Physics, the Shit Ain't
A reclamation of 1997's Love Jones
When the tide turned on Love Jones? Can’t say. Just that it started as most terrible things do. On Twitter.
I'll back up for the uninitiated.
Love Jones, the 1997 rom-dram-com starring Larenz Tate and Nia Long, was long hailed as a standard-bearer for onscreen black love. Carried by the leads' sizzling chemistry and a soundtrack produced to get you laid, it often rolled off the tongues of Xers and Xillennials when asked their favorite movie.
Not to mention its...efficacy in the dorm rooms of black college students. "Come over and watch Love Jones"—predating Netflix and Chill by a decade.
So, what happened? The same thing that happened to everything we enjoyed before The Internet—see: symbolism, satire, and seduction. We sucked the joy right out of it.
Darius (Tate) getting Nina's (Long) address from a check in a record store after she made a purchase? Tough stuff. Google the actor Isaiah Washington (who portrays Savon). Yikes.
I wouldn’t step foot in a spoken word night in 2023. But I still have a lot of time for a man crooning "I'm the blues in your left thigh, tryin' to become the funk in yo' right" on screen. The Right/Wrong tally between the two main characters doesn’t interest me. Stories need conflict. Humans are messy. Nothing to litigate there.
But when a homeboy mentioned watching it on recommendation from a woman he was interested in, I found myself bracing for impact.
"The people who love it saw it when we were young,” I said. “Now, you watch it for the vibe. The gray, rainy days and the slow, jazzy score and 90s Chicago. It's supposed to feel like the blues.
"But it's a classic. And—now that I think about it—responsible for like 90% of my personality."
Darius and Nina are artists—an author and a photographer—living in a midwestern city. In urban-area walk-ups with hardwood floors. They hang out in smoky bars; sipping wine and dipping effortlessly between shit talk and philosophizing with their friends. And in vintage record stores, where in 1997, Nina flips through CDs as Darius prescribes Al Green as the cure for a bad day. Their date conversations include casual mentions of Gordon Parks, Sonya Sanchez, and George Bernard Shaw. Darius spends afternoons hunched over an old school typewriter. Nina strolls the park with her camera.
Of course, I'd seen black professionals onscreen (thank you, Boomerang, Strictly Business, Waiting to Exhale, etc.). I worshipped at the altar of Jacqueline Broyer, but didn't see me in high-powered corporate settings.
The creative, quietly cool lives of Nina and Darius were siren songs for thirteen-year-old me.
I wanted to write. Have encyclopedic music knowledge and spend afternoons in book and record stores. Drop philosophy and traditional African goddess lore in casual convos. Wander parks taking photos. Sip wine in dark bars. Step—or “hand dance” as we call it in Cleveland—like a proper Midwesterner.
And Lord have mercy. Did I want to kiss like that.
And fuck like that.
I forgot all this once The Internet descended upon it. The conversations I quoted like song lyrics were “fake deep.” The poetry—name-checking everyone’s fav Yoruba deities 19 years before Muvah Bey donned her ruffled yellow dress—was “cringe.” Darius was a creep. Nina played games. And why did Savon… Honestly. Just. Why did Savon?
“Physics, the shit ain’t. Love… Passion… It ain’t supposed to make sense. It is what it is.”
Never mind that the end credits song—Lauryn Hill’s “The Sweetest Thing”—will forever remind me of my first love’s wide-set eyes and gangly basketball frame. Or the night I fell in love with a boy who pinpointed historical references in Jay Z lyrics (“Y’all n***az truly ain’t ready for this dynasty thing/ y’all thinkin’ Blake Carrington/ I’m thinkin’ more like Ming), lit up when I quoted Dr. Benjamin E. Mays, and kissed the sense right out of my head. The inspired sex I’ve had with Maxwell’s “Sumthin’ Sumthin’ (Mellosmoothe)” laying the soundtrack.
Or the summer I interned in Chicago. Seeing the streets and faces from Nina’s montage of black and white portraits every day as I hopped around the South Side. The Memorial Day weekend I rode the Ferris wheel at Navy Pier with Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy” in my ears as I tried not to let the elevator bring me down.
Or my walk-up apartment with hardwood floors—in walking distance of an independent book store. Where the train passes just outside my window and my neighbor blasts Davis and Coltrane on Sunday mornings. Snapping this photo and immediately thinking of Nina capturing that couple kissing in the park.
To quote the late Roger Ebert: “It’s not what a movie is about, it’s how it is about it.” When I rang in my last birthday, at an intimate house party with bongo drums and dancing strangers who turned up for me at midnight, I remembered the how that made me.
That smart, sexy, cool shit. Dipped in gray Midwestern days and a sultry jazz soundtrack.
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