If you ask any Black person between the ages of 25 and 50 one of their favorite Black love stories portrayed in film is, “Love & Basketball” will certainly be at the top of some of their lists. The film was released Spring 2000, and though it didn’t garner box office success, it has become a cult classic in the Black community.
Any day of the week you can catch it on networks servicing an urban viewing. I find it hard to classify it as love story, however. Sure, it’s about two people navigating a relationship while pursuing their dreams and dealing with the realities of life, but knowing what I know now, I’m not sure it’s about true love.
When I first watched this film, I was 13 years old. Now I probably shouldn’t have been watching it at that age, but I did. And like everyone else, I fell in love with it, largely, because it came off the heels of “Love Jones” (1997), “The Wood” (1999) and “The Best Man” (1999). Prior to those releases, we were mostly slaves, gang members, musicians or “the Black friend” on film. So to see an all-Black cast that wasn’t impoverished or riddled with violence was amazing; I felt proud.
Back to “Love & Basketball,” though. Simply put, Quincy is a narcissist. He is misogynistic, selfish, jealous and cruel. I know you may be rolling your eyes because I’m criticizing a film that belongs to us and a character we all love, but I stand firm in my assertion. As children during their first meeting, Monica outperforms Quincy in a game of basketball, and in a fit of anger, he knocks her down causing her to cut her face, which ends up being a permanent scar. He apologizes and they agree to become boyfriend and girlfriend, but it ends quickly when he wants her to ride on the back of his bike and she wants to ride her own bike. As teenagers, he flaunts his popularity with other girls to her; then at their school dance, he becomes jealous when he sees her all dolled up and on a date with a handsome college student. Nothing about Monica had changed at that dance. She was the same girl from next door but suddenly, because she looked differently, and others were attracted to her, he decides he wanted her and leaves with her virginity. Clearly, she offers herself to him, but she had loved him since they were children. Only when she became desirable to others did she become desirable to him.
While in college, Quincy is angered that Monica won’t violate her curfew to be there for him when he finds out his parents are headed for a divorce. Notice I didn’t say when he found out his dad cheated on his mother (Quincy already knew that). As a basketball player, Quincy knew if Monica stayed with him that night to nurse his feelings, she wouldn’t be able to play in her basketball game the next day, but he didn’t care. To placate his feelings and not violate curfew, Monica asked Quincy to accompany her to the dorm so she could be there for him and not risk her future. That wasn’t good enough, though; he wanted her to drop everything for him in that moment. The next day after the game, she asks if they can revisit the conversation. In a sarcastic manner, Q tells her he doesn’t want to talk about his parents because he has curfew. Then he humiliated her by asking her if she wanted to accompany him while he took another woman on a date. Ultimately, he apologized for cheating on her but broke up with her because he believed she didn’t have time to help him through his family issues.
Several years later, Monica returns home from playing basketball overseas and finds Quincy engaged to be married. In one last attempt to shoot her shot, she asks Quincy to play her for his heart. Do you understand how humiliating it has to feel to wager the love you have for a person against the thing you love most? At first, Quincy is not interested in the battle for his heart, but he obliges and performs strongly showing Monica his disinterest in her obtaining his love. After charging her pretty hard and making the winning shot he says, “All is fair in love and basketball.” That statement says to me he knew he had not been fair to her in the relationship and in the game, but her feelings didn’t matter.
Monica walks off defeated and Quincy says, “Double or nothing,” indicating he wants to keep playing the game for love. They kiss and makeup. Nothing had changed: He wanted what he wanted, when he wanted it. They shouldn’t have had to play a game for his heart, if he loved her. And if they did, why let her hang her head in defeat, if he was going to choose her?
I know I’ve beaten Quincy up pretty badly, but Monica was flawed too. She was highly critical of how her mother bowed to her father’s every need while she did the same for Quincy. Time and time again, she allowed him to decide if and when he would love her.
So the question is “Does a film qualify as a love story, if the characters are severely flawed?“ Yes and no.
The greatest lesson I learned in 2020 was anything can be two things; it’s all in how you look at it. We can love the film and characters and still acknowledge misogyny and emotional abuse. We have to challenge what we love.
Recently, watching “Sylvie’s Love” (2020) was the first time I ever watched a film where the Black male character didn’t appear to have one negative characteristic. For days I grappled with why the film had such an effect on me, and it bothered me when I realized I was enamored with it because it was a depiction of a healthy love. It made me realize the problem is how we see ourselves and our experiences. By no means am I saying the depictions of Black love should all be fairy tales, but they shouldn’t all be horror stories either. So maybe “Love & Basketball” is a Black love story, but we need more “Sylvie’s Love”s to ensure we get a more balanced view. Representation is great, but at what cost?