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11 Interracial Romances that Changed America

A history of how the interracial relationship has altered in culture through literature and film.

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Released in the same year as the Loving vs. Virginia case, in which the Supreme Court overturned the ban on interracial marriage; Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner uses the genre of romantic love and courtroom drama (set as debate between parents and lovers) rather than tragedy. It works against the history of Brute caricature by casting Sidney Poitier as Dr. John Prentice, a dignified black man who risks his white fiancés love for the sake of parental approval.

6. Star Trek episode: "Plato’s Stepchildren" (1967)

Although Cpt. Kirk (William Shatner) and Lt. Uhura (Nichelle Nichols) were forced to kiss by aliens, Nichols said studio executives were nervous. They had them do one scene where they kissed and one scene where they did not. In her memoir, she wrote, “When the non-kissing scene came on, everyone in the room cracked up. The last shot, which looked okay on the set, actually had Bill wildly crossing his eyes. It was so corny and just plain bad it was unusable. The only alternative was to cut out the scene altogether, but that was impossible to do without ruining the entire episode. Finally, the guys in charge relented: "To hell with it. Let's go with the kiss."

7. Jungle Fever (1991)

Class dynamics complicate this tragic romantic love story as Flipper (Wesley Snipes), an upper middle class black man has a passionate affair with his secretary, Angie (Annabella Sciorra), a working class Italian American. By inverting race with class and framing their love as adultery, Spike Lee upends audience expectations of interracial love as an easy-to-read moral fable. But he cannot envision a world where their love can survive. Inevitably the film becomes a tragedy as social violence from her family, friends and the police cause the pair to separate.

8. Dreams from My Father by Barack Obama (1995)

Hardly anyone read Dreams from My Father when it was first published. Today it has become a Rosetta Stone to the first African-American president. Often overlooked is the nuanced portrait of interracial love, and the children who inherit the contradictions left in its wake.

9. Monster’s Ball (2001)

This film of interracial desire repeats the tragic dramatic conventions of earlier decades. Leticia (Halle Berry), a working poor black woman, becomes the concubine of the white working class corrections officer Hank Grotowski (Billy Bob Thornton). Again, violence is focused on her psyche if not her body. The Jezebel caricature is invoked in the raw and rough sex scene where Leticia’s body is visually cannibalized. The film is more of a survivor’s story than a vision of love.

10. Something New (2006)

Upper middle class black woman Kenya McQueen (Sanaa Lathan) falls in love with a working class white gardener Brian Kelly (Simon Baker). Like Jungle Fever, director Sanaa Hamrii uses class dynamics to distance the characters from the violence and power imbalance of white male and black female interracial desire of older narratives. Happily, the film does not follow the tragic genre in killing the characters or destroying their love. Instead, it ends with them getting married.

11. Awkward Black Girl (2012)

The latest progressive portrayal of interracial love, T he Mis-Adventures of Awkward Black Girl has J (Issae Rae) as the black female protagonist being wooed by two men. One is Fred, a husky, sincere black man from work who adores her but is boringly normal. The other is “white” Jay, an awkward white man who mirrors J’s deeply neurotic personality. Awkward Black Girl is the first glimpse of "post-racial" America. Race is not a moral crisis or a danger or source of tension. It is a source of humor, like when she jokes, “Oh yeah, we’re going to have mullato babies.” It is telling that the characters are of the same middle class, hipster urban set. It is more telling that the show runs on YouTube, a place where artists are freed from the dead weight of old storytelling. And in that new freedom, people can create art that doesn’t challenge or apologize for reality but simply reflects it.

 
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