Criticism sometimes leveled against romantic comedies about black people is that the characters are one-dimensional and perpetuate negative stereotypes.
But “Jumping the Broom,” the feature-film debut from director Salim Akil that opens Friday, could change those views.
“I was determined to make a movie — about families and a love story — that black women would be proud to see and which would depict them as being smart, loving, sensitive, sexy and funny,” says Akil, who grew up in Richmond and Oakland and has worked as writer, producer and director on TV’s “The Game,” “Girlfriends” and “Soul Food.”
“There are so many slices to the African-American experience,” he says. “I mean, I have the whole ghetto pedigree. My mom was in jail, I didn’t have any money and I didn’t go to a fancy college. But that’s not the type of story I want to tell or feel the need to tell on film.”
“Jumping the Broom” is the kind of movie Akil is going after.
Starring Angela Bassett, Paula Patton, Laz Alonso and Loretta Devine, the film tells the story of two black families and how their different worlds collide when they gather for a weekend in Martha’s Vineyard for a wedding. The bride (Patton) is well-off and her groom (Alonso) comes from a blue-collar family.
The film’s title refers to the tradition of jumping over a broom as part of the marriage ceremony; it also symbolizes sweeping away the old and welcoming the new.
Akil remembers a conversation before filming that he had with one of the movie’s producers, Tracey Edmonds, who told him not to go for the easy jokes.
“I completely understood what she meant,” Akil says. “What she was saying was that you can be funny without being vulgar.”
“Jumping the Broom” is as funny as it is dramatic. Bassett, who plays the bride’s mother, was the first to sign on for it.
“When I read the script, it just spoke to me,” Bassett says. “After meeting Salim, I was so impressed with his vision about what he wanted to convey in this movie. So it was great to be on board and working with a director who wanted to bring out the best in us.”
Once Bassett was attached to the project, others wanted in as well.
In fact, cast members agreed to take a pay cut for their work in the modestly budgeted movie, which was filmed in Nova Scotia instead of the ritzy Martha’s Vineyard.
“It’s so rare to even get a film made these days much less get lucky enough to have so many big-name stars attached to it,” Akil says. “But it just showed their commitment to this project. Everyone checked their egos at the door. Making this movie turned out to be a terrific experience all around.”
IF YOU GO
Jumping the Broom
Starring Angela Bassett, Paula Patton, Laz Alonso, Loretta Devine, Meagan Good, Tasha Smith, Julie Bowen, Romeo Miller, DeRay Davis, Valarie Pettiford, Mike Epps
Written by Elizabeth Hunter, Arlene Gibbs
Directed by Salim Akil
Running time 1 hour 48 minutes