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Best Man - An Interview with Malcolm D. Lee

by Cynthia Fuchs
Posted 22 October 1999

 Malcolm Lee looks relaxed. He sprawls across the couch in his hotel room and smiles, confident in the appeal of his first movie, The Best Man. For Lee, the film is the result of years of preparation. He started acting in kindergarten, studied writing in prep school, has made several short films, and worked as an assistant for his cousin Spike Lee. He decided he wanted to direct when he was 19, and with this script (his sixth), Lee knew he had a project that he could sell, with its "universal story" and provocative spin on a topic -- romance -- usually addressed to women viewers.

"In a way," Lee says, "The four guys in The Best Man are a response to Waiting to Exhale, in that the women in that film were diverse and yet they were all friends, and I wanted to do the same thing with four black men, in an effective and real way, so the men aren't all villains." They aren't like the men in movies targeted to women, "who aren't faithful or trustworthy, who are gay or otherwise unavailable, or betraying the women." With his focus on the men, Lee says, "the women weren't going to get a card table scene themselves, and maybe they're archetypes, but they also have layers to them, like all the characters."

Lee feels that directing "is a very natural thing for me. I have no problem being in charge and telling people what to do, but not in a nasty way. It's a collaborative process, to achieve your vision." Occasionally, the actors, experienced as they are, surprised him while working on The Best Man. "When Morris [Chestnut] was doing his vows," says Lee, "it blew me away. Those who know him are waiting for him to play a role like this, a sexy leading man, and he made the most of it."

"Race is not really playing a factor in all of this," Lee observes. "These people are just being Americans. What people tend to do with a movie like this -- with black people in it -- is call it a 'black movie,' and inherent in that term is the idea that it's just for black people. And I don't this movie is just for black people. It's a very universal story. We're all tired of the same kinds of images being put out there. There's a place for the Booty Calls and the Sprungs of the world." But, he adds, there are a lot of them out there already, and they don't represent all of black filmmaking, much less, black experience. Lee continues, "You also have the Dumb and Dumbers, but nobody calls that a 'white movie.' My goal is to make films with an all-black cast mainstream."

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