In the most recent example, Kiss the Girls, which opens this weekend, a black detective, played by Morgan Freeman, teams with an assault victim, Ashley Judd, to track down a serial killer. In James Patterson's best-seller, the intense emotions of the case draw the couple together romantically, but in the movie, their relationship is instead made into a father-daughter bond.
A similar hands-off approach was taken in The Pelican Brief, when Julia Roberts and Denzel Washington remained platonic. (Can you imagine Julia and, well, almost anybody else, not sleeping together?) And in Murder at 1600, where there was a spark but no flame between Wesley Snipes and Diane Lane.
What's going on? A surprising, but not-so-subtle form of racism, according to bell hooks, author of Reel to Real: Race, Sex & Class in the Movies. "Who is this a taboo for? Not for regular people. It's just a taboo for people in Hollywood who are shaping these images," hooks tells the New York Post.
Ironically, Hollywood has recently drawn headlines for being ahead of the curve instead of behind it: Ellen's coming-out episode was boycotted by some advertisers, Washington politicos have come down on excessive violence on TV (and in particular on NBC's refusal to use the new ratings code) and, perhaps most ironic, interracial couples are a common sight at Los Angeles bars and restaurants.
But perhaps the taboos will soon be shattered. In November, Snipes takes the screen opposite Nastassja Kinski in New Line's One Night Stand. When we asked him about their love scenes, reported to be sizzling under the direction of Leaving Las Vegas' Mike Figgis, Snipes responded "this is a sexual drama."
So, the walls may be slowly dissolving. But for now, Hollywood's sexual credo seems to be the counterpart to White Men Can't Jump: "Black Men Can't Kiss."