March 2015 saw the release of a French romantic comedy called Serial (Bad) Weddings. The film focuses on a couple, who are coping with the fact that their daughters have all married men of different races and religions. While the intention of Serial (Bad) Weddings is to promote acceptance of these types of unions, the film must first resort to having most of the characters make casually racist comments and emphasize the fact that these types of unions are not considered to be “normal” in a society dominated by white Christians.
Serial (Bad) Weddings is far from the first film to tackle this subject and it will probably not be the last. In fact, the topic of interracial relationships has been addressed for practically the entire history of cinema, dating as far back as the 1917 film The Bronze Bride, which involved a union between a white fur trapper and an aboriginal woman. However, the film that most people will think of, in regards to interracial relationships, is the 1967 film Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, starring Spencer Tracy and Sidney Poitier, which is about a white woman who brings home her black fiancé. The film was released right in the midst of the civil rights movement and, at the time, interracial marriage was still illegal in many U.S. states. Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner was remade in 2005 under the title Guess Who, which starred Ashton Kutcher and Bernie Mac and reversed the premise, so it is now a black woman bringing home her white boyfriend.
Films that deal with interracial relationships are usually about the fear of the “other” and how some individuals don’t believe it to be normal for different cultures to mix. One of the biggest extremes of this is the 2008 film Lakeview Terrace. This film stars Samuel L. Jackson as a LAPD police officer who terrorizes his neighbours, played by Patrick Wilson and Kerry Washington, purely because they are an interracial couple.
Because of different belief systems, particularly involving marriage, interfaith relationships may be seen as more complex and challenging than interracial relationships. That said, the issue of differing religious beliefs is not addressed in movies as much as interracial relationships. For modern films, this likely has to do with the fact that society as a whole has become much more secular, with many people not practicing the religions they were raised with. However, at the same time, interracial and interfaith relationships often intersect with each other, with different cultures having their own religious beliefs.
Typically, films that do deal directly with interfaith relationships often involve a Christian getting into a relationship with either a Jew or a Muslim. Also, many of these films tend to be romantic comedies. One notable example would be Meet the Parents (2000), which makes many mentions of the fact that Ben Stiller’s character of Greg Focker is a Jewish man marrying into a Christian family, particularly through his romantic rival Kevin, played by Owen Wilson, who became a carpenter because he idolizes Jesus Christ. Religious differences are also brought up in My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002), where John Corbett’s character Ian Miller converts to the Greek Orthodox church, in order to marry Nia Vardalos’ character of Toula.
It is pretty easy to find films involving interracial and interfaith relationships, where the cultural differences between such unions are an issue to be resolved. However, it is still very difficult to find films that treat these relationships as a completely normal act. As films such as Serial (Bad) Weddings has proven, interracial and interfaith relationships are still considered to be a somewhat taboo subject. This is likely because these films typically deal with older, more traditional, generations, who are not really that accepting of their offspring entering into relationships with people of a different race and/or religion.
Films that deal with interracial relationships are usually about the fear of the “other” and how some individuals don’t believe it to be normal for different cultures to mix.
That doesn’t mean that films that treat interracial relationships as no big deal are impossible to find. Interestingly Zoe Saldana, who played Ashton Kutcher’s fiance in Guess Who, has gone on to star in many roles, which has her in interracial relationships without her race being brought up. These films include Star Trek (2009), The Losers (2010), and The Words (2012) and can even be extended to her roles in Avatar (2009) and Guardians of the Galaxy (2014), which has the added dimension of her playing alien characters. It is also not that surprising when interracial couples show up in Canadian films, since Canada prides itself with being a multicultural nation. This was indeed the case in last year’s hit film Dr. Cabbie, which featured not one, but two interracial relationships, including the central one between Vinay Virmani and Adrianne Palicki.
It might still be a few generations before interracial and interfaith relationships become more widely accepted by society and they become a more normal occurrence in films. In the meantime, viewers will just have to tolerate films, such as Serial (Bad) Weddings, which interpret such unions, and their lack of general acceptance, as something ripe for comedy.