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Race relationships

Interracial couplings on TV and in the movies prove that ”Black and White” isn’t the first to tackle the issue

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If you want to gauge the heat on interracial romance, go to the numbers. There are at least a half-dozen TV shows with interracial relationships — from Christina Applegate’s canoodling with Latin hunk Bruno Campos on Jesse, to The West Wing, where the President’s daughter (gasp!) is dating a black man. Meanwhile, in the movies, there are multiculti pairings in Boiler Room (Giovanni Ribisi and Nia Long), High Fidelity (John Cusack and Lisa Bonet), and even the animated The Road to El Dorado. If, as James Toback suggests, ”mass interracial sex” can eliminate racism, then get thee to a cineplex fast.

But wait. Much of the current interracial eye candy fails to address some very real issues. When Ally McBeal was dating a black doctor last season, the couple never seriously discussed race. And the closest thing to addressing the issue in Boiler Room‘s jungle-fever subplot is when Ribisi’s character says to Long’s, ”I just want some chocolate love.” This is progress? ”It is kind of a lose-lose situation,” says Farai Chideya, author of the recent tome on American diversity The Color of Our Future. ”If you do talk about [the race thing], a lot of it seems forced, but if you don’t, it seems artificial.” Eager to embrace the trend, but not to wrestle with complexities, filmmakers sometimes leave interracial relationships ambiguous; are Romeo Must Die‘s Jet Li and Aaliyah lovers, or just friends? On the other hand, The West Wing explores what it is that makes people uneasy about black and white intimate relations. ”It makes for very good drama,” says Wing exec producer Thomas Schlamme. ”And people respond to it without a great deal of controversy.” Archie Bunker and George Jefferson, prime time’s most original interracial couple, proved that point 20 years ago. The rest of Hollywood might take note.

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