“Rom-Com When?”: Fans Demand A Genre-Defying Rom-Com Starring Tenoch Huerta Mejía And Lupita Nyong’o

Tenoch Huerta and Lupita Nyong'o pictured dancing in a rom-com looking illustration with the words "Rom-com when?"

Fans eagerly await when a rom-com starring Tenoch Huerta Mejía and Lupita Nyong’o is announced. Illustration made in Canva

It’s the video that stopped everyone in their tracks. It brought men and women together while simultaneously making them ask themselves, “Why not me? Why was I not chosen for this moment?” It also continued the trend of people writing the filthiest stuff I’ve seen on Twitter in a while.

That video, of course, is of Lupita Nyong’o and Tenoch Huerta Mejía dancing the merengue at the Mexico City premiere of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.

Honestly, the dance seemed like it morphed from the merengue into the bachata, and that distinction is important. The bachata–“the forbidden dance,” thought to cause debauchery at the sheer mention of its name. It’s that type of debauchery and cutting up people were salivating for on Twitter as the video made its rounds.

It made some people (including me, to be honest) ask, “What is actually going on with these two?” because this isn’t the first time they’ve been dancing on this press tour, and it’s also far from the first time Nyong’o and Huerta Mejía doing some type of flirtatious thing. Nyong’o’s tricked us before–remember when she made all of us believe she was leading up to dating Michael B. Jordan during the 2018 Black Panther press tour?

But regardless of where you fell on what could be happening in real life–if anything–everyone who saw the video agreed that there should be some type of romantic comedy starring these two on the horizon.

Overall, here are the main demands people want from this rom-com:

1) It must star Huerta Mejia and Nyong’o (obviously)
2) It must take place in Mexico (to honor both actors’ Mexican roots)
3) It must be full of charisma and dancing
4) It must be spoken in Spanish

Simple demands, yes? But within those demands is a very real ask for more rom-coms that center people of color, especially people of color who are often denied the ability to express all of their identity in film.

In a recent interview with Entertainment Weekly, Nyong’o said how much of a “gift” it was for Black Panther: Wakanda Forever director Ryan Coogler to put her character Nakia in Mexico for a few scenes, allowing her to speak Spanish and explore that side of her background.

“I’ve always wanted to work in Spanish, and never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that that opportunity would come in Black Panther,” she said. “For me, this film represents different sides of my heritage, being born in Mexico and having that Mesoamerican culture represented. It’s something very close to me. So for Nakia to have that opportunity to cross over and touch that world, it was a gift. It was just a straight gift, and I was very very happy to do it.”

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As many people are beginning to realize or remember, Nyong’o was born in Mexico after her family fled Kenya in 1980 due to political unrest. She also self-identifies as Kenyan-Mexican. Yet, it is clear from the colorism and racism that plagues Mexican media that Nyong’o would have had a hard time trying to make it as a Mexican actress within the industry. I mean, just look at the time she’s had making it in America, where she was successful!

Nyong’o is routinely not considered Mexican by American media also, showing the overlap between how race and color go hand in hand with who gets allowed to claim “Latinidad” no matter where you are. Even though Nyong’o has dual Kenyan and Mexican citizenship, can speak Spanish, and considers herself Kenyan-Mexican, she has never been invited or seen at any of the Latina mixers that occur in Hollywood, nor has she ever been able to star in a Latinx-based film in Hollywood. Her claim to fame was portraying an enslaved African-American woman in 12 Years a Slave. While her role was important, it’s clear to see how Hollywood could only think of her as African-American, and even then, Hollywood’s idea of African-Americanism is limited to slavery and pain.

Nyong’o’s unspoken plight speaks to what Huerta Mejía has said in many of his Wakanda Forever interviews. He described Mexican media as making the country look Scandinavian instead of what it actually is–Brown and Black.

“In Latin America, especially Mexico, we have a lack of representation,” he said. If you turn [on] the TV, or example, or you go out and see the publicity on the street, all the people [are] white. Mexico looks [on] TV like a Scandinavian country, honestly. It’s important for many people, especially kids, in Latin America, [to] feel represented.”

He also said in an interview with Mexican magazine Life & Style that what he wants to do with his position of power is to change how Mexico sees Brown and Black people–the “prietos” or “morenos” of society.

“What happens is that now I am in a position of power and influence and I wan tto use those privileges that have conquered to try and change the f—ing world in which I live,” he said. “Mexican cinema is racist and classist…Whites represent 10 percent of the Mexican population. I don’t understand why they should represent more than that percentage in movies and television.”

“If [Brown actors] were men, the few [dark] people in Mexican cinema played the role of criminals, f—ing sufferers or thieves, and if they were women, they played prostitutes, cleaning girls or pregnant teenagers,” he continued. “…Platforms in Latin America and Mexico display a white supremacism that they support with their productions. Whiteness in Mexico represents 10 percent of the population, but appears in 70 percent of everything that is produced. And that, in my opinion, no matter how you see it, is supremacism.”

That supremacism is also apparent in American rom-coms. Rema Bhat wrote for 34th Street in 2021 how white popular rom-coms have been throughout the years.

Listing films like 13 Going on 30, Brokeback Mountain, Clueless, 10 Things I Hate About You, The Notebook and others, Bhat wrote, “All of them feature two white leads–and most of the time, two white, cishet leads. Hollywood churns out hundreds of these types of romance movies that continuously focus on white characters and their problems with dating.”

“Hollywood has always systemically underrepresented BIPOC and–even more so–queer BIPOC people,” Bhat continued. “With tactics like whitewashing and a lack of initiative to hire more BIPOC actors in general, Hollywood is still far behind in adequate representation,” Bhat continued. “The United States is an extremely ethnically diverse country, and Hollywood needs to be producing films that reflect this reality.”

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Bhat also called out the fact that these white romantic comedies can also support racism, by including racist stereotypes or keeping BIPOC characters in tropey limitations. Long Duk Dong, for instance, was a character in Sixteen Candles. Instead of acting with decorum and respect, he was portrayed as a creep. As Bhat described, Long Duk Dong reasserted the stereotype “that Asian men are perverted and socially inept.”

“For Asian men and Asian women, seeing this type of imaging when you grow up forces you to internalize these stereotypes,” Bhat wrote. “The stoeretypes say that Asian men aren ot desirable and that they are creeps who bother white girls.”

Jennifer Lopez’s Maid in Manhattan character Marisa Venture is also a tropey representation of women of color, with Marisa being a Latinx maid in an upscale hotel as well as a single mother.

“Not only is she cast with a stereotypical occupation, but she is also presented as a single mother–yet another trope,” Bhat wrote. “Even further, the movie basically asserts that she needs to marry a rich, white man in order to lift herself out of poverty.”

If we look at how Ryan Coogler has presented Black and Brown identities in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, we see a world in which whiteness isn’t centered as important or even necessary for people of color to exist and thrive. In fact, whiteness is shown as an annoyance to Black and Brown socieities, who simply want the space to live out the fullness of their lives. If that approach was taken with a romantic comedy, just think of how thrilling that would be.

In recent years, there has been a bigger push to have more people of color in rom-coms; examples from the past 10 or so years include Our Family Wedding, About Last Night, The Lovebirds, The Photograph, Wedding Season, Jumping the Broom, To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before (even though Bhat rightly points out that it still centers whiteness to a degree), and Crazy Rich Asians, to name a few. But a handful of movies doesn’t make the work of representation over, especially since whiteness has been centered in films for multiple decades. Crazy Rich Asians was a juggernaut in the rom-com genre in 2018, but what if we saw more BIPOC juggernaut rom-coms come to the forefront on a consistent basis? I think that would be spectacular. And how great would it be if one of those films starred our favorite fishman and Wakandan spy?

To cash in on the fervor for a rom-com, I created a mock poster for Instagram that I tried to make evoke all of our hopes and dreams. The most recent rom-com that had a great, opulent poster was 2018’s Crazy Rich Asians. However, in keeping with what folks say they want from the rom-com, I based the symbolism in the poster on Mexico, particularly Mexico City, with the Angel of Independence, the icon of the city center, smack dab in the middle. If this rom-com is going to take place anywhere, it’s going to be in Mexico City (as Racialicious managing editor Arturo R. Garcia suggested to me on Mastodon). And, as many online have said, it has to be entirely in Spanish. It’s only right.

Tenoch Huerta Mejia and Lupita Nyong'o are pictured dancing in a fake poster for a fake rom-com movie. The title I came up with: Balie del Corazon, aka Dance of the heart." Behind them is a red sparkly background with marigolds, birds of paradise flowers and the Angel of Independence statue from Mexico City.
Illustration made on Canva

Let’s hope someone out there is already sitting down at their computer or typewriter click-clacking away at some fun romantic adventure for Huerta Mejia and Nyong’o to participate in on the big screen.

What do you want from a rom-com starring these two? And what do you think about representation in the romantic comedy genre? Write your opinions.

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