After all these years, “A Walk in the Clouds” is still a really sweet interracial romance (IR) in my opinion. It has some key elements that’s missing in many interracial romances I’ve seen on screen and in novels such as a kind, victimless beta main character, a storyline that is rich with a culture we don’t see often and characters who work to decentralize their whiteness within an interracial relationship.
Keanu’s character, Paul, is a WWII veteran returning home and going back to being a traveling chocolate salesman. He is married in a whirlwind wedding right before he was shipped off for duty, so it's a strained relationship from the war and he worries they no longer know each other. While traveling to sell chocolates, he meets Victoria -- a beautiful Mexican-American woman coming back from University for her family's vineyard harvest. A chain of events seems to illustrate that perhaps Fate puts them in each other’s paths. It is at that point where they are both alone together, do we all discover that Victoria is in dire straits. She confesses to him that she is pregnant and unwed. She is heartbroken and afraid to go to her family, fearing her father will never let her live with the shame. So, Paul devises a plan to help her. He decides to pose as her new husband and come home with her. The plan was to convince her family they were married and then Paul would leave to go back to the military so the blame would be on him, not her, and free her from shame.
There's just some problems.
Victoria's father is a hard man to please. Total uber patriarch and he's tough on everyone (except his wife) and Victoria coming home and secretly marrying an orphaned white guy doesn't make it any better (Yes, in this film, Keanu’s character is presumed a white man). Her father doesn't like Paul and is suspicious of him from the very beginning. So, Paul not only struggles to win her father's approval but also during this elaborate charade he’s struggling to stop himself from falling in love with Victoria for real.
Interracial Romances can benefit for Betas & Cinnamon Rolls
One of the reasons I love this movie is because Paul's character is such a freaking cinnamon roll main character! He’s got all the traits-- he's selfless, kind, and super patient with everyone including dealing with her father. You can tell from the very beginning when we meet the character, that he's the type of person anyone would want to bring home. He is a great example of why beta male personalities are so refreshing from films' decades-long obsession with typical alpha male protagonists. Paul wouldn't have worked so well into Victoria's family dynamics as an alpha, especially with the patriarch already owning that title to a fault in this film. In fact, it seems Paul recognizes his role in the plan quite well and knows it all takes a certain level of tact to counter the hot-headedness of her father. And even still, he aims to protect Victoria. It’s clear that the women in the family love him as well for his easy-going personality and patience. Paul’s a total freakin sweetheart and gentleperson, so yeah, I’d fake marry him too! I think for a while romance authors have slept on the ‘beta personality’ type and recently starting to see the potential of great love storytelling with less stereotypical personality traits. There is something sexy and intriguing about a masculine character showing their full spectrum of emotions, ruggedness, gentleness, and flaws.
When you pair that with someone in an interracial romance, you are seeding a relationship built on non-judgment, empathy and openness--definitely the type of things you need to navigate an interracial romance.
Show us a world (or couple) we haven’t seen before
I greatly appreciated the story sharing moments in the life of a Mexican-American family during this time period, a depiction shown rarely in film. A small glimpse into a family that is different and yet the same to me in various ways was engaging and made the movie more interesting. Her grandfather was a saving grace character in the film, being a fun-loving and thoughtful character that embraces Paul with loving arms. I also was glad to see a depiction maintaining a vineyard that is not all romanticized. Running a vineyard is extremely hard work from what I've learned and you can see in the film how the vineyard has a life of its own. In fact, the family and the vineyard have deep parallels--one cannot work without the other and distress to one impacts the other equally.
I think one of my bigger criticisms is that I would have liked more development around Victoria to better understand her dreams and goals. It all seemed to be tied to her family and though that's fine, I felt she had some rebellion in her that wasn't fully explored in the film. This film did better than others in this area, as one of the elements many IR romances fall short of is making both main characters multi-layered. Both should be coming into each other’s paths with their own baggage, own desires and goals which don’t necessarily include being together. I mean, yeah, they will eventually be together at the end of all this, but unless this is literally your story plot, neither of your characters woke up and just decided that their goal was to fall in love with each other. They were likely thinking of achieving other things when love crashed the course.
Dynamic characters are so crucial with IR romance because it can be really damaging for one of the characters to come across very flat and shallow, which can be interpreted as objectification or fetishizing. Remember, context is key and impact is everything. Characters of color have been used as props for too long in storytelling, so authors should be careful to not perpetuate such flawed writing.
Decentering Whiteness in an Interracial Romance
One of the key elements shown in this movie and why I enjoy this interracial romance is that you notice Paul's character doesn't try to americanize anything the does with Victoria and her family. In fact, he completely immerses himself in her family's ways and culture. He learns openly and earnestly.
This is important as healthy interracial relationships with white or white-adjacent partners are tied to respect for the culture and the decentralization of whiteness. You never see Paul trying to get Victoria or her family to change for the sake of his comfort. He never makes any of the situation about him. You see that when he loves her, it’s to love all of her--culture included. He doesn't fetishize Victoria and doesn't treat her as ‘exotic’ or some object. She’s a whole person to him and shows her respect and grace from the moment he meets her. And that never changes throughout the film. He prefers to learn and tries his best to adapt to her world, meeting it with fascination, not judgment.
Remember, Paul knows that their relationship is fake which makes it even more endearing that he chooses to embrace Victoria's world with respect anyway. I’ve seen so many IR films and books that don’t even show a learning of the other’s heritage or culture in a way that shows the characters are all-in and far too many times, that learning is an inconvenience to the white character. Something that’s a chore instead of another exciting path of loving their partner. With Paul, you see him fall into it, just like he fell into Victoria. All-in.
Treat Family member Antagonists with nuance and facets
I know the film tends to set Victoria's father as the antagonist however, he’s not a villain. He has his own developmental arc in the film from being an overbearing father to one that's more forgiving and I’m thankful for that choice. He’s not some mustache-twirling villain set on hurting Paul or even Victoria. He’s an immigrant father with a goal to provide and protect his family. He’s a pre-21st Century father and husband who (like many of that time) were taught that emotions were for women, and his only role as a father is a provider, but not necessarily a nurturer. I love it when fathers learn love can be shown not only by keeping a roof over his family’s head and food in their bellies, but also from their vulnerability and emotional support. This is the type of healthy growth that can arrive from this type of conflict in an IR romance. Acceptance is love. It’s the best kinda love.
Let's also not forget the context that Victoria's family norms are around lineage and being close knit, so of course her father would not be thrilled that his only daughter eloped with a colonizer with no roots who also is not keen to their ways. This is a very realistic fear in a world where holding on to native culture while also having to assimilate in America is a constant struggle for Black and brown people. It’s a fear that my own father had regarding my own interracial relationship. It doesn't make her father a bad guy, just stubborn and protective for reasons we may not totally understand.
If you haven't seen this film and you're a fan of romance (and Keanu) I would give it a watch. It’s very sweet, everything is visually gorgeous, and has a structure of a great interracial romance with a happily ever after.