Love Jones vs Love and Basketball
I miss the 90’s, we had segregation but at least we had diversity. Instead of giving us parts in mainstream films they gave us our own film market. We made a big deal of Black Panther having a Black Director, Black cast, Black crew but this was the norm in the 90’s. I would not call an Eddie Murphy movie a black movie, even Coming to America had a white director John Landis and was a caricature. Back in the days when Hollywood had its little black ghetto churning out classics; Boyz In the Hood, Menace 2 Society, Friday, Dead Presidents, films that stand alongside all the great 90’s movies. It was a breeding ground for many black actors that became mainstream later, be it Samuel L. Jackson, Maurice Chestnut, Taye Diggs, Alfre Woodward, Jada Pinkett. In the time since we have had “Inclusion” but marginalized inclusion, where cardboard black characters spout lines meant for white actors. The variety of the types on movies is also not there today, diversity without variety makes Jack a dull boy. I wonder if these two movies would get made today? Maybe it would star Rihanna and Trey Songz. Love Jones would be set to an action movie script, they kiss and quote poetry as they shoot at each other, she’s an assassin, and he’s vampire or some shit. The best thing about these two movies is they use basic love formulas but cleverly subvert them. The Boy meets Girl story vs the Girl next Door story, these are tired concepts but the stock and trade of Romcoms, but they somehow make them work by setting them in the real world with real characters and realistic outcomes.
Nia vs Sanaa
The Queen of 90’s chicks is Nia Long, she set out to do the quintessential young black female roles and owned the 90’s, she had parts in all the major black movies. Sanaa Lathan came up in the late 90’s and ran into the 2000’s. Both have Swahili names, as the children of black conscious 70’s “Right-on” parents, so by the 90’s they knew to avoid the standard roles for Black women, Junkies, Hookers, tired single mothers, freaky hoes, and all that jazz. Nia Long’s character was a more mature woman looking for love but career first, Nina was the strong 90’s woman men dreamed of but couldn’t handle if we got her. In time, all women have become Nina-like, self-determined, proud, fierce. Sanaa made a different type of character, more demure, tom-boyish, antisocial, reclusive, a young woman coming of age in love and life. In my favourite scene the two are still children “will you be my girlfriend?” He asked. “Okay” she shrugged. “What are we supposed to do now?” they wonder “We have to kiss for like 5 seconds” they kiss, then he starts ordering her around “You can’t tell me what to do!” then they wrestle and she just about wins. The dynamic of being best childhood friends and also lovers is also interesting, it changes their relationship forever. In Love Jones, the battle of changing gender roles is also there, so this makes it not just a Romcom but a social critique. In the end, both movies hinge on the women’s failure to be “Ride or die chicks” the unrealistic expectations of the men added to their impatience leads to impulsive decisions.
Egos of Glass
In both movies, the men have the classic male fragility as a subplot, these fragile egos lead to infidelity with the concept of “Preemptive cheating” when the men feel unwanted and go seek validation through sex, and the woman finds out and it is over. One of the best dialogs on love is in Love Jones “What is Romance? Romance is that half-second before you ask her to marry you and her saying yes. That moment of uncertainty, so when a person says that the romance is gone, they mean they have exhausted all the possibilities and reached certainty.” I paraphrase but the get the gist of it. Love and uncertainty = Romance, once you take the love for granted then it loses its luster. Love Jones asks what love is for? Is it to last forever? Or is it to help you find your way in life. Every relationship means something, no matter how short, because it helps you grow as a person or regress. The objective is not eternal love but “To help you find your level.” Love is fleeting but can have eternal effects. In the end of Love Jones there is no rousing kissing scene with a howling ballad playing in the background. That would have been so easy, it would have been a requirement in mainstream movies, there’s just an acknowledgement of their love and the glorious art that came out of it. In Love and basketball the classic scene is inverted, normally the boy chases and bows on one knee, but here the girl is the hunter and boy the hunted. He’s about to marry a standard issue model-type in Tyra Banks when she challenges him to a game for his heart. She loses, but as she walks off he says “Double or nothing” then it cuts to years later when she’s a WNBA player and he’s a supportive dad looking after the kid.
So where is this Cottage industry today, who is making Black movies apart from Tyler Perry? The 80’s gave us a window where video opened the floodgates of creativity; movies could bomb at the box office but thrive on video because it caught another demographic that didn’t go to the cinema. Suddenly Black movies were profitable, they were cheap to shoot, costing as much just one scene of Star Wars they could recoup 20 times the investment. The video also extended the hours we spent watching films, there was more fodder needed to fill the shelves of video stores. These new Black movies were not just for Blacks but were part of Youth Culture as a whole, Boyz in the Hood was loved by white kids because it was ultimately about Youth and coming of age. Even with this white audience, they never pandered to them, the whites were always the butt of the jokes, it needed authenticity among blacks to be accepted by whites. By the 90’s Black cinema was producing some of the best movies, highly profitable compared to cost, a $5m investment could get you $50m at the cinema and another $100m on video. This segregation, self-determination and new technology did wonders for movies. The new digital age has crowded out the creativity, Hollywood would rather do X-Men Part 9 than an original movie to last the ages. Love Jones can’t sell a video game, merchandise, action figures, nor a ride at Disneyworld. The lack of imagination is terrible now, we have mergers where now only 4 media outlets exist in America, decisions are made for cold cash, no innovation coz that leads to losing money. Get Out was a hit because it went against the trend, white people thought it was so creative but Black people were used to such subversion. Get out there and watch some classic movies