Where’s The Love Jones?

love-jones

***After watching Love Jones again last weekend, I was urged to revisit and revise something I wrote about the film for the Loop21 a few years ago***

Approximately halfway through Love Jones, the iconic 1997 romantic drama centered around a Chicago-area couple, protagonists Darius Lovehall (Larenz Tate) and Nina Mosley (Nia Long) attend a dance together—their first real “date” since a few somewhat contrived situations caused them to momentarily break away from each other. Predictably, the date goes extremely well. The otherworldly connection and chemistry Darius and Nina share is palpable, and, despite any romantic roadblocks (contrived or otherwise or just named “Bill Bellamy”), you know that things are going to work for them.

But, while this date night dance scene’s main purpose was to give the audience a visual segue from Darius and Nina’s short-term separation to their impending romance, writer/director Ted Witcher does something else, something a bit subtler and a bit more poignant. With the vibrant music, colorfully coordinated dance steps, and equally colorful (and equally coordinated) attire, Witcher introduces the audience to the world of Chicago steppin’—a derivative of swing dancing popular in the South and Midwest. Although the scene is only a couple minutes long, Witcher presents this dance phenomenon and the anonymous steppers to us with the same regard, enchantment, and love exhibited when the lens is focused on any of the main characters.

Says the late Roger Ebert:

“There’s electricity when they go on a date to the weekly steppers’ ball hosted by Herb Kent the Cool Gent, who plays himself. Steppin’ is a Chicago dance style that comes out of jitterbug, cooled down, and as we watch this scene we get that interesting feeling when a fiction film edges toward documentary and shows us something we haven’t seen before.”

In the 16 years since its release (damn, just typing that made me feel old as f*ck) Love Jones has gone from underappreciated romantic drama with a banging soundtrack to the cinematic standard for realistic black romance. (Well, “realistic” other than the fact that it featured a bunch of underemployed negros living in lofts…with exposed brick…in Chicago. But, who’s nitpicking?)

And, while the story and the chemistry between Tate and Long are the most memorable aspects of the film, Love Jones is held in such high regard because Ted Witcher was so obviously in love with everything he put into this movie. More than just a drama, it was an ode to Black culture, to Chicago, to music, to movies, to love, to words, to sex; a paean to the possibilities of people not constrained to 140 characters or less. It’s loved and appreciated because it loved and appreciated both its characters and its audience, a trait also found in Soul Food—a movie that, although not necessarily a romantic drama and not as universally praised as Love Jones, shared Love Jones’ love for its characters and their customs.

These movies, and the level of love and exuberance they were shot with, stand in stark contrast to much of today’s Black romantic fare—both at the theater and on the small screen—which seems to be content with browbeating the audience with messages so heavy-handed it feels like you’re being kicked. (Before this devolves into another angst-ridden conversation about all things wrong with Tyler Perry, I do think that Perry loves his characters. But, Ike loved Tina too, didn’t he?) Instead of a peek into a world we may not have been completely familiar with, we’re left with 60 to 120 minute long psychotherapy sessions and self-help pamphlets featuring people who have never existed on Earth, After Earth, or any other planet humans have ever lived on—movies where writers and directors use the screen as a palate to work out their own issues instead of allowing the audience a chance to be vicarious.

Maybe this cinematic shift is our doing. Maybe our expectations have devolved to the point that we wouldn’t be able to handle a Black movie with more love and nuance than ill will and temple knocking. Still, after watching Love Jones again last weekend, I think we’re ready for another one. We just need to find the love needed to pull it off.

—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)

A Final Word On This Tyler Perry/Love Jones Mess

10 days ago I decided to write a “screenplay” based on my vision of what a Tyler Perry produced remake of “Love Jones” would look like. Titled “A Sneak-Peek Into “Tyler Perry’s Love Jones”, it gave the first 10 minutes of “Love Jones” the complete Tyler Perry treatment (i.e.: the first scene was set in an Atlanta strip club/hair salon instead of a Chicago poetry spot, the idea of Christianity was beat into the audience’s head, etc).

Now, people familiar with VSB know I’ll occasionally throw out a completely satirical article from time to time — “10 dating and relationship tips from drake” and “the transcript (from every piece ever televised about “successful, but single” black women)” the most notable examples — and most immediately realized this was a joke. I don’t know exactly what gave it away, but if I had to guess, it would have been the very first paragraph of the “screenplay.”

Opening Scene:

Setting: “The Mortuary” — a popular hair salon/male strip club in Atlanta, Georgia.

As Walter Hawkins’ version of “Goin’ Up Yonder” plays in the backdrop, the camera pans over the highly engaged and eclectic crowd. Peach Snapple, an blaxican male stripper who vaguely resembles a much happier Scottie Pippen, dances on stage while the women sitting in the salon chairs — many of whom still have curlers in their hair — sway to the rhythmic claps of Peach Snapple’s muscular man booty.

But, not everyone came to this same realization, and within several hours, a “Tyler Perry is remaking Love Jones!!!!!!!!!!! No!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” meme began to spread.¹

It started on Twitter.

Then a few message boards picked it up.

Rihanna, Chris Brown, Tyler Perry, Love Jones Remake?!?

Tyler Perry to remake…

After the message boards came the blogs.

Rumor Mill: Tyler Perry to Remake Iconic Black Romance Movie ‘Love Jones’

TYLER PERRY OPTION TO REMAKE BLACK CLASSIC, LOVE JONES?!

After the blogs came the videos.

Tyler Perry and the Remake of Love Jones

Some well-intentioned and unfortunate soul even started a freakin’ petition!

Stop Tyler Perry’s remake of Love Jones

By the end of last week, places where people actually get paid to vet and investigate the source and validity of rumors even began to report on it.

The Truth About Tyler Perry Doing ‘Love Jones’ Remake

(Out of all of the tweets, blogs, and articles, this one was easily the most disappointing. Wilson Morales — the author of this report — didn’t contact VSB, the ONLY source of this rumor, so this quote from his article “…Blackvoices.com has learned through sources how true the rumor is.” is a f*cking lie. )

The ‘Love Jones’ Remake: Is Tyler Perry Really Involved?

(To Jenée Desmond-Harris’s credit, she merely reported on BV On Movies’ report, and she cited VSB in her article as well. Still, I was puzzled why she didn’t just name VSB as the source of the rumor.)

Anyway, while reflecting on this entire farce, four thoughts came to mind.

1. The prevalence of the Derek Zoolander-ass n*ggas — people who either can’t or just refuse to actually read — has become pandemic

Last Tuesday, I went on a bit of a rant on Twitter denouncing those who believed this rumor to be true.

From Twitter.com/VerySmartBros:

irony — people who believed the T.Perry/Love Jones rumor possessed the same traits (ie: not “getting” nuance or humor) they hate Perry for.

and yes, if you thought that shit was true, #shotsfired at you.

sorry about the rant. just had to get it off my chest. and by “get it off my chest” i mean “remind you all why dumb n*ggas need to die!!!”

An hour or so after posting it, I re-read this rant and immediately started to feel uneasy. It seemed elitist, judgmental, and mean. And, while I, um, am elitist, judgmental, and (occasionally) mean, I thought I’d gone too far; harshly mocking people who weren’t as well-read as I am.

I then re-read the original entry, and all thoughts of being too harsh flew out the window.

Seriously, how the f*ck can anyone read that and think it was real???

A movie set in a strip club/hair salon??? A character named Vaseline Williams??? Chris Brown and Rihanna as the leads??? Loretta Devine cast as Rihanna’s Puerto Rican homegirl???

Also, do you know how many major motion pictures have been released where the movie opens to a male stripper bootyclapping while the appreciative crowd nods on rhythm?

(No rush. Take whatever time you need to Google this answer.)

Okay. time’s up. The answer? ZERO!

Why zero? Because it can’t happen!

Why not? Because if you were to put a scene like that in movie, it would immediately go from “major motion picture” to “porno.There’s no way in hell that anyone, Tyler Perry included, would even consider putting a scene like this in an “R” rated movie.

Anyway, after seeing how far the rumor has gone, it makes perfect sense why a there’s a better chance of Muammar Gaddafi winning a WNBA dunk contest than a black movie winning an Oscar today. While there are pockets of very smart brothas and sistas, we’re either too small in number or too apathetic to drown out the never ending cacophony of idiocy emitting from our brethren and sistren. As long as this is true, the vast majority of our art will continue to pander to this audience. I weep for the young.

2. “Black people” and “satire” just don’t seem to mix very well

Maybe it’s because of the fact that this whole living in America thing has made us hyper-sensitive to any slights, real or perceived. Maybe it’s a bit of a chicken-egg phenomenon — we’re used to a certain type of “call in response” type art, art meant to induce crowd participation, and the only way satire works is if you pay absolutely no attention to the audience and give them no indication that you’re not serious. And, well, maybe the topics near and dear us are satire-proof. (Think about it: Out of the six most prominent cinematic examples of satire produced by black people — “Hollywood Shuffle,” “I’m Gonna Git You Sucka,” “Don’t Be A Menace…,” “Bamboozled,” the underrated “Undercover Brother,” and “Black Dynamite” — three of them parodied the same topic — the blaxploitation era. Maybe there’s really no other “black” era you can safety satirize without trepidation.)

Regardless of the reason, it seems like we tend to like our humor to be a little less subtle and less controversial and uncomfortable. While this by itself isn’t a major issue, I do think this need to be winked at and have stuff spelled out ruins our bullshit detectors as well; leaving us unable to sniff out what’s real and who we need to believe.

I won’t say that believing R. Kelly’s not a pedophile and believing that “The Maintenance Men” were a real group are definitely related, but believing R. Kelly’s not a pedophile and believing that “The Maintenance Men” were a real group are definitely related.

3. Tyler Perry is black America’s Rorschach test

While I’ll continue to chide those who actually read the original entry and still thought it to be true, I can’t really fault a person for seeing a “Tyler Perry is remaking Love Jones” tweet or link and forwarding it before investigating. The level of feeling (positive and/or negative) Perry produces in many black people is indisputably palpable, and it’s understandable that the mere mention he’d remake a movie so near and dear to so many would have people seeing red.

I’ve written before about our angst-ridden discussions about Tyler Perry, so there’s no need to have another one now. But, is there another entertainer who could not only could produce a firestorm by just the thought of their name being attached to a classic, but also have people think he’s crazy/ambitious/unscrupulous/tone deaf/powerful enough to actually do it?²

(My answer? R. Kelly. I might be wrong, but I think if I wrote about the R-uh remaking Marvin Gaye’s  “What’s Going On,” the rumor would have spread just as quickly)

4. We really seem to love us some “Love Jones”

I have to admit, the amount of people so adamant about protecting this movie from Perry’s claws surprised me.³ While I know I was 14 years late in seeing it, I thought I had an accurate grasp on how much resonance it still held with people who have. I was wrong.

We will kill for “Love Jones.” Now, we just need to find a way to kill for “reading comprehension” and “fact-checking” so another Love Jones-like movie can be made.

¹I have to admit that although I wasn’t attempting to start a rumor, once I realized some people actually believed this screenplay to be true, we (Liz, Panama, and I) did everything we could to fan the flames. I think I even signed that damn petition.

²As Panama joked to me last week, the whole “Tyler Perry remaking an iconic black classic” thing isn’t completely out of the realm of possibility. Wouldn’t that be something if he heard the rumor and then thought to himself “Sh*t. Why not? I can do this” and actually did it? If that did actually happen — and my blog was the impetus behind it — would Australia or Antarctica be the best place for me to hide from the millions of bespectacled blacks who’d want to kill me?

³I was also surprised that so many people were surprised I hadn’t seen it until now. I mean, Love Jones made 12 million at the theater. It’s not like the entire country went to go see it, and it’s not like it’s exactly easy to find it on HBO or even TNT. Y’all n*ggas need to get a grip.

—The Champ

A Sneak-Peek Into “Tyler Perry’s Love Jones”

During my conversation with Ted Witcher last week, he mentioned that a producer was interested in doing a remake of Love Jones, and he actually was in the process of negotiating the terms. He didn’t tell me exactly who, though, but a bit of investigative journalism on my part learned that it was actually Tyler Perry. Yup, you read that correctly: Tyler Perry is doing a remake of Love Jones.

A bit more investigating allowed me to get my hands on a draft of the screenplay. To Perry’s credit, he did attempt to stay true to the original version. The plot largely remains the same, and, although R-rated movies aren’t really Perry’s thing, the movie contains just as much adult dialogue and content as the original. But, as you probably imagined, the remake definitely has his fingerprints on it, and Perry struggles with the nuances present in the original movie’s sexual content.

Due to copyright laws, I can only post one scene, but it should give you a pretty good indication of the entire product.

Opening Scene:

Setting: “The Mortuary” — a popular hair salon/male strip club in Atlanta, Georgia.

As Walter Hawkins’ version of “Goin’ Up Yonder” plays in the backdrop, the camera pans over the highly engaged and eclectic crowd. Peach Snapple, an blaxican male stripper who vaguely resembles a much happier Scottie Pippen, dances on stage while the women sitting in the salon chairs — many of whom still have curlers in their hair — sway to the rhythmic claps of Peach Snapple’s muscular man booty.

The camera then settles on a table of four men — superstar stripper/aspiring choreographer “Rank “The Wrangler” Whittaker” (played by Chris Brown in a dreadlocks wig), astronaut “J.R. Chapman” (Micheal Jai White), professional baseball player “Vaseline Williams”  (Baltimore Raven’s linebacker Ray Lewis, in his first major motion picture role), and strip club DJ and MC “Plier Terry” (Tyler Perry) — and 0ne woman — Mortuary owner “Julie Watson” (Raven Simone, in a role that’s sure to get Oscar buzz).

As the friends sip lattes, smoke weed, and have a conversation that no person on Earth has ever had, Rank gets up and walks to the bar, seemingly deep in thought. Megachurch choir director/aspiring orchestra conductor “Iesha Canty” (Rihanna. Yes, that Rihanna.) is already at the bar, and notices the pensive Rank.

“What’s on your mind?”

“Just…thinking about some ass.”

“That must have been some very special ass.”

“Yeah. It was.”

While this is going on, the camera pans back to the table, and we watch them watching Rank and Iesha.

I know she aint gonna fall for that sh*tty stripper game” says Vaseline, who’s obviously the “player” in the crew.

Piler, who we sense is the ultra-masculine voice of reason in this circle, replies “Whatever, man. You need to forget about that stuff with your uncle and get back to church. It’s time that you forgave that man for what he did to you. 17 years of not seeing any women will do that to any brother. Anyway, excuse me while I help my boy do his thing”

Piler gets up, and walks to the stage.

“Ladies, gentleman, and ladies with gentleman parts, you’re in for a treat. Welcome to the stage, my boy, Atlanta’s own, The Wrangler!!!”

As Rank swaggers on stage — dressed exactly how you’d imagine a male stripper named “Wrangler” to be dressed — the camera pans on Iesha, whose surprised expression lets the audience know that she definitely didn’t know that Rank was the featured stripper. Sitting next to Iesha is her homegirl, Vicky Ortiz (Loretta Devine, in a very peculiar casting choice).

Before Rank starts dancing, he grabs the microphone and says “This next song and dance is dedicated to a very, very special lady.”

Rank puts the microphone down, goes to the middle of the stage, and puts his head down as the lights dim and the anticipation builds. The music starts, and Rank shifts into full “Wrangler” mode; popping and doing other things that male strippers probably do in strip clubs and maximum security prison cafeterias.

The camera pans on Iesha, as she recognizes this song as familiar, but can’t quite place the name of it. Then, it hits her.

It’s “Iesha” by Another Bad Creation — proof that Rank has dedicated this dance to her.

This realization hits Iesha like a bag of bricks. Equal parts flattered, embarrassed, and aroused, Iesha watches mouth agape as Rank repeatedly thrusts his manhood in her direction, producing shrieks and screams from both the crowd and the hair-dressers.

Later that evening, while Rank and his friends are hanging out outside of the club, Iesha and Vicky approach them.

That was some stunt you pulled.” Iesha flirts to Rank.

Seemed to get your attention” Rank replies.

“You seem to know a lot about sex and arousing me with your manparts. There’s more to life than that.” Iesha says, as she draws closer to Rank.

“What’s that?” an obviously horny Rank retorts.

Iesha pulls out a pen, and writes her response on Rank’s still sweaty chest.

When finished, she tells the crew good night, and as her and Vicky walk away, the camera pans onto Rank’s chest so we can see what Iesha just wrote.

“Jesus”

End scene.

—The Champ