I love romantic comedies/romantic movies period and have taken a much more forgiving stance on them over the past few years after seeing how much oppressive hate the genre receives. Considering the majority of the targeted audience is women this seems all the more troubling as it’s another outlet that is made fun of that infuses itself with gender bias. Are we making fun of movies or gendered stereotypes? Do we think the narratives are silly or, because they’re associated with a female audience? The problem isn’t the genre or the audience, it’s that few filmmakers or studios are putting in the time or effort to make something great. Every once in a while we get something that reminds us of why we love the genre such as this last year’s Obvious Child but again, they’re a rarity. We’re more likely to see a film like The Ugly Truth than Bridesmaids.
Even more absurd is that a genre marketed towards females often turn out to be some of the biggest offenders of sexism.
This is why it benefits so much when women direct these stories. They understand the balance and the need to find nuance and intimacy in their female leads. Sure the audience wants grand sweeping romances, unrequited and tragic love stories and people who are perfect for one another getting their moment of true bliss. However, we also want to see a female lead who gets her own journey and is able to grow without her significant other being the only stake worth keeping.
Enter Gina Prince-Bythewood and her film Love & Basketball which I adore.
Released in 2000, the romantic drama starring Omar Epps and Sanaa Lathan tells the story of Quincy and Monica. They’re next-door neighbors in L.A. who are both chasing their dream basketball careers as they simultaneously fall in love. Spanning roughly thirteen years of friendship, romance, heartache and rekindled love affairs the childhood sweethearts turned soul mates is a marvelous duo.
Two kids meet when they’re young, they grow up and bond over their mutual love of basketball and from there forth they endure trials of emotional and physical hardships that try and get in the way of their mutual happiness. Simple and graceful while also allowing time to progress and show how our two characters mature throughout their respect for one another, along with their love. Sure, it’s mildly melodramatic at points but that’s also part of the keys factors of certain romances. Romance is looked at as a larger than life issue so why not play with it when you have the chance. Movies are our escape pods where we can be launched into worlds and scenarios that aren’t are own and sometimes big gestures and
Quincy and Monica both have personal plights to fight back against. One of the most riveting is the relationship between Monica and her mother who disproves of her chosen career path. Monica is always strong willed and passionate about what she’s pursuing but fallible as well. Quincy gets to also be more than the sum of his parts and his and Monica’s relationships and how their insecurities and weaknesses play on one another is unlike many other romances. They were written with respect and Epps and particularly Lathan play the parts with committed energy with chemistry that flies off the screen.
In 2014 a film called Beyond the Lights played under the radar to many (even I didn’t get a chance to see it in theaters) and it’s another strong film from director Bythewood. Make sure to support it by buying it on DVD or VOD because the more we support creative talents like her the more likely were are to get films that display femininity and masculinity in ways not often seen through a males gaze as well as movies that play into the fun and passion of romance.
Female filmmakers aren’t as likely to get second chances as movies like their male counterparts. A film starring a woman or directed by a woman can either bomb at the box office or be critically written off and there’s a huge likelihood that their chances for a future movie is reduced because studios are writing it off as something that audiences don’t want to see. However then we see Ryan Reynolds who can deliver box office disappointments for a year and yet he still get’s invited back.
We want to see more of Bythewood and I’d like more romantic comedies or romantic dramas or movies are just pure, gooey romances. There is an audience for them, they just want films of better quality.
Love & Basketball isn’t a groundbreaking film despite some themes being mentioned about gender that don’t often get a critical eye elsewhere. However, it’s a charming film, the two leads and their relationship is sexy, there are some real emotional stakes and directing that is fun and intimate. Watch films by women, watch films by women of color and support filmmakers who don’t get chances due only to their gender.