How Onscreen Black Joy Gets Me Through

It has been a tough god damn couple weeks for black people. From Chadwick Boseman’s death, to the ongoing fight for black lives adding the names Jacob Blake and Dijon Kizzee to the too long list, I’m just… ugh. Tired. But this isn’t a new feeling, it’s a cycle. Life, especially in my black body, swoops from high joyous peaks to some pretty dismal anxiety-troughs.

So we’re familiar with this feeling, this spot, officially down in the dumps. But how do we crawl out of it? Especially when my escapist media of choice, movies/TV, is so often either a bunch of white folks or some fantastical way to watch black trauma

Well, white people have not cornered the market on wholesome content! We may not have a Great Black-ish Baking Show (yet! Kenya Barris, call me!) but carefree black content is still the best way I’ve found to re-charge so I can show up for the fight—and also, you know, just everyday life too.

There are plenty of great options for 30-120 minutes of relief from the hellscape that has become my twitter feed. The Best Man is a classic, the absurdist candy that is The Proud Family is guaranteed to bring the laughs, and of course Roll Bounce always gets me trying to skate in my living room. But for me, one movie will always take the cake, put the cherry on top, and eat it too, and that’s Last Holiday.

This movie has it all—couture Queen Latifah, LL Cool J trying to act, food porn, entitled white people getting their comeuppance, black people skiing… GIANCARLO ESPOSITO! But this movie is more than the sum of its already substantial parts. It blends fantasy with true life into the perfect formula carefree black escapism.

Last Holiday (2006) unravels around the common thought experiment, what would you do if you only had two weeks to live? After a lifetime of reserved responsibility and delaying satisfaction, Georgia Byrd (Latifah) receives a terminal diagnosis and decides to take her life savings and blow it all living the high life at a European resort.

The movie is the perfect embodiment of the common bucket-list fantasy. The freedom at the core of that fantasy and watching a black woman take full advantage of it is freeing for the viewer. Images of black luxury and joy are untethered from the tiring stereotypes and tropes that follow seemingly every black actor to the screen.

But what makes the film such a fulfilling watch for me is that it doesn’t ignore race. The racial and class difference between Georgia and the rich white people she encounters at the resort provide much of the conflict in the film. Of course, the joy of the film finds itself between Queen Latifah’s charm and this fish-out-of-water scenario.

We get to watch Georgia infiltrate this upper-class, white world and shock its inhabitants with her straightforward wisdom and wit. We feel vicarious validation in her showing these people the value of common sense and street smarts. When the microagressions come her way, which of course they do because of course, she gracefully floats above the mean, presumptuous words, unaffected. The movie paints a charming picture of a world where racism can be dismantled with a well-aimed, devastating retort.

Is that the real world? No, but that’s why it’s called escapism. And movies like Last Holiday provide the much needed space to breathe when the dumpster fire reality of race relations in America take up all the air in the room.

What movies help you recharge to get through the apocalypse? Comment below!

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