I’m one of those people who gets hung up on the little things in movies and television shows. Like, I’ll be sitting in a movie theater minding my business watching some varying level of black cinematic excellence set in 1980-whenever, and an era-specific song will come on to really give you a sense of time, and I’ll be mentally trying to figure out whether the song was released in time to figure into the scene in which it exists. If I deduce that it does, well, then cool, we will all have a good night. If not, though, I will be bothered by it. Forever and ever and ever, amen.
For instance, Boyz n the Hood is one of my favorite movies and it’s actually gotten better and more resonant with time. But every time I’m watching and (SPOILER ALERT) waiting for Ricky to leave his home alive for the last time, I see that damn postman walk up and hand his mother an envelope with his SAT results...FOR A TEST HE LITERALLY TOOK THE DAY BEFORE, in a time when SAT scores didn’t make it back for at least two months. For the sake of the story, they had to do it because we needed to see how senseless Ricky’s death was and that he had a shot at a future. I’m just saying, nobody took an SAT test on a Saturday morning in 1991—I looked up every possible date in 1990 and 1991, they were all on Saturdays—and got their test results back on Sunday. That type of regular ole mail doesn’t even RUN on Sunday; that wasn’t a special delivery or an Amazon package (which also wouldn’t have delivered on a Sunday in 1991...because they didn’t exist yet).
Roll Bounce is also a movie I love but there’s a scene when Chi McBride, playing Lil Bow Wow’s character Xavier’s father, is sitting on the couch reminiscing about his wife who died of cancer when Donny Hathaway and Roberta Flack’s “For All We Know” comes on. This song is featured on their self-titled classic joint album, released in 1972. I love this song with my whole heart. So imagine my surprise when they show the wrong album cover—they show the cover of Donny’s 1973 album, Extension of a Man. This isn’t a plot point like it is in Boyz n the Hood, but it’s annoying nonetheless. Even in Boyz n the Hood, it’s only used to illustrate what could have been for Ricky. Ricky’s death would have been just as tragic without the test results.
Like I said, though, I get annoyed by little inaccuracies. So what if a whole-ass movie falls apart on a factual inaccuracy?
Enter Just Wright, the 2010 romantic comedy starring the ageless Queen Latifah, Common, and Paula Patton. But first, a quick story.
I went to New York City for the first time in my life during the summer of 2001, months before 9/11. I had moved to the Washington, D.C., area to attend grad school and was working my internship that summer on Capitol Hill. Several of my other friends from college had moved to New York City right after college to start jobs or attend grad school. One weekend, one of my boys and I took a trip to New York to visit other folks. While on the New Jersey Turnpike, we stopped for gas and I thought I was about to get robbed at a gas station. As I was about to get out of the car to pump my gas some dude ran up on me and told me not to get out of the car. My boy saw my panic and was like, “Yo, they pump your gas for you in New Jersey.”
I had no idea. Like zero. I’d heard folks say that if you didn’t work hard you could end up pumping gas for a living but that shade never made sense to me because, well, for my entire life, everybody pumped their own gas. My wife is from New Jersey so I’m used to this vocation and its processes. In New Jersey, a gas station attendant pumps your gas for you. I repeat, in New Jersey, a gas station attendant pumps your gas for you.
Back to Just Wright. The movie is about the love affair that develops between Leslie Wright (Queen Latifah) and NBA All-Star Scott McKnight (Common). I’ll spare you the plot because it’s not important, save for one fact—it would never happen. In New Jersey...gas station attendants pump your gas for you.
Ultimately, Just Wright’s plot is set up when McKnight pulls into a gas station, presumably in Newark, N.J., gets out of his car and can’t figure out how to put gas in this new fancy vehicle. The scene is punctuated by the line he speaks to, I believe, his agent over the phone—“this is getting ridiculous”—as he fumbles around looking to put gas in his car. Leslie, who’s already at the same gas station, sees it’s Scott McKnight, gets out to help him and notices the Joni Mitchell CD sitting on his seat. They banter back and forth and he invites her to a party at his house which eventually sets up the events that lead to their romantic dalliance later in the movie.
The only problem is, in real life, Scott McKnight would never have gotten out of his car. Leslie would never have had to help him because the (non-existent in the movie) gas station attendants would have handled it all. Is it possible she gets out of the car and goes to try to holler at him? Maybe. But he was also on the phone the whole time. She doesn’t seem like the type to go interrupt a stranger on the phone at night at a gas station. It was 2010, but that almost never goes well. The entire plot of the movie begins on an entirely inaccurate occurrence.
Now, as somebody who lives in an area where I pump my own gas, even in 2010 and after having been to New Jersey plenty of times, this flew over my head. In fact, most of us live in places where we pump our own gas. New Jersey and cities in Oregon with more than 40,000 people, are largely the only places where you don’t pump your gas. So seeing a movie where folks meet-cute at a gas station in New Jersey didn’t raise any alarms, probably for most of us. Until I was talking to a friend of mine about black movies and Just Wright came up. She, being from New Jersey, was like, “It’s cute and all but it would never happen; we don’t pump our own gas so neither of them would have gotten out of the car.”
Now, Just Wright has been added to the films with inaccuracies that drive me crazy. It’s bad enough they shoehorned actual basketball scenes with Common, but the whole movie doesn’t actually work.
You may be asking yourself why this matters. In the grand scheme, it doesn’t. Lots of movies take significant liberties in order to move a story along; Tyler Perry created an entire genre of filmmaking that gives zero fucks about plot development and accuracy. And, Just Wright was a cute enough movie. But again, the plot doesn’t work because the point of connection rests on something that would almost literally never happen. I will watch Just Wright again (if it ever comes on TBS or TNT) and I will enjoy it, but I will say to somebody around me, “Man, this would never work THEY DON’T PUMP THEIR OWN GAS IN NEW JERSEY.” Because the way my mind is set up, that is now a focal point. Forever and ever and ever, amen.