So seeing as how this is my first post to the blog, I figure an introduction is a necessary preface to this entry. I am Typo-Critical: amateur writer, professional Black man. I think that says enough but not too much.
I initially wanted to title this blog “Black Love is Dead/Long Live Black Love” as a sort of play on words to VIBE Magazine’s feature cover story before its re-dux, “R&B is Dead/Long Live R&B” (spoiler alert: my next blog post will touch this a little bit, too). This entry was inspired a lot by the recent discussions that have popped off on the Threaders blog; although really, it was inspired by my love of movies and visual media.
I love Black love in all its iterations, except in that David Ruffin and Tammi Terrell sense, or in this one:
As much as I hate on Will Smith for getting play from the gamut of the women I crushed on when I was younger on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, I can’t be mad at he and Jada Pinkett Smith for consistently providing an image of Black love that works and that is also consistently visible on TV and in film (see also, the film Ali and both Will and Jada serving as executive producers for the somewhat-based-on-our-real-life-story TV series, “All of Us”). Unfortunately, while Will and Jada are proof that Black love is a beautiful thing, they’re also a literal “fairytale couple” – apart from the newly-minted Jayonce’ power couple, Will and Jada are pretty much the only consistent image present (especially with no more Ossie & Ruby around. RIP Ossie).
And Black love as a media presence, is itself approaching fairytale status. Arguably, when people don’t see consistent images of something, there is no proof that it exists. By that definition, Black love does not exist. Just ask CNN.
For the purposes of this discussion, I’ll focus mainly on Black love from a romantic aspect. This means for all of you who came ready to discuss Big Mama and why Doughboy’s mama played favorites, you’ll just have to wait for the next one.
The 90s was really the emergence decade for Black love in film and on TV (although nods must be made to James & Florida Evans and, of course, Mr. and Mrs. Huxtable, as well as Spike Lee’s classic She’s Gotta Have It). Literally, from 1996 to about 2003, I practically expected a new “Black love” movie to come out every three to six months. Those were definitely “Good Times.”
Interestingly enough, every “era” of the Black love movie was usually defined by particular stars that you either expected a good Black love movie to have.
For the early 90s, for the most part, there was Whitney Houston; combative/misunderstood light-skinned Black chick that we didn’t see again after that one movie; Denzel Washington; Larenz Tate; Wesley Snipes; Angela Bassett; Halle Berry; Robin Givens; Janet Jackson; Lynn Whitfield; Regina King; Lela Rochon; and Eddie Murphy. Usually there was a comic relief role played by Chris Rock; Jermaine “Huggy” Hopkins; David Alan Greer; Tommy Davidson; one of the Wayans’es; or post-blonde hair Jamie Foxx.
For the late 90s-early 2000s, there was Gabrielle Union; Vivica A. Fox; Tamala Jones; Clifton Powell or Terrance Howard in some role that made you want to hate them yet you respected their badassery; Shemar Moore; Morris Chestnut; Taye Diggs; Nia Long; Sanaa Lathan; and Meagan Good.
And in the mid-2000s, to now we have… Taraji P. Henson, Michael Ealy, Boris Kodjoe, fine-ass woman from Barbershop demoted to direct-to-video status, Columbus Short, Anthony Mackie, and any of a number of rapper/singer-turned-actors.
(off-topic but still worth mentioning, these Black love movies, even the bad ones, were often accompanied by KILLER soundtracks, usually featuring efforts from one-hit wonders)
Surely, you can all remember some of the “Black love” classics from these time periods as well. The Inkwell, Love Jones, The Wood, The Brothers, The Best Man, Mo’ Betta Blues, Jason’s Lyric, Love & Basketball, Sprung, HavPlenty (yes, Sprung and HavPlenty… so bad, they’re good)… I’m sure y’all know many more I’m missing. However, the fact remains that none of these movies are recent. In fact, the most recent major release forays INTO the “Black love movie,” have been sporadic, at best: Perfect Holiday in 2007; the Tyler Perry film Why Did I Get Married? in 2007 and its accompanying sequel in 2009; and the Queen Latifah-Common vehicle Just Wright. (Perhaps if you wanted to, you could throw TD Jakes’ Not Easily Broken in there as well, but that’s more a movie about restoring one’s faith as opposed to Black love itself). And while the argument could be made that direct-to-video efforts and the Black play circuits are doing what they can, they don’t have the far-reaching impact of the larger screen in terms of furthering images of Black love.
So where did “Black love” go in our movies? In my opinion, where it IS still around in film, it’s a side item present especially in African-American comedies or “hood films” as more of the “eventual love interest angle”; the actual development of that love interest relationship, however, is marred by the overdone and at times “coonish” attempts at comedy. (For a great contemporary example, see “Who’s Your Caddy”? Spacely Sprockets, I apologize in advance for clowning on your boy’s movie).
I believe Black love is not as present as it used to be, because we’ve allowed ourselves to become typecast and reduced to certain images and ideas that have pushed Black love into the background. The typical Black woman in modern film is one who is beautiful, successful in some way, and who would quite possibly be a loyal compliment to any person… that is, IF it weren’t for her: a)
psycho tendencies mental instability; b) overt unapproachability (often described as “too intimidating for most men”); c) misunderstood “angry Black woman” moments; or d) downright triflingness (Paula Patton’s “career trophy wife” character in Just Wright). Somewhere in there also lies e) a woman suffering from Caroline syndrome who eventually meets a comeuppance (Sanaa Lathan in The Family That Preys, for example, which was not a Black love movie, though). An excellent explanation and discourse of “Caroline syndrome,” in case you haven’t heard of it, can be found here:
The typical Black man in modern film, on the other hand, is attractive and would quite possibly be a loyal compliment to any person as well… if it weren’t for HIS: a) abusive nature towards his woman; b) abusive nature towards his woman; c) being a thug of some sort – yes, that’s my reason for hating you, Jody; d) fear of commitment; or e) unfortunate circumstances that prevent him from reaching his full potential. Did I mention abusive nature towards his woman?
This is not to suggest that Black women and Black men should be perfect. Of course no one is. However, it does bother me that these “brands” set the tone for what we expect out of a Black love movie these days. There has to be some messy family reunion, or dancing/step-and-more team (or, briefly, band) competition for Black love to flourish? Really? I miss the days when a Black love relationship in film could be examined from start to finish in terms of progress and not as the “love interest side story.” I’d love to see something come out soon in the vein of Mo’ Betta Blues, Love Jones, or to a degree Diary of A Tired Black Man, that focuses on the buildup, development, and even lessons learned behind a disintegration or consummation of a relationship between this Sista and that Brother. I’d love to see a return to Black love films on the regular. I’m sure, done right, they’d be just as compelling as (if not much more compelling than) the worst Black movie of all time. But Black love isn’t as marketable unless it’s a joke these days, it seems.
What do you think, y’all? Outside of the occasional direct-to-video release, is the Black love movie doomed to not make it anymore (because of changing times, mindsets, or whatever)… or can Black love (directed by someone other than
Winston Jerome Tyler Perry) still stand a chance on the big screen?