By Wilson Morales
Some were blockbuster hits –starring household names– and some have become cult classics. Nevertheless, each of the films we selected have strong themes of black love.
Released in 1998 by Miramax Films, ‘Hav Plenty’ was an independent romantic film based on an eventful weekend in the life of Lee Plenty (played by writer-director Christopher Scott Cherot), an almost-broke would-be novelist, and Havilland Savage (played by Chenoa Maxwell), a rich and beautiful woman. When Havilland invites Lee to her home for New Year’s Eve, they start falling for each other. The film traveled the festival circuit and afterward, produces Tracey Edmonds and Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds came onboard to support it. The movie featured cameos from Nia Long, Shemar Moore and Mekhi Phifer. The film is reportedly based on the true story of Chris Cherot’s unrequited romance with Def Jam Records executive Drew Dixon. With a budget at $65,000, the film grossed $2.2 million at the box office.
Released in 1974, ‘Claudine’ was one of the few African American films that wasn’t part of the blaxploitation era. Directed by John Berry, it starred Diahann Carroll and James Earl Jones. Featuring Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs and King Coleman, the story focused on a single black Harlem maid who finds romance with a garbage collector while living on welfare with her six children. Produced for $14 million, the film did extremely well at the box office, grossing $79 million and gaining an Academy Award nomination for Carroll. Curtis Mayfield wrote and produced the film’s score and soundtrack, which featured Gladys Knight & The Pips.
‘HOW STELLA GOT HER GROOVE BACK’
Based on Terry McMillan’s best-selling novel of the same name, ‘How Stella Got Her Groove Back’ starred Angela Bassett and Taye Diggs. Directed by Kevin Rodney Sullivan, the movie also featured Whoopi Goldberg, Suzanne Douglas and Regina King. The story is about Stella (played by Bassett), a highly successful, fortysomething San Francisco stock broker who is pursued by young islander, Winston Shakespeare (played by Diggs) while vacationing in Jamaica. The character, played by Diggs, was based on McMillan’s then-husband Jonathan Plummer, who was more than 20 years her junior. In a rather ironic turn of events, Plummer announced in June 2005 that he was gay.
‘THE BEST MAN’
Making his directorial debut in 1999 with ‘The Best Man,’ Malcolm D. Lee cast a bevy of rising stars, including Taye Diggs, Nia Long, Morris Chestnut, Terrence Howard, Harold Perrineau, Monica Calhoun, Melissa De Sousa, Regina Hall and Sanaa Lathan. The story centered on Harper Stewart (played by Diggs) and the impact his forthcoming fictional novel has on his friends, including his best friend who’s about to be married. Released by Universal Pictures and co-produced by Spike Lee’s 40 Acres and a Mule, the film opened at #1 at the box office and went on to gross $34 million.
‘ALL ABOUT YOU’
Written and directed by Christine Swanson, this 2001 romantic comedy starred Renee Elise Goldsberry, Terron Brooks, Lisa Raye, Lou Myers, Vanessa Bell Calloway and Rockmond Dunbar. A film festival favorite, ‘All About You’ centered on two people (played by Goldsberry and Brooks) who run from the pain of their broken pasts. When they discover each other, they find themselves at a crossroads where the only thing that stands between them and a second chance is each other. A follow-up to ‘All About You,’ ‘All About Us,’ starred Boris Kodjoe and was released in 2007.
Starring Sanaa Lathan and Taye Diggs, ‘Brown Sugar’ is the story of a hip-hop record executive (played by Diggs) and a magazine editor (played by Lathan) whose childhood friendship develops into something more. Directed by Rick Famuyiwa, the 2002 romantic drama also featured Mos Def, Nicole Ari Parker, Boris Kodjoe and Queen Latifah, with cameo appearances from rappers Pete Rock, Common, Method Man, Kool G. Rap, Talib Kweli and Fabolous. The Michael Elliott-written movie is based on the song ‘I Used to Love H.E.R.,’ by Common, a story of how a relationship with hip-hop can serve as a metaphor for love.
Doug McHenry made his directorial debut in 1994 with the romantic film ‘Jason’s Lyric,’ which starred Allen Payne and Jada Pickett Smith. Featuring Bokeem Woodbine, Lisa Nicole Carson, Treach, Eddie Griffin, Lahmard Tate and Forest Whitaker, the film centered on Jason (played by Payne), a sales clerk, who falls in love with Lyric (played by Pinkett Smith). But when Jason’s family history and crazy father, Maddog (played by Whitaker), come back to haunt him, he has to choose between staying or leaving everything for a better life. LL Cool J, Brian McKnight, D’Angelo and Oleta Adams were among the many artists featured on the soundtrack.
‘LOVE AND BASKETBALL’
Written and directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood, ‘Love and Basketball’ is a 2000 romantic drama that starred Sanaa Lathan and Omar Epps. Featuring Dennis Haysbert, Debbie Morgan, Gabrielle Union, Boris Kodjoe, Tyra Banks and Alfre Woodard, the story follows two next-door neighbors (Epps and Lathan) who grew up loving basketball and, eventually, each other. Released by New Line Cinema, the film was co-produced by Spike Lee’s 40 Acres and a Mule company. Lathan won many accolades for her performance, including an Independent Spirit Award for best female lead, while the film took the 2001 NAACP Image award for outstanding picture. Among the songs on the soundtrack was Maxwell’s classic rendition of Kate Bush’s ‘This Woman’s Work.’
Coming off the success of the Oscar Award-caliber ‘Lady Sings The Blues,’ Diana Ross followed up with another cinematic marvel, ‘Mahogany.’ Directed by Motown founder Berry Gordy and co-starring Billy Dee Williams, the story follows Tracy, an aspiring designer from the slums of Chicago who puts herself through fashion school in the hopes of becoming one of the world’s top designers. Anthony Perkins and Beah Richards also had memorable roles in the film, which featured Ross’ very own fashion designs. Her song ‘Do You Know Where You’re Going To’ became a #1 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1976 and has become one of the most definitive American love songs.
An all-time classic in the Black movie community, ‘Love Jones’ is a 1997 romantic drama that starred Nia Long and Larenz Tate. Directed by Theodore Witcher, the cast also included Isaiah Washington, Bill Bellamy and Lisa Nicole Carson. The story revolves around Darius Lovehall, a young black poet (played by Tate) in Chicago who starts dating Nina Moseley (played by Long), a beautiful and talented photographer. While trying to figure out if they’ve got a “love thing” or are just “kicking it,” they hang out with their friends, talking about love and sex. Then Nina tests the strength of Darius’ feelings and sets a chain of romantic complications into motion when she moves to another city to take a new job. Artists included on the soundtrack were Kenny Lattimore, The Brand New Heavies, Maxwell, Cassandra Wilson, Dionne Farris, Groove Theory, and Lauryn Hill.