Can Issa Rae and Kumail Nanjiani Redefine Interracial Relationship Goals In “The Lovebirds”?

Illustration of Issa Rae wearing white and Kumail Nanjiani wearing blue. There's a pink background with white, hot pink and light blue hearts in between the two people.

Photo Illustration: Monique Jones

It’s a new world in a post-Crazy Rich Asians Hollywood. Finally, it seems like we’re getting more stories that show a wider range of Asian-American experiences rather than the usual stereotypical stuff. Case in point: the upcoming rom-com-murder-mystery, The Lovebirds, starring Kumail Nanjiani and Issa Rae.

The film is coming to us from Nanjiani and the director for Nanjiani’s The Big Sick, Michael Showalter. The film is expected to go into production at the end of this month.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, the film is written by Aaron Abrams, Brendan Gall and Martin Gero and focuses on “a couple…on the brink of a breakup.” According to the article:

“The pair subsequently become embroiled in a bizarre and hijinks-filled murder mystery, and as they get close to clearing their names and solving the case, the twosome need to figure out how they, and their relationship, can survive the night.”

The Hollywood Reporter

The big news of this story isn’t the fact that it’s a rom-com that actually sounds interesting. No–the buried lede here is that it’s one of the few films focusing on non-white interracial couples. In fact, I’d say this is the first mainstream film to feature such a couple, since most of the others, like Mississippi Masala, Fakin’ Da Funk, Unbowed and others are all smaller and/or indie films. Of course, I’m not saying these films aren’t important because of their size–I’m just talking about the amount of eyes that might have seen these films as opposed to how many could possibly see The Lovebirds.

This film has the potential to expand the mainstream mindset about Asian-American experiences*. Why? Because there are folks in interracial relationships out there, and they rarely get showcased in the media. Examples: The only few AMBW relationships we can remember in modern media are Gabrielle Union and John Cho in FlashForward and Yaya DaCosta and Brian Tee in Chicago Med. Also, if I recall, Aziz Ansari dated black women in the second season of Master of None. But that seems like that was done after critical pressure from viewers of the first season, which showed Aziz’s character dating primarily white women.

What I hope this film will do is start a conversation around normalizing interracial relationships of all types, not just those featuring white people. Studying online representations of interracial relationships, particularly POC ones, has become somewhat of a voyeuristic hobby of mine, and through my personal study, I’ve found some weird points of contention. Too often, some people who date other racial groups coalesce and create really fetish-y types of online groups. This seems to happen in a lot of interracial sects, but one of the biggest arenas it happens in is the Black Woman-Asian Man “community” (if you will).

Now, as a person who generally likes all men, regardless of race, it is not in my mental wheelhouse to prioritize one man over another because of race. However, in these online groups, there’s always this strange rhetoric of how black women are more nurturing and caring and “strong” (take that however you will) and how Asian men are sensitive, good father material, and more contentious to their partner’s needs. If you don’t believe me, check out this quote from a 2015 Vice article detailing the culture within some of these AMBW meetup groups.

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“[The Asian man] is a domestic dad, that gentle soul,” Rhea Alexander, the founder of AMBW for Life, told Vice’s Zachary Schwartz. “He is unmoved, he is unbothered…He understands his own struggle as an Asian man, and his pressure to conform to white standards. That is what I believe is the invisible magnet between Asian men and black women.”

First of all, WTF does any of this mean? “He is unmoved, he is unbothered”??? If I were an Asian man, I’d steer clear of any woman who thought this about me, because I feel like I’d be pretty moved and bothered by a lot of things, chief of which includes being fetishized.

Also, keep in mind that Schwartz states the he himself is a biracial Asian man, so I wonder what he thought about this statement. Secondly, Alexander, I’m assuming, is a black woman, who claims to know what being an Asian man is all about. Yes, there are some awesome Asian parents out there, just like there are awesome parents from any race. But Alexander’s generalizing statement about Asian men being a “domestic dad” still speaks to a fetish regarding Asian men. It removes any humanity from the Asian male and paints them all with an objectifying brush. Being a good parent depends on the person’s character, as it does with anyone. Race has nothing to do with it.

Or these videos…which I will just let play.

YouTube
YouTube

FIRST OF ALL…How, Sway!?

Second of all, the idea that black women know all about family cookouts and are loud/will fight you is high key hilarious to me. Black families aren’t like how the media portrays us–single mothers, terrible fathers, etc. In fact, there’s a study out there somewhere that says that black fathers are the most involved in their kids’ lives. However, families differ, and there are some black families that are just as dysfunctional as any other family. On top of that, cookouts and family reunion culture differ from family to family. For instance, the majority of my family will meet up for certain holidays, but we don’t necessarily hold “cookouts.” This scene from Tyler Perry’s Diary of a Mad Black Woman is probably what a lot of people think black people do all the time, but sorry,that’s not true. NOT SAYING IT DOESN’T HAPPEN, because there are families that love family reunions and stuff. And I like a good Electric Slide as much as the next person. But let’s not lump all black people at the same cookout, if you get what I’m saying.

YouTube

On top of that, not all black women act the same. I’m black, and I’m not loud, nor do I speak like how these guys in these videos might expect me to speak. This idea that all black women act a certain way is frustrating as well as limiting. Maybe these guys should just say they want a specific type of black woman instead of lumping us all in the same category. Also, if I’m dating you, a non-black person, and you call me “chocolate” or “caramel,” I’m dumping you on-site. I am not food, nor do I wish to be objectified.

As you can see, none of this talk about perfect interracial relationships makes sense to me, since a human is a problematic creature, no matter what race they happen to be. If you are an adult and you are alive, you are going to come with some baggage, regardless of what race you hail from. No race makes better parents than another, and no person is a better partner just based on their phenotype and genotype. When it comes to relationships, who you are as a person–“the content of character,” to paraphrase Martin Luther King–matters more than your cultural and racial makeup.

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So I write all of this to say that I hope one of the things The Lovebirds explores is how there is no perfect interracial relationship–just because you’re in a relationship a person of another race doesn’t mean everything’s immediately sunshine and rainbows. Relationships of all stripes take work, and if you truly love someone for who they are, not for their race, you will do all you can to make that relationship thrive.

There are also no perfect people. We shouldn’t buy into these notions of another race being more adept at parenthood or strength or whatever, since none of these “traits” 1) are traits and 2) make actual sense. What we should be doing, instead, is interacting with people on the basis of how they treat others. Consequently, we should only be dating folks we gel with and respect, whether that person is of our own race or outside of our race. And if there are problems with in the relationship, the two people should be mature enough to solve them like adults.

What I’m hoping is that Rae and Nanjiani’s characters are regular people, devoid of stereotypes. Maybe Rae’s character is dating Nanjiani’s character because he makes her laugh. Maybe he’s dating her because she has a positive spin on life, which helps him to be more positive. I don’t care what the reasons are as long as the reasons aren’t in the “chocolate and caramel swirl” line of thinking. We don’t need that in 2019.

Thankfully, we can already tell from the film’s description that Rae and Nanjiani’s characters are multilayered simply because they’re starting out in a rocky place. Clearly, they’ve been together so long that they’ve run into a road block. The challenge will be to see two characters who still love each other work it out. I think it’ll be fun to see them get back to a place where they can understand each other better and fall deeper in love because of it. What will make it even more fun is if this film finally gets people to start seeing others as just people, not squares on a Racial Dating Bingo card.

What do you think about The Lovebirds? Give your opinions below.


*For the record, Pakistan is considered part of South Asia and its people are part of the Asian diaspora of America, as notified in our U.S. census. Pakistan’s inclusion in the political term “Middle East” has a convoluted, historically-layered history that is too long for this post, but I encourage you to research it for yourself.