28 Days of Black Movies: Taye Diggs did the best and Blackest acting of his career in ‘Brown Sugar.’ Let me explain

OPINION: With one sentence, the actor both elevated the comedy and paid homage to all of the ancestors in my favorite movie, and it’s not the line that you think.

Sanaa Lathan and Taye Diggs in "Brown Sugar" (Screenshot/HBO Max)

Brown Sugar is my favorite movie. Full stop. It wasn’t always this way. For a significant number of years of my life, Coming to America was the quick and easy answer to that unasked question in almost any circumstance. And Coming to America is still up there, of course, but much like I realized that A Tribe Called Quests’ Midnight Marauders had overtaken De La Soul’s De La Soul is Dead as my favorite album, so too has Brown Sugar overtaken Coming to America.

I can watch Brown Sugar over and over and never get bored. I love the comedy of it, the chemistry of it, the shots taken at hip-hop in the late ’90s and early aughts. I love the performances by Mos Def and Queen Latifah in their supporting roles. I love Boris Kodjoe as the ballplayer, Kelby Dawson, who wants to be a rapper and needs a rap coach; it’s a clear shot at rapping ballplayers like Allen Iverson to Kobe Bryant—I wonder how Cavi (Mos Def’s character) would feel about Damian Lillard’s talents? I love the Hip-Hop Dalmatians (and their hit single, “The Ho Is Mine”), who, for my money, are quite possibly the greatest fictional rap group that ever existed. I love the cameos that don’t feel forced. I love the music, especially all of Blackalicious’ music, which is featured in the movie, though oddly not on the officially released soundtrack. 

Most importantly, I love Sanaa Lathan as Syd Shaw, the editor-in-chief of XXL and Taye Diggs as Dre Ellis, a hip-hop head turned suit for Millenium Records who is trying to find his way back to the love for the art form he and Syd grew up with in the Bronx. While the scene of him and Syd in the park rapping along to lyrics was both cringey and unnecessary, I love that they seemed to fit well together in this movie, as Syd wrote her debut book, I Used to Love H.I.M., her ode to her first love, hip-hop, and by default, Dre. As you can see, I love a lot about this movie. 

And even though Taye Diggs was a little hard to believe as a hip-hop head, he did manage to be supremely believable as a romantic love interest (husband) to Nicole Ari Parker and in that, they brought us some of Taye Diggs’ best acting ever, and it’s not what you think. See, when folks think of Brown Sugar and Taye Diggs, we all immediately think of him sticking the landing on one of the funniest lines in one of the funnier scenes in Black moviedom (feel free to disagree). 

If you’ll remember, Dre (Diggs) discovers that his wife is on a date (and cheating) with another person—Richard Lawson; he sounds educated—because he and Reese (Parker) have a habit of mistakenly taking one another’s phones. He and Syd confront Reese at the restaurant, and he asks the waiter to bring the most expensive bottle of champagne because they’re about to celebrate his what? His divoooooooooooooorce. I laugh every time. That was well done. But do you know where he REALLY took his acting chops to their Blackest, ancestrally sound levels? 

The lines RIGHT before he got perfect 10s on that divorce line. 

If you’ll turn your Black Movie Bible to the Book of Brown Sugar, hour 1, minutes 16-19, Taye was in his comedic gold bag. He compliments Reese for being all oiled up and shiny and whatnot and points out to Richard that Reese is his wife, but Richard wouldn’t know since she isn’t wearing the “$15,000 ring that he bought her ass.” Actually, that he’s still making payments on. In a moment of pure petty (especially since she’s in the wrong) and an attempt to take back some dignity, Reese hits Dre (and the table) with the factoid that actually SHE is paying for the ring. Say heffa, say what??

Oh no she didn’t! Oh no she didn’t. 

Now look, there are a few truisms in Blackness that I think are pretty universally understood, chief among them is not airing out dirty laundry in front of folks we don’t know. That one is pretty high up on that list. So, Taye Diggs reached deep down into his before-the-Mayflower soul and hit Reese with the most sincere, genuine laugh-to-keep-from-crying “could you please not put my business in the street?!” that was equal parts question and declaration. His face told 8 million stories of folks who did, in fact, have their business put in the street. He was convicted; he was earnest. Taye Diggs as Dre reached into his personal life bag for that time somebody did put his business in the street. And I believed he really didn’t want her to do that; I didn’t want her to do that. Because in African America, that is a no-no. 

Dre knew that. Reese did, too. But when you’re in the wrong, and you get caught, sometimes you dig into your petty and let that choppa spray on things you’ve been holding onto for longer than you should. 

Every time I watch Brown Sugar, I wait impatiently for that whole restaurant scene just to see Taye Diggs go from incredulously sucker-punched to celebratory over his impending divorce. Taye Diggs, my guy, you did that. You gave what needed to be given. And we’re all better off for it. 


Panama Jackson theGrio.com

Panama Jackson is a columnist at theGrio. He writes very Black things and drinks very brown liquors, and is pretty fly for a light guy. His biggest accomplishment to date coincides with his Blackest accomplishment to date in that he received a phone call from Oprah Winfrey after she read one of his pieces (biggest) but he didn’t answer the phone because the caller ID said “Unknown” (Blackest).

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