“Well, well, well, the gang’s all here, back in effect. Break out the ‘40s.” though this iconic line was said adroitly in Malcolm D. Lee’s The Best Man, its sentiments now, on the eve of the franchise continuation, are joyful! The Best Man franchise began over 20 years ago and has been entertaining audiences ever since. Starring Taye Diggs, Nia Long, Morris Chestnut, Monica Calhoun, Melissa DeSousa, Terrence Howard, Harold Perrineau, and Sanaa Lathan, the 1999 hit The Best Man and its sequel The Best Man: Holiday are continuing the journey with two amazing specials.
The first will be the debut episode of Hollywood Homecoming. This reunion show will debut on ABFF Play, a free streaming platform focused on Black culture. The first two eps will simulcast on ABFF Play and the IMDb homepage as well as the IMDb Twitch. The second special is The Best Man: The Final Chapter which will premiere on Peacock later in the year. They’re fitting sequels to a movie that redefined Black cinema in the late ‘90s.
I was able to sit in on a panel with director Malcolm D. Lee. Lee is a director, producer and screenwriter of such iconic films as The Best Man, Undercover Brother, Girls Trip, and Space Jam 2. His point of view has succeeded in making Black stories relatable and mainstream. Lee maintains that the stories he’s telling are American. They are stories of relationships, love and friendship which just happen to be centered about the Black experience, Lee’s experience.
What was the impetus to getting everyone together for the special?
Malcolm D. Lee: The ABFF wanted to honor The Best Man cast and me once we turned 20. We were going to do it at ABFF honors, but then the pandemic happened. They got this deal with IMDb to televise it so I asked the cast if they wanted to do it and they all jumped at the chance to do so. Nischelle Turner who interviewed us put it like, they’re giving us our flowers now. The film is widely respected, love and beloved. So we got together on a Saturday and it was a lot of fun. I learned a lot of things I didn’t know and were fun to discover. There’s a lot of great energy when we get together.
The reunion taping happened before the deal for The Best Man: Final Chapter on Peacock closed. The cast were that excited to get together.
Did you plan out the trajectory for the story?
Lee: No. I would say the impetus for the story was the fact I wasn’t seeing myself on screen. The people I know: Black American, educated, middle-class aspirational people in movies and television to that point were very unrecognizable to me.
Lee went on to mention that he’d watched Waiting to Exhale and found the male characters to be lacking. He wanted to see fleshed out and real characters that he could relate to.
Lee: The fact that people really took to the movie was great, and there was talk of a sequel back then, but I didn’t want to be a one trick pony.
Lee didn’t want the sequel to be just a money grab and he was very concerned with catching the magic again. Years down the road he was able to put together The Best Man: Holiday. Now he’s ready to take this story to its final chapter.
Harper wrote his novel based on characters his own friends. When you wrote the script for The Best Man, was it based on traces of your own friends?
Lee: Sure! There was some crossover. It’s funny because the friends that thought they were those characters. I was like, “you weren’t exactly who I was thinking of!”. I would say what’s great is that I took pieces from a lot of different people. There’s also the physicality and what the actors bring to it, it’s all going to be a different thing. I knew what I wanted for each character and who I wanted them to be, but no one was a specific individual, no one was a specific character. It was more like pieces of people.
When asked about the impact of the film in the community and industry, Lee spoke about how several young actors got a chance to showcase their talent in a dignified way.
Lee: We had such a tremendous response from the African American community to the script. A lot of Black actors weren’t getting that opportunity to play full people. And here was an opportunity for eight of them to play those roles, not just to be the sidekick, the best friend, or the one that’s cracking the funny jokes or the sassy one. It was an opportunity for them to play real people.
What message do you think the franchise has for the cast and how they represent the culture as a whole?
Lee: In its run of 20 years, it was my goal to make it a universal story. Every movie I’ve done has universal themes. It’s been my goal to make the African American story mainstream and normalized. You have American people who are as accessible as the characters in Diner, The Big Chill, My Best Friend’s Wedding. These are all people we recognize and have the cultural specificity of being African American, but at the same time being someone we can relate to on a human level and an American level.
I asked Lee who he would cast today if he was to recast the movie. Lee insisted that the cast was irreplaceable, but he saw a lot of talent popping up that he was impressed with.
Lee: One of the first people I think about is John Boyega. Perhaps John David Washington. Obviously there’s Zendaya who I probably couldn’t afford. I probably couldn’t afford any of them, but there’s a lot of great talent out there! But nobody can really do that now. These actors own those roles. Morris Chestnut alludes to this in the special; he can’t see anyone else in those roles because the cast embodies them.
The next chapter of The Best Man is one that promises drama and intrigue from our beloved characters. Lee was very excited to talk about the reunion special, the next installment and the legacy the first installment had on a generation of fans. Be sure to check out the special starting Tuesday, April 13th.
Homecoming: The Best Man will air simultaneously on ABFF Play as well as IMDb. Do you love The Best Man? Who is your favorite character? Let us know in the comments below.
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