The Game of Love

loveandbasketball_1FIRST QUARTER… early ’80s

The title Love and Basketball (LAB) is appropriate for this film; it’s about the deep love of two people and a deep love for basketball. The film chronicles the love story of two neighbors: Monica (Sanaa Lathan) and Quincy (Omar Epps). The movie opens up with 11-year-old Monica moving in next door to Quincy “Q” in Baldwin Hills, CA. Monica joins a pick-up game with Q and his two friends. First words out Quincy’s mouth, “Girls can’t play no ball,” and Monica’s response is, “I ball better than you.” This becomes the theme of what will continue to be a conflict with both characters: Monica’s attitude and need to defend the pressures associated with being a female baller, and Quincy’s privileged idealism of being a baller, and son of an NBA player.

The film establishes all the characters and family dynamics within the first 10 minutes. I will stop and reiterate that most romantic comedies/dramas are similar; people meet, fall in love, and live happily ever after. What makes movies unique (especially black films) are the nostalgic factors such as identifying with characters, the music, and exposure to black culture. There are many examples throughout the movie. What stands out the most to me is the music, and the scene where Monica’s sister, Kerry (Monica Calhoun), is combing Monica’s hair. That is something I often did for my siblings growing up; “greasing scalps,” and “oiling” hair has always been prevalent in black culture. The music is authentic in mirroring the trials and tribulations of the actors. The song Candy Girl by New Edition is blasting in the background as they start their pick-up game.

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Love & Basketball (2000)

loveandbasketball_2Starring Sanaa Lathan, Omar Epps, Alfre Woodard, Dennis Haysbert, Debbi Morgan, Harry J. Lenix, Kyla Pratt, Glenndon Chatman, Boris Kodjoe, Gabrielle Union, Monica Calhoun, Regina Hall, Tyra Banks

Directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood

Expectations: Moderate.

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When I sat down to watch Love & Basketball, I assumed I’d be in for two things: love and… Ukrainian field hockey! Hahaha, no, I expected the basketball, and I wasn’t let down. Love & Basketball is indeed full of both love and basketball, but what I didn’t expect was a side-by-side look at men’s and women’s basketball. For me, this was by far the most interesting part of the film because of what it brings to light about the differences between the genders through the game of basketball. It’s not just about the game, it’s about life. I know that sounds kinda hokey and clichéd, but it’s the truth and Love & Basketball does a great job covering these themes it sets out for itself.

Our story begins in 1981, when Quincy and Monica are both 11 years old. Monica has just moved next door to Quincy and they meet when Monica asks if she can play basketball with Quincy and his friends. Quincy isn’t exactly nice to her, but she still seems to like him anyway, and thus our tale of love in-between the hoops begins. The film is structured in four quarters like a basketball game, sometimes making time jumps of multiple years between quarters. So even though we start in their youth, we are only there for a small section of the film.

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I Want Some of Your Brown Sugar…oohooh

brown-sugar5When writing a review I rarely think of the basic plot; it’s usually very typical. I am usually looking for unique moments that get me emotionally invested. My favorite quote is, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel,” by Maya Angelou. This sums up Brown Sugar. There are many forgettable moments in the movie, but the way I felt about the music as a metaphor to falling in love… well, it was magical!

The movie opens with a split screen of a woman packing the evolution of hip hop, through images of mixed tapes (Biz Markie, Monie Love, Angie B.), pictures of Boogie Down Productions, pictures of break dancers with Kangol hats and boom boxes, and posters of Salt and Pepa and Gang Starr. The song Love of My Life by The Roots is playing in the background. The song sets the tone of the metaphors that will become the basis of the story. Throughout the movie the main characters use hip hop music as a metaphor to their experiences and relationship.

brown-sugar6It’s all very reminiscent of my childhood. My brother, Quinton, and my sister Tamisha “Mimi” loved hip hop. Quinton carried on my mama’s tradition of playing music in the house. Sometimes when I play hip hop in the car from “back in the day,” I can see the shock on my son’s face when I rap. The lyrics are embedded into my memory, just like my childhood experiences with my brothers and sisters.

The next image is of the main characters Sidney “Sid” (Sanaa Lathan), and Andre “Dre” (Taye Diggs) as 10-year-old children. Sidney is narrating about the interviews that she conducts as an editor-in-chief of a hip hop magazine. Her first question to her interviewee is, “So, when did you fall in love with hip hop?” The scene reminds me of When Harry Met Sally. In WHMS throughout the movie they ask couples how they met and fell in love. It’s the same faces in Brown Sugar when a slew of hip-hop artists are giving real accounts of when they first fell in love with hip hop. Their faces light up as they tell us the name or location of when and/or where they were when they heard the song that hooked them. Sidney says she remembers the first day she fell in love with hip hop. It was July 18, 1984. It’s the day she heard three MCs: Dana Dane, Slick Rick, and Doug E. Fresh. Of course, this is also the day she met Andre “Dre”.

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Brown Sugar (2002)

brown-sugar1Starring Taye Diggs, Sanaa Lathan, Mos Def, Nicole Ari Parker, Boris Kodjoe, Queen Latifah, Wendell Pierce, Erik Weiner, Reggi Wyns, Melissa Martinez

Directed by Rick Famuyiwa

Expectations: Moderate.

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“When did you fall in love with hip hop?”

This is the first question that respected hip hop journalist Sidney Shaw (Sanaa Lathan) asks the people who she interviews, and it also begins Brown Sugar. But instead of the question immediately launching us into the romantic movie proper, we’re given a series of documentary-style interviews with actual hip hop artists like Common and Questlove. It’s definitely an odd way to start a romantic comedy, but it’s very representative of the film that Brown Sugar is. It’s not just a romantic comedy or a romantic drama like the other films we’ve watched for the Black Love series, it’s all that AND it’s a love letter to hip hop.

This is both a good and bad thing. On one hand, the love of hip hop drives the two central characters in everything that they do in their careers. It’s something very near and dear to their hearts and without it their worlds would be a lot less full and vibrant. But it’s also hip hop that keeps them apart, causing the film to be more about their relationships with others than about the one relationship we really want to see and care about. Sidney and Dre (Taye Diggs) do share a lot of screen time, but it’s not the charming getting-to-know-you scenes that romantic films usually trade in. They are old friends who have already shared these moments.

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