Not The Movie Kind Of Love
When I fondly reminisce about the 90’s and even early 2000’s, it’s the Black love movies for me. There was something about watching people that looked like me and that I could relate to; the emotional rollercoaster ride of watching two people navigate a relationship then finally win in the end.
From Love Jones, to Love and Basketball to The Best Man — these films gave me all the tears, heart stops and melancholy I didn’t know I needed. The story lines stayed with us, long after the movie had left the theater. We rushed to buy the DVDs to bear witness to them whenever we needed to be reminded. But let’s be honest, we grew up watching problematic story lines and rooting for relationships we wouldn't advise our best friend to get into today. As I get older, I find myself looking at our favorite Black film couples differently, and not really feeling the love.
Let’s be clear: I still love these movies. You couldn’t tell me I wasn’t Nia Long or Halle Berry with that perfect pixie haircut. Because of The Best Man, Black couples played Stevie Wonder’s “As” after getting married, and wouldn’t dare have a reception without Cameo’s “Candy.” Black women are still waiting for a man to tell them he’s the blues in their left thigh trying to become the funk in their right because of Love Jones. These movies shaped our view of what Black love looked like - and that might be the problem.
One of the things that always comes to mind is how we set girls up for failure at a young age. When boys pull their hair, push them down and call them names, girls are told that it’s okay - he just does that because he likes you. Something about that never made sense to me, but after being told that over and over again, I believed it must be true.
Then in high school when a boy likes you on Monday, is mean to you on Tuesday, and just flat out ignores you on Wednesday - it’s okay, he just likes you. Or, when grown men exercise similar behavior. The truth is, boys are generally not taught to express their feelings, let alone process them. Their actions don’t line up with how they really feel. It follows them into adulthood. Unfortunately, Black women fall into the trap of taking on the responsibility of “fixing” but it’s never our cross to bear.
Everyone loves the film Love & Basketball, as it follows childhood friends and next-door neighbors Monica Wright and Quincy McCall who share a love of basketball. We watch as the two grow from a childhood crush to a high school romance. They eventually attend USC together where Quincy rises as a star athlete, while Monica struggles to prove she’s got what it takes on the women’s basketball team. Quincy tells Monica she doesn’t need to worry about succeeding on the court because she’ll be famous for being “Quincy McCall's wife.”
*insert cringe moment here*
Quincy learns his father cheated on his mother. Meanwhile, Monica finally makes the starting lineup on the team. Although Monica offers Quincy support, he is too self-absorbed to balance her aspirations with his own issues. He gets upset when she can’t stay with him, because of curfew. He gets made at her for not being supportive in his time of need. The next day, he gets drunk at a party and flirts with another girl — who he ultimately ends up taking on a date right in front of Monica’s face.
To his credit, Quincy is a college freshman at this point in the story, so we can’t expect him to conduct himself like a grown man. But his actions sent a disturbing message: As a Black woman, I shouldn’t expect my man to support my ambitions with as much energy as I supported his, and that his needs would always exceed my own.
Of course, they break up. Quincy goes pro. Monica plays basketball overseas, although personally unfulfilled because of the void Quincy left in her heart years ago. When she returns to the states to find an injured — and engaged — NBA pro in Quincy, she decides to lay it all on the line and play him for his heart.
Y’all remember this, right!? The two of them on the basketball court in the middle of the night and that Dag gone Me’shell Ndegeocello song playing in the background. Quincy making every basket and the pitiful look of defeat on Monica’s face. I wanted to tell her Quincy owes her an apology, not the other way around. The movie ends at a WNBA game, viewers see Quincy with a baby girl in his lap cheering on his wife Monica. And they live happily ever after on her WNBA salary (which we know is nothing to write home about), because he's injured and can't play anymore.
Do ever think about if Monica never challenged him to a game that night? He would have married Tyra Banks!
What if Quincy McCall had at least one friend that called him out? What if we got to see him be vulnerable rather than come to accept the reinforcement of damaging Black, male stereotypes that made him hide his emotions and express sadness through anger?
Of course, these are all just movies and not real life. But guess what? Pop culture has power, and like it or not, we become invested and it shapes how we think and feel. What if a small shift in the storylines would change how we see Black love today? Maybe we wouldn't glorify struggle love, trying to convince Black women that it's normal. Maybe little girls wouldn't be given the false narrative that they have to endure pain and shame just to be liked.
I’ll continue to watch all the Black love films of the 90’s, and remember how they made me feel. But I’m realizing that rather than holding their stories up on a pedestal as the example of Black love, I should continue to hold space for them as representations of all the different ways Black love can look. And we can all do better, so that we can continue to love one another better.