The 14 Best Black Romantic Comedies
From Nappily Ever After to Waiting to Exhale, these are the 14 best Black romantic comedies.
When we think about romantic comedies, we can’t help but picture white women like Julia Roberts, Sandra Bullock, Meg Ryan and Reese Witherspoon falling in love with Hugh Grant or Mark Ruffalo. There’s a precision to their formula, rationing the humor just enough to cut through their emotional earnestness. But romantic comedy movies have more to offer than just pristine white couplings and ‘90s pop needle drops.
The Black romcom is something else entirely, much looser in its structure and often willing to be frank about sex. The raunchiness is tempered by the consistent presence of Black elders, very candid in their commentary on love and marriage. There’s something inherently communal about Black romcom movies, which makes a point to always show us romance steeped in cultural signifiers that highlight the diversity within the Black community itself.
Here are 14 of cinema’s best Black romantic comedies.
14. Nappily Ever After (2018) directed by Haifaa al-Mansour
After a while out of the limelight, Sanaa Lathan returned to doing what she does best: playing a career woman who seems to have it all — except romance. This time, her paramore is a kind barber (Lyriq Bent) she meets after a mishap with her hair. Their love story runs parallel to a different, more personal journey that highlights the complexity of a Black woman’s relationship with her hair. Based on the novel by Trisha R. Thomas, Nappily Ever After is the story of a woman falling in love not just with a new man, but with her natural self.
13. The Weekend (2018) directed by Stella Meghie
Two years before her underrated romantic drama The Photograph, up-and-coming director Stella Meghie made a little romcom called The Weekend. In it, Sasheer Zamata plays Zadie, a comedian spending an awkward weekend with her ex (Tone Bell) and his new girlfriend (DeWanda Wise). Luckily for her, a handsome stranger (Y’lan Noel) appears, giving Zadie the chance to start something new. With its lowkey, observational humor and naturalistic performances, it’s a little indie flick that grows on you.
12. She’s Gotta Have It (1986) directed by Spike Lee
Before polyamory was considered common in modern dating, there was She’s Gotta Have It, the story of a woman who tries to date three men at the same time. From a straight male perspective, Nola Darling (Tracy Camilla Johns) is somewhat of an enigma. Her suitors in the film (played by Tommy Redmond Hicks, John Canada Terrell, and director Spike Lee) are much more fleshed out, providing most of the comedy. It’s a flawed film; one that isn’t as fun as it should be. But, much like Boomerang, She’s Gotta Have It is a film that touches on the way Black men can fear the sexual independence of Black women. Maybe that’s an accident — but it’s worth contemplating all the same.
11. Something New (2006) directed by Sanaa Hamri
This time, romantic comedy queen Sanaa Lathan is a wealthy career woman who has everything except Mr. Right. When she finally meets him, there’s a small hitch — he’s white. Simon Baker plays the landscaper dreamboat who wakes her up both emotionally and sexually, showing her a different path her life could take. But can she settle down with a man who is not only white, but doesn’t line up with her upwardly mobile family and friends? Throw in a little Blair Underwood, and Something New becomes a steamy love triangle about race, class, and being your most authentic self.
10. Just Wright (2010) directed by Sanaa Hamri
Queen Latifah dominated the screen in the ‘90s and ‘00s with a comedic and dramatic presence that was as sexy as it was brash. But in Just Wright, she plays the demure Leslie Wright, pining over a shallow basketball player (Common) who has yet to realize how amazing she is. But the director does, framing Latifah like the goddess she is in every shot. In a cinematic landscape that so often ignores plus-sized bodies, there’s something especially beautiful about a film that knows its plus-sized heroine is the prize — even if she doesn’t know it for herself yet.
Deliver Us From Eva (2003) directed by Gary Hardwick
This darkly funny adaptation of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew serves as the perfect showcase for Gabrielle Union’s brutal charms. No one plays “the bitch” quite like Union, with her costar LL Cool J taking on the role of “smooth operator” that he’s been perfecting his whole career. Though somewhat dated, a classic battle of the sexes is a perfect setup for a story about two people who are resistant to love, despite how much they both clearly need it. Much like Two Can Play That Game before it, Deliver Us From Eva is a romantic comedy sustained fully on chemistry and star power.
8. Brown Sugar (2002) directed by Rick Famuyiwa
It’s as if Rick Famuyiwa saw Love & Basketball and decided to make a romcom version with hip-hop at the center instead. Sanaa Lathan is once again playing a woman passionate about her work and the man who was there when her passion started. But instead of Omar Epps, this time we have the ever affable Taye Diggs as the archetypal nice boy who can’t see what’s right in front of him. With a great soundtrack and endearing comic relief from Queen Latifah and Yasiin Bey, Brown Sugar is as sweet as the title suggests. Sure, it’s even a little corny at times, but Lathan and Diggs know how to make it work.
7. Two Can Play That Game (2001) directed by Mark Brown
Two Can Play That Game is romantic comedy in its purest form. Viveca A. Fox stars as a beautiful, intelligent career woman who is having trouble with her man (Morris Chestnut). Speaking directly to the camera, Fox lays out the rules for how to deal with a lover while maintaining control of the situation. But, much like any plan, things don’t go exactly the way she wants them. Bolstered by a hilarious cast that includes Mo’Nique, Wendy Raquel Robinson, Tamala Jones, Gabrielle Union, and even Bobby Brown, Two Can Play That Game is heavy on the jokes with a little dash of romance on top.
6. Claudine (1974) directed by John Berry
Perhaps lesser known than the other films on this list, Claudine is a blueprint for depictions of working-class Black romance. Diahann Carroll plays a struggling single mother who falls for a charismatic garbage man played by James Earl Jones. In a time when Blaxploitation was the primary way to see Black faces on screen, director John Berry showed audiences a grounded depiction of Black life through naturalistic performances and blue collar humor. Playing against type, Carroll is gorgeous and exhausted as the titular heroine, while Jones plays her love Rupert as a surly yet charming teddy bear.
5. The Watermelon Woman (1996) directed by Cheryl Dunye
In recent years, this film has finally gotten the attention it deserves. The Watermelon Woman is as innovative now as it was back then, putting a Black lesbian (director and writer Cheryl Dunye) at the center of a romantic film that also reckons with racism in cinema’s history. Seems like a lot, but Dunye makes it all come together, combining media commentary with the familiar trappings of falling in love. Like many of the films on this list, The Watermelon Woman is as much about self-discovery as it is about love, race, and the way history speaks to us.
4. Coming to America (1988) directed by John Landis
Made at a time when the high concept romcom was all the rage, Coming to America was still surprisingly ambitious: an African prince (Eddie Murphy) takes a trip to America and falls in love with a regular American girl named Lisa (Shari Headley), much to the dismay of his parents (James Earl Jones, Madge Sinclair), handler (Arsenio Hall), and his romantic rival (Eriq La Salle). What follows is a classic story of opposites attract, filled to the brim with comedic side characters, giant setpieces, and old-fashioned family drama. Murphy is the star of the show here, playing multiple characters and oozing charisma every second.
3. Waiting to Exhale (1995) directed by Forest Whitaker
Though mainly discussed as a drama, Waiting to Exhale has some of the best comedic moments in Black cinema history. Stars Angela Bassett, Whitney Houston, Lela Rochon, and Loretta Devine navigate romance, family and friendship with a wariness any Black woman in the world can recognize. Based on the Terry McMillan novel of the same name, Waiting to Exhale is about a group of women trying to find and keep a good man. The problem is, there aren’t many out there. The expansive male cast — including Michael Beach, Dennis Haysbert, Leon Robinson, and Mykelti Williamson — portray every flavor of ain’t-shit man you can think of, comically confident and deluded. But throughout the seemingly endless parade of clowns, these beautiful women keep moving forward.
2. Boomerang (1992) directed by Reginald Hudlin
Boomerang is one of the most underrated romantic comedies of all time, with Eddie Murphy giving one of his best (and surprisingly most grounded) performances as a playboy who is in for a rude awakening. Murphy plays Marcus Graham, a smooth-talking advertising executive with an alluring bachelor pad and shallow ideas about women. Boomerang itself seems to challenge Graham with its diverse female cast, who are the real stars of the film: Robin Givens, Halle Berry, Eartha Kitt, and the gorgeous, envelope-pushing Grace Jones. Each of them pushes Graham out of his comfort zone, forcing him to reconsider his point of view. Funny, sexy and genuinely engaging, Boomerang is a time capsule of ‘90s sexual politics that’s still worth another look.
1. The Best Man (1999) directed by Malcolm D. Lee
With a hilarious ensemble cast that rivals the 1994 classic Four Weddings and a Funeral, The Best Man has everything a winning romantic comedy has to offer: attractive young people behaving badly, secrets spilling out all over the place, and genuine chemistry throughout the film’s impressive cast. Taye Diggs, Morris Chestnut, Harold Perrineau, and Terrence Howard are joined by the gorgeous Sanaa Lathan, Nia Long, Monica Calhoun, Melissa De Sousa, and Regina Hall for a wedding weekend full of connections and revelations. What’s most unique about The Best Man (and its sequel The Best Man Holiday and recent limited series The Best Man: The Final Chapters) is the way it perfectly balances friendship and romance, reminding us that both are necessary to love — on and off screen.
Jourdain Searles is a writer, comedian, and podcaster who hails from Georgia and resides in Queens. She has written for Bitch Media, Thrillist, The Ringer, and MTV News. As a comic, she has performed stand-up in venues all over New York City, including Union Hall, The People Improv’s Theater, UCB East, and The Creek and the Cave.