Part aspirational, part punitive, the new black bourgeois cinema continues a classic film tradition of screwball comedies predicated on class migration, epitomized by Depression-era romps in which a madcap heiress typically found true love with a dashing, down-market scoundrel. Surely films such as “It Happened One Night” and “My Man Godfrey” were attuned to the class anxieties of their age. But they were often also delicious exercises in good, old-fashioned wish fulfillment: Watching wealthy people wear fashionable clothes in stunning homes crammed with beautiful things, after all, is part of the escapist fun of going to the movies.
But, at a time when black stories are still too rare on-screen, the class-mobility comedy is beginning to take on the trappings of yet another genre trap. With risk-averse Hollywood even less inclined to take risks on African American films, the formula keeps getting repeated, to the exclusion of the vast reality of most people’s experience. “It’s almost as if the black middle class doesn’t exist on-screen,” said Tambay Obenson, editor and chief writer at the Indiewire film blog Shadow & Act. “What you get is the extremes, the poor and ghetto or the wealthy.”