As for “Boomerang,” seen 30 years later the women’s big hair and shoulder-pad suits make it seem dated, while Marcus’s sexism and the film’s slapstick homophobia are jarring. But I was also reminded why my 17-year-old self was so drawn to the film in the first place. “When Harry Met Sally” might have modernized the rom-com gender dynamics for my generation, but Jacqueline was an outlier. Her work ethic, confidence, intellect and medium-brown complexion were rare in a Hollywood that hardly ever cast African American women as romantic leads.
And that was all Robin Givens. I first became enamored with her when she played Darlene Merriman, the well-dressed, sharp-tongued, hypercompetitive student in the mainly white honors class on the ABC sitcom “Head of the Class.” As an awkward Black girl at a predominantly white high school myself, I overly identified with characters in similar situations like Darlene or Lisa Turtle (Lark Voorhies) from the sitcom “Saved by the Bell.” But unlike Lisa, who never seemed to have a love interest, Darlene always seemed in command, making me want even more to emulate her fashion sense and the ease with which she flashed her wit and smile.
Despite Givens’s popularity on that show, when “Boomerang” premiered in 1992, it was her comeback vehicle. The star, a prodigy who had matriculated to Sarah Lawrence College at 15 and planned to go to medical school before pursuing acting full time, had married the heavyweight boxer Mike Tyson in 1988, only six months after meeting him, at the height of her career . When she ended their yearlong marriage, she was publicly caricatured as a golddigger seeking fame and wealth.
I remember the moment that stereotype really took hold. I was 13, and watching the “20/20” interview that Givens and Tyson did with Barbara Walters in September 1988. Sitting next to a conspicuously subdued Tyson, Givens disclosed that he was a “manic depressive” who had repeatedly physically abused her. Her admission that her time with him had been “torture, pure hell, worse than anything I could possibly imagine” garnered little public sympathy in that pre-#MeToo era.
After their divorce a few months later, Givens’s career was never the same. “Robin was a very controversial piece of casting,” Hudlin said in the audio commentary that commemorated the film’s 10th anniversary. “A lot of people were nervous that there was a lot of dislike in public because of her past with Mike Tyson. But, I thought that actually made her perfect for the role, that she was this formidable person and a match for Eddie Murphy, who also had an intrepid reputation as a ladies’ man.” He added, “I wanted the audience to feel like this would be a fair fight.”