Meet Arlene Gibbs. You might already know her as a commenter here. Starting today, you'll be able watch the movie she wrote, Jumping The Broom at a Theater Near You. We decided to call up Arlene in Rome to talk screenwriting, being a black woman in Hollywood— and abstinence.
Around these parts, Gibbs is "nyc caribbean ragazza." She's a former Hollywood executive who moved to Rome, but she won't entertain comparisons with famous fellow travelers: "I am not the black Frances Mayes. I am not Elizabeth Gilbert. Let's get real."
Jumping The Broom began when Gibbs revisited an idea that had been pitched to her in her film-development days by producers Elizabeth Hunter and Glendon Palmer. It's about two families, both African-American, on opposite sides of a class divide, coming together for the wedding of their two high-powered children. Judging from the trailer, it's also about some very attractive people in some very attractive settings.
Indeed, Gibbs laments that black films don't have much of a middle ground between historical dramas and lighter fare. "Why can't we have a movie like Bridget Jones?" she says. "Why can't we have Something's Gotta Give with Angela Bassett and Sam Jackson? That shit would be funny!"
She says that when she started out in the business, there was a far greater range of films being produced at major studios, including films with African-American casts aimed at African-American audiences. "It's difficult for everyone to get original material made," Gibbs says. "But with African-American films, if you're going by pre-existing properties, what are you going to pitch? A Count Chocula movie?"
The team also wanted to counteract some of the stereotypes out there, from the media's obsession with black women being single (Gibbs said she wanted to inject something "hopeful and romantic" into the picture) to demonized black men (Another producer, Tracey Edmonds, recently told the Los Angeles Times, "We also wanted to show how much black men love their women. In a lot of films, black men are shown treating women in inappropriate and improper ways. Our films really showcase African American love."
The trailer does indicate the existence in the movie of a particular media meme—that of the too-picky black woman. Of that character, Gibbs says, "But her standards are ridiculous. A lot of times when we're talking about black women needing to 'settle,' we're not talking about ridiculous demands."
Jumping The Broom is also produced by megachurch pastor T.D. Jakes, who can tout the fact that Paula Patton's character only finds the man she's going to marry when she quits sleeping around and makes a vow to God to be abstinent til marriage. Gibbs says she had some friends who made similar vows and that Pattons' friends disbelief is used to comic effect. "It's touched upon, she says, "But it's not, like, an 'abstinence movie.'" (Meanwhile, Jakes has had to answer for the fact that Patton's character is shown in her underwear.)
She says she's pleased with the final result and especially with how much Sony is marketing the film, including with the Jumbotron in Times Square showing the trailer. But the ultimate test is still at the box office. Gibbs is well-aware of how "female-driven" movies or other alleged long-shots (movies about black families not made by Tyler Perry?) are scrutinized as stand-ins for all other such films. Similarly, according to screenwriter Jamie Denbo, a legion of projects that happen to have funny women involved are on hold until the success of Bridesmaids is gauged.
As Gibbs puts it, "If a movie with Ryan Reynolds underperforms, people aren't saying, 'Oh my god, we're going to make less movies with white men.'"