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Why Boomerang is a 90s movie reboot that actually works

Lena Waithe’s update on the Eddie Murphy-starring rom-com is a TV show that shows what life is really like for young black adults in 2019

In her column THE BINGE WATCH, TV writer and critic Bolu Babalola takes a deep dive into what’s streaming, and tells you what should be on your watch list.

“You know what black millennials want?” muses a suave, young ad executive named Bryson as he gazes out of the windows of a sleek skyrise looking over the Atlantan cityscape. “We want it all. We want to be great at work. We want to have the perfect partner. We want the fly crib. We want the dope view. We want to buy our mama a house. We want to go to church every week just to make sure we get into heaven. But in order to be great at everything, we have to be present for everything.” Granted, he’s talking about his creative idea for an energy drink enigmatically named ‘Stay Awake’, but his initial question encapsulates the crux of what the slick, funny, warm, aspirational Lena Waithe series Boomerang represents. Though he was specifically speaking of black millennials, the tenets can be broadened out to speak for the tone of the zeitgeist. We’re ambitious and hungry; we want to respect our parents whilst forging our own paths, to be reverent without being derivative. We want to make our own mark. This is precisely what Boomerang the TV show achieves.

The series is based on the 1992 classic Boomerang; a rom-com set in a trendy New York all-black ad agency, where everyone is obscenely well-dressed and hot. Eddie Murphy (who already had black rom-com classic Coming to America under his belt) plays smooth-talking ad exec lothario Marcus, a playboy who inadvertently ends up in a love triangle with his vivacious new boss, Jacqueline (Robin Givens, who is excellent as the femme fatale) and sweet-but-don’t-play-with me colleague Angela (Halle Berry in her breakthrough role). Boomerang is a beloved cult gem – it’s funny, sleek, sexy – however, due to featuring a posse of ad bros in the 90s as its core friendship crew, it inevitably skews towards being a ‘problematic fave’. Also, not to put to finer point on it, the guy we are meant to root for is a complete wasteman.

So it makes total sense that, in order to remake it for BET in 2019, it had to be woken up (so to speak) and smoothed out by Lena Waithe. Waithe is part of the creative team behind Netflix’s whip-smart satire Dear White People, a star and writer of Master of None, and mastermind behind The Chi and the much-anticipated Daniel Kaluuya-helmed romantic drama Queen & Slim.

In keeping with Waithe’s hallmark tenor, the new BET series is sleek, sexy and nuanced. It literally signifies a new age, as the plot centres around the next generation, i.e. the children of the characters in the original film: Marcus and Angela’s daughter Simone, and Jacqueline’s son Bryson. The new characters navigate romance, parental legacy, and their own careers as young advertising execs.

Boomerang does what any good reboot should do and pays homage without being derivative, not just evading its progenitor’s pitfalls but improving it, and moulding itself into a millennial climate. Where the 1992 film was anchored by a group of straight bros that just about straddled the line between douchey and charming (and often veered into terrains of toxic masculinity, with queerdom being used as a punchline), in Waithe’s version, not only is the squad mixed-gender, but the smooth, most traditionally ‘masculine’ character Ari is openly bisexual. Progressive gender and sexual politics aren’t spoken of in the new version of Boomerang, they just are. The show course-corrects the film, but it isn’t merely a point-by-point combative statement against its predecessor’s failings – it builds upon the world of young black professionals living their lives that was created, and evolves it in a way that feels true to real life.

Considering that it was made in the early 90s, the original rom-com was relatively progressive in its portrayal of women. Women are shown in positions of authority – the bosses, the talent – and yet, ultimately, the power ends up skewing in favour of the men. The woman who is openly, voraciously sexual isn’t the one we’re supposed to be rooting for – the core love story culminates with Halle Berry’s sweet-albeit- sharp-tongued Angela taking Marcus back after the profound emotional reckoning he undergoes after cheating on her (I mean how else could a man figure out how much he was in love with you without banging another woman? It’s called character growth, look it up in the book of Jay Z, 4:44). Women are either sexy, power-obsessed and heartless, or sweet and essentially pliable.  

“In a climate where everything feels so desperately bleak for our generation (the world is burning! Unemployment is up! Housing crisis!), it’s refreshing to watch something that not only celebrates having dreams, but also encourages us to believe in them”

In Waithe’s Boomerang however, the personhood of the women is centralised and fully realised. Simone, our brown-skinned protagonist, is sexually engaged, aware – and crucially, unapologetic about the power she wields.  In the first steamy scene we see Simone in, she’s on top. She has men tripping over themselves for her, pining for her – they are at her whim – and yet it’s made clear that this is just a facet of her personality, as she’s also passionate, ambitious, and intelligent. She’s allowed both professional hunger and lust.

The nascent will-they-won’t-they romance between best friends Bryson and Simone forms a core part of the narrative, but there is so much more to the show than that. It’s about unabashed drive. To use Issa Rae’s (excellent) Insecure as a foil, where the HBO series depicts a slightly older millennial generation muddling their way through, Boomerang  portrays young people with clear ambitions trying to figure out their way towards them. It’s an aspirational world, where our fantasies and our realities have the possibility to merge.

In a climate where everything feels so desperately bleak for our generation (the world is burning! Unemployment is up! Housing crisis!), it’s refreshing to watch something that not only celebrates having dreams, but also encourages us to believe in them. The show makes no pretence that it’s easy, however. “Being black, young and gifted is cool… but it’s exhausting”, Bryson says. Boomerang asserts that we need our friends to offset that exhaustion. We need our team. We fall in love, we have booty calls, we fuck up, we hook up. We want to please our parents, but we don’t want to be our parents. We’re messy, but we never lose sight of what we want. Boomerang doesn’t just speak to us, it speaks with us. Don’t call it a comeback – like the generation it documents, it’s finding its own way.