Fifteen years ago, a 24-year-old screenwriter-director named Theodore Witcher created one of the definitive romantic dramas of the 1990s, Love Jones. Laying Chicago’s hip spoken-word set against a backdrop of rain-soaked scenery and a tumultuous courtship, the story of characters Nina Moseley and Darius Lovehall, played by Nia Long and Larenz Tate, became legendary.
Unlike the gritty black films opening the 1990s like 1991’s Boyz n the Hood and 1993’s Menace II Society, 1997’s Love Jones depicted an artistic niche of African-American life. Instead of having his characters struggle with “the man,” Witcher wanted them to wrestle with themselves and their careers, as humanistic beings trying to get over their personal shortcomings. In hindsight, the first-time director created a mold from which many black romantic dramas draw and presented an idea of love that still lingers, like America’s undying affection for Cliff and Clair Huxtable.
The Root tracked down Witcher on the anniversary of his first and last film to find out what it took to create Love Jones and where he’s been all of these years.
The Root: Why did you make Love Jones as such an atypical love story?
Theodore Witcher: I wanted to do something that was closer to my dating experience — there was a lot of game playing. Also, I was a part of a similar world in Chicago in the early ’90s and thought it was an interesting backdrop on which to paint this young romantic story.
The movie’s look came through a confluence of ideas by myself and my team, and the month we shot was the wettest Chicago had seen in years. Rain was written into the script, but then every other day was raining so, out of my control, the movie ended up looking like Seven.
TR: Did the final scene where Nina and Darius reunite go according to plan?
TW: The last scene was supposed to be raining! The original version took place outside of the club. Nina’s standing in the downpour waiting for Darius and they have their last moment together.
We tested the movie, and most of the women in the audience didn’t believe a black woman would stand in the rain with her hair uncovered. This mortified me because we’re going for the big finish and you’re absorbed in this detail of whether her hair would get messed up? The studio [New Line Cinema] said, “Reshoot,” and we shot the scene under an L train track. I wanted to present a woman protagonist without vanity, which I thought would be refreshing, but I guess I failed.