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It’s taken a while, but BOOMERANG has finally been generally acknowledged as one of the great romantic comedies.  Here’s two articles that testify to his enduring appeal:


“Boomerang” (1992)

“Of all movies on this list, Reg Hudlin’s ‘Boomerang’ has the unique distinction of boasting the greatest film cast of all time. I mean, c’mon: Eddie Murphy, Robin Givens, Halle Berry, David Alan Grier, Martin Lawrence, Eartha Kitt, Chris Rock, John Witherspoon and more! Truly, it offers a gamut of blackness. And while ‘Boomerang’ abides by some typical rom-com themes (namely, the ‘playboy-learns-the-error-of-his-manipulative-ways’ character arc), it is profound in its depiction of black sexuality. It features mature black sexuality (Eartha Kitt), trifling sexuality (Martin Lawrence), awkward black sexuality (Grier and Berry), queer black sexuality (depicted through actor Geoffrey Holder), righteously self-serving sexuality from a black woman’s perspective (Robin Givens), and ‘Grace Jones sexuality,’ which is so potent and freewheeling as to almost demand its own classification.

Plus, ‘Boomerang’ features all the trappings of iconic 90s-era black cinema: the bluesy background music, the quiet and sensual banter of lovers, the boxy garb popularized by black middle- and upper-class professionals. It is simply the best romantic comedy ever made.” ―Ja’han Jones, reporter at HuffPost


27. “Boomerang” (Reginald Hudlin, 1992)

Eddie Murphy has never really played the traditional Hollywood romantic male lead. Of course, he was charming and adorable in “Coming to America,” but that was more of an urban fairytale than anything else. Despite his good looks, Murphy has seemed much more comfortable hamming it up in a fat suit, or underneath prosthetics, than seducing a woman on screen.

And yet that’s what makes 1992’s “Boomerang” such a wonderful outlier in his filmography. This slick, sophisticated, and immensely likeable rom-com afforded Murphy a rare opportunity to not just be handsome and charismatic, but also vulnerable, playing a high-powered lothario who’s undone by his search for “the perfect woman” when he meets someone he can’t seduce. Co-star Robin Givens keeps pace with Murphy every step of the way as the no-nonsense Jacqueline Broyer.

It’s a testament to Murphy’s skill as a leading man that you like his Marcus Graham even after he cheats on a young Halle Berry — the stacked cast also includes David Alan Grief, Martin Lawrence, Grace Jones, Chris Rock, and Eartha Kitt! — but his uncharacteristic softness proves irresistible.

“Boomerang” performed decently at the box office, but it seems to have left Murphy feeling a little too vulnerable, as he was soon back to hiding underneath fat suits in the “Nutty Professor” movies, voicing animated donkeys, and playing fathers who need to learn important lessons about life. —TO

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When I was a kid, my mom made the mistake of placing a TV with cable in my bedroom. I was already digesting too much “adult” content, but my impressionable brain was introduced to Showtime, Cinemax (aka “Skinamax”), and HBO, allowing me to see films that weren’t meant for a boy my age. I enjoyed a lot of different genres — action, horror, political thriller — but it was romance movies that captivated me. 

As someone who grew up with White pop culture surrounding him since forever, movies such as Seems Like Old Times (with Chevy Chase and Goldie Hawn) and When Harry Met Sally (Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan) were genuine favorites, but didn’t relate to my life in any real way. It wasn’t until I saw Boomerang and House Party where I saw characters of color who were cool, funny, and loved each other in a way I felt best resonated with me. Fast forward 20-plus-years, and the evolution of Black romance movies have impacted myself, others, and the big screen in a major way that promotes love, union, and heartbeat-raising moments sans needing the Tyler Perry struggle.


This Valentine’s Day winning week finds Stella Meghie’s The Photographopening in theaters to high anticipation. Starring Issa Rae and Lakeith Stanfield as two lovers whose story intertwines with the former’s late mother, The Photograph kicks off a new decade of Black romance movies that promise less bad wigs and more sincerity when it comes to matters of the heart. While the past five years have found the genre wholly shifting from prick-dominated pictures (think Mel Gibson’s What Women Want) into women-prioritized productions, forward-thinking filmmakers such as Theodore Witcher, Reginald Hudlin, and Gina Prince-Bythewood helped to build the bridge to the Black romance boom in the late-80s, early-90s. “The primary ingredient for success in this genre is the same as it’s ever been,” Love Jones architect Theodore Witcher said to ESSENCE via email.

And it’s not exactly a genius insight: “The dynamic between the two leads. You may call it chemistry or heat, or whatever… but for the movie to work, the audience must become entranced by those two characters becoming a couple.” 

The impact of Mr. Witcher’s Love Jones can still be felt today, with Larenz Tate showing he could go from a street life terror O-Dog in Menace II Society to a revealing and sensitive suitor as the Chicago poet Darius Lovehall. Elements such as this and the usage of comedy as with Boomerang and Waiting to Exhale worked because, according to ReelReview critic James Berardinelli, “the textures are much different than that of most mainstream romances.” A point that Black audiences have noticed since Nothing But a Man and Claudine: we are only as sexy as the struggle that confronts us, if we’re even showcased as in love at all.


“I didn’t have any [Black romantic movies] when I was young,” said writer-director Gina Prince-Bythewood, “which is why I was inspired to do Love & Basketball. Initially, I wanted to write a Black When Harry Met Sally because I couldn’t see myself in love stories.” 

While penning one of the most quoted films of the early 2000s, The Best Man and Love Jones hit in a major way, setting the stage for Love & Basketball to continue that elevation by leaning into the love story aspect without the need of a laugh track. “That’s the thing we don’t often get in Black film: a true love story. And that’s what I love.” 


Even when the “seriously sexy comedy” She’s Gotta Have It by Spike Lee came out in 1986, the Brooklyn filmmaker noted the disparity with how Black love was presented on screen. “Even the top stars like Eddie Murphy and Richard Pryor never get to have any love interests in their films,” he told The New York Times at the time. “How often have you seen a Black man and woman kiss on the screen?”

For me growing up, it was not quite often and not without some sort of dire situation attached. Boyz N’ Da Hood and Jason’s Lyric comes to mind, but those were films where the love is driving towards a life-or-death moment that would ultimately decimate the possibility of a future. “It’s a challenge to get straight dramas made with anybody in them, let alone Black people,” Theodore Witcher wrote. “As far as romances go, how they see us and how we see ourselves contributes significantly and should be the subject of a longer discussion.” 

Gina agrees in a way, “I want to be surprised. I want to go to the theater and see something incredibly different that I’ve never seen before. That’s what would excite me.” In my humble opinion, today’s filmmakers are pushing the evolutionary meter forward with films like Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight and If Beale Street Could Talk, Rashaad Ernesto Green’s Premature, and Sundance darling Sylvie’s Lovewhich was recently picked up by Amazon Studios, turning heads and winning awards. 


This means the future of Black romance movies is extremely bright in this age of “diversity and inclusion.” As more studios and companies of color greenlight their own projects, the challenge of getting material like this through the Hollywood system seems lessened. The Photograph, which will play to thousands of screens across the country, is one snapshot at what we can expect to come in this new decade of Black creativity. 

“It’s all about authenticity,” legendary producer-writer-director Reginald Hudlin shared with ESSENCE when it comes to making a romance film that stands the test of time. “You can be comedic, you can be dramatic, you can be in the hood, but ultimately all that stuff doesn’t matter. What does is that Black love is at the center of your story and that it feels real—that it is something that people see and can relate to.”

I absolutely love that.

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I was lucky enough to meet Ashley Boone shortly after I arrived in Hollywood.  Here’s why it was a big deal:

He Was ‘Star Wars’ ‘ Secret Weapon, So Why Was He Forgotten?

Ashley Boone Jr., the first black president of a major Hollywood studio, helped make George Lucas’ quirky space opera a hit in the 1970’s — yet chances are you’ve never heard of him: “He was way ahead of his time.”

When thousands gathered Dec. 16 in Hollywood for the world premiere of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker — supposedly the last Skywalker film — they heard Bob Iger, Kathleen Kennedy and J.J. Abrams thank everyone from creator George Lucas to the actor who played R2-D2. But one name was not so much as whispered, despite this person’s critical 1970s role in launching what would become the most successful movie franchise of all time: the all-but-forgotten Ashley Boone Jr.

Although his contributions have been mostly lost to history — he doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page — Boone, who died in 1994 at age 55, was a marketing and distribution wizard who championed Lucas’ space opera when nearly everyone else — including the board of 20th Century Fox — thought it was a wacky idea doomed to fail. He shaped its release date and the number of theaters in which it rolled out and renewed its promotional campaign four times in order to keep it surging in theaters. He worked on a slew of other milestone movies, too, including The Rocky Horror Picture ShowChariots of FireGhostbustersand Thelma & Louise. Eventually, he became the first black president at a major Hollywood studio — even if that job lasted a grand total of four months — and went on to break many other barriers. And his kid sister left her job as a Pan Am flight attendant to follow him into the business and in 2013 became the first black president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

“He was a star in every way,” Cheryl Boone Isaacs says of her brother, 11 years her senior. “He was the cool, hip guy. Handsome, smart, down-to-earth. He was like Obama.”


Boone’s father sorted mail for a post office in Springfield, Massachusetts. His mom was a homemaker. After studying economics at Brandeis University, he thought about working at the World Bank — he wanted to help underdeveloped countries — but after a chance encounter with the co-chief of United Artists, he took a trainee gig at the studio’s New York office, where he quickly rose through the ranks promoting movies like Lilies of the FieldTom Jones and James Bond films to overseas audiences. “The [foreign marketing] department was in such bad shape,” he later recalled to Black Enterprise magazine, “that they said, ‘You’re a bright kid. You can’t be any worse than the guy who’s doing it. Why don’t you go for it?’ So I did.”

Boone had never left the country, but suddenly he was jetting between New York and Europe, living a life his sister describes as “something out of Mad Men” and making friends with people like Quincy Jones. “The backlots and executive suites looked very different than they do today,” Jones tells THR. “There weren’t even brothers working in the kitchen. So when I became aware of Ashley during his time as a young executive at UA, we immediately bonded because our community was so small.”

Boone’s career took on even more momentum as he moved to CBS’ film division, then to Sidney Poitier’s production company (Poitier tells THR a half-century later that he had “the deepest respect” for Boone) and then to work for Motown mogul Berry Gordy. He ultimately landed at Fox in 1972 and spent the next eight years thriving in movie marketing and distribution.

“My supervisors would give me the pictures they said couldn’t succeed,” Boone later said. Some were “black films,” like 1972’s Sounder. “It was a movie that needed careful handling,” he explained. “You had to build a reputation. You had to treat the movie just like any Academy Award-nominated movie before it was nominated.” Boone screened the film to schoolchildren around the country before releasing it widely, and it eventually would be nominated for best picture.

In 1974, a year before the practice became commonplace with Jaws, Boone pioneered saturation booking, releasing the Peter Fonda chase movie Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry in a mass of theaters on the same day in a bid to quickly recoup costs. It worked: The picture grossed $12.1 million ($62.8 million today), making it Fox’s biggest hit of the year. Later that year, The Pittsburgh Courier described Boone as “perhaps the most knowledgeable black man in America when it comes to national and international distribution of motion pictures.”

Over the next few years, Boone helped The Rocky Horror Picture Show become a cult hit through midnight screenings and, in 1976, laid the groundwork for the blockbuster box office for The Omen and Silver Streak through a series of national sneak previews. These successes landed Boone, then 38, on Alan Ladd Jr.’s radar. The studio’s head of production promoted him to vp domestic marketing and distribution, two areas that had never been under one umbrella before. “Ashley was just a very bright person,” Ladd told the PGA’s in-house publication in 2008. “I never considered his color. That had nothing to do with it. He was simply the smartest guy around.”


“I had a bad time with the studios,” George Lucas tells THR. “The only one I didn’t have a bad time with was Fox, and it was really because of Ashley and Laddie.”

Boone’s relationship with Lucas began in 1977, when he traveled to Northern California to see a rough cut of Star Wars. The screening was held outside San Francisco in a room full of sofas and easy chairs. “It was a weeknight, and the bus got lost on its way … arriving almost two hours late,” author Dale Pollock recounted in his 1984 book Skywalking, quoting Boone as thinking, “Someone has got more courage than they are entitled to because this group is just liable to sit down and fall asleep.” No one fell asleep, least of all Boone. Later, during dinner at a nearby Italian restaurant, he sat slumped in his chair, blown away by what he’d just seen. And also, presumably, a little daunted.

The film had to sell $32 million ($135 million today) worth of tickets for Fox to recoup its investment, though it secured only $1.5 million in guarantees from theaters. But Boone started thinking outside the box. The summer movie season had always begun in late June, after schools let out. Lucas and Boone argued for opening Star Wars a month earlier, around Memorial Day, on just a couple of screens in big cities, betting that it could attract young people who would spread word-of-mouth while they were still in school. John Krier, then president of Exhibitor Relations, would recall: “Ashley was an astute judge of pictures. He said Star Wars would do over $200 million before anyone had seen the picture.”

On May 1, about three weeks before its release, a test audience was assembled in San Francisco, and Ladd, Boone and other Fox execs sat in the back row to monitor reactions. Boone Isaacs — who was working on another 1977 sci-fi film, Close Encounters of the Third Kind — also was there as Boone’s guest and, 43 years later, recalls the crowd’s reaction: “By the time that Millennium Falcon got across the screen, everybody was standing and screaming. I remember the guys — Laddie, Ashley and all of them — were kind of huddled together and hugging.”

Star Wars debuted May 25 in 32 theaters nationwide. According to Pollock, “Boone gambled by opening it on a Wednesday rather than the weekend and began shows at 10 a.m. in New York and Los Angeles. By 8 a.m., when the theater doors opened, there were long lines in both cities.” Lucas wanted to be far, far away when the weekend grosses came in, so he scheduled a vacation in Hawaii. Boone was the one who phoned him regularly to report the numbers. And there were big numbers to report. Star Wars propelled Fox to its most commercially successful year ever and ultimately became the highest-grossing film of all time, with $776 million worldwide ($3.3 billion today). An Associated Press story back then noted, “Time-worn methods of selling movies are getting a shake-up by a new generation of marketers, and one of those leading the revolution is Ashley Boone.”

The original Star Wars poster art.
Crowds gathered for the May 25, 1977, premiere of Star Wars at Mann’s Chinese


Star Wars not only made Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford famous but also, at least inside the industry, Boone. A Sepia magazine profile titled “Hollywood’s Top Black Executive” noted that he worked out of “a spacious executive office in Twentieth’s Administration Building” and oversaw a 450-person staff.

Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia.

A year later, following an internal power struggle, Ladd left the studio. After six weeks of uncertainty about who would replace him, Fox announced that the job would be split, with Sandy Lieberson becoming president of production and Boone serving as president of distribution and marketing. It was the first time a black person had ever reached that high a rank at a major studio.

It quickly became clear, though, that not everyone in Hollywood was on board with the idea of a black man in a position of authority. Boone would often recall a 1979 visit he paid to a Fox branch office when a secretary who didn’t recognize him refused to let him past her to see the branch manager. He took it in stride, just as he did when a journalist asked him whether being black had helped or hurt him in Hollywood. “There is this in my favor,” he responded. “I stand out in a crowd.”

Boone at work in 1978.

In October 1979, Boone faced an insult much harder to swallow. Fox chairman and CEO Dennis Stanfill hired Alan Hirschfield, Columbia’s former chief, to fill a newly created job of vice chairman and COO — in other words, to become Stanfill’s No. 2, effectively demoting Boone. “Reports abound about why Fox — which is in an enviable financial position because of the success of Star Wars — should want to rock the boat so soon after appointing Ashley Boone as president of distribution,” noted The New York Times. But rock the boat Fox did. And Boone jumped ship. On Dec. 4, less than four months after being appointed president, he announced he would leave at year’s end.

Boone set up his own consulting firm, with Lucas as client No. 1. “Part of it was loyalty,” Lucas says. “I thought he was a great guy. And I thought he did a great job on Star Wars.” In his new capacity, Boone handled the marketing and distribution for 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back (he kept life-sized Star Wars characters beside his desk) and worked on campaigns for films like Chariots of Fire, which won the 1982 best picture Oscar. In 1983, he decided to go in-house at Columbia and as president of domestic marketing and distribution ushered Ghostbusters onto screens. He then rejoined Ladd at Lorimar as head of worldwide marketing in 1985. “There’s only one Ashley,” Ladd said around that time.


Boone was a trailblazer long before words like “diversity” and “inclusion” became common parlance. In 1983, he was among the first black speakers at the annual convention of the National Association of Theatre Owners in Las Vegas. In 1986, he was a signatory — with such A-listers as Cher — of an open letter to SAG urging divestment from apartheid-era South Africa. That year, he served alongside Michael Douglas on the advisory committee for the U.S. Film Festival, which would become Sundance. And in 1991, he was elected to the Academy’s board of governors as a rep of the executives branch, joining his sister, who already was representing the PR branch. For the next three years, they overlapped on the board, the only siblings ever to do so.

Boone with his sister Cheryl in the 1980s.
The Boone family, from left: Sister Velma, father Ashley Sr., brother Richard, mother Maude (holding Cheryl in her lap) and Ashley.

But the last years of Boone’s career were probably disheartening. He was let go by Lorimar following a corporate takeover in 1988. In 1990, he reunited one last time with Ladd, serving as head of distribution and marketing at Pathé, which then merged with MGM, where he helped launch Thelma & Louise. But his place in history already was starting to be erased. A March 1989 article in Premiere titled “Hollywood’s Dirty Little Secret: Why There Aren’t Any Black Executives” noted that Boone, though a former president of Fox, wasn’t even mentioned in a recent history of the studio. “No one says it out loud, but race is a dirty little secret in Hollywood power politics,” the article stated, noting that “there are still no black executives with the power to greenlight a project.”

In October 1993, after rapidly losing weight, Boone was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Two months later, he stepped down from his post at MGM and was hospitalized at UCLA Medical Center. Few knew how sick he was until they read, on the front page of the trades on May 2, 1994, that he had died the day before at his Beverly Hills home. At his insistence, there was no memorial service. Obituaries noted that survivors included “his companion,” Mark Bua. “Even in the family, I was probably the only one who knew [he was gay],” Boone Isaacs recalls. “Ashley was very private.”

From left: The poster art for 1991’s Thelma & Louise; Boone played the Star Wars soundtrack; A midnight screening in 1995 of The Rocky Horror Picture Show at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood.

UA and Warner Bros. ran full-page tributes in THR, and Ladd called him “the most decent man I’ve ever met.” But Boone was missing in the next “In Memoriam” montage at the Oscars.

His impact, however, is still being felt by members of Hollywood’s black community. “He understood the industry, and he understood that to be in those rooms, you’ve got to carry yourself a certain way,” says Robert Townsend, one of the young black filmmakers Boone informally counseled. “He was old school, and he shared a lot of information in terms of how the game is played.” Adds another Boone mentee, producer-director Reginald Hudlin: “The tragic part is you can’t point to a black executive today in an equivalent position to where he was all those years ago. And I think that is an industry embarrassment.”

Lucas agrees: “He was way ahead of his time, and unfortunately that time hasn’t come yet.”

The black film executive in 2020 who probably comes closest is Netflix vp original film Tendo Nagenda, who in 2019 was presented with the African American Film Critics Association’s Ashley Boone Award, bestowed annually since 2012 to an “entertainment executive of African descent whose high standards and work ethic provides an example for the next generation.” Nagenda says: “Even though I never got to meet him, I imagined what he had to go through. I’ve kind of wondered, at various points along [my own] journey, what he would have done. You have this imaginary conversation about it. You end up thinking a lot about someone you never met.”

Meanwhile, the Star Wars franchise that Boone helped launch has grown beyond even his wildest ambitions. “I think he’d be like the rest of us — he’d be amazed,” says Lucas. “Like, what happened?!” Adds Boone Isaacs, “He said to me once when he was young that he wanted to be an architect. I felt later that’s actually what he always did anyway — it wasn’t building buildings, but it was building other things.”

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How Reginald Hudlin’s creative risk-taking has shaped black—and pop—culture

Digging into Reginald Hudlin’s résumé is like the most inspiring rabbit hole you could possibly tumble down.
Most people know Hudlin as the director of such classic ’90s films as House Party and Boomerang. And while he’s been consistent on the directing front, most recently with his Netflix doc The Black Godfather,about music industry legend Clarence Avant, Hudlin also served as the first president of entertainment for BET in the early 2000s, where he developed popular shows including Sunday Best and the BET Hip-Hop Awards. He’s also produced highly regarded films and TV shows including Django Unchained and The Boondocks, and he’s written seminal story arcs for Marvel’s Black Panther comic book series, including cocreating everyone’s favorite little sister, Shuri.
Basically, Reginald is a superhero in his own right for creativity.
In this episode of Fast Company‘s podcast Creative Conversation, Hudlin explains how creative risk-taking not only led to personal breakthroughs but shaped black culture and pop culture at large.
“Typically, if I follow my gut, you get House Party or Boomerang or Black Panther. And when I do the smart thing, that’s when projects fail,” Hudlin says. “People go, ‘Oh man, I’m not going to sell out.’ I’ve tried to sell out. And you know what? It doesn’t work for me. I’ve just found I have to do what I believe in. If I believe in it, no matter how improbable the concept is, it tends to succeed very well. So that makes decision-making very clear: Just do what you believe in—period.”
Listen to the latest episode of Fast Company’s podcast Creative Conversation on Apple PodcastsSpotifyRadioPublicGoogle Play, or Stitcher.
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