Brow Beat

Is Lakeith Stanfield the New King of Rom-Coms?

Thirst Aid Kit’s Bim and Nichole celebrate the star of Get Out and Atlanta for his leading man work.

Lakeith Stanfield
Lakeith Stanfield Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Neilson Barnard/Getty Images.

Lakeith Stanfield has had an impressive run of dramatic roles in Get Out, Atlanta, and Sorry to Bother You. But he’s just as alluring as the sensitive love interest in the rom-coms The Incredible Jessica James and Someone Great. On a recent episode of Thirst Aid Kit, Bim Adewunmi and Nichole Perkins talked about the softer side of Stanfield.

Nichole Perkins: After Get Out, we have a Netflix Original called The Incredible Jessica James, which stars Jessica Williams as Jessica James. Her character is trying to get over a relationship that just ended, and her now–ex-boyfriend is Lakeith’s character, named Damon. The movie itself is fine.

Bim Adewunmi: It’s fine.

Perkins: What’s so great about this is seeing someone who looks like Lakeith being mooned after. Being longed for. A woman is not able to get over him. And he was not abusive in any way, he was not a terrible person, so there’s no co-dependency on that level. But I loved him, and he was there for me, and I don’t want to let him go.

Adewunmi: Right.

Perkins: It turns out that their relationship had just kind of run its course.

Adewunmi: It was just the saddest.

Perkins: Right. There were no sparks left, but Jessica was just having a hard time getting over him. And you see his character, Damon, and you’re like, This dude? This dude is a toothpick in some socks.

Adewunmi: Can I just say—I love his toothpick legs.

Perkins: Yes.

Adewunmi: There’s a scene where he’s wearing shorts.

Perkins: Yes.

Adewunmi: And I’m like: Look at his legs! They’re so little! I’m just kind of making incoherent sounds. I’m like: He’s so cute! He is so cute! Again, that loose walk that he has, and you can see why Jessica fell in love with him. He just seems like he was the easiest boyfriend. Maybe a little bit too easy, which may have contributed to the end of the thing. But he’s someone who I think just kind of comes around whoever or whatever. And I can see how that gets frustrating, because you’re kind of like: “Make a decision. Do something.” But I really loved the idea of this guy being the person that was set up as the one that got away.

Perkins: And it’s so rare to see someone with his physical presence, a very slim guy, be lusted after, and it’s not in a fully comedic context. Because a lot of times, very skinny men—just like very fat people, very overweight people—their bodies are used for comedic purposes. They’re not used to be desired. They’re not used to be lusted after. And when we see them naked, we are supposed to laugh at them. But when we see Lakeith in various stages of undress throughout his career, it’s pretty serious. Or it’s appropriate for whatever the scene is. And we’re not supposed to be making fun of his body. We’re just supposed to be like, Oh, there’s a body, and let’s move on.

Adewunmi: Right. And I’m glad you brought up The Incredible Jessica James, because then we kind of segue very naturally into a film that he did last year, another romantic comedy, called Someone Great. He stars in that opposite Gina Rodriguez, which—LOL, what a difference a year makes. I was in love with Gina, and now I’m just kind of like, you know what, let’s not talk about her.

Perkins: Boy. [laughs]

Adewunmi: But in that role, again, he’s playing a love interest to the main character. This is not his movie. He’s another “the one that got away” type. He’s someone for whom a woman has still incredibly strong feelings, whether that’s nostalgia mixed in with what could have been and what we had and etc. And he is so soft-eyed in this movie.

Perkins: Oh, my gosh.

Adewunmi: I wanted to climb inside the film and be like: “Why don’t you love me, babes? Me?”

Perkins: Yes. Yes. And he’s so charismatic, because we see the relationship through a series of flashbacks throughout the movie. So we see the beginning, the middle, all the heat and passion that comes with the new part, and the heat and passion that comes with the end. So we see all of that, and I believed every bit of it. I was like: “I see it. I want it. Lakeith, what’s up?”

Adewunmi: Listen, you know how good it was? I stopped thinking about him as Lakeith, and I began to think of him as Nate. Straight away I was kind of like: “Oh, my God, Nate, no. Wait, wait—what? That’s Lakeith Stanfield!” But I believed in him. Even the way he and Gina’s character, called Jenny, how they get together, it’s really hot and really charming. And you’re like, oh, my God, that would work on me.

And that movie, overall it’s a solid 7 out of 10. It’s fine, very good in terms of what it does. It hits all the tropes. It’s whatever. The center of it, yes, it’s Gina. But for me, I did like a cost analysis, and I was like, no. Where I put the bulk of my money is on Nate. He has an ease to him that is naturalistic, all that jazz, but allowed to be lusted after, and it also showcases a very fantastic thing: When Lakeith is on TV or movies and he’s playing a love interest, it is always a woman of color.

Perkins: Yes. Because he has a movie that’s coming out in 2020 starring him and Issa Rae called The Photograph. The trailer just came out. It looks beautiful. It looks incredible, and I’m here for it. I want it right now.

Adewunmi: I want to put it inside my eyeballs. I want to slice it up thin as garlic and just lay it directly—like contact lenses. Just put the movie as garlic contact lenses on my eyes. In the trailer, he’s doing, again, that thing of “earnest in love.” He looks like a man who is ready to lay it all on the line. He’s going to risk everything for this love.

Perkins: And he does this thing when he is playing these love interests where he drops his voice when he’s talking to the woman.

Adewunmi: Bitch. [laughs] Talk about it.

Perkins: Like when he is up close and he’s trying to let them know: “I’m serious about this. I’m serious about us—[singing] baby, that thing.”

Adewunmi: [laughs] All right, Lauryn Hill!

Perkins: Oh, my gosh. Because he’s such a funny dude. So he sounds regular, like a regular dude, voice regular. But then when he drops it—

Adewunmi: Listen, that’s not the only thing dropping.

Perkins: Right!

Adewunmi: Listen.

Perkins: Lakeith, let me find out.

Adewunmi: Let me!

Perkins: Respectfully—whatever your situation is—respectfully.

Adewunmi: This is all done in good faith, good sir. The thing with Lakeith with the voice dropping is it is a very subtle thing that I don’t think you can script. But he knows that if you pitch your voice a little bit deeper, as you would in real life, there is an element of realism to it that just hits correctly. You don’t even know what you’re responding to until you go through and you essentially itemize your shopping list like, what am I getting here? And then you think, oh, he’s doing it because that’s what you would do. It’s what men in fact do.

Perkins: Right.

Adewunmi: And the reason why you react to it is because you would react to that in real life. And Lakeith said: Don’t worry, I’ve got you. I’m going to give you a naturalistic-ass performance. And you’re going to eat it up. Woo. That trailer.

Perkins: Yeah, The Photograph looks really, really good.

Adewunmi: Shout out to Stella Meghie, who again has quite the streak of black romantic comedy. She’s doing so much in terms of just putting us and our stories in a way that feels different, because it’s reflecting a more common reality than what we have been given in the past. So shout out to you, Stella. You’re doing amazing, sweetie.

Perkins: I want to go back to him playing the love interest for women of color. That is also important, as we see more romances featuring interracial couples, and—hey, Hollywood—interracial couples are more than just black and white people.

Adewunmi: Or even just white-plus at this point. It’s kind of like, as long as one of them is white, then it’s interracial, and it’s like, bruh.

Perkins: No. We got a lot of mixing going on out there.

Adewunmi: Listen, you ever heard about Blasians? You ever heard about Latinx people who are also Afro? Come on. It’s not difficult at all. And yet choices are made over and over and over again where you just kind of think, wow, if only you allowed yourself to see something other than what you have grown up with, or what you understand to be this thing. The world is so full.

Perkins: It’s so full. And we have seen so many different kinds of couples out there, and if people could just—when I say people, I mean the Hollywood executives—

Adewunmi: The white Hollywood executives.

Perkins: If you could see outside of yourself. Because they’re always surprised when these kinds of movies do well.

Adewunmi: Right. Meanwhile, we already know. We’ve been you. And it’s something that we as black women, as consumers, we have been doing since day dot. Because if we were waiting for representations of ourselves, we would be dead, and still nothing would be on this. So we are very capable of looking outside, and it turns out that the people who are not capable of that are the ones in charge.

Now, you may remember the episode “Back to Baesics” that we did quite a while ago. We invited our good friend Bolu, aka @BeeBabs on Twitter, and she tweeted something that just kind of nailed the very specific appeal of Lakeith. She said he was going to be the black rom-com king of our generation. And she then said: “But you all laughed at me. I didn’t forget!” And I love her surety about this. But she said, if Morris Chestnut was the ideal black boyfriend of the ’90s and the naughts, aka urbane, upwardly mobile, suave, smooth, Lakeith is this generation’s black rom-com boyfriend, emotionally intelligent, creative, quirky, funny.

Perkins: Yes.

Adewunmi: That’s basically Lakeith in a nutshell. That’s my king.

Perkins: I love him.

To listen to the full episode, click the player below or subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.