While in many ways, What Men Want is a love story between Ali (Taraji P. Henson) and her beau in the making Will (Aldis Hodge), its true heart is the tale of a woman finding, healing, and becoming. Ali is a sports agent who has had to steel herself against a racist and sexist world in order to thrive and achieve her dreams. After receiving the ability to hear men’s thoughts, Ali is forced to re-evaluate her priorities and becomes more open in the process, allowing herself to trust, love, and be loved.
Ali’s ability to hear men’s thoughts is quite comical and offers a satirical inside listen to what turns out to be trivial, bafoonish, and sometimes repulsive ideations, that are quite humorous. However, the film’s ability to recreate the awkwardness and discomfort experienced by Ali is what makes the movie not something to just watch, but an experience. As Ali interacts with the men who dominate her world, we cringe and squirm. Sometimes it manifests as holding of your breathe as Ali attempts to restrain herself from rightfully scolding a co-worker or boss. Other times, it’s a palpable nervousness at watching her need to “win” result in the damaging of potentially beneficial relationships and embarrassing herself in the process.
What Men Want is an ode to all the women of color who have paid some cost to do what has never been done, only to then come back to themselves with the revelation that while they were blazing trails they had been transformed in ways that do not suit their self perceptions. And then, through that stress and grief, these extraordinary women rise to reclaim themselves and achieve balance. This film inspires us as black women to bet on ourselves, develop and lean on our own internal validation, and partner with like spirits – regardless of race and gender. It reminds us that the fear and discomfort always outweighs the joy in evolving.