How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Love Jones
Several months ago, I met with Shaunda Miles — the program director at the August Wilson Center for African American Culture — to discuss potential collaborations between VSB and the AWC. We didn’t make any formal plans at the time, but she did let me know that they were planning on having a “Love Jones Week” in February — a week of events centered around a Q&A with Ted Witcher (the writer and director of Love Jones) and a screening of the film — and wanted to have VSB involved in some way. Again, though, this conversation happened several months ago. And, with all the other VSB related stuff going on this year, I kind of forgot about it.
Fast forward to three weeks ago. Liz, Panama, and I had just decided to go ahead and try to pull off this nationwide VSB day thing, and I was exhausting all of my contact resources to find a Pittsburgh-area venue that would work. Just as I was thisclose to saying “f*ck it” and just having everyone meet at McDonald’s, I received a call from Shaunda, asking if I had any ideas for a possible Thursday, Feb 10th event to help kick off the Love Jones week. Talk about serendipity!
Anyway, after 15 or so minutes of conversation, they agreed to host a book launch party/mixer for me, and I agreed to help promote their Love Jones week and attend the Saturday evening screening of Love Jones, the pre-screening reception, and the post-screening Q&A session with Witcher.
“Damn.” I thought to myself after realizing how serendipitous this series of events had been “I guess I should probably sit down and actually watch Love Jones now.”
Yes. You read that correctly. I — a black man who co-founded a blog about dating, relationships, and pop culture and co-authored a book about dating, relationships, and pop culture — had never actually seen Love Jones — quite possibly the most iconic movie about black love and relationships ever made.
Sure, I knew who Darius Lovehall and Nina Mosley were and what they represented, I was acquainted with the oft-lauded premise, plot, setting, and soundtrack, I knew how influential this movie was to the slam/spoken word movement that seemed to capture America in the late nineties and early aughts, and I was even aware of the circumstances leading up to the film’s most cited line — “I love you. That’s urgent like a motherf*cker”
But, certain circumstances¹ made it so that I never actually watched the entire movie from beginning to end, a situation Netflix helped remedy the morning before the screening.
I guess this is where you’re probably expecting me to devote 200 to 400 words worth of snark to how cliche, dated, inane, and unrealistic Love Jones was. Sh*t, as soon as I knew I was going to be attending the screening, I expected that I would devote 200 to 400 words worth of snark the following Monday to how cliche, dated, inane, and unrealistic the movie was too.
This, this bit of art-induced learned helplessness, isn’t completely my fault though. Years of witnessing uninspired black cinema and listening to the perpetual deification of movies I thought were excessively “eh” (read: Best Man, The) has made me an active member of St. Wesley’s Church of The Perpetually Disappointed Negro Filmgoer.
But, something surprising happened while watching it Saturday morning. I liked, no, I loved this movie. I loved the very real chemistry between Nia Long and ²Larenz Tate. I loved the dialogue. I loved the fact that I genuinely laughed at sh*t that was supposed to be funny. I loved the Teenie Harris-esque feel of the opening black and white shots. I loved Lisa Nicole Carson’s Lisa Nicole Carson-ness. I loved the fact that the story centered around people I can imagine myself knowing and having drinks with. I loved that the movie was “grown and sexy” before the term “grown and sexy” became a euphemism for “immature and skanky.”
Most importantly, I loved how in love Ted Witcher was with everything he put into this movie. More than just a drama about a few people, Love Jones was an ode to black people, to Chicago, to music, to love, to words, to sex.
This doesn’t mean that the movie was without flaws. Darius and Nina faced some serious roadblocks that would have permanently derailed any couple’s attempt at romance. (Darius was a bit of a stalker. Also, there’s no way in hell that Nina goes to New York to stay with her lukewarm ex.) And, even though this movie was made 14 years ago, I just can’t believe that even in 1997 you’d find a clique of educated 20-something black people where each and every one of them smoked cigarettes.
But, these are minor details that actually contribute the movie’s overall aesthetic, its cool. And, on this Valentine’s Day, I have to admit that Love Jones is a great gotdamn f*cking movie…even if I’m 14 years late in realizing it.
More VSB news and notes
1. While the brick cold weather and the time of the event — 5 to 7 pm, right when people were getting off work — made for a late arriving crowd, approximately 100 people showed up for Pittsburgh VSB day, and I was genuinely verklempt and sh*t from all the support. Also, along with the picture taking and book signing, I — with some crowd participation — read a few excerpts from chapter 3, “Men, Found in Translation: Decoding and Deciphering the Language of Man”
2. I got a chance to speak to Ted Witcher³ at the pre-screening reception, and we spoke about the rarity of small-scale adult romantic dramas. Basically, movies dealing with love and romance today tend to either be romantic comedies or sweeping period pictures, and he thinks that Hollywood feels that audiences just don’t want to see real people doing real romantic things without a joke every 0ther line. (Sounds familiar.)
Also, in probably the single most humbling sentence I’ve heard in at least a decade, while talking about writing, he casually mentioned that he wrote Love Jones when he was 24 years old. Twenty f*cking four years old!!!
3. If you have pictures from VSB day you’d like to post, please don’t hesitate to send them in to firstname.lastname@example.org.
We’re creating an album of all the VSB days from around the country, and we’ll post it later in the week. (Probably Friday.)
4. Panama and I were interviewed by Kellee Terrell (news editor of The Body) last week, and that interview should be up on The Root today. Don’t have a direct link to it yet, but check it out if you get a chance. (Update. Here’s the link)
5. I have a weekly feature at TheLoop21, “The Powerful Black Family Power Rankings.” I’ll also be writing about dating and relationships over there as well. “Beware The Butterflies” — an extended and fleshed out version of a blog about the whole love a first sight phenomenon I wrote about several months ago — is up today.
6. Lastly, although we all have mixed feelings about Valentine’s Day (and by “mixed” I mean “vomit-inducing”), check out Edge Magazine for a reminder of why we need it.
¹A) I was in college at the time the movie was released, and, aside from The Player’s Club, Jeepers Creepers, The Perfect Storm, and The Matrix (Yes. I know that’s a random-ass list. Thanks for asking, though.), I didn’t see any new movies in a 5 year span. This is either extremely positive or extremely depressing. I’m not exactly sure which, though. B) I was in a very unhealthy relationship in 1997, and this made me a bit of a hater of all things “black people in love and sh*t.” Because of this, I avoided Love Jones like the plague. And, even as the years passed, it still had that 1997 stink on it.
²Although he never seems to get any credit when discussing great actors, can you think of another actor that could have pulled off both O-Dog and Darius Lovehall — both iconic characters — so convincingly? Also between “urgent than a motherf*cker” and “these motherfuckers smoked your goddam cousin in front of you, nigga!” you gotta give him props for creative and believable use of “motherf*cker” too.
³He’s also from Pittsburgh, a fact which made me only the second most popular young black writer from Pittsburgh whenever he was in the room. Yes, I’m definitely hating. Thanks for asking.