I was late to the Love Jones train.
Now, being late to things isn’t something that’s particularly uncommon with me. I think I was the last person on earth without a cellphone (didn’t get one until 2002), I started binge-watching Game of Thrones last spring, and I didn’t realize the Weeknd was just one person until, like, 2014. With Love Jones, however, I was 15 years late. Which, for a college-educated black person who was in high school when it was released, made me an anomaly: “The guy who hasn’t seen Love Jones.”
At a certain point, I had gone so long without seeing it that it became both a point of pride and a status. I actually enjoyed being that guy, in no small part because it had a tendency to intrigue women at game nights and happy hours. (“What’s his story? Maybe I should investigate why this mysterious man hasn’t seen Love Jones yet. And then sleep with him.”)
But then I attended a screening of it in 2012 at the August Wilson Center for African American Culture. (And I actually met Ted Witcher, who wrote and directed the film, there, too.) And to my surprise, I loved it. Yes, some of the dialogue was cliché and some of the characters were a tad too melodramatic, but I appreciated the love story, the script, the music, the cinematography and how it was very obviously created by a person who loved black people.
I’ve seen it a few times since. And while I still enjoy it, a realization hit me somewhere between the second and third viewings: This movie totally would not receive the same love if it were released for the first time today. Why? Well, Darius Lovehall—the film’s protagonist and the inspiration for tens of thousands of black men between 1997 and 2005—saying, “F—k it, lemme cop a kufi and try this spoken-word thing cause chicks seem to dig it,” was totally, definitely, 100 percent a stalker. In fact, not only was he a stalker, but the stalking is the fulcrum for the entire movie. Without his stalking, nothing that happens in Love Jones happens.
Just think about what he did in the first week of meeting Nina at the club: Wrote and performed a sexually explicit poem for her. Then managed to run into her at a record store a few days later and got shot down. Then begged his friend—a clerk at the store—for Nina’s home address, which is totally illegal. And then actually showed up uninvited at the place she was home-sitting, which is totally illegal. Of course, she liked him, so the stalking didn’t matter much. But if Love Jones were released in 2016, every movie review and tweet about it would lead with “Don’t see this because the main character is a stalker and possible sociopath.”
Remember, Love Jones isn’t even that old. We’re not talking about a movie from the ’40s or ’60s. But our social climate has changed so much in just the last 20 years that things that were relatively acceptable then would be considered problematic today. And Love Jones isn’t the only beloved and relatively recent classic that probably wouldn’t receive the same love if released today.
The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill
Of course, Lauryn Hill’s recent erratic behavior has both angered and saddened many of her die-hard fans—people who’ve been on the L-Boogie train since The Score and bought lifelong tickets at The Miseducation. But as Shamira Ibrahim recently articulated, The Miseducation hasn’t exactly aged well, either:
We need to collectively acknowledge that our stannery of this album is wholly due to our nostalgic memory of what that album seemed to be, and not what it actually was and is: a petty collection of shots and fake-deep respectability politics by a pretentious asshole who definitely presses the like button on Hotep Facebook memes that litter her newsfeed.
“What about ‘Doo Wop (That Thing),’ the biggest and best song on that album?” you ask. Well …
The entire first verse is her calling chicks sinful weaved-up hos. The woman who was sleeping with two married men and had them both at the delivery of her son is wagging her finger at who, exactly? Let him who is without sin cast the first stone, as someone in the Bible once (kinda) said. Then after she’s done going all “nasty put some clothes on I told ya” she chastises men for … not adhering to club dress codes and lying about their prison records? Oh, and child support. At one point in time we thought this song was empowering.
Chris Rock’s Bring the Pain
Chris Rock isn’t just my favorite comedian; he might be my single favorite celebrity—a status largely due to how much I loved and stanned for Bring the Pain and each subsequent HBO comedy special.
Bring the Pain also contained Rock’s most famous bit (and one of my favorites): black people versus n—gas. In it, he articulates that there’s a battle going on between good black people (black people) and bad black people (n—gas) and intones that many of the problems we face are due to the bad blacks.
Today, however, with black people generally more mindful of the danger of respectability politics, his act wouldn’t be received the same way. Rock has even distanced himself from it, saying that he stopped doing the act because he felt it gave nonblacks leeway to call black people n—gas.
Mid- to Late-’90s NBA Basketball
I know this doesn’t seem to fit with the rest of the list. But ’90s NBA basketball needs to be included because 1) it’s a generally beloved period with basketball fans (many of whom believe it’s vastly superior to today’s NBA) and 2) it definitely hasn’t aged well. With the way the game is played today—where a premium is placed on floor-spacing and skill-based flexibility/interchangeability—some of the most memorable players from that era (Charles Oakley, Anthony Mason, etc.) would be literally unplayable today.
I actually think that much of the love of the prison ball of that era is due to the fact that it was the last time each of the major Atlantic Division teams (the Knicks, the Nets, the Sixers and the Celtics) was relevant. This also happens to be where most of the country’s most influential media happens to be, and I’d argue that their breathless coverage of these teams helped cultivate this narrative of amazing basketball.
So, in summary, your favorite album was overrated, your favorite comedy bit was problematic, Darius Lovehall was a criminal and John Starks would be Matthew Dellavedova today. You can send all hate mail and tomatoes to Idontgiveadamnaboutyourfavs@gmail.com.
Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VerySmartBrothas.com. He is also a contributing editor at Ebony.com. He lives in Pittsburgh and he really likes pancakes. You can reach him at email@example.com.