Interview with ‘The Best Man Holiday’ director Malcolm D. Lee
Editor’s Note: It’s been 14 years since “Best Man” was released, as part of a wave of black “rom-coms” that helped define African American cinema in the early 2000s. The film’s director, Malcolm D. Lee has had plenty of success since then, bringing audiences a series of well received movies that have made him one of the most respected directors in Hollywood. Now, with the debut of “The Best Man Holiday”, Lee has recaptured the magic that made his original so influential. He recently spoke with The Post’s Rahiel Tesfamariam to discuss the sequel, its success to date, the “race-themed” controversy surrounding it, whether or not viewers should look forward to a “Best Man” franchise, and more.
Why did it take 14 years for a sequel to “The Best Man” and why did you choose this specific plot?
I didn’t want to do a sequel right away. It wasn’t like I was trying to make a sequel. There were talks from fans and even the studio back then that we should consider doing a sequel. That wasn’t my focus. I didn’t want to repeat myself or get pigeonholed as a director or a storyteller. I figured if I’m going to revisit these characters; it would be ten years later once they’ve had a chance to live some life. I gave them life experience and evolved their worldview. It got to the point where it was time. I’ve been thinking about the story since 2005/2006. I know I wanted to set it at Christmas; I was listening to Christmas music. I knew I wanted to have the media deal with terminal illness. I knew I wanted to tell a different story than the first Best Man.
How are you and the cast responding to the film’s opening weekend success?
I can only speak for myself. But I kept telling them when we would be in rehearsal that “we’re going to make history. I don’t know what that meant or what it’s going to mean. It was a rallying cry that I really felt. That if we did everything I had been envisioning – we would be successful. That the fans would come out and the fans would respond. The fans of the original are so loyal and so connected to the characters that they loved and were ready to see them again. The studio was very nervous about doing this version of the movie – what I had to tell them that is that it’s not about the wedding setting. It’s not about being a fly on the wall with the guys. It’s about the characters. It’s about how these actors have embodied these characters and that’s why people feel so connected to them. They see themselves in these characters. They recognize themselves. They recognize people they went to school with and people they know and hang out with in these characters. That’s why it’s going to work.
What do you make of critics calling the film “race-themed” and the debate about whether or not “The Best Man Holiday” is a “black film”?
I became aware of it over the weekend what USA Today had said. It doesn’t surprise me. It’s just kind of disappointing that they characterized the movie in that way because it had nothing to do with race or very little. We’re at a point now where a movie should just be a movie. It should be characterized in the way that it was intended to be. In this case, romantic comedy/ “dramady.” “Black film” is not even a genre. If you put that out there, that means it’s about black people and for black people exclusively and that’s not the case. I’ve made it my mission to make movies starring African American actors and about the African American experience and put them in the mainstream. They’re very universal stories I’ve told – every movie I’ve done.
With that said, what do you think this film says about African Americans, if anything?
Other than that we share very humanistic qualities. There are flaws within our character. There are likes; there are dislikes. We love; we hate. We have relationships. We hold grudges. We have the capacity for emotion and the capacity for forgiveness. These are things that everyone goes through – whether you are black, white, Asian, Latino. There’s a shared human experience.
Does this film say anything about the notion of “black love”?
My theory as to why people are saying that it’s a depiction of black love is that there is so very little out there for African American audiences. I feel that this is a movie with relatable characters and they’re going through very real, adult things. Life-changing rites of passage. [African Americans] don’t get to experience that at the movie theaters very much. That’s why people are saying this is a depiction of “black love.” But it’s just love. It’s not any different than anyone else.
What lessons do you want the audience to walk away with after seeing the film?
A lot of it has to do with forgiveness. The whole premise that we’re too busy in our career lives to reconnect with people in a real and profound way. What’s really important is the love of friends and family, shared memories and connectedness, especially during holidays. Holidays have been commercialized. It has become about material things. But the holidays are about sharing stories and being in each other’s presence. That’s what Mia’s character wanted for this weekend where she brought everyone to the house. She wanted everyone to remember what’s important and be together and have a harmonious time. But of course people are people and they bring their own things to the party.
Any favorite behind-the-scenes moment for you during production?
Not really. Truthfully, it was a very difficult undertaking. We had fewer days on this film than we had on the first movie. We had to have an incredible amount of focus and do a lot more scenes where it was a lot of actors at once. It made it more challenging but it was a labor of love and I’m glad that we got it done. And the viewers responded the way they are. But no juicy gossip. I wish I had a fun story. But it was a lot of work.
The movie ends with a cliffhanger suggesting there may be another “Best Man” Have you decided about that yet?
We’re in talks to make it happen – myself and the studio. Get the cast on board again and then it’ll be all about the script.
What’s next for you? What do you want to do in the future?
I want to direct but you can only do one thing at a time. Maybe two. Nothing is set in stone yet. A lot of things are potential. A lot of things I would like to do including a sequel for “The Best Man Holiday”. We’ll see what happens. I’m hoping for the best.