The Lovebirds’ Kumail Nanjiani And Issa Rae Explain Why Addressing Race Is Important In Netflix Rom-Com

Issa Rae and Kumail Nanjiani in The Lovebirds
(Image credit: (Netflix))

Netflix’s latest hit is The Lovebirds, a hilarious rom-com featuring the star of two of HBO’s most beloved shows Insecure from Issa Rae and Kumail Nanjiani of Silicon Valley. The on-screen couple are a joy to witness because of their electric chemistry, lighthearted spitfire back-and-forths and the refreshing representation they bring to the genre.

The leads of The Lovebirds were aware of the responsibility that came with playing a POC couple. As Issa Rae recently told us here on CinemaBlend, she and Kumail Nanjiani collaborated closely on the film as executive producers and had conversations with the filmmakers about making their characters feel like real people. And another part of that process was addressing race. In Rae’s words to The New York Times:

On my end, it was just acknowledging the fact that we were people of color. In reading the original script, it was clear that it was either for two white people or, just, 'anybody.' But given the circumstances, it was important to acknowledge who we were and our points of view in the world without beating anyone over the head with it. Because I do find myself hate-watching movies where it’s like, OK, we’re just going to ignore race entirely?

In the instance of The Lovebirds, Issa Rae’s Leilani and Kumail Nanjiani’s Jibran witness a murder and are later framed for the crime. The couple flee the scene scared the police will not believe their story, in part due to their race. When the couple was initially given the script, it wasn’t catered to their specific identities and the leads felt it needed to be addressed in the film in order for it to feel authentic to their characters. Nanjiani elaborated with this:

I think I’m very aware of my race and how I’m coming across at all times. So we wanted this movie to reflect that it’s very different when it’s two white people being accused of murder and running from the cops as opposed to two people who are not white.

The Lovebirds definitely finds itself tackling another set of conflicts once a black woman and Pakistani man are at the center of a crime conflict. But thankfully Issa Rae and Kumail Nanjiani have been particularly successful in embracing their race on screen in the past, both tastefully and head-on.

The Lovebirds has already found success on Netflix since its release last Friday, scoring a fresh 67% on Rotten Tomatoes and a 4 out of 5 stars from CinemaBlend’s Eric Eisenberg. The movie debuted at No. 1 on the streaming platform before getting beat out by two older Adam Sandler films and sinking down to the No. 10 spot.

Issa Rae and Kumail Nanjiani looked to films like The Break-Up and The Thin Man for their first collaboration and filmed the movie in New Orleans. A movie like The Lovebirds certainly contributes to the growing new age of rom-coms in recent years focused on relationships other than the classics that focus on predominantly white actors in lead roles.

Kumail Nanjiani’s 2017 breakout film The Big Sick, which is the autobiographical love story of his and his wife Emily V. Gordon was nominated for an Oscar and tops CinemaBlend’s best rom-coms of the decade. It was an endearing rom-com and it embedded relevant topics in the Pakistani culture such as arranged marriages and awkward conversations around 9/11.

The Lovebirds is now streaming on Netflix.

Sarah El-Mahmoud
Staff Writer

Sarah El-Mahmoud has been with CinemaBlend since 2018 after graduating from Cal State Fullerton with a degree in Journalism. In college, she was the Managing Editor of the award-winning college paper, The Daily Titan, where she specialized in writing/editing long-form features, profiles and arts & entertainment coverage, including her first run-in with movie reporting, with a phone interview with Guillermo del Toro for Best Picture winner, The Shape of Water. Now she's into covering YA television and movies, and plenty of horror. Word webslinger. All her writing should be read in Sarah Connor’s Terminator 2 voice over.