter's father is Latino; we dated for six years, we were engaged, and it didn't work out. I'm trying to be more optimistic, but I'm not sure how easy it is to merge two lives or two cultures. There are all these challenges... There's a Caucasian guy who's been pursuing me, but I hae just not taken that step.
Q. Do you feel like you can truly be YOURSELF -- your full ethnic self, whatever that is -- when you're with your boyfriends? That's something Kenya struggles with in the film.
Josefina: The reality is there are differences. My mother's Filipino and my father's Puerto Rican. I've never dated a Caucasian man; a majority of them have been Latino or African American. I embrace my multicultural heritage; the melting pot is very real. The movie definitely glazed over it. When you date outside your race, outside your culture is one thing, but when you go to two opposite ends of the spectrum, it's very different. Personally, I am who I am; but [when it comes to] where I like to go to dance, the music, being able to have that one-on-one conversation... I haven't found any white man I feel comfortable with like that.
Marge: I've had three relationships [with black men]; the first two I felt I was doing more play-acting. But in my most recent one, the more we were together, we talked and realized we had the same issues. Color wasn't really there.
Q.How have your families and friends dealt with your relationships?
Nathalie: It's who you're attracted to. My preference is black men, but I've gone and caved in to my family: "Take the white man, take the white man." I did the whole set-me-up. He was a nice guy, but he wasn't for me. Once I was 18, I was like, "This is who I am, and you are going to have a biracial grandchild in your family." It's been a long time, but they understand. They don't agree, but they understand. [My mom] still thinks it's a phase. She's waiting for that white Catholic guy to come along and sweep me off my feet, but I'm like, "That's your idea, not mine."
Nadine: I've been dating outside my race for four or five years. When I first started, my friends were like, "What are you doing? You can't find anybody [black]?" And I kind of felt bad and like I had to ask myself in the beginning, "Well, what am I doing?" But I don't want to limit myself. So this is my question: Who do you find approaches you? I can be in a room full of black men or whatever, and it's always the white one who approaches me.
Q. In the film, Kenya's girlfriends chastise her about dating a white guy but are fascinated about what he's like as a lover. Why do interracial relationships still bring out such curiosity?
Angelia: There are all these negative messages that are out there in society about people. I think there's still this belief that black men have large penises, white men have small penises. And your friends want to know.
Tiara: It's like that unknown territory. It's like if you just took the bar exam and I'm taking it two weeks from now... you're going to give me the inside tip.
Q.In the film, Kenya asks Brian if he has dated black girls before. Are you ever concerned that your partners are attracted to you based on fantasies they harbor about women of your race?
Angelia: There is this whole impression that when white men like black women, there's this whole sexual [fantasy]. I think in a very subtle way, the movie was trying to touch on that without being very overt. Ultimately [black actor Mike Epps] was able to see by challenging [Brian] that this guy really loved her. It wasn't about her being black or him having these unrealistic fantasies about what it means to be with a black woman, but that he loved her as a person, [although Kenya was] stiff and uptight and all that.
Nadine: I'll always ask. I've never dated anyone who said, "Oh yeah, you're the first African American."
Nathalie: I am who I am, and no, I'm not the white girl out there with the pompons running around all giddy. I have had a few black men that have dated me just to try [a white woman]. I think they wanted that [stereotypical] white girl.... What I found out from one was he wanted to say he'd dated a white girl and that he didn't like it. But when he realized that he thought I was a good person he said, "You know, you're not so bad." And that really turned me off because I am a person. That was the oddest thing I'd ever felt.