Samuel Goldwyn Theater
8949 Wilshire Blvd
Beverly Hills, CA 90211
For one night in June, an excited, nostalgic crowd filled the Samuel Goldwyn Theater and went back in time, to 1997, when love jones was first released. Twenty years on, the cult classic endures, “not because it’s revolutionary, but because it’s real,” said Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs.
Theodore Witcher’s film portrays Nia Long (as Nina Mosley) and Larenz Tate (as Darius Lovehall) in the African-American love story that had been missing from the mainstream media.
“We look back and realize this stereotype-breaking, genre-redefining cult classic delivered a powerful message—without a lecture,” Boone Isaacs added.
Following a special 35mm screening of love jones, moderator and Oscar-winning filmmaker Barry Jenkins welcomed the film’s cast and crew to the stage. Jenkins recalled his first time watching the movie while on a date in Miami. He even impressed the girl by playing the film’s soundtrack on the car ride home.
Witcher recalled first getting the idea for love jones off the ground, thanks to an enthusiastic Helena Perez (formerly Echegoyen) of New Line Cinema. “I want to see that movie,” Perez told him when he presented the idea to her decades ago. “Write that.” Perez and Nick Wechsler went on to produce the film, along with Julia Chasman.
As a first-time filmmaker, Witcher attributes his incredible cast and crew to luck. “I had no reputation to fall back on, no other work to get people excited,” he said. Casting director Robi Reed played an instrumental role in bringing on Lisa Nicole Carson, Isaiah Washington and Bill Bellamy.
But the film was largely contingent on Tate’s casting. Tate was drawn to the project for, among other reasons, his character’s vulnerability. “I love the idea that these people spoke differently to each other, I love the idea that it was romantic,” he said. “It was going to be in Chicago and we hadn't seen anything in my hometown quite like it.”
Long admitted that, of all the characters she has played over the years, “Nina is probably the most like myself.” Recalling the experience of making the film, she joked, “the kiss in the rain was everything.”
Washington, whose children were present, discussed his biggest regret while filming. Because he hadn’t been a father yet at the time, to him the onscreen reunion with his wife and son felt inauthentic.
Washington was the first actor that Leonard Roberts had seen onstage while in drama school. And Bellamy was the first comic. Roberts was immediately drawn to the script, but to work with his heroes was “a blessing beyond blessings. I would’ve done the catering.”
Bernadette L. Clark recalled performing an African dance as part of her audition, and reuniting with Bellamy, with whom she had acted in the past. Lisa Nicole Carson reminisced on her improvised scenes with Long.
As far as casting, Witcher noted that, because love jones isn’t plot-driven, finding the right actors came down to what fit the mood and vibe of the movie. Chasman gave credit to Jane Alderman, “one of the great local casing directors in the country,” for finding Clark and Roberts in Chicago. “Often, no money is the mother of invention,” she said of the film’s $7 million budget. The same applied to the music. “You wanted stark? Well, you got stark,” she joked.
“The way we did this score was completely unorthodox,” Witcher said of working with composer Darryl Jones. As for the soundtrack, which features Leon Ware, Maxwell and Lauryn Hill, music supervisor Pilar McCurry said, “It was such a great time for music.”
“These characters were like my people, that’s my crew who I would hang out with, so I just had to put in the music we would be listening to.”
Cinematographer Ernest Holzman discussed the film’s memorable opening sequence, explained what it was like to shoot at the slowest film speed (ASA 100), and shared his favorite shot, a close-up of Nina in the early hours of the morning. “Seeing the movie tonight is like seeing it for the first time,” he added.
Jenkins applauded editor Maysie Hoy’s “extraordinary” match cutting and use of overlapping dialogue. Hoy explained how, to this day, she uses the film’s taxi scene in classes as a prime example of comedy.
Along with the cast and crew, on June 13, fans relived their favorite moments from love jones and celebrated a historic moment in film.
“I always say that this film was before its time,” Long noted. “It sort of got lost as this hidden gem. And I’m ok with that. You know why? Because we’re all here today celebrating.”
“When you have staying power and the story is relevant and we are able to give ourselves permission to show Black love on film, then I feel like I did my job,” she said.