The Brighter Side of Darkness: Love Jones Resonates…Still
What Is Love Jones?
‘gravitational pull, rendering one helpless to its power’
Stylish black movies are rare. Black movies that fail to mention guns, thugs, rap, hookers and hoods is even rarer. Slinky, smart and sexy Love Jones breathed new life into the ‘boy meets girl’ story by adding a healthy dose of sultry poetry and a pinch of spice with a soundtrack laced with smooth jazz. The result is a delicious dish of black love served in a dish that is 90s Chicago.
Today is the 15th anniversary of Theodore Witcher’s debut, and only, film. Love Jones follows a group of 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. Darius Lovehall, played masterfully by Larenz Tate, is a poet/author who pursues and conquers the venerable and sultry photographer Nina Mosely, played by Nia Long. The magic that ensues is…palpable.
Love Jones: The Story
‘they call me brother to the night. and right now i’m the blues in your left thigh trying to become the funk in your right. is that alright?’
I love this movie for everything that it is not. It is not another portrayal of desperate black women and ignorant stupid black men. These characters have substance and style more akin to the majority of the African-American population. It is not a movie masquerading as something serious set to the hyper-violent and misogynistic hip hop soundtrack. This movie has depth of character and story and is filmed using metaphors that are both straightforward and subtle. It does not pander to an audience. It dares to tell a story in an uncoventional, un-Hollywood manner using characters that do not look like the usual fare who play in complex, layered, dramatic films.
The mood is well conjured; cool, enticing and magically bourgeois. The story takes place in Chicago but one cannot escape the feeling that the director was trying to capture and recreate the feeling and momentum of the Harlem Black Renaissance. The characters in the movie are all in some state of post-college, pre-career status trying to find their way in the world. While they find their place they form a sibling-like bond with each other and explore deep issues such as love, how to find love, how to maintain love, and the lengths one should go to maintain love.
The relationship between Darius and Nina is sensuous. From their first encounter in The Sanctuary, a poetry/jazz bar, their chemistry is electric. Darius lets Nina know his feelings after renaming his poem A Blues for Nina exclaim in at one point that he was a sight raped hunter blindly pursuing his prey. From that point forward the heat and steam that ensues between these two never lets up.
At a time when Black movies were hyper violent (Menace to Society, Boyz in the Hood), stereotypical (Waiting to Exhale),or just banal (Booty Call), Love Jones dared to be original in all of the right ways. To say that there is a need for more movies like this coming out of Hollywood would be a gross understatement. To see a named Black actors in movies that are sans gross comedy, cross dressers, or halting stereotypes are rare. Maybe we can dream that Tyler Perry and Spike Lee can drop their beef and get busy creating art that tries to capture the spirit of Witcher’s work.