At a fraught moment when racial tensions in the United States are flaring yet again, Netflix is currently offering viewers You People, a romantic comedy set in Los Angeles that addresses this endemic issue.
The central characters are not only white and black, but Jewish and Muslim. Quite a combustible combination, one would think.
Ezra Cohen (Jonah Hill), earns a living as a stock broker, but he dislikes his job and is more invested in his podcast on African American culture. Thirty five years old and still unmarried, he’s wondering whether he’ll ever meet the woman of his dreams.
Fate brings him closer to his fondest aspiration when he mistakes a car for an uber taxi, only to be told off by its irate driver, Amira Mohammed (Lauren London), a voluptuous costume designer who orders him out of her vehicle.
Ezra’s cuddly bear charm and persistence disarm Amira, who consents to go out on a date with him.
Six months elapse and the pair are dating regularly. Ezra introduces her to his parents, Arnold (David Duchovny) and Shelley (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), an upper middle-class liberal couple who live in the fashionable suburb of Brentwood.
Shelley, a talker, tries to ingratiate herself with Amira, though she later admits she would be happier if Amira was Jewish.
Ezra, head-over-heels in love with Amira, wants to marry her, even though he has still not met her parents, Akbar (Eddie Murphy) and Fatima (Nia Long). When he eventually meets them, he proclaims his intention and assures Akbar that he and Amira will sire beautiful mixed-race children.
Akbar, a follower of the antisemitic Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, frowns upon the prospect of acquiring a Jewish son-in-law, though this dimension of his thinking remains unarticulated.
Amira accepts Ezra’s marriage proposal. The engagement ring he gives her belonged to his grandmother, who appears to have been a Holocaust survivor.
In a pivotal scene brimming with tension, Akbar and his wife finally meet Ezra’s parents. The encounter produces verbal fireworks. Shelley raises Farrakhan’s attitude to Jews. Akbar indignantly asks her whether she is comparing the Holocaust to slavery. Fatima claims that Jewish immigrants arrived in America with proceeds from the African slave trade.
These incendiary issues, though cursorily raised, are not in the least explored, which is just as well since You People is supposed to be light and comedic in tone.
Midway through the film, Amira surprises Ezra when she says she wishes to be married by an imam. Her expectation leaves Ezra, a secular Jew, uneasy and flummoxed.
Akbar’s ambivalence toward Ezra surfaces at a bachelor party in Las Vegas when he tells him he is not “the right guy for my daughter.” The mood deteriorates even further when Amira informs Ezra that Shelley has been offensive and inappropriate in her behavior and has treated her like a “shiny object.”
These unpleasant conversations lead to an impasse, which, ironically, is broken by Akbar and Shelley. What comes next is glib and superficial. Nonetheless, You People is fairly absorbing and entertaining, with the lead actors turning in credible performances.
America’s current racial problems, plus its legacy of slavery and segregation, are infinitely more serious than this feel-good movie conveys, but it should be given credit for addressing complex issues without much rancor.