How 'Love Jones' Elevated On-Screen Blackness
This feature is in the December "The Creators" Issue. Click here to subscribe.
Love Jones debuted in theaters on March 14, 1997, a day before the world recognized The Ides of March—the day on which all men’s monthly debts were due. In the case of Theodore Witcher, the film’s writer and director, the culture owes him for depicting on-screen Blackness–specifically the characterizations of Black young adults–with an unmatched level of intelligence, sensuality, romance and style.
The film opens with a soulful one-two punch of Dionne Farris’ now classic hit “Hopeless” (co-penned by musician and Halle Berry’s current beau Van Hunt) and black and white images of Black families, friends and businesses in the aesthetic vein of Gordon Parks. Watching this opening 25 years later, these images of everyday people fading away takes on a deeper meaning, for we know now that gentrification would force many from their homes.
Actress Nia Long on set of the New Line Cinema movie Love Jones, circa 1997 PHOTO BY MICHAEL P. WEINSTEIN / NEW LINE CINEMA COURTESY OF GETTY IMAGES
Love Jones benefitted from a few films with similar POV and desire to elevate Black folks on screens—such as Kevin Hooks’s Strictly Business (1991), Reginald Hudlin’s Boomerang (1992) and Queen Latifah’s ground-breaking 1993 TV series Living Single. The film was not a box-office hit but a culture shifter. The film could have easily been the typical “boy-meets-girl…boy gets girl” trope.
But its brilliance emanates from the ingenious casting (thanks to legendary casting director Robi Reed). From stars Nia Long and Larenz Tate’s smoldering chemistry to the pioneering comedic exchange between the exquisite Lisa Nicole Carson and Long in the film’s cab scene, we are witnessing the post-college lives of the Hillman grad. These characters laid the groundwork for the future success status of the Black creatives shaping The Culture today: Lena Waite, Donald Glover, Issa Rae, Robin Thede and more.