Terrible Relationship Takeaways from Black Cinema

by Stacia L. Brown

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.

  • ruggie

    GOOD list! Movie lines have a way of sinking in. The lines above are problematic, and need to be challenged.

    My all time worst black relationship takeaway is how in “She’s Gotta Have It” Jamie uses rape to dominate and regain control of Nola. And Spike has the nerve to criticize Tyler Perry, smdh.

  • Mahogany

    Nice article

  • SAA

    “I lie to you because I love you.”- that line always cracks me up whenever I watch that movie. He was so serious when he said it too lol. Oh and the other line that goes something like “I f*ck them but I make love to you” or something like that, yeah that line always cracks me up too.

  • CD86(CaliDreaming86)

    “Every sister has a film she considers a black cult classic. ” – Well, not this ‘sister’. I cringe whenever I hear someone say #1, because what does that even mean really?

  • NinaG

    The way people talk about how great that movie is…I always thought I was the only one who noticed the rape scene.

  • Perverted Alchemist

    In fairness, that wasn’t bad relationship advice- it was just a dark moment in the movie. That rape scene pales in comparison to all of the stereotypical roles and questionable advice on relationships that you would see in virtually every Tyler Perry film.

  • damidwif

    #3 has repeated in my head for years. that movie kills me. but let the 14 years married woman on the recent monogamy comment section tell it: just because men cheat doesn’t mean they don’t love you (or whatever she said)

  • Mimi

    I’ve never seen Baby Boy but let me tell you, if a dude said to me that he lies to me because he loved me I’m sure I’d die laughing and then tell him never to call me again as I walk away.

  • Dawn

    Oh my gosh, #1 has been under my skin since I first saw Soul Food!!! What the heck does that mean, let a man be a man? In the movie, I felt like what she was really saying was, “Women need to walk on eggshells as to not bruise the fragile male ego and shouldn’t intervene less that move destroy all the guy’s self confidence in one blow.”

    I call b*lls&it on this line, and unfortunately have seen this stupid notion trickle into people’s everyday lives. Don’t all of us now know some guy/gal who have told us in conversation that you have to let men be men? WTF?

  • Keke

    I hated, HATED “Love & Basketball.” Although you may think you have a minority opinion on this movie, all my friends and I, and more than half of my gender studies class found this movie to be problematic. I hated how she had to “fight,” for her man when it was obvious that he didn’t want her unless she was fawning all over him anyway. And then she goes to Europe, finds success but decides to come back to the states…for what?!!! For HIM?!!! *smdh* I just didn’t get it.

  • Cia

    I take this ”let a man be a man” as acknowledgement that there are certain gender expectations and pressures that [in this case] men feel and it is important to be aware of these expectations and pressures. In the USA and many places men are expected to provide for his family, be the head of the house etc. and he probable feels some pressure to fulfill these roles. Not that I agree with the societal expectations but know that you can’t ignore society’s gender constructs when communicating with your spouse (assuming your spouse is a man). This is what I took from the statement.

  • Natalie

    I was NOT a fan of Soul Food, so number one went all over me, don’t get me started with Baby Boy– Taraji with that loud-ass whine–JODIEEEEE!!!, and I never saw numbers four and five, and with messages like that I never will.

  • Danielle

    I think the Soul Food comment about letting a man be a man was justified. My reason for saying so has more to do with the way Bird went about getting Lem the job, not the fact that she actually did it. Obviously Lem was an alpha male who felt threatened because his woman went behind his back to secure his employment, something most men take pride in as being the provider of the family in a traditional sense.

    What was more so damaging was the fact that she went to her ex for a favor, completely sh*tting on her husband and giving her ex the upper hand. As a woman and WIFE, she should have NEVER done that to her husband, when clearly her ex had a thing for her and was using his higher position to get under Lem’s skin in their confrontation.

  • Whatever

    I agree with “let a man be a man” as well. Letting a man be a man does not take away from women. In the case of the movie nia’s character went to her disrespectful ex who clearly still wanted her to ask him to hire her man. She was dead wrong and should have let her man be a man.

  • http://nocturneadagio.blogspot.com/ LainaLain

    Omg thank you for number 4. I thought I was the only one who thought chasing that fool was stupid. He was a complete ass through the whole movie. His ego is the reason why I don’t run to the tv to watch it.

  • Whatever

    You know I have never thought about it that way but you’re absolutely right. I believe in putting pride aside and fighting for who you love… but only when that person is doing the same. He was an a** through most of the movie and maybe the writing was off because they really didn’t show a side of Q that justified why he was worth fighting for, giving up basketball for or having him cancel his wedding/ breaking up with his fiance.

  • Whatever

    *Last comment was supposed to be a reply to Keke*

  • Veronica

    Needs more Tyler Perry. Any movie, really.

  • Qui

    I always took “Baby Boy” to be a satire or dark comedy. There are just too many examples throughout the film to think of it otherwise. But yes, I agree with the author!

  • http://Blahsquared.wordpress.com Blahsquared

    For real! I didn’t see the romantic effect of “Love & Basketball” She had to chase him around and play him on a half court to “win” his heart. Yeah right!! I’m not doing that!!

    Now I can appreciate the art of story telling and the movie is just giving a different perspective and swithing it up so it’s great for entertainment. But mannnnn, ladies aren’t supposed to run a man down to get his love. He’s supposed to maneuver to get you.

  • blackbutterfly

    Nicely said.

  • Appletree

    I never knew people didn’t like love and basketball!!! I thought everybody loved it

  • Coco

    HERE HERE! I have a friend who LLOOVVEESS that movie, I myself can do without it :-)

  • LMO85

    JUST………..UGH to all of these lines, especially #1 and every single Tyler Perry movie. Which is the reason why I can’t do most black film or tv.–Too cliched, too stereotypical, too sexist, too based in socialized gender norms, too traditional, and waaaay too preachy and conservative.

  • Clnmike

    #1 is pure BS, Danielle gave the best explanation for it. Any woman who pulls a stunt like that on her man is going to have one angry dude waiting for her trifling butt.

  • shanda

    I think you are reading way to deep into these movies…there simply there to entertain us, if black women are watching these movies and applying it to their own love lot shame on them. Don’t get me wrong you can watch a movie and relate to a character, but to say that these fictitious character are adivsing women is a little bit if a stretch. The said could be said for Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker), character in sex in the city and her long 10yr relationship with Mr.Big. there was nothing healthy about that….but then again its just a movie like all the rest….over black folks critiquing our own where is your postive relationship to show us black women what and how to be…

  • http://www.realityunscripted.com RealityUnscripted.com

    #1 Annoys me the most. This basically means get used to being cheated on. Who does that and why?
    #3 is all-out some BS. Run away from any man that says or believes this. He lies because he’s a coward.

    So glad you put this out their, art imitates life and it also makes people stupid as hell. As you’ll recall on Baby Boy Jody and Evette ended up getting married. This sends the message that well he lies and cheats but he may still marry me, why would you want to marry someone that you already know lies, cheats and disrespects you? They should put disclaimers on movies that say “don’t use this fictional bullshit to dictate real life scenarios”


  • Deidra

    Love the write up….
    If we want better results we need to start modeling better behavior. I understand that things happen in relationships but every relationship does not have to stem from a negative situation. Plant seeds of positivity and possibility and watch it grow!


  • http://twitter.com/brownngirl Brownngirl

    I agree 100% with your assessment of Love & Basketball. Quincy was basically a jerk to her throughout the movie. He never once pursued her or seemed to put her first. Glad I’m not alone in that school of thought. Good call!

  • WaWa

    I could never watch a movie with a grown man in it calling himself “Baby Boy” I have seen none of the others except Spike Lee’s film because I know he produces quality work. But women looking into these films to learn about real life….are you serious?

  • Bridget

    I agree; it was portrayed like he was a nice guy until she “made” him rape her.

  • jrmint

    completely agree!! Reading these comments i was thinking to myself dang am i the only one watching these movies for pure entertainment and not a life lesson?!! I love Baby Boy…but i’m watchin it cuz snoop is hilarious “Is this jodi? The jodi that got my boo pregnant…” and I love a shirtless Tyrese no matter what!!

  • http://stacialbrown.com Stacia L. Brown

    Thanks to everyone for their comments!

    I wanted to address a few: nowhere in this article do I claim that women are actively watching movies to learn how to behave in relationships. The point is that these films do contain messages/morals about relationships–and the ones I’ve pointed out are problematic. (And let’s be real: the scenarios in these films are perpetuated in some of our relationships. If they weren’t, the films wouldn’t be relatable for their intended audiences. Some women game. Some women pine for/chase men who aren’t as invested in or committed to them. Some women do think that being “protected” from a dude’s shade/dirt/extracurricular activities mean that she’s his main chick–and they’re cool with that.)

    As is evidenced by the comments, we all discuss what we’ve “taken away” from each of these films (e.g. Quincy’s a jerk; Jody’s an idiot; Bird played the wrong hand). Even when you’re watching a movie “purely for entertainment purposes,” you’re still likely to discuss what works and doesn’t work about the characters’ relationships/the overall plot with your friends.

    That means that commentary about the film’s messages and outcomes is a part of the entertainment experience.

  • Harry Efz

    Can a WASP male add a pretty much thoroughly uninformed comment? I don’t think that my opinion on any specific ‘Relationship Takeaway’ matters much, but this is my first time reading your articles. I usually read Northeastern NYTimes-like posts; I am completely impressed with the high quality and thoughtfulness of both the agreeing and dissenting opinions here. If the rest of your articles provoke similar thoughts, I think it’s well worth attention from anybody interested in similar issues, regardless of their own demographic characteristics (race, income, or whatever)
    I’m becoming convinced that because of my perhaps overprivileged, pampered background, perhaps I don’t think about these issues as much as their seriousness deserves. Thanks for this thought-provoking forum!

  • ruggie

    Mark it on your calendar, Harry Efz: the day you realized that black people have brains.

  • nestafan2

    Perhaps we all are just watching movies “for entertainment,” but moviemakers are clever enough to know that the underlying messages in the movies they make can seep into the consciousness of the audience–especially females. Some women think they are “too smart” to take their romantic cues from movie characters, but these are the same women who will make detrimental romantic decisions because their favorite movie character did it and it worked for her. I’d venture to say that there are some women who believe that sleeping with a man on the first date like “Nina Mosely” did will get them a long term relationship with a Lorenz Tate-like knight in shining armor. But in reality it probably hasn’t and won’t.

    Then there are the “I watch this movie because it was funny” type of audience. These people rarely extract anything from anything. Perhaps from lack of maturity, but mostly from lack of perception. Even an insightful article such as this will fail to evoke a meaningful discussion.

  • Kai

    @ruggie LOL dead. That’s exactly what I was thinking when I read his post…

  • chanela

    i cringe whenever i hear anyone say something along the lines of “let him/her be” or” let them do what they want” especially pertaining to an able bodied adult. how can you “let” (a word that means to allow someone or give permission to do something) an adult be them?


    how does giving your opinion on something automatically mean that you’re not allowing someone to do something.

    huh? lol

    the things people say everyday that they realize don’t really make much sense. especially when people try to use “let him/her be” as a valid argument.

  • Nnaattaayy

    You’re not in the minority- I didn’t like Love and Basketball because the dude was so rude to her yet she continued to seek him out. My brother made me watch that movie because its supposedly a classic, but I think its crap lol.

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