by Marissa Ellis
Can you believe it’s been 15 years since Love Jones was released and raised the bar for Black filmmaking? The romantic drama starring Larenz Tate and Nia Long raised the bar so high that very few Black films have managed to get close to the superb storytelling quality and on-screen chemistry delivered by the Chicago-based film. In other words, that’s why Love Jones lives on as an iconic film in the Black cannon.
Part of the reason why Love Jones continues to mark such a rarity is the fact the screenwriter and director of the film, Theodore Witcher, virtually disappeared afterwards. He was only 24 at the time of making the movie, marking his first job directing a feature film.
Based on the explosive success of Love Jones, it was easily assumed and expected that Witcher would continue to infuse Hollywood with authentic and beautiful Black narratives. This was the man who should’ve been just as prolific as Tyler Perry (before Tyler Perry) if you will. Unfortunately, the young director departed just as fast as he arrived.
In an interview with The Root, Witcher explained why he disappeared:
I intended to have a long list of credits, but I couldn’t get another movie. There has to be something that you want to do that a studio wants to pay for. I was never able to sync that up. I wanted to do ambitious films with more black people. You don’t get to do that.
Witcher’s reasoning is deep and speaks volumes about the discord between Hollywood economics and the push for quality filmmaking; however, I wonder about the nature of support within the African-American artistic community. It’s hard to believe that Witcher didn’t have enough of a strong fan base in the Black Hollywood community to leverage power or, at least, raise funds for another film. This is Love Jones we’re talking about – not a small critically acclaimed movie which was only lauded on the film festival circuit. Did Oprah, Denzel Washington, Spike Lee and John Singleton not offer producing partnership?
These days, when we see a small film cross over like Pariah, it often has the support of other Black Hollywood producers. In this case, Pariah had the public support of Spike Lee. Hollywood is a small eco-system and the survival and prosperity of new filmmakers is interdependent on the endorsements and support of the more established guards.
It’s difficult not to wonder about Witcher and his career. As someone who appreciates films about the African-American experience and who appreciates quality filmmaking period, I can’t understand why the Witchers of the world are not fostered. Watching Love Jones occasionally, I marvel at its authenticity and wish that half of the films that come out each year could even muster half of that authenticity and flair. And obviously, when I see Tyler Perry’s films, it creates the opposite effect on me. I don’t want to go on and on about the Perry factor, but the fact that we can have him bust out two consistently sub-par films a year while a proven filmmaker is sitting on the sidelines, waiting for a chance to wow us again with quality…there’s just something wrong with that.
But who knows what the more detailed story is behind Witcher’s struggles in Hollywood. I can only hope that he can further share his experience to inspire a more cooperative spirit in Black Hollywood, because at the end of the day, we are the ones responsible for getting our stories told.
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