You People Has Been Done (Better) Before

Photo: courtesy of Netflix.
This story contains spoilers for Netflix’s You People. The 1967 film Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner starred Sidney Poitier and Katharine Houghton as a newly engaged interracial couple struggling to maintain their relationship because of the disapproval of their very different parents and their respective cultural backgrounds. Because of its nuanced discussion of interracial relationships and race relations during the height of the civil rights movement, the movie became an instant hit, cementing itself as one of the most important movies in American cinema. In the decades that followed its critically acclaimed release, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner has been remade various times, with storytellers trying to recapture the magic of the Oscar-winning film. But as we know, not all remakes hit the same. 
Enter Kenya Barris and You People. Inspired by the Poitier classic, the new Netflix offering follows the complicated love story of Ezra Cohen (Jonah Hill, who also co-wrote the script), a reluctant finance bro who’s heavily invested in “the culture,” and Amira Mohammed (Lauren London, looking stunning as always while making her glorious return to the screen after a long acting hiatus), a talented costume designer from Baldwin Hills. After a strange but adorable meet-cute, the pair finds that their differences — she's a Black Muslim, he's white and Jewish — are outweighed by their mutual attraction to each other (and their shared love of sneaker culture), so they decide to give a romantic relationship a try. In a too-brief but nonetheless cute montage, we see Ezra and Amira fall in love with each other, and they just might be soulmates.
But not everyone feels the same way about their connection. Although Ezra’s parents Shelley (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and Arnold (David Duchovny) welcome his new girlfriend into the fold with open, albeit excruciatingly-awkward arms, Amira’s family doesn’t quite have the same warm reaction. Off rip, her dad Akbar (comedy legend Eddie Murphy) isn’t a fan of Ezra and his kin, mostly because they’re not Black, and he makes no efforts to conceal his disdain for his daughter’s new partner. Ezra, who also appears to have never dated a Black woman before — he gives off strong “I don’t see color” vibes — doesn’t know how to appeal to Akbar or his wife Fatima (Nia Long) and spends most of the first and second act perpetually embarrassing himself and Amira in the process. 
This story has been done before — quite a few times, actually. Guess Who? (2005) starred Zoe Saldaña and Ashton Kutcher as lovebirds attempting to win over the approval of an unimpressed Bernie Mac. America Ferrera and Lance Gross tried to overcome the cultural gap between their Black and Latine families in Our Family Wedding (2010). Even the Banks family had to grapple with the concept of interracial marriage in an especially hilarious episode of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (“Guess Who’s Coming To Marry,” season two, episode six). While these remakes didn’t have the same serious tone of the Poitier film, they used comedy to speak to the hardships of bringing two very distinct cultures together. 
You People tries to approach the subject in a similar fashion, but Barris and Hill’s take just isn’t as dynamic. While Ezra and Amira are seemingly normal characters, most of the people around them feel more like caricatures and hyper-problematic stereotypes than actual people — Shelley as the well-meaning but clumsy white liberal and Akbar as the unyielding hotep. Akbar, in his overwhelmingly antagonistic stance against Ezra’s existence, is an especially troubling character because it feels like his only objection to his daughter’s fiancé is on account of his race, not because of his genuine concern for Amira’s happiness or comfort with a partner who quits his cushy full-time job to work on his Black culture podcast despite not being part of the culture himself (the actual red flag!). We get to see the nuance of Ezra and Shelley’s relationship as he tries his best to manage all of his mom’s inappropriate behavior, but Amira and Akbar’s father-daughter dynamic doesn’t get the same screen time; Akbar talks, and Amira listens without pushing back even if she doesn’t agree. The same goes for his relationship with wife Fatima, whose only role in the film is to echo her husband’s sentiments. (How do you underutilize THE Nia Long in a rom-com?!) We don’t get to see any of the good intentions or solid reasoning behind Akbar’s disapproval of Ezra either, just him being mean for the sake of being mean. Not allowing this Black man to have any legitimate justification for his behavior when there are valid points to raise about the challenges of an interracial relationship feels like an oversimplification of a real issue, and it feels especially unfortunate coming from Barris, a Black father himself. Ezra’s friend and podcast co-host Mo (Sam Jay) helpfully attempts to explain the cultural disconnect between Ezra and Akbar, and between white and Black people at large, by likening it to the lack of trust between between a cheater and his girlfriend — white people as the adulterers, Black people as the unforgiving partners — but interpersonal race relations are more far complicated than how that illustration (and this film) frames them. 
You’re deeping it, some will insist. It’s a romantic comedy, not critical race theory! It’s not supposed to be so serious. Okay, fair. You People markets itself as a romantic comedy, and yes, romance is technically at the heart of this story. And at times, it is funny. But the way that the plot plays out doesn’t give audiences enough time to invest in the surprisingly impactful chemistry between its leads because it’s focusing too much on why their love won’t work. We see more of Akbar and Shelley’s antics overshadowing their kids’ romance than the connection between Ezra and Amira itself, to the point that even the audience can’t root for them to be together because we don’t know why they’d be together to begin with. As the leads of this love story, Hill and London do have something special — we just don’t get to experience enough of it to care if they make it down the aisle. (Spoiler alert: they do, but in the most rushed, half-baked way possible. We’ve gotta stop rushing the final act, Hollywood. Please.)
Shockingly, even with a whole Eddie Murphy and Julia Louis-Dreyfus in the ensemble cast, the comedy aspect of this romcom isn’t particularly hilarious either; a lot of You People’s sense of humor feels dated, and that could be credited to its writers’ pen. Over the years, Barris’ work has been the subject of heated discussion not just because of what many are calling an “obsession with biracial plight,” but also because many of us can’t quite figure out what he’s trying to say or do with his stories — or even who he’s trying to speak to. Not everything is highly debated (we love black-ish and grown-ish), but projects like mixed-ish and blackAF struck a nerve within our community because their humor just felt…off. The tired race jokes combined with Hill’s signature acting MO (the awkward rambling we’ve seen in movies like Don’t Look Up, 21 Jump Street, Superbad, and more) result in a smattering of laughs here and there rather than the laugh-till-you-cry effect they were no doubt going for. The script does have its standout comedic moments — Ezra’s chaotic first meeting with Mohammeds at Roscoe’s Chicken is very funny, and his dad’s unnecessary solo performance of “Ordinary People” for Amira is so utterly ridiculous that it’s actually good — but overall, many of the jokes don’t quite land. Not enough rom. Not enough com. 
Obviously, You People isn’t meant to be an exact remake of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, dramatic fixings and all. But even reimagined into a modern romantic comedy with a super talented cast, this film just doesn’t feel necessary. We’ve been here, done this before — and we’ve seen it be done much better, too. Beautiful gowns, though. 
You People is now streaming on Netflix.

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