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By her own account, Kenya McQueen has two strikes against her: she's black and she's a woman. And in a white-, male-dominated society, that means she's had to put in double-time—what's referred to as "black tax"—to get where she is as a senior manager at a large accounting firm. All that hard work has left little time for play ... or love. So after another dateless Valentine's Day, she resigns herself to discarding her long list of requirements for the perfect man and finally decides to take her friends' advice, which is to "let go and let flow."
Her newfound resolution is immediately challenged when she's set up on a blind date with Brian, a rugged landscaper who's kind, considerate, carefree, adventurous ... and white. Initially, she rudely shrugs him off. But when she hires him to work on her yard, the two begin a slow-budding relationship. Feelings eventually flower. But Kenya has always dreamed of a suit-and-tie Africa-American man as her match—as has her mother for her.
On one hand, Kenya can't deny her feelings for Brian; on the other, she acts ashamed of being seen with someone who her high-society kin simply refer to as "the help." And when her seemingly perfect match comes along in the shape of numbers-crunching, good-looking, smooth-talking, black Mark, things get even more complicated.
At every turn in Something New is the issue of race. Thankfully, rather than merely presenting the still-prevalent problems of racism like recent movies such as Crash, this warm-hearted romantic comedy opts for providing a solution. Various characters, including those who initially treat Brian unfairly based on his pigmentation, have a change of heart regarding their own view of other races. "At the end of the day, it's not about race or the color of your skin, it's about love," a friend says to Kenya. "Let your heart do the talking—not your parents, not society," says another.
That also rings true for Kenya at work, where she follows her heart and opts to do what's ethical and right. Despite being second-guessed by a key client (assumedly because of her sex and race), she continues to do what's best for him, even advising him against an unwise yet seemingly lucrative deal. Throughout the ordeal, her boss is extremely supportive and often affirms her for her talent and dedication.
Kenya's level-headed father also supports her no matter what. "Don't give up ... you know how to make your dreams come true," he tells her. After he encourages her to follow her heart rather than social or even familial expectations, a girl who overhears their conversation comments on how she wishes she had a father like him.
Brian proves with his lifestyle that he sees through racial barriers, and he corners Kenya on her "preference" for dating only black men, calling it prejudice. Despite Kenya's initial rudeness, he's encouraging and kind to her, as he is to others who treat him poorly. Mark says his parents, who've been married for 45 years, are his role models.
Something New also displays the shallowness of pursuing prestige for comfort and appearance's sake.
A wedding takes place at a Jewish synagogue, where Kenya and her friends have a discussion in a rabbi's study (various religious icons and symbols are shown throughout the scene). Kenya's girlfriend half-jokingly declares her willingness to adhere to certain Muslim customs (even wearing a burqa) for the sake of going after a handsome Muslim man. Brian speaks of a flower that was used in ancient times to "honor the gods."
Kenya and Brian's first kiss is closely followed by the pair feverishly tearing off each other's clothes and hopping into bed. (We see him shirtless, followed by a morning-after shot.) With an apparent attempt to aim for sensual rather than sexual, first-time director Sanaa Hamri depicts that scene and their other couplings via intimate embraces, passionate kisses and close-ups of fingers tracing various body parts (of the PG-13 variety). It's obvious that after a while, Kenya and Brian begin living together.
Couples dance sexually, and we see a highly eroticized modern dance performance. The female dancer's skin-tight outfit hides little—and the camera makes sure not to miss a single curve or movement. It also pans Kenya's reclining, underwear-clad body, and Brian wonders about seeing her completely naked. Several women wear cleavage-revealing outfits.
Kenya's friends talk about everything from penis size to masturbation. When Kenya tells them she had sex with Brian, they congratulate her, offering some misguided but typical modern-day advice: "You don't have to marry him. ... All you're doing is having good ol'-fashioned sex." It's revealed that one of these advisers is "screwing married men." A running joke involves Kenya stating that she doesn't "do" dogs or white men. She also makes a crude remark about another woman's privates.
A stand-up comic references the "Washington, D.C., sniper" as part of her routine and jokes about men who break up with their girlfriends by chopping them into pieces.
Crude or Profane Language
God's and Jesus' names are misused half-a-dozen times. The s-word is invoked a few more times than that, while a handful of milder profanities (including "a--" and "b--ch") get tossed in.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Martinis, champagne, wine, beer and tequila all get screen time and mentions, as alcohol is prevalent at every party and gathering throughout the movie. Kenya quickly downs a glass of wine at a fancy ball (it's intimated that she's had quite a few) and then acts uncharacteristically brash. Her mom and moviegoers both conclude that she's drunk.
Other Negative Elements
Racially loaded terms, jokes and names are tossed around frequently, and Brian often gets the cold shoulder (and overtly rude behavior) from Kenya's family and friends. It should be noted, however, that all of this is used to establish the movie's main point about racism (discussed in the "Conclusion").
Kenya's womanizing brother regularly lies to his dates and his parents. Kenya drives recklessly to chase down Brian.
It's not hard to figure out the target audience for Something New. As a quintessential Valentine's Day-themed "chick flick," this one supposedly has all the right elements: good-looking actors, a defy-the-odds love story, a hefty dose of emotional conflict and heart-stirring turmoil, family and female bonding, and ... well, plot twists that can be seen coming a mile away.
This Guess Who variation does manage to add a little thoughtfulness to the mix, though, by refusing to skirt the race issue. Obviously, racism gets a thumbs down. But by turning the tables on the cliché and exposing the subtle (and not-so-subtle) prejudices sometimes found within the African-American culture, Something New actually lives up to its title—at least when it comes to dealing with interracial relationships.
Both sides—black and white—get to vent about what they see as racial unfairness. And virtually everyone must admit that what they've convinced themselves are preferences often amount to thinly-disguised prejudice. Without giving away too much of the ending, the color-blind, biblical love (see Colossians 3:11) that brings unity rather than division prevails. And without trying to oversimplify things, I can safely say that the "can't we all just get along" message is heard loud and clear.
Unfortunately, what's also heard and seen are more than a few profanities and instances of casual sex. Kenya and Brian's story may be inspiring from a romantic perspective, but the filmmakers' decision to frequently exchange innocence for titillation is disappointing. That's especially true with the main characters' willingness to jump into bed with each other for nothing more than a round of "good ol'-fashioned sex." And it means that Something New winds up being the same ol' same ol'.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Sanaa Lathan as Kenya McQueen; Simon Baker as Brian Kelly; Mike Epps as Walter; Donald Faison as Nelson; Blair Underwood as Mark
Sanaa Hamri ( )