The ‘You People’ Publicity Tour Is Already As Uncomfortable As the Film’s Premise
We wonder what the pitch for the upcoming Netflix film You People could have been — somehow, it seems unlikely that the script was sold on something like, “Let’s remake Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner and replace Sidney Poitier with Jonah Hill.”
You People is a romance/comedy set in Los Angeles about a white Jewish man who falls in love with a woman from a Muslim family. The leads are played by Lauren London and Hill, the latter of whom co-wrote and co-produced the film with its director, Black-ish creator and showrunner Kenya Barris. The star-studded cast features Eddie Murphy, Nia Long, David Duchovny and Julia Louis-Dreyfus as each half of the couple’s parents.
From the film’s trailers, You People is set to be an intentionally uncomfortable commentary on race relations with an emphasis on awkward moments and cringe humor. Judging by comments made by Barris in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter that was released yesterday, the awkwardness starts with the press tour.
“I was a big fan of Jonah for years. We started texting back and forth because I really loved Mid90s, and we started talking about film,” Barris said of his star and co-writer Hill who, just last year, made the immensely prudent decision to opt-out of press tours for the sake of his mental health.
Barris had no issue in speaking on his partner’s behalf, saying of their introduction, “He was in an interracial relationship at the time, and we started having that conversation.” Barris changed the topic to the film’s setting, saying, “We were both from L.A. and we were like, ‘There’s never been a love letter to L.A. from our generation.’ We wanted to write a love letter to L.A., a love letter to the culture. And I think that’s hopefully what comes across to the audience.”
Two things to unpack — first, what exactly is “that conversation” that needs to be had about an interracial relationship, and who in the world demanded that Netflix make a movie about how Hill once dated a Black person? Secondly, at no point in film history have audiences ever been lacking “a love letter to L.A.” Half of all movies are “love letters” to Hollywood and Southern California as a whole — we don’t need a new La La Land every year.
The fixation on interracial relationships in media is a deeply uncomfortable topic that’s difficult to discuss openly. Barris has been the subject of ugly criticism about the portrayal of mixed couples in his productions — when the first trailer for You People was released last month, some news outlets attacked Barris for having a “biracial obsession” while many Twitter users accused the writer, director and producer of being “anti-Black.”
But Barris is undeterred, and as he continues the press tour, he is clearly willing to tread into uncertain waters when it comes to his work and the views expressed within it. Basically, Barris and Hill are setting up the dialogue surrounding You People to be as divisive and uncomfortable as a conversation between a Jewish person and a Black Muslim about Louis Farrakhan.