“I Got A Love Jones”: Love Jones, 21 Years Later

“One truism in life, my friend…When that jones come down, it be a mothafucka.”- Savon Garrison

This line from the cult classic Love Jones is what best describes how this movie has influenced Black love and Black-romantic comedies twenty-one years since it’s opening on March 14, 1997. Love Jones premiered as a new twist and imagery of Black love and Blackness on cinema. The director, Theodore Witcher, a Chicago native, describes Nina and Darius as being a part of the “creative class”[i]. This class highlights a nuanced representation of Black people in the mid-90s who were college educated and were interested in the arts. Coming up behind classic hood movies such as Poetic Justice (1993), Friday (1995) and Juice (1992), Love Jones paved the way for writers and directors to create movies that highlighted Black people who were academically successful and in love.

In 2017, the cast and crew of the film came together for the LA Time’s oral history conversation to honor the 20th anniversary of the film and to talk about the authenticity of the movie, the beauty of the soundtrack and the impact of Black love being caught on film. Coincidentally, the film was honored last year at the American Black Film Festival Awards and received the award for “Class Cinema Tribute”. The award and oral reflection proves that Love Jones is a classic film that transcends through Black cinematic history. While Love Jones provided its very nostalgic lines and scenes, Love Jones painted Black love and friendship in a way that was artistic and creative in nature. Julia Chasman, the executive producer of the film explained that the script presented the lives of young Black artist in Chicago that was normally seen in white movies [ii].

Because of Witcher’s simplicity in his attempts to create a romantic comedy that explored the relationship between two artists in Chicago, he was able to pair the movie with a phenomenal soundtrack. The Love Jones soundtrack was released four days before the film and peak at number three on the Billboard Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums in 1997 [iii]. This soundtrack contained classics such as “The Sweetest Thing” by Lauryn Hill, “Sumthin’ Sumthin’” by Maxwell and “In a Sentimental Mood” by Duke Ellington and John Coltrane. The soundtrack has a mixture of iazz, neo-soul, R&B and poetry that reflects the artistic attraction that the film provides. The soundtrack actually prompted the studio to re-release of Love Jones five months after its debut in theatres because people loved the soundtrack so much [iv].

Although the film didn’t do spectacularly at the box office, Love Jones put two actors together that showed a dynamic depiction of Black love and sexuality that was liberating and visually stunning. Ironically, both Nia Long and Larenz Tate were not Witcher’s first choice, but New Line Studios suggested Tate and one of the executive directors suggested Long [v]. After a few meets and readings, the chemistry between Tate and Long proved that they were best for the part. Nia Long said; “I honestly felt like our chemistry was the best. It felt amazing and it felt right, and we looked good together and it looked believable.” [vi]

Love Jones presented viewers a new image of Black love on screen that showed two Black people who were young intellectuals who had a carefree way of loving each other. I believe that the cast would agree that Love Jones was definitely a movie before it’s time. However, over time, the movie became one to be appreciated due to is jazz undertones, references to Gordon Parks, the bond with poetry and spoken word in urban Chicago. This movie paved the way for more narratives of middle-class Black love in similar movies such as The Best Man, Love & Basketball, and Brown Sugar. So, thank you Love Jones for being a movie that I can laugh to, cry and fall in love with for 21 years and 21 more years to come. And that’s urgent like a muthafucka.  —Adeerya J.

Citations

[i]http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/movies/la-et-mn-love-jones-oral-history-20170313-htmlstory.html

[ii]https://www.villagevoice.com/2018/02/12/theodore-witcher-talks-love-jones-21-years-later-and-why-he-hasnt-made-a-follow-up/

[iii] ibid.

[iv] ibid.

[v] ibid.

[vi] ibid.

 

love jones: Showcasing Black Love

While the early 1990s offered iconic hood films such as Boyz n the Hood (1991) and Menace II Society (1993), love jones (1997) offered something rarely seen in mainstream film—black love. The film is not a comedy. Not infused with hip hop. Love is examined, revered, and resented—but it is not minimalized. Furthermore, it offers unapologetic black sexuality shown with beauty and whit.

love jones movie poster

Roger Ebert’s opening to his film review highlights the unfortunate rarity of a film showcasing educated, middle class blacks. He explains, the film is “a love story set in the world of Chicago’s middle-class black artists and professionals–which is to say, it shows a world more unfamiliar to moviegoers than the far side of the moon.”[i] Although American television watchers received a glimpse of the black middle class with The Cosby Show (1984-1992), it was a comedy.

Furthermore, Cosby could offer the loving image of the Huxtable marriage, but the limits of the medium of television and family sitcom model prevent it from exploring black sexuality. There are limits to a love story that cannot show sex. Sex is a natural part of love. The film offers tasteful love scenes. It presents images of black sexuality that not only appear normal—but beautiful.

still from love jones

While most hood films centered on stark realism and nihilism, love jones offered symbolism and romance. Writer and director Theodore Witcher did this purposefully. He wanted to give the feel of “a modern Chicago version of the Harlem Renaissance.”[ii] He even distributed books about Renaissance artists such as Romare Bearden to the cast and crew.[iii]

It’s not difficult to see the influence of romanticized visions of 1920s salons with writers and artists debating esoteric topics. But how else do you create a platform to simply discuss love? Throughout the film, characters talk about the meaning of love. It is how we are introduced to Tate’s character Darius as he sits around with his friends in the Sanctuary (a spoken word venue) debating the meaning of love; Darius paints a metaphor of hope and possibility. Soon after he offers a sensual version of love in the spoken word piece “A Blues for Nina.” We also watch Darius and his only married friend Savon discuss the struggle to stay in love.

Ironically both Nia Long and Larenz Tate had major roles in the two iconic hood films mentioned earlier. Nia Long played Brandi, the love interest of the main character in Boyz n the Hood. Moreover, Tate played the infamous killer O-Dog in Menace II Society. Tate’s performance was so convincing that Witcher had to meet Tate in person to see the difference between the gangsta character and the actor.

And love jones continues to have an impact. Tate explains, “‘I get stopped at the airport by young folks telling me how much they love the movie and the actors and the music…It’s a one-of-a-kind film. And it’s still relevant. It’s about falling in love, and we’ve all done that…It’s not about people getting killed, just about people. Love is a universal story, Black or White.”[iv]  Ebony Gibson

[i] Ebert, Roger. “Love Jones.” Rogerebert.com. March 14 1997.

[ii] Ebert

[iii] Poulson-Bryant, Scott. “Jonesing for Love Jones.” Ebony (October 2010): 100.

[iv] Poulson-Bryant, page 99.