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pursuing the possibilities: love jones as love and erotica in film

pursuing the possibilities: love jones as love and erotica in film

They meet in the Sanctuary where music and words flow as poetic lovers. Meeting Nina here spontaneously inspires Darius to name one of his poems after her, “A Blues for Nina.” But this isn’t his first response to her presence. Initially he seems nervous, exhibiting clumsiness when he knocks over her glass, spilling her newly ordered glass of white wine. After Nina accepts his replacement glass of wine, she returns to the table with her BFF, Josie, and Darius takes the stage for his next response – “A Blues for Nina:”

“[C]an I be your slave? . . . I’m digging you like a grave. . . . Is your name Yemaya? Oh, hell no. It’s got to be Oshun. . . . Talk that talk, honey. Walk that walk, money. High on legs that’ll spite Jehovah. . . . Who am I? . . . I’m the blues in your left thigh, trying to become the funk in your right. . . . I’ll be whoever you say. But right now I’m the sight-raped hunter . . . blindly pursuing you as my prey. And I just want to give you injections . . . of sublime erections and get you to dance to my rhythms. . . . I’d rather dance and romance your sweet ass in a wet dream. . . . Is that all right?”

At least he asks permission in the end.

Who is Darius? Prior to meeting Nina, he shares with his friends a short speech about romance being the essence of possibility.

“Romance is about the possibility of the thing. You see, it’s about the time between when you first meet the woman, and when you first make love to her; when you first ask a woman to marry you, and when she says I do. When people who been together a long time say that the romance is gone, what they’re really saying is they’ve exhausted the possibility.” ~Darius

So from this appreciation of romance to the nervous klutz to the erotically charged poet we have a man smitten by a love jones for a woman he just met. UrbanDictionary.com defines love jones as “a strong overwhelming desire for someone.” Our blog post yesterday explores a reconfigured definition of love. With these two descriptions, we can label Darius’ feelings as love – though that is not my first reaction when re-viewing love jones after 15 years.

This time around, initially I think that he is being way too familiar with Nina. Later in the film, his friend Stephanie expresses this observation, warning him, “You move too fast.” And his pursuit of Nina isn’t ringing true with me as an overwhelming desire for her. It’s more like he’s walking some predetermined steps toward her, outlined by someone else.

Of course, this is not how I responded to love jones when it first premiered. At the time, I am totally connecting with all the characters and the story, loving for the first time in my memory the engagement of intelligent dialogue laced with appropriately placed slang and profanity – a perfect depiction of young urban professionals of color. Funny how some things can look differently after a decade or so.

Today, as I listen to Darius’ poem, dedicated to his beloved, I wonder about:

  • the implications of S&M and rape imagery as a means of seducing her,
  • his eagerness for her orgasm only serving to satisfy him and to indicate that he made it into her intimate place, and
  • the female audience being completely enamored by his poetic style.

Is it a sub-culture to which I’m not connecting anymore? Or is it that “A Blues for Nina” really seems to be more about delivery and arousing words rather than overall substance? Is Darius truly a hopeless romantic who, in his sudden affected state after meeting Nina, chooses to be in a less vulnerable place with his poetic presentation?

Is this love? According to the definitions we’ve established, yes it is. Is my reaction today one that indicates that this kind of love repels me? Fifteen years later, I suppose so. I suppose I’m simply in a different place. Perhaps love jones is good for what it’s good for in a certain space and time.

What about Nina?

Of the two leading characters, we meet her first. She’s in transition represented by a physical move to a new home after a marriage engagement that doesn’t work out. Nina vows to Josie that she’ll never make the mistake of falling in love again: “That shit is played out like an 8-track.” Josie welcomes her to the world of feminine cynicism. And then Josie watches Nina’s response to “her” poem. Josie knows recognizes this response and calls Nina on the fact that she’s already reneging on her self-avowed loveless goals. Is it love, as well, for Nina? Upon leaving the Sanctuary, Nina assures Darius that if she recites a poem it will be about more than sex; it will be about love. Nina is referring to the high-standard kind of love to which we normally refer when we characterize emotions this way. Yet her actions tell a different story.

Nina is more like Darius than she admits, at least initially. Josie knows her friend. Nina follows stereotypical female behavior of cloaking sexual attraction in romantic notions of love. She is quite affected by Darius’ very familiar, sexually charged approach. She looks back at the record store upon leaving, though she turns down his invitation to go out on a date. She lets him into her new home despite his stalker-like behavior. Finally, she accepts his invitation to join him at a friend’s dinner party. Later, she asserts that they shouldn’t have sex on the first date, but that’s exactly what they do. Nina moves fast too.

“I see you in me.”

When this recognition happens, it prompts us to explore the possibilities of connecting with another person – romantic or sexual. It’s all love.

love jones – R, released in 1997. (March 2012 marked its 15th anniversary.) Stars Larenz Tate and Nia Long. Written & directed by Theodore Witcher. Distributed by New Line Cinema. Production budget – $10M. Lifetime box office – $12.5M. (source – boxofficemojo.com) Note of interest: Box office performance was sluggish until the soundtrack blew up with cuts from Lauryn Hill (“The Sweetest Thing”) and Maxwell (“Sumthin’ Sumthin’”).

love jones is a peer film for Desire’s Kiss because its authentic portrayal of the pursuit of the possibilities of ordinary love, if any love is ordinary.

image

Desire's Kiss

About this blog series: The “love & erotica” blog series supports the development of the fundraising campaign for Desire’s Kiss – The Short Film. Desire’s Kiss celebrates feminine sexuality and spirituality, based on candi’s book, Who Told You That You Were Naked? Black Women Reclaiming Sexual and Spiritual Goodness and the Judeo-Christian sacred text, Song of Songs. Desire is a nontraditional Christian woman who asserts her independence from conservative views on sex and G~d. The 10 films we will explore over the next five weeks or so come to mind as we produce Desire’s Kiss. We will highlight the love themes (including erotica) in each film.

To learn more about Desire’s Kiss

To purchase your copy of the book, Who Told You That You Were Naked?

To learn more about candi and her work

© 2012 candi dugas, llc

body beautiful

body beautiful

“I want to help show my people how beautiful they are. I want to hold up the mirror to my audience that says this is the way people can be, this is how open people can be.” ~Alvin Ailey

Mr. Ailey certainly accomplished this goal with me. I’m sure that I saw his dancers perform in my youth, but witnessing their beauty and talent when I chaperoned a field trip for my daughter’s grade-school class was like seeing them for the first time. That’s the performance that’s burned into my brain.

“I want to help show my people how beautiful they are.”

ailey dancers

Ailey Dancers - Matthew Rushing and Linda Celeste Sims. Photo by Andrew Eccles

At that time I’d begun to dance at church, a ministry that I never thought I’d ever be a part of – LOL! I’ve always loved to dance at parties and at home – but as a child I didn’t have much rhythm. Even as I developed rhythm growing up I couldn’t quite always get the more complicated, trendy moves. Yet, I always loved to dance! So, at church, I was grateful for the development of a prophetic movement ministry, which emphasized conveying a message through movement rather than specific steps that I would forget because I would get caught up in the music or lose count of the beats. Not to mention, even in my late 20s/early 30s, my body needed a LOT of work to stretch and reach like our traditional liturgical dancers.

Then the fateful day arrived – an Easter Sunday morning. A liturgical dancer had an emergency or had become ill or something that caused her absence. She and I were about the same size and at rehearsal on Easter Saturday I was summoned to take her place. What?!? The leader assured me the movements were simple. Yeah, right. She insisted that they had to have the exact number of dancers with whom they’d practiced. Okaaaay.  Well, it was a lifelong dream and here was my chance . . ., but, “Y’all do remember I’m the one who spun around and collided with the tithing box, right?” The leader said, “Just follow me.”

“I want to hold up the mirror to my audience that says this is the way people can be, this is how open people can be.”

By the end of four Easter Services I was exhausted (no collisions with sacred items – or people) and very fulfilled – I did it! I did not, however, join the traditional liturgical group. I figured that G~d had granted me some level of grace in a pinch. I didn’t want to press it! 😉 Then came the day that I sat in the audience of Atlanta’s Fox Theatre watching Mr. Ailey’s dance company, totally enraptured by more than the grace of their movements, but by the exquisite beauty of their bodies. And I remembered all the layers I had to wear on Easter, covering up my very beauty – so as not to offend in the house of G~d. I actually grieved that the beauty I saw on the Fox stage was banned from the pulpit. “That’s not right,” I determined.

It’s about more than skin. It’s about freedom and openness, the kinds of fruits of the Spirit (no, not explicitly the ones listed in Gal. 5:22-23) that our faith/belief systems are truly about at their core. After I’d been dancing awhile with my prophetic movement group, I’d experienced incredible patience – rehearsal after rehearsal – from our own leader and other dancers. I tended to be the last one to get our choreography, as simple and flowing as it was. We also genuinely celebrated each other’s contributions to the ministry. And I learned to depend on others, something that’s not easy for me to do. These fruits began to spill over into the rest of my life. I grew in confidence to speak my mind when my thoughts disagreed with the majority or my truth might hurt another’s feelings. I reclaimed a freedom of expression that I’d allowed outside opinions to rip-off.

“Dance is fuel for the soul. I would feel lost without dance. When I found dance, I found myself.”~Antonio Douthit, Ailey dancer

dance is for the soul ailey dancer quote

Ailey Dancer Antonio Douthit. Photo by Andrew Eccles.

The highlight for me this Easter (2012) was seeing a woman I’d know in years past help lead a dance celebration, on stage! The look on her face of pure, gleeful joy was contagious – no one was having a better time this day than she! YES!!! Also, it was obvious that she’d shed some pounds from the last time I’d seen her. Maybe her leg didn’t extend like some of the others, but she was out there AND she was front and center. FABULOUS!!! By the way, all of the dancers had on the same body-fitting pants despite their sizes – yea! – which reminds me that I also celebrate the Dove soap commercials. This campaign reclaims “real beauty” from the snares of male-dominated marketing that only regards certain body types as acceptable for promoting brands, products and services.

CELEBRATE YOUR BODY!

And dance with it. By the way, today, my dance of choice is salsa ;-).

© 2012 candi dugas, llc

dear g~d, i’m horny.

An irreverent prayer? Maybe. Maybe not.

If you think it’s irreverent, think again.

child's prayer - food

what a little girl's ("jayla") prayer might look like, asking g~d for her daddy to make for dessert the chocolate cake that she loves.

Polished? No. But certainly honest and straight from the heart, reflecting the enjoyment of one of life’s pleasures with someone she loves and cares for her.

child's prayer - play

what a little girl's ("chrissy") prayer might look like, asking g~d to help her play with her new friends 'cause they look like they're having so much fun.

Confession. “I enjoy this, but I’m scared of what they may think about me. What if they reject me? But the pull to have fun is greater than my fear. I think I can do it . . . if you come with me.”

“Jesus called over a child, whom he stood in the middle of the room, and said, ‘I’m telling you, once and for all, that unless you return to square one and start over like children, you’re not even going to get a look at the kingdom, let alone get in. Whoever becomes simple and elemental again, like this child, will rank high in God’s kingdom.'” (Matthew 18:1-5, THE MESSAGE)

The older I get the more credence I give to the philosophy that we allow ourselves to create too much distance between us and our childhood. We sell our childhood for the merit badges of responsibility, independence, and success. I know responsible children. Kids who are independent-minded. Ever read articles about successful children – know any? Most of them continue to be children alongside their achievements. Too many of us adults abandon the wonder, joy, and fulfillment of simply being who we are and being so with raw honesty – especially before G~d.

We don’t know yet that pretending before G~d is futile?

“Spirituality and sexuality are two sides of the same coin. There is no way to be physical people without being spiritual people. We have split it and been taught sexual freedom is promiscuity. While we know there are more than two parts to us, we must see and accept these two aspects working in tandem, knowing that when I worship G~d all parts of me get affected – my mind, my genitalia, my hands, my feet. When I worship, all of me shows up.” ~Dr. Willie F. G~dman, from Who Told You That You Were Naked?

We bring it all with us anyway; so, be bold in your relationship with G~d. (Hebrews 4:16) That can mean something more or something else than maybe we’ve always been taught. What can it mean for you today?

childlike prayer of an adult

what an adult-child's prayer might look like, confessing honest feeling/need to g~d.

(c) 2012 candi dugas, llc

imagine – an untidy christian movie

I just have to share this . . . We know we can’t be the only ones thinking like we do, but it’s still wonderful, refreshing and confirming to come across evidence of this knowledge now and again! 😉

My brother Joel in his recent blog post shares his thoughts on a realistically made, coming-of-age film that doesn’t make matters of faith fit into “neat and tidy” boxes, as many Christian films often do. KUDOS to Don Miller, Steve Taylor, and Ben Pearson who made Blue Like Jazz happen – book and film.

spiritual but not religious

Who knew that sex and sexuality figure so prominently in our age-old debates about spirituality and religion? Just how prominently I’ve only recently begun to grasp. I’ve always known about the rules and laws supposedly based on scripture and how, if obeyed, they will lead to salvation and righteousness. Never throughout most of my life, though, did I ever clearly connect the use of sex and sexuality as weapons of oppression and marginalization. I lived in a trap that too many of us who are oppressed and marginalized get tricked into. Without any kind of blatant incident of discrimination, we who have some measure of privilege tend to identify with the 1% through that bit of privilege. From this false sense of likeness we then act as if we are the 1%. Worse than that, we can mistreat the 99% in worse ways than the actual 1% treat us.

This phenomenon helps explain how women can in any way participate in perpetuating ideologies and theologies that oppress other women. Wow. How can we take something so deeply organic to our very being as sex and sexuality and use it against other people? No wonder great numbers of us are fleeing religion.

Many of my colleagues cringe at this phrase, “spiritual, but not religious,” not understanding  fully, I don’t think, what this declaration means. Too many clergy who have given up a lot – more financially lucrative incomes, personal privacy, lives filled with less stress, etc. – to fulfill G~d’s call on their lives cannot fathom what it means to separate their spirituality from their rituals and doctrine, or their religion. (Please see sexNspirit’s “Welcome” post for definitions.) This is where we have one disconnect between leadership and parishioners. What’s interesting is that those of us focused on helping the people develop their own spiritual lives are actually the cause of the disconnect. The more people develop their own spiritual practices and grow in this way, the more they begin to see for themselves what my spiritual brother, Trig, calls a “farce” in his video below, “Why I Am No Longer Christian.” In the end, he dares, “[G~d’s] ‘Beloved Community’ has no divisions. It’s time to walk away from anything that says it does.”

 Most painful for me is hearing the stories of disappointment and outright abuse experienced by people who trust the Church to re-present G~d. One of the women interviewed for my D.Min. thesis, Rain, sums up well what can precede a person choosing spirituality over religion. “I’ve discovered that much of what they [church leaders] told me simply isn’t true.” Do we remain religious and obedient, which is better than sacrifice, right? Or do we continue on a path of truth that Yeshua (Jesus) proclaims will lead to freedom? Ah, and if that truthful path leads to freedom, then that means the religious, obedience-demanding institutional path leads to . . . bondage. Hmmmm . . .

Unlike Trig, I’ll still call myself a Christian, only ‘cause we haven’t found a good succinct descriptor to replace it. I’ll also call myself a “disciple of Yeshua.” And that is who I am, but it’s a bit to articulate well. Yet like Trig, my view of the Church changed drastically the more involved I became in ministry. Some of my colleagues can dismiss the antics that only a few witness. I cannot. Then when I worked at non-faith based nonprofit I served alongside some very generous, kind-hearted folks who didn’t proclaim Yeshua as their savior, but they were doing more of the work of Yeshua than many, many congregations. I still don’t need any more proof than that to convince me it is better to be spiritual than religious.

It is through spirituality that I can transcend my gender and my race and my economic status to know my true worth as one of G~d’s creations. Christian religion tells me otherwise, at least the westernized, hierarchical Protestant version that currently influences much of this country’s rules, laws, and discourse. Folks who are not heterosexually male, not white and not of substantial financial means sure do catch hell here. If my connection to G~d depended on these societal values, I would truly have a keyhole limited relationship with our Creator, just barely peeking through to what’s possible for our lives.

Obviously, lately I’ve been quite aware of my gender, with all the ridiculous notions about women that are floating to the surface. While it is certainly fun and interesting to include sex and sexuality in my work, never before a year or so ago did I ever think that it would become one of the areas I study deeply. Once I learned from some of the women with whom I’ve worked that sex is used as such a weapon against their happiness, against their leading fulfilling lives, I had to take it on. Because ultimately my call is about people leading better lives; freedom is a part of that betterment. I am so grateful that we’re not alone in this quest! Certainly, we can see again that it is time to make some more progress toward just one aspect of equality and true righteousness. Spirituality will help us do this. Religion? Not so much.

© 2012 candi dugas, llc

Churches and politicians, take note: Disrespect women, and they will leave. – The Washington Post

“Feminism’s Final Frontier? Religion.”

Part of me responds to Ms. Miller’s reporting of the limitations placed upon women in Christian churches with thoughts that

muslim women

ISHARA S.KODIKARA/AFP/GETTY IMAGES - “In churches (and synagogues and mosques) across the land, women are still treated as second-class citizens,” Miller writes.

her presentation exaggerates the current status of women in leadership, particularly among clergy. Afterall, Ms. Miller – or her editors – choose a picture of Muslim women for this article, a rather stereotypical choice of female suppression (at least our western-Christianized perspective) within a faith system. The article seems to have a Christian slant; it needs more information about women in mosques and synagogues to be balanced – if the image of Muslim women leads its way.

Or perhaps my thoughts of exaggeration are clouded by my networks which are full of female clergy making serious contributions to our faith. The seminaries I’ve attended have 50+% women as students. But then I remember that women may hold advanced theological degrees and may be ordained, but consistently and more often than men are called to or are appointed to the most challenging communities – if not impossible – to pastor. And then when they revitalize the community, a male pastor and his picture perfect family replace her. I also recall images of lay leadership teams being comprised of mostly – if not all – men with a sea of women sitting in the pews or serving as ushers and cooks.

I don’t know if it’s our final frontier, but it is certainly territory to be tamed.

Churches and politicians, take note: Disrespect women, and they will leave. – The Washington Post.

tell the church 2 butt out?

Or any community of faith/belief? What is the Church’s role in our lives, especially in our bedrooms (or wherever we engage in sex)? What is it that it’s supposed to be doing with and for the people – within or beyond its walls?

“The Church needs to remember its boundaries when it comes to getting into people’s lives.”

Even I was shocked to hear this powerfully fervent declaration from a third-year seminary student attending the public presentation of my doctoral research. I’d asked the audience’s thoughts about traditional Church teachings that support a familiar adage, “A man won’t buy the cow if he can get the milk for free.” That was her response.

What’s the Church’s place, then, in our lives?

Until I read Hunting the Divine Fox: Images and Mystery in Christian Faith by Robert Farrar Capon, I’d never given its role that much thought. I accepted whatever my family and Sunday school teachers taught me. As I grew, I had my issues with the Church, but I suppose I thought they were my own to work out. I’d never considered that the Church may be operating in ways beyond G~d’s intention or its authorized reach. From Capon’s work I began to agree that the only thing the Church ought to be doing is helping to point people toward G~d. That’s all.

If this is the boundary, then all the preaching, teaching, and other activities that condemn and cajole unmarried people into celibacy and abstinence are misplaced. These are decisions people need to make for themselves. The Church should supply them with the necessary [objective] information and tools to make their own choices, be available to listen, discuss, etc. – if requested – and then – “butt out.” Huh? How well would this ideology sit with the church leaders you know? 😉

As Christians we tend to refer to Yeshua’s (Jesus) examples. Soooo . . .

What did Yeshua say?

Yeshua taught kin-dom principles.  Then he empowered individuals by affirming that it was their faith and their choices which created the healing, peace, etc. that they sought. “Do you want to be well?” “Daughter, your faith has made you whole.” The deciding factor was not the establishment’s [Church] self-wielding authority – nor the individual’s allegiance to it.

In his sermon Sunday (3.11.12), “The Fractals of our Faith,” Rev. David Anderson Hooker celebrated the crumbling of two establishments under their own weight – the penal institution and the American education system. If they crumble, he argued, then we get a chance to rebuild them. There is no renovation; they are beyond repair. Hooker added, “And the Church is dying on the vine.” I don’t disagree with this metaphor, but the image I see is more like the one he painted of the institutions. I see the Church crumbling too, under its own weight of self-wielding authority that has become a massive power machine operating outside of its boundaries.

crumbling church

Photo credit: David Torke, http://www.fixbuffalo.blogspot.com/

Honestly this is the fractured and fractal “holy” foundation that supports the people who seek to control women’s bodies and their decisions about sex and sexuality. We can become angry at the voice-boxes or we can turn our attention to what’s at the heart of the matter – our faith, our beliefs, our sacred texts, our traditions, our communities of faith, our interpretations, and our appropriations. Dare we women challenge the Church’s role and authority? Absolutely and only we can do it. If we look hard enough with the right tools, there are plenty of examples in our sacred texts. The Shulammite in Song of Songs has become my greatest heroine, boldly going after the man whom her “soul loves” (Songs 3:1-2) and declaring at the end of her story, “My vineyard (my genitals), my very own, is for myself . . .” (Songs 8:12).

So, I guess, yeah – to the Church – “butt out!”

© 2012 candi dugas, llc

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