Once is a fluke, twice a hope, three times a trend. So, with the pretty box-office numbers for Soul Food following the $70 million that Waiting to Exhale earned in early '96, and with the highly touted Eve's Bayou opening in two weeks, maybe Hollywood will stop being surprised every time the black middle class goes to see itself on screen.

Quality is another, nearly irrelevant matter; no film has to be well made to be well liked. Indeed, one reason for the popularity of Soul Food is that it pushes emotional buttons with all the subtlety of a poke in...

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