It seems like it was just yesterday that we watched Darius and Nina recite poetry to one another in Love Jones, but it’s now been 25 years since the film’s release.
The Larenz Tate and Nia Long-led love story showcased Black romance in a way that was ahead of its time: beautiful, complex and extraordinary. The poetry was just an added bonus.
Though it wasn’t a box office smash following the end of its theatrical run in 1997, audiences and critics alike loved it. Through word of mouth, it gained a cult following, solidifying it as iconic.
The film was Theodore “Ted” Witcher’s directorial debut. He also wrote the film.
Seeing the film magnify over the past two decades plus gaining a new generation of fans has been exciting for him to watch. He’s happy that he’s around to witness the film stand the test of time in this way.
“It’s been very cool. Occasionally, I’ll be on YouTube and something will pop something into my feed. Sometimes someone is recreating one of the scenes from the script or having a discussion of the movie,” he told Shadow and Act in a recent interview. “And they’re young people who maybe heard about it and finally decided to check it out. And so that’s very gratifying. You want to make something that lasts and you want to make it in such a fashion that even though times change, the core thing and the core element of what the movie is about is universal and relevant as time marches forward. You want to try to achieve that. So I’m very happy with it.”
Witcher set out to create a movie that he and his circle of friends would enjoy. Never in a million years did he think he’d be a part of history with the film, especially with it incorporating thhe art form of poetry as a central focus.
The movie marked a transition for Tate, who’d at that point was heavily vetted for films that centered on street life thanks to his role in 'Menace II Society' as O Dog.
But the studio wanted Tate for Love Jones. Witcher was hesitant. It took him meeting Tate in person and seeing his range to be convinced.
“The studio wanted Tate precisely because they had a hit with him with Menace II Society. I was concerned because I too was like, ‘Oh, he’s clearly a gangster,’ because he was so good in the movie. He’s completely like a thousand percent believable as O Dog. And it wasn’t until I met him and I realized, ‘Oh, he’s an actor, that was a job of acting like he’s nothing like O Dog.’ And then it was like, ‘Well, if he can do that, then let’s see how he can do in this. OK, so clearly he can act.’” Witcher beamed. “He’s disciplined and has a work ethic. And he sat down and got it done, convincing us all he was Darius. So I mean, that’s a big deal. For a guy who was that young to take on that part is pretty big.”
It was so convincing that the movie birthed a new yearning for poetry. So much so that five years later, HBO’s Def Poetry Jam debuted. But Witcher won’t take full credit for it.
To commemorate the anniversary of the film, a special edition director’s cut Blu-Ray package is now available via The Criterion Collection.
It includes a 4K digital restoration, supervised by director Theodore Witcher, with 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack, a new interview with Witcher and film scholar Racquel J. Gates, a new interview with music scholars Mark Anthony Neal and Shana L. Redmond on the soundtrack, a panel discussion featuring Witcher and members of the cast and crew, the original trailer, English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing and an essay by critic Danielle A. Jackson. Witcher said he was approached about it and enjoyed going through archives to put the project together.
Though he didn’t get the recognition early on from the film, it’s rewarding to get his flowers 25 years later. “At one point in the process, I made the mistake of thinking, ‘Oh, this might actually be going to be a hit. Because people really like it.’ And then when it wasn’t a hit, I was quite depressed because I was like, ‘Oh, I thought it was going to be hit and it wasn’t a hit.’ And if I had just stayed where I was thinking initially, I would have been fine,” he remembers. “So I made that sort of mistake. It’s a long way to get some validation. It’s 25 years to get validation. Maybe you shouldn’t look for validation in that kind of way. Keep your head down, do the work as best, expect nothing. And whatever happens is gravy. Approach life that way and seek your pleasures in the journey of it and not in the destination.”