Every sister has a film she considers a black cult classic. Whether a family drama, a soapy Tyler Perry flick, or an oft-rerun-on-cable romantic comedy, there’s always that film that we’ve seen 100 times and can recite from opening to end credits. But when it comes to matters of the heart, sometimes our favorite flicks fail us. In epic proportions. Let’s revisit a few fan favorites that dispense pretty mixed and messy morals about courtship, marriage, and love.
1. “Let a man be a man.” – Vivica A. Fox as Maxine, Soul Food
If this advice were, “Don’t intervene unless you’re invited,” that would be great. But by making it gender-specific, something bad happens.
Men don’t need to be “allowed” to be men. Women don’t need to be unconditionally “submissive” so that men can “be men.” And if “being a man” means choosing pride over employment, as in the case of the newly married Lem (Mekhi Phifer) in Soul Food, you may want to reconsider the man you chose.
2. “Sometimes, a man and a woman have an understanding that no one else understands.” S. Epatha Merkerson as Nanny, Lackawanna Blues
This one sounds sweet on its surface. But if no one else understands why you’re with someone, that’s probably a red flag. In Nanny’s case, her ne’er-do-well, chronically womanizing, younger husband stood in stark and inexplicable contrast to her selfless, industrious, faithful personality. No secret understanding is worth that much heartache and that many headaches.
3. “I lie to you because I love you.” – Tyrese Gibson as Jody, Baby Boy
Is Baby Boy a satire? Ten years later, I’m still asking myself that. But let’s say we’re supposed to take it at face value, which is most likely. This one should be self-explanatory. Jody’s lying about the ridiculous number of women he’s sleeping with on the side. Nothing says love like the constant threat of STIs and HIV/AIDS.
4. “I might’ve been more prissy in the situation, but when I said Quincy could do better,” I meant you.” – Alfre Woodard as Camille Wright, Love and Basketball
I’m always a minority with this opinion, but Quincy never treated Monica well. They had a hot and heavy prom night and a low-stakes romance as college freshman. But the minute the relationship ceased to revolve around him, Quincy started being a grade-A jerk to the supposed love of his life. Even in the game-for-his-heart, he had to “prove something” by besting her and dashing her hopes, before deigning to reconcile with her.
So advising Monica to fight for Quincy was a bad move, Mom. Chasing someone who has never chased you is generally an ill-advised idea.
5. Vivica A. Fox as Shanté Smith, Two Can Play That Game
In art as in life, Vivica Fox is a fount of bad relationship wisdom. Take any of her advice in this film, with its complicated metrics for securing male devotion, and you’ll find yourself in a world of trouble. With rules like, “Break up with him before he breaks up with you” and “When your man messes up, no matter how small it is, you’ve got to punish him,” you’ll find yourself slinking up to your ex, hat in hand, hoping he’ll take you back, just like Shanté had to do. But then, that was the whole point of the movie: you can’t game a man into fidelity, attentiveness, or commitment. It’s a daily exercise in vulnerable, honest communication. Cards on the table, not stashed in the garter up your skirt.