How would a Black-friendly version of Romeo and Juliet go? What would qualify as a “Black” way to retell this very popular (if not asinine) story?
A couple of days ago, both Shadow and Act and Okayafrica reported that actors John Boyega and Letitia Wright had recently exited the production of Hold Back the Stars, which many have described as “Romeo and Juliet meets Gravity”. Meanwhile, I saw the casting news about Boyega and Wright back in November and immediately was like:
Black people. But put them… in space!
So, of course, hearing that two aforementioned actors are no longer part of the production is kind of a bummer, but hearing their reasoning was even more interesting. Indeed, back in late December, Boyega informed ABC radio that the exit had happened mostly because the story wasn’t shaping up to be Black enough:
“We just wanted to make the vibe more Black,” said Boyega. “You got to choose the right music, the right vibe, the right tone.”
Honestly, this is pretty understandable, considering that stories that try to be more “race-blind” in the name of inclusivity tend to be very… flat. That said, his comment about trying to make the movie, this Romeo and Juliet amalgamation, more Black, got me thinking. How would a Black-friendly version of Romeo and Juliet go? What would qualify as a “Black” way to retell this very popular (if not asinine) story?
Well, I took one for the team and came up with eight scenarios so you didn’t have to:
1. Do not involve the police whatsoever.
Looking at you, Queen and Slim.
2. Throw the whole story in the trash.
I’m going to be real. While I firmly believe that time is a construct when it comes to Black people and that we exist outside of it (I am completely deadass), I’m also like… who has the kind of time to fuck around like the Montagues and Capulets? Or rather, fuck around and DIE over someone you’ve known for two seconds? I don’t know about all that. Sounds pretty caucasian to me.
3. Have a Hotep and a Shea Butter Feminist meet.
I have no idea if this would actually work as a story or if it would merely be a hot ass fucking mess, but the messy bitch in me kind of wants to see the results. Try to keep Tyler Perry away from it. Unless…
4. Make both the romantic leads of the film biracial (since Hollywood is really into that these days), but make the conflict about the difference in their upbringings… a la being raised by a Black mom versus a white, Asian, or Latinx one.
…Again, messy. But if I, an extremely darkskinned nigga, must suffer through 30482390480938 movies where the leads don’t look anything like me, at least make it interesting.
5. Center the movie on the highly contested debate between sugar grits and salt grits.
Honestly, every time I log onto Twitter, someone… somewhere… on that app… is arguing about whether it is salt or sugar that goes into the Blackest hot cereal there is: grits. Now, as a member of the sugar (+ butter and cheese because my deadly sin is a ridiculous combination between gluttony and sloth) tribe, this everlasting debate tickles me greatly and I often wonder what it would be like to actually put it to paper, or, in this case, film. Somebody put Scorcese on the phone!
6. Repeat number five except this time… replace grits with the mere existence of mayonnaise. Featuring those who despise it and those who secretly like it.
…I honestly just want the world to burn.
7. Commit the highest cultural sign of all and pit the Living Single and Friends against each other in a film.
I have yet to meet a Black person who just stans Friends over Living Single… knowing what we know about the former stealing from the later (and if I have met you, ignore this so I can continue being messy). But if I were to meet such a person, I’m sure the result would be… interesting.
8. Ignore all the shit I just said and sell that Romeo and Juliet pilot of yours with ambiguous leads of color to the CW or ABC Family.
Per my wonderful managing editor Sherronda J. Brown, our mini-work Slack came to the conclusion that Romeo and Juliet is an extremely childish and melodramatic story that belongs on networks like the CW or ABC Family (I don’t know this Freeform you speak of) who both have incredibly shallow and shitty grasps on concepts like race and class. And if you want to make it even more hilariously messy, you can go for a 2-for-1 deal and combine this with number four.