Ask Twitter on any given day to define a #classicblackmovie and you’ll find a wide range of opinions, from Mahogany and Claudine to The Best Man and The Wood to even, um, Belly and I Got the Hook Up.
One thing’s for sure: Ask any black film junkie to rattle off a few of his or her favorite black movies, and some of the same films will come up over and over. It doesn’t matter how well it did at the box office on opening weekend or how many times BET runs its edited — and often poorly dubbed — version. If Baby Boy or New Jack City is playing, a pretty sizable group of die-hard fans is undoubtedly watching, quoting Jody’s and Yvette’s every word or telling whoever else is in the room to “Sit yo’ $5 ass down before I make change!”
Welcome to the cinematic world of the black cult classic, where nostalgia and black popular culture meet to produce some of the most ride-or-die fans this side of the ’90s. Even here at The Root, we’ve chronicled some of these classics, from Juice to Do the Right Thing to Boyz n the Hood. And as we celebrate the 15th anniversary of Love Jones this week, we figured we’d take stock of a few cult classics and why we watch them again and again.
“Movies considered cult classics often feature a legion of fans who, for example, know the movie so intensely that they can quote lines of dialogue at random and can sing songs off of the sound track lyric for lyric,” says Todd Boyd, professor of critical studies at the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts and co-writer of The Wood. “For this reason, cult classics are more about the audience than the films.”
So for a Gen Yer like me, there’s nothing better than that late-’90s wave, when a steady stream of entertainment was available on-screen. It’s the reason my DVD collection is certified gold in the so-bad-they’re-good brand of film. B.A.P.S? Check. How to Be a Player? Got it. Love Jones, Love & Basketball, Brown Sugar and The Best Man? Bought them all on Amazon.com for about $5 apiece.
“In the ’90s, black culture got bigger on TV, bigger in film; folks financed their own projects knowing they’d do well,” says Thembi Ford, a pop-culture writer in Los Angeles. “That in the span of a few years, there was a New Jack City, a Boyz n the Hood, a Menace II Society and a New Jersey Drive [that] would make no sense in today’s landscape.”
After talking to these pop-culture aficionados and consulting a few cult-classic lists, I came up with criteria for defining a black cult classic: a) really bad reviews or low opening-weekend box office numbers; b) a questionable plot (at some point during the movie, you’ll side-eye some action or motivation); and c) snappy one-liners. Bonus points for a dope sound track.
With the criteria laid out, let’s dive into five black cult classics — starting with Love Jones.