“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.

 

So Anxious: Black Love & Intimacy in Black R&B Music Videos

 

What does Black love feel like?

Many of us have grown up listening to sultry sexy artist like D’Angelo, Jodeci, Janet Jackson, Sade, Ginuwine and SWV. These are just a few of many R&B artists that have provided the perfect soundtrack to serenade your lover. If you had the perfect night in with your lover, D’Angelo’s “Brown Sugar” or Monica’s “Angel of Mine” probably set the mood and help the one you loved most understand and sense what you were feeling. However, one important aspect of these artists and their passionate love songs is how the artist and director were both able to create an intimate imagery of Black love and sexuality that was nostalgic and beautiful.

What does Black love look like?

If I had to decide, to me it looks like Erykah Badu and Andre 3000 in her 1997 song “Otherside of the Game”. Erykah describes the commitment and love she has for her Black man and the things she goes through as the girlfriend of a drug dealer. In the video, you see a pregnant Erykah and a busy Andre 3000 co-existing in their loft starting their day. Importantly, this song provides an iconic soundtrack to what they are experiencing that morning along with showcasing their love as she wakes Andre up, they play fight, he caresses her belly and holds her tight as they embrace. This video provides an everydayness of waking up together and loving each other where others who watch the video can resonate with.

I also think in Joe’s video, “All The Things Your Man Wont Do”, there is sex appeal and curiosity between him and his lover.  In the beginning, you see Joe confessing his love to a woman on a pay phone and telling her that she deserves better.

This inevitably leads him to make an appearance at her job where he continues to serenade her and convince this Black woman that he possesses qualities that her current boyfriend does not. Throughout the video, the director creates a late-night mood and intimacy that is shared between the two. This is seen in the way the young woman flirts with Joe in the restaurant and making the ultimate sacrifice to take a chance with a better man

How far will Black love go?

A classic R&B music video that had a more scandalous storyline, but still had meaningful lyrics was Michael Jackson’s “Remember the Time”. Boyz n the Hood director John Singleton, directed his first music video which was set in ancient Egypt and starred Eddie Murphy and supermodel Iman. Although Michael Jackson also serenaded someone else’s wife in the video, this video honored  Black people as rulers of ancient Egypt, the fight for love and an amazing dance sequence with both Black men and women of all shades. This video, in particular, reflects on the past of two lovers while still honoring the beauty of Black love and Blackness through the wardrobe selection and various skin tones of Black characters and dancers.

While many 90s artists brought us sexy and intimate love ballads, their music videos accompanied imagery that made you believe in Black love that was complicated, honest and sincere. While the videos discussed aren’t true to every relationship, these videos did portray a side of Black love and intimacy that wasn’t easily found in the typical raunchy Hip-Hop videos. R&B music videos were able to tastefully showcase all shades of Blackness that wasn’t necessarily misogynistic or overly provocative. However, it did showcase a variation of Black love and intimacy that took place in ordinary locations such as the subway, club or local coffee shop. A brotha would proclaim his love in the rain, or on the phone. A sistah would make a late night trip to her man’s crib or wake him up and sing to him in the early morning. Either way, watching and reminiscing on 90s R&B I’m sure one could find the perfect video that embodies and reflects how they feel about their Black love. — Adeerya J.

 

McMillan and Harris: The Mother and Father of Black Fiction

Terry McMillan came on the literary scene in 1987 with her first novel Mama, however it was not until she published her third novel Waiting to Exhale in 1992 that she received fame and fortune. Waiting to Exhale told the story of four professional, middle class black women and their experiences with love. Readers experienced each character’s loneliness, destruction, happiness, sadness, sexual desires, and frustrations with black men; things that readers, especially female readers, could relate to.

While some argued the novel represented a negative view of the black woman and her relationship with black men, the novel spent months on the New York Times Bestseller list and went on to sell over three million copies, and a film adaptation was released in 1995 that featured Whitney Houston. Author and professor Daphe A. Brooks says of the novel: It marked a watershed moment in American culture as it announced and contributed to a shift in Black popular cultural consciousness and production during the last decade of the twentieth century. Advantageously positioned in the aftermath of the Clarence Thomas/Anita Hill Senate hearings, Exhale dramatically extended and popularized for mass consumption the politics of a particular kind of heterosexual, Black middle-class conflict and desire.[i]

McMillan’s novel Waiting to Exhale not only depicted a demographic, middle-class black women, of people not regularly seen in literature, but she also shed light on the complexities of relationships.

McMillan is credited for jumpstarting the African American fiction movement with Waiting to Exhale, and throughout the decade she went on to write more novels that gave glimpses of black love and published one of her most popular novels How Stella Got Her Groove Back in 1996; in 1998, the film adaptation featuring Angela Bassett and Taye Diggs was released. The novel told the story of Stella and her relationship with Winston, a man considerably younger than her. Winston taught Stella to embrace life and eventually his love because she married him. The novel mirrored McMillan’s experience with then husband, Jonathan Plummer.

How Stella Got Her Groove Back is another novel that sets McMillan apart because she reveals the questions, concerns, hopes, and fears of dating someone younger. Stella (and McMillan) has to deal with the thrills and drama that comes along with dating someone younger and at a different stage in life. Likewise, Terry McMillan’s novels did not only deal with love in terms of black men and black women, a few of her works also introduced black’s complex relationship with homosexuals. She weaves in political and social concerns in the black community, such as the understanding (or misunderstanding) of HIV/AIDS and the negative stigma of being black and gay.

Consequently it is of no surprise that another author would emerge and hit the issue of being black and gay head on instead of touching on the subject as McMillan does. Author E. Lynn Harris filled this role and shocked the world with his tales of black men on the DL and carrying on relationships with women. Harris’ novel Invisible Life (1991) told the story of Raymond Tyler struggling with his identity as a bisexual black man. In the novel, Tyler was torn between his married boyfriend and girlfriend. Although readers were stunned by the then-taboo topic, the novel went on to sell millions of copies. Harris’ novels speak to an audience that was largely ignored by authors. All of his books reached the New York Times bestseller list and he is one of the most successful black authors. He was even referred to as the male Terry McMillan.

Some were surprised by Harris’ success because the black community does not readily accept or discuss homosexuality. In an interview with Publisher’s Weekly, Harris says, “I feel like my readers get that I’m writing from the heart, and that resonates with a lot of people in the black community, women especially. Even though the character might be a gay man, they can connect with him emotionally. They can relate to being in hurtful relationships, and because they get that, it doesn’t matter if it’s a gay or a straight relationship” (2003). [ii] Even though homosexuality in the 90s was a taboo subject, readers could relate to Harris’ works. He spoke for and told stories for those who could not speak for themselves during that time.

Both authors captured readers by representing and telling stories that black women and men craved, and they provided literature for black middle-class Americans, a largely underrepresented group before the 90s. McMillan and Harris used personal experiences and turned them into fiction in order to reach and possibly help a multitude of people. Without their persistence in creating stories that people could relate to, who knows what black fiction would look like now.B. Stewart


 

[i] Brooks, Daphe A. “”It’s Not Right But It’s Okay”” Taylor & Francis Online. Souls: A Critical Journal of Black Politics, Culture, and Society. 2 Feb. 2011. Web. 16 Nov. 2015.

[ii] Millard, Elizabeth. “Writing to Find Some Kind of Peace of Mind.” PublishersWeekly.com. N.p., 16 June 2003. Web. 21 Nov. 2015.