While I knew in the back of my mind that the classic—not just "Black classic" either—movie Love & Basketball was celebrating its (can you believe it?!) 20th anniversary this year, I do want to extend a personal apology to the film's writer and director, the totally bomb creator Gina Prince-Bythewood. The actual release date crept up on me (it was April 16). Still, the movie continues to be "sentimentally significant" enough that the xoTeam still wanted to make sure that it got some love from us before the month ends.
The nostalgia of the film alone served as my motivation to want to pen this, but what really made me want to get it out even more was due to the article, "Black Women's Stories Are the Hardest to Get Made: The Gina Prince-Bythewood Interview". In it, Gina talks about how Spike Lee's 40 Acres and a Mule Films produced the movie, how it was Sanaa Lathan's first leading role (I also think it's cool that Regina Hall played the big sister Lena, and she and Sanaa ended up acting together later in The Best Man). With a $15 million budget, Love & Basketball went on to make $27 million at the box office. To this day, it continues to prove that there is a real market for Black filmmakers who tell everyday Black stories that are relevant and oh so very necessary to—everyone.
Personally, I don't think I know one Black person who hasn't seen Love & Basketball at least 10 times at this point. But in honor of a movie that continues to make an impact, for so many reasons and on so many levels, even now, let's review 20 things about why this movie is always going to be worth checking out…a few more times (and then a few times after that).
1. How cute were Kyla Pratt and Glenndon Chatman as Little Monica Wright and Little Quincy McCall, y'all? To put time into perspective, Kyla and Glenndon are both now 33. If that doesn't make you sit and think about how fast time flies by, I don't know what will.
2. I dig how thorough Gina was in her writing, right down to finding a "role" for Sanaa's real-life face scar. Although in the movie, the explanation is that it came from Monica showing Quincy her skills on the basketball court, Sanaa said that she actually got the scar from something that went down between her, an oven and some Play-Doh when she was a kid.
3. To this day, Debbie Morgan (who played Quincy's mom, Nona) is still one of the prettiest women to me. And Alfre Woodard (who played Monica's mom, Camille) is definitely one of the best actors of our time. I thought it was dope how they were both Black active mothers who, in many ways, couldn't be more different. I also liked how a commonality that they had is they were both relatively affluent. Black people are multi-layered. Gina has a way of depicting that well.
4. Dennis Haysbert as Zeke McCall. He was a jerk, but with that height, skin tone and voice? He was a sexy jerk. He also loved his son. Many Black men do.
5. It's hard to miss how…combative Monica and Quincy were, even as children.
I don't know about y'all but, to me, I didn't pick up that it was because of that toxic mindset of "Boys hit you because they like you." If anything, I think that "young conflict" happens when big-people-feelings come along before someone is wise or mature enough to have them (which could be quite the argument for why young people shouldn't even focus on having a boyfriend or a girlfriend; just learning more about themselves).
It's interesting, the kind of "roles" that Quincy thought should be played out in relationships at such a young age, like Monica needing to ride on the back of his bike. Hmph. It's also interesting how his stubborn perspective on what a girlfriend "should do" ended up playing out later (more on that in a bit).
1. Monica and her mother have a complicated relationship. I get that Monica's mom has walls up because she feels like Monica doesn't respect her (remember when Monica said, "Why? Because I'd rather wear a jersey than an apron?"). Still, a part of me also wonders if Monica's mom is mad jealous because Monica takes risks and because she puts herself first. I also wonder if Monica's mom might feel like she has to compete a bit when it comes to the bond that Monica has with her dad. Families are complicated, y'all.
2. Gabrielle Union's character Shawnee and her fast butt. Hmph. Out here talking about licking sweat off of ninja's asses (in high school) and throwing jabs at Monica every chance she got. Every time I watch the movie, I think back to a girl I grew up with who acted just like Shawnee. They both were mean girls from the pits of hell (Gabrielle actually addressed that she knew that she used to be a meanie herself. You can read more about that here). If there is anyone who I wonder about in regards to what the heck she is doing with her life, 20 years from now, it's Shawnee. I mean, remember, she was the chick who, as Monica put it, while riding with Quincy after a game, "[Shawnee's] sending her coochie through the mail." (That continues to be one of the more memorable lines to me.) We've got OnlyFans now. I'm just sayin'.
3. As Monica and Quincy continued to grow and their relationship continued to evolve, I adore how they had a way of challenging and comforting each other.
Quincy would call Monica out on her stank attitude on the court (and sometimes off of it, if we're gonna be real) while Monica literally provided him with a place to lay his head when he couldn't sleep due to his parents' incessant late night arguments. A solid foundation was being laid, perhaps without them even knowing it, very early on.
4. The dance. Let me back up—the music and the dance...and what followed later that evening. "Making Love in the Rain" (Herb Alpert, Lisa Keith, Janet Jackson) played while Monica was getting ready for the dance. RIP to Johnny Kemp who had his song, "Just Got Paid" featured at the dance itself, along with the Zapp & Roger (also RIP Roger and Larry Troutman) slow jam classic, "I Wanna Be Your Man". Geeze so much happened up in that dance. Boris Kodjoe's character was Monica's date (do Boris or Sanaa ever age? I recently watched Boris in TLC's "Red Light Special" music video and asked myself that). Shawnee got some more shots in (like talking about Monica's "Nike dress"). Monica reminded Quincy that her date to the dance wasn't her basketball Spalding. But, by far, my favorite part was the GIF you're looking at. Sometimes eyes say more than words ever do.
5. And that eye contact ultimately led Monica giving her virginity to Quincy (did she always keep her bedroom door locked or what? Quincy sure was in that room a lot) with the help of another jam, "This Woman's Work" by Maxwell. If anyone recalls the first time when they had sex (especially if it was with your first love), you can vouch for that being a pretty realistic scene too (shout-out to Quincy using a condom). I'll leave that right there.
1. All these women hatin' on our girl Monica. Next up—Sidra's (one of Monica's teammates, played by Erika Ringor) hatin' tail. The thing that I really liked about Monica's college years is she was really figuring out her own voice and desires on another level. The thing that was difficult-yet-necessary to watch was Quincy realizing that parents are just people and his father was a man, not a god. Gina also did a wonderful job of revealing how men emotionally suffer; how it can have a domino effect on so many areas of their life when it's not properly addressed.
2. I'm pretty sure that another super memorable scene for a lot of us is when Monica and Quincy played strip basketball in his dorm room (with Guy's song, "I Like" playing). A part of the reason why I smile whenever I see this, I think about how fine Omar Epps was during that era; anyone who went to college with me knows that we had a guy on the yard who looked a lot like Quincy. A LOT (whew!). Anyway, did anyone peep the foreshadowing in the movie when, after the game, Monica said, "I won" and Quincy immediately said, "I wanted you to"? We'll pick back up on that in the fourth quarter.
3. I'm not sure how many think pieces have been done on how Quincy was emotionally stunted in some ways. When he and Monica were kids, he had semi-chauvinistic ideas of what girls should and should do and, in college, not much had changed. Remember how passive-aggressive-aggressive he was when he wanted Monica to stay out past her curfew once he found out his father cheated and lied (and lied and cheated)? Or how he had the nerve to invite her to go to Burger King with him and Monica Calhoun's character but then, later that night, had the balls to say to Monica, "If basketball is all you care about, why you bonin' me? Why don't you bone Dick Vitale?"
Y'all, toxic masculinity is not masculinity itself. Men are not created to think or act like women. Toxic masculinity is when a man doesn't understand his purpose as a man, a woman's purpose as a woman and how those differences are designed to balance one another. Quincy, in this "quarter", in many ways, was toxic..because he was in unresolved pain.
4. In fact, one more example of Quincy's toxicity was skipping out on Monica's game, showing up at an afterparty (drunk) and then trying to make her feel guilty for not wanting to have sex with him. Interesting how he struggled with celebrating her if he wasn't "the man", huh? Pretty sure he learned that from his home life. (Hmm.)
5. This leads me to another point. Remember how, when Quincy went to talk to his mom about his dad and Nona showed him those pictures that she got from a private detective of his dad with another woman. As someone who is a child of divorce who also got TMI from ALL of my parents, if you're a mom or dad who's reading this, that's NEVER a good idea. Children, as they are old enough to handle it, should know the truth, but not if it's being used as a weapon. You have no idea how that can scar us—well into our adult years.
1. A wise person once said, "Karma has no menu. You get served what you deserve." Call me petty if you want, but I did enjoy how life came full circle for Monica and Sidra when Monica beat Sidra in that championship game in Spain. I also like that they were able to come to some real peace. I think that prepared Monica for some other "healing moments" that came up in the final quarter of the movie.
2. Who didn't see a mile away that Tyra Banks' character, Kyra was the absolute worst match for Quincy (remember when she went out of her way to hold her ring finger out at the hospital or how she "we'd" Monica as Monica was leaving?). Ugh. Sometimes it's the wrong one who shows you who the right one truly is. I read between the lines when Quincy told Monica that he called her when she won All-American and when Magic Johnson retired.
Time and distance don't change love. People do.
3. All things work together. For me, a hard scene to watch was between Monica and her mom. Oh, but how necessary was that? I personally think that a lot of Monica's uber-defensiveness was because she and her mother were always on eggshells with one another. Before Monica and Quincy could have a real conversation, she needed to with Camille first (although when Camille said she had to "put her dreams on hold" to have her kids, I do wonder how Monica processed that). It's a reminder that a lot of us could stand to heal from our childhoods before trying to build a lasting relationship with someone else.
4. Case in point. Remember when Camille said to Monica, "You know Monica, something that always drove me crazy about you, and I have to admit, it made me jealous, but I always admired was the fight in you…remember when I said Quincy could do better? I was talking about you." Because Monica and her mom had started the process of forgiving each other and some walls were able to come down, Monica could really hear her mom and that, I believe, played a significant role in her "heart game" with Quincy.
5. And then there's the final scenes of Monica and Quincy; of Monica playing for Quincy's heart and—here comes the result of the foreshadowing from the Second Quarter—Quincy wanting her to. There were some good one-liners in the last 15 minutes, wasn't there?
Monica: "I've loved you since I was 11 and it won't go away."
Monica: "I'll play you [for your] heart."
Quincy (after Monica loses): "Double or nothin'."
After it's clear that Quincy indeed did know that he was about to make the biggest mistake of his life by marrying someone else, my favorite scene is at the very end of the film, when he and Monica's daughter watched Monica play at her basketball game. Love & Basketball, indeed.
The best stories are relatable ones. And, I believe that Love & Basketball will always be a fan favorite because it's not perfect. It's not a fairy tale. It is simply real and full of Black love. And that is to be both adored and commended. So yeah, I felt that it was only right to honor Gina and the movie by recapping 20 reasons why, 20 years later, her brainchild is still celebrated and appreciated. From the script, to the cast, to the soundtrack and everything in between, thanks Gina. The movie and you are still dope…20 years later.
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