One of these days Judd Apatow will have to face the reality that I’m here. Don’t get me wrong, I love Apatow’s entire cannon starting with Freaks and Geeks all the way to the present day orgy of thirty-somethings behaving like teenagers called Love (Netflix). I’ve been known to binge-watch them all over a weekend until I both simultaneously believe in a quirky, messy version of romance and am wracked with stomach pains from continuous laughter. But for the 20-plus-years I’ve been loving Judd’s work I realize that he, like all of his characters, doesn’t think people like me are capable of love.
That’s a little damning but maybe it’s also a little true. I struggle to recall a single character of color in any Apatow work who actually engages with anyone (let alone a main character) in a meaningful, romantic way. The 40-Year-Old Virgin is the only movie that comes to mind in which a black character has any sort of sexual life and even that is dysfunctional (though apropos to a movie about a 40-year-old who has never done the nasty). People of color have traditionally been marginalized as a movie’s punchline or comic relief. But given this filmmaker’s commitment to exalting the oddball, the wounded and (yes) the marginalized I’m left asking: what’s the deal, bruh?
This is odd, considering the pains Apatow’s production group takes to include people of color in the backgrounds of his work. In almost everything from Love to (the insanely hilarious) Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Pineapple Express, Get Him to the Greek and The 5-Year-Engagement the production teams imbue every group of plucky white man-and-woman-children with a smattering of Asian, Latin and black friends. It does in fact look like reality on the surface, particularly in the stories set on the coasts. But if reality is what we’re striving for (“authenticity” as my professors would say) then why aren’t any of these smiling-friends-of-color hooking up with their white counterparts or each other? Even in his most recent work Love the main character Gus has a network of fun-loving goofballs that include black and Asian buds who don’t do much more than sit in his house, smoke weed and make up songs. Admittedly this sounds like a great time but do any of these people ever step out of these sexless roles?
Reality differs too wildly from Apatow’s work in this respect. Interracial marriage is on the rise in a big way across the nation. In 2014 15% of all marriages were intermarriage. Compared to a poll taken in 1987 in which less than 50% of respondents approved of intermarriage we’re practically living in a golden age. Today that number is 80%. Whites and blacks are most likely to intermarry across groups as well. We’re doing a lot more than just smiling at each other during happy hours and house parties, as these movies might suggest. Interracial couples are common today in a country in which they were banned in 29 states 50 years ago and as more people identify as “other” on the census form they will likely be the norm in another 50 years.
So, why does the character Bertie on the show Love have to date an unemployed and possibly homicidal white man-child and not, for example, the protagonist Gus’ funny and industrious (and, surprise surprise, advice-giving) black coworker Kevin? She comes close to hooking up Latino at a party but gets derailed when she learns that the object of her drunken desire is as gay as a meatpie. I had high hopes for Bertie in that moment but as so often happens the filmmakers found a way to cock-block her. I get the feeling that if the characters of color in Apatow’s universe could materialize and give him some real talk he might not like what he hears.
Judd, we have dicks. It’s true, ask Redtube. We have pee-pees and vajay-jays and are always falling in love, being strange, doing dumb shit and screwing friends in the process. Often we get it wrong. And often we’re hooking up with the cute white protagonist, the Asian best friend, the Latin coworker, the black teammate and the list goes on. You know this. You see it all the time in LA. We have weddings and babies together. It don’t no realer than that.
Apatow’s work will remain my go-to for what it means to be a Gen-Xer working the complex machinery of modern love. I for one would just like to see on screen what I see in the real world. People of all races and colors behaving like horny, retarded adult-children and making a mess of it together. Isn’t that the dream?