The main character Yvette, played by Taraji P. Henson, confronts her boyfriend Jody, played by Tyrese Gibson, about his infidelities.
“You ain’t stupid, Yvette. You’re just in love with a man. When you’re in love with a man, he can make you feel high. So high you just be in outer space. But a man can also make you feel low. Real low. And he can keep you there. Keep you down. If you let him. Make you feel used. Don’t even worry about feeling used. It’s just temporary. Everyone gets used. Men use women, women use men. Just face the fact you’re going to be used. But if you feel so used, you ain’t got nothing left–if the man ain’t giving you no ‘act right,’ the energy you need to love his ass even when he’s acting like a bastard–you need to let it go. If you ain’t got nothing to give yourself or your baby, you won’t have it to give to him.”
I sat in the theater, eyes fixated and ears perked as Juanita explained the complexities of loving someone to her son’s girlfriend. A young and impressionable teenager, at least when it came to Love and relationships, I sat there sucking everything in like a Oreck vacuum cleaner with a bad filter.
This is kind of hard for me to admit. For a long time, Jody and Yvette’s relationship in the movie “Baby Boy” hailed as the quintessential black love relationship in my eyes. Not the Cosbys, not the Winslows, not the Banks, not even Martin and Gina. Though I’m not sure exactly why the “Baby Boy” characters stuck with me so, I have a hankering that Jody and Yvette were the closest thing to real my 12-year-old eyes thought they’d seen.They yelled and screamed, broke up and got back together, not to mention all the infidelity. This looked a lot more like the less-than-TV-perfect relationships I’d seen, heard, and experienced already in real life. My parents nor any of my friends’ parents had anything like what black couples in sitcoms had. I never knew any guys as nice as Theo, the dorky ones definitely didn’t turn into Stephons, and the bad boys like Will didn’t have nice families with huge houses in Bel Air. But it wouldn’t take long before I met the Jody types and felt like I could relate to Yvette’s “feeling stupid”–the feeling she describes before Juanita helps her decipher her real feelings. With all of those things as factors, I found myself drawn to Jody and Yvette–and consequently, though not intentionally, the many messages about Love in that movie.
I had no idea back then that the course of my relationship with Mr. Lies-About-Everything-But-His-Name would mirror the course of Jody and Yvette’s relationship–at least loosely. Only my story didn’t end happily. So I figure I’d share with you the relationship mistakes Yvette made and I mimicked without the fairytale ending.
Jody, Yvette, and young Jo-Jo relax on the couch.
(1) Getting cheated on is more acceptable when you’re the “wifey.”
Although I have to acknowledge both experience and environment as teachers, I believe “Baby Boy” played a major role in my acceptance of men’s infidelity. The character Jody had two different types of women in his life–his main course and his side dishes. He loved his woman and wanted to marry her but this didn’t keep him from sleeping with other women from time to time. And Yvette mostly accepted this. She may not have liked it but it wasn’t reason enough for her to leave him because she reasoned that Jody loved her and NOT those other girls. He fixed her car, helped her pay bills, and picked her up everyday from work. The other girls got nothing more than a wet back. So I learned to distinguish between girls that play wifey and girls that play side dish. And as long as I played wifey, I’d always fare better than the side dish girls because I, at least, had his love.
(2) Sex solves a couples’ problems.
As Jody walks down a flight of stairs to leave Yvette’s premises, she yells “I hate you!” at his back. She tells him how she’s tired of his cheating, his lying, his selfishness, and his arrogance. He ignores her initially but the insults get worse and worse. Finally, he responds with an emphatic “I hate you too!” and a handful of his own insults. 10 seconds later, they’re having sex–great sex at that. There’s never a real resolution. Or more accurately, the sex IS the resolution. It ends the argument and both parties are more than satisfied. Jody never acknowledges his cheating, his lying, his selfishness, or his arrogance. He doesn’t apologize. And Yvette just saves the arguing for another day. When she starts to feel frustrated again, they simply repeat the process. Argue, have make-up sex, cook tacos. Argue, have make-up sex, cook tacos. The stress-relieving properties of sex prove this can actually work for a while. This method has worked so well for Jody, in fact, after he hits Yvette his apology consists of an oral sex session. Then he leaves with her car, expecting everything to stay the same the next day.
(3) If you put up with all his antics, he’ll get better and marry you in the end.
A frustrated Yvette eventually leaves Jody. Jody hitting her served as the last straw. And they stay broken up for a while but they both miss each other. The movie implies they do not communicate unless it has something to do with their son Jo-Jo. But after Yvette is nearly raped by her ex-boyfriend Rodney in front of Jo-Jo, Jody and Yvette get back together. Only this isn’t the same Jody. He moves out the house he lived in with his mother, moves in with Yvette, and proposes. He’s finally ready to settle down and stop acting like a little boy. YAY!
Now I’m not going to say that people don’t change. I’m sure there are people out there who lied and cheated throughout life and then one day saw the light. But my experience with a man like Jody ended in him leaving me for a woman who could better tolerate his cheating and lies. He never married me. I, apparently, wanted too much from him. I also found that sex doesn’t solve problems as effectively as communication and cheating isn’t okay–period. However, I don’t want this to sound like I’m blaming the media for my misconceptions. I think “Baby Boy” is a great artistic work (one of my favorite movies ever) and has plenty of controversial messages outside of these. I’m simply acknowledging something I realized influenced me and my beliefs at a young age–before I completely knew how to filter media. It is okay to have been influenced. At one point, I wanted what Jody and Yvette had because I thought that’s what true love looked like. I have long since learned the hard way that the Jody and Yvette way doesn’t work for me. As an adult, I understand which things I can take from that movie and what things I shouldn’t. So when I go back and watch “Baby Boy” again, it is Juanita’s voice that resonates loudest. She reminds me that I can only love a man up to the point where my love for him does not impede upon the love I have for myself. But the point of this post is for you to do a little soul-searching. What movies, songs, and people have influenced your ideas on Love and relationships and in what way? I’d love comments.
John Singleton's "Baby Boy" is a bold criticism of young black men who carelessly father babies, live off their mothers and don/t even think of looking for work. It is also a criticism of the society that pushes them into that niche. There has never been a movie with this angle on the African-American experience. The movie's message to men like its hero is: yes, racism has contributed to your situation, but do you have to give it so much help with your own attitude? In the opening sequence, we meet Jody (Tyrese Gibson), a 20-year-old who has children by two women and still lives in his room in his mother's house. He drives his girlfriend Yvette (Taraji P. Henson) home from a clinic where she had just had an abortion. She is understandably sad and in pain, a little dopey from pills. She doesn't want to talk. In that case, says Jody, she won't mind if he borrows her car. He does and uses it to visit his other girlfriend.
That scene will not come as a shock to Mary A. Mitchell, the Sun-Times columnist who has written a series of sad, angry articles about absentee fathers and "man-sharing" in the black community, where drugs, crime and prison have created a shortage of eligible men. Her columns are courageous; the African-American community prefers to present a positive front and keep its self-criticism behind closed doors. She takes heat for what she writes.
Now Singleton, too, dares to take a hard look at his community. Ten years ago, in "Boyz N the Hood," he told a brilliant story about young men, in a movie made by a young man. Now he returns to the same neighborhood, South Central in Los Angeles. His characters are a little older, and he is older, too, and less forgiving.
"Baby Boy" doesn?t fall back on easy liberal finger-pointing. There are no white people in this movie, no simplistic blaming of others; the adults in Jody's life blame him for his own troubles, and they should. At some point, as Jody's mother Juanita (A.J. Johnson) tells him again and again, he has to grow up, move out, get a job and take care of his family.
Jody doesn't even bother to answer, except to accuse her of not loving him. He likes the life he leads and doesn't consider employment as an option. He sponges off of two women: his mother and Yvette, who has a job. Also in the picture is Peanut (Tamara Bass), the mother of his other child. But it's Yvette he loves. Still, he plays around, and she knows it and in a certain way accepts it, although she gets mad when she can never drive her own car, which she's making payments on. She screams that he lies to her, and his answer is a logical masterpiece: "I'm out in these streets telling these 'hos the truth. I lie to you because I care about you." All would be well if Jody could keep on sleeping in his childhood bedroom (where he still builds model cars), eat his mother's cooking, drive Yvette?s car, sleep with his women, and hang with his boys' especially his best friend, Sweetpea (Omar Gooding). But Yvette is fed up. Sweetpea is getting involved with dangerous gang types. Yvette's old boyfriend (rap star Snoop Dogg) is out of prison and hanging around.
And at home, most disturbingly, his mother has a new boyfriend named Melvin (Ving Rhames), who has no patience with him. Melvin has spent 10 years in the slammer, is determined to go straight, has a landscaping business, and moves in and marks his territory. Jody knows things are different when he finds Melvin stark-naked in the kitchen, scrambling eggs for Juanita. "I was like you, Jody," he says. "Young, dumb and out of control." Juanita herself is a piece of work, a still-youthful woman who loves her backyard garden and tries patiently, over and over, to cut through Jody's martyrdom and evasion. When he complains to her that Yvette has locked him out, she levels: "What would you do if Yvette [expletive] around on you, took your car and left you in a hot house all day with a baby?" An excellent question. Yvette answers it, in a way, by stealing back her own car, so the "baby boy" is reduced to riding his childhood bicycle around the neighborhood.
When John Singleton burst on the scene with "Boyz N the Hood," he brought the freshness of direct everyday experience to movies about black Americans. He was still in his mid-20s, fresh out of South Central, already a legend for the way, at 16, he started hanging around the USC film school--volunteering as a gofer until the dean concluded, "We might as well make him a student, since he acts like he is one anyway." Singleton comes from the same background as his characters, knows them, sees aspects of himself and his friends in them. Like many self-made men, he is impatient with those, like Jody, who do not even try.
He has a gift for finding good actors. "Boyz" was Cuba Gooding Jr.'s first movie. Here we meet Cuba's brother Omar, also gifted. Tyrese Gibson, already known as a singer, model and music video DJ, is a natural, unaffected actor who adds a spin of spoiled self-pity to Jody.
Taraji P. Henson has some of the most difficult scenes as Yvette, who does love her man, but despairs of him and is tired to the bone of working, child care and caring, too, for Jody, the 20-year-old "baby boy." And there is a wonderful rapport between A.J. Johnson and Ving Rhames as the mother and her ex-con boyfriend; they have an exuberant sex life, feel they deserve a second chance at happiness, and have lived long enough and paid enough dues to be impatient with Jody's knack for living off the land.
"Baby Boy" has a trailer that makes it look like a lot of fun, like a celebration of the lifestyle it attacks. I was reminded of the trailer for "Boyz N the Hood," which seemed to glorify guns and violence, although the movie deplored them. I asked Singleton about it at the time, and he said, "Maybe some kids will see the trailer and come to see the movie and leave with a lot of ideas they didn't have before." Maybe so. I have a notion the Yvettes of the world are going to love this movie and march their Jodys in to see it.