'Perfect Guy' producer frustrated by 'black movie' label


Tommy Oliver doesn't want you to think of "The Perfect Guy," the film he has produced and that opens in theaters Friday, as a "black movie."

"People oftentimes like to reduce things to sound bites," he said recently. "It's a black lead, so it must be a black movie. It's unfortunate. There are urban movies, but there are also movies that just happen to have black characters."

Instead, Oliver wants "The Perfect Guy" to thrill "everyone." The movie follows lobbyist Leah Vaughn ("Love and Basketball's" Sanaa Lathan), who gets passionate with Carter (Michael Ealy, "Think Like a Man, Too"). Carter, however, is not as wonderful as he initially seems, as evidenced by some disturbing behavior. Things get ever more complicated for Leah when her ex-boyfriend (Morris Chestnut, "The Best Man Holiday") enters the fray.

Departure: "The Perfect Guy" is Oliver's first movie after the acclaimed "1982," a semiautobiographical movie — shot in the Philadelphia house where he grew up — about a father caring for his daughter after her drug- addicted mother relapses.

For the 31-year-old, "The Perfect Guy" is a departure from the previous smaller family drama.

"It was the idea of doing a thriller in a smarter, slightly elevated manner," Oliver said in a phone interview. "But also here's a woman fighting for herself and fighting for her destiny. You have characters who are people first. It's not an urban movie, it's not a hood movie, but you have three black leads."

Outperforming?: The thought of "The Perfect Guy" being pigeonholed frustrates Oliver. In recent years, movies starring black leads have been said to outperform box office expectations. (This summer's smash "Straight Outta Compton" is a perfect example.) But when these movies continue to outperform, when are they just performing?

"I grew up in Philly, in the hood, went to public school. For me, I've always done everything I can to put myself into a position where I can be proud," Oliver said. "Doing work that's reduced to the lowest common dominator or doesn't represent people, black or otherwise, is doing everyone a disservice.

"If we keep saying, 'Black movies don't travel,' or 'Black movies look like this,' people begin to believe that."