On the surface, The Perfect Guy seems like an innocuous fall feature of ebony eye-candy, or merely a sexy thriller. The Perfect Guy, narrates the life of protagonist Leah, a modern day woman equipped with an education, enviable wardrobe and ongoing quest for love. Directed by David Rosenthal, who is white and written by Alan B. McElroy (story) and Tyger Williams (screenplay) also men but of the black diaspora, The Perfect Guy tells an all too familiar tale of black women and compatibility through a lens that is entirely male. The film veils a societal anxiety surrounding the black woman and her happily ever after.
The story opens with Leah (Sanaa Lathan) a successful, educated and beautiful single woman in her mid thirties. Despite the success in her career, Leah’s fourth finger on her left hand remains vacant as her longtime boyfriend Dave (Morris Chestnut) is not ready to wed. Frustrated with waiting, Leah breaks things off with Dave and soon finds love again with eligible bachelor Carter Duncan (Michael Ealy). The film then treats viewers to the cliche whirlwind romance where the woman is breathtakingly beautiful and flawlessly dressed and the man says and does all the right things at just the right moment. This romance spins both of its participants right off their feet and into love. This romance comes to a screeching halt when Carter sees another man speaking with Sanaa and nearly beats him to death. This single instance reveals a side to Carter than anyone who saw the trailer knew was coming.
The movie succeeds in negating the stereotypes corresponding with color in the black community. In making Dave, the darker man, the more eligible and sane of the two suitors, The Perfect Guy challenges the subconscious conceptualizing of color. However both the darker or lighter skinned man are eliminated as options for modern woman Leah.
The movie ends with protagonist Leah without the rekindled companionship of reformed lover Dave (who is viscously murdered by Carter) or her obsessed lover Carter (who she murders at the end of the film). Thus, The Perfect Guy fulfills a mission identical to ABC’s Scandal, How To Get Away with Murder, and BET’s Being Mary Jane, series that depict the successful, educated and attractive black women of contemporary culture that is either entirely without feasible options or fatally single.
Leah’s image is in contrast to the stereotype of black women as an unwed mother to numerous children out of wedlock, who often does not work but if she does she works a base job and is obsessed with material goods way beyond her means. The crafting of this modern black woman who is the antithesis of her stereotype is counterproductive as it does little to advance the options of black women when it comes to romance. According to the mediia and popular culture, black women are either neck and eye rolling, single mothers, who lack formal education, a suitable income or a stable mate or a successful, educated and attractive woman who also has issues finding a quality mate. The inability of popular culture to compartmentalize black women beyond these two extremes depicts the path to “unhappily ever after” as inevitable for black women.
My critique of the inability of black women to achieve a “happily ever after” is not to suggest that the traditional “happily ever after” is happy either. But it is worth mentioning that these “happily ever after” endings are commonly offered solely to white women. The media’s depiction of black women existing beyond romance is true and potentially uplifting if it were reflective of choice not force. The African holocaust destroyed the black family structure, and made it impossible for black men and women to love one another beyond the strict atrocities of slavery. These perils trickled down from traditional to contemporary society and continue to thwart the black women from finding love in blackness.
The complications surrounding love and the black women is that society makes it a challenge to love yourself. We live a world that tells young black girls that they aren’t beautiful if their hair isn’t long and flowing, so the weave industry continues to flourish and many black girls find “love” in men who hold the silent promise of breeding children who bear these traits. The Perfect Guy seduces audiences into loving whiteness in the unwavering “White savior figure” epitomized by the police officer Leah goes to for assistance. It is the police officer who devises the plan of luring Carter into her home and killing him. So on the surface the officer appears to cure Leah of her “problem” but beneath the surface he deems the black man as a “problem.” It is also interesting that Carter instantly goes from charming to crazy, completely eliminating any connection to mental illness. Thus, the film also paints a very thin line between normalcy and criminality in the black man, an image we’ve seen play out in the murders of Trayvon Martin and Mike Brown.
So The Perfect Guy not only paints the black woman as an imperfect candidate for love, but also paints the black man as inherently imperfect or killed by the flaws of his imperfect counterparts. The sole source of “perfection” or he who comes close to it is the white male police officer. The humanizing of police officers, or the soliders of white supremacy who continue to terrorize the black community is completely inappropriate for any film, but especially one crafted to gage a black audience. The crafting of the white man as an ally for black women is also a problem, as the traditional and contemporary relationship between black women and white men exists on a racist and sexist foundation, two modes of oppression that foster white male dominance.
The Perfect Guy demonstrates the racist media’s fascination with appearing revolutionary by crafting an image that seems to be new all the while implanting traditional views of inferiority into the minds of black people. As a community we should expect the perfect guy to be any more perfect than the world we live in. Because we live in a racist world, our sole expectation should be for The Perfect Guy to reflect the perils of systematic racism, which it undoubtedly does.