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Netflix Originals prides itself on its cultural relevance, star studded casts, and most importantly, ability to create a comfortable and accessible moviegoing experience. Kicking off Netflix’s 2023 releases is “Black-ish” creator Kenya Barris’s new romantic comedy “You People.” The film stars Jonah Hill, who co-wrote the movie, and Lauren London, as both try to deal with the challenges of an interracial relationship in polarized and neoliberal Los Angeles.
Hill plays Ezra Cohen, a 30-something Jewish investment banker from a wealthy family led by matriarch Shelley (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and father Arnold (David Duchouveny). While hosting a podcast on the side with his African-American best friend Mo (Sam Jay), Ezra stumbles upon costume designer Amira (Lauren London), in a meet-cute Uber mix up.
The two begin dating and slowly realize that their family’s cultural differences are creating unexpected trouble, particularly as Amira’s father Akbar, played by comedic giant Eddie Murphy, holds deep reservations about his daughter dating a white man. Murphy’s comedic talents shine as he torments Ezra, adding another layer to the protective father trope. While Ezra and Amira’s relationship is depicted mostly through montages, their chemistry is still palpable. They may not be the traditional rom-com protagonists, but their representation is nonetheless a valuable demonstration of the multitudes of love.
While “You People” makes an earnest attempt to connect with audiences, its exaggerated dialogue leaves little room for watchers to interpret the challenges of today’s racial landscape, and instead muddles the many nuances of cross-cultural families. When reaching for humor and relatability, it instead showcases the niche privileges of white families and fails to reshape the viewer’s perspective.
Nevertheless Louis-Dreyfus clarifies the film and shines in her character’s cycle of rejection and acceptance in neoliberal soon-to-be-interracial families. The cultural quips are on point, from singing “Rise Up” by Andra Day to an accented pronunciation of Amira’s name, Hill and Barris depict the archetype of white women unique to the past two decades, highlighting the hypocrisies of overeducation and simultaneous ignorance.
“You People”’s largest limitation is the writing — as it categorizes itself as a movie about racism. The movie tells, rather than accurately illustrates, the nuances of the long-lasting impact historical events such as the Holocaust and the period of the trans-atlantic slave trade can have on the Jewish and Black community, instead reducing the topic to an awkward family dinner. Even some of Murphy’s jokes centered around gang relations in Los Angeles, like wearing red in a Crip barbershop, is a representation of the deep divestment from the Black communities of California and the structural issues that limit the communities upward mobility, these should not be punchlines.
What specifically hinders “You People”’s cultural commentary is its choice to try to address the cultural tensions between Black and Jewish communities' oppression narratives. Barris and Hill tried to put their heads together, but to have a film about racism’s denouement include “I will never understand what it’s like to be a Black person in this country… but…” indicates that the writers have not been intentional enough about what conclusions they want the audience to draw.
This is most evident in relationship dynamics between the parents and their children’s partners. The film treats Akbar’s protective nature toward Ezra as equivalent to that of Shelley’s racist comments and inappropriate microaggressions toward Amira. This creates a “reverse racism” false equivalency, which is a particularly dangerous mechanism to diminish the struggles Amira faced throughout the relationship.
Movies about racism need to be intentional and it is unclear whether Hill and Barris were confident in the impact “You People” could have. The film will likely start conversations in homes that have turned a blind eye to injustice, but will be unable to finish them.
— Staff writer Marley E. Dias can be reached at Marley.Dias@theharvardcrimson.com
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