Aaron Loves Angela (1975)

In Aaron Loves Angela, teenage Aaron (Kevin Hooks), a member of the aspiring but losing basketball team the Harlem Saints, doesn’t really want to do anything but be with Angela (Irene Cara). Despite his father’s wishes to turn Aaron into the sports star he could’ve been, Aaron tries to woo Angela by wandering around New York with her and scheming with his best man, Willie. The teenage couple fall in puppy love and soon they’re all running around together, holding hands, exploring 1970s New York. Contains mature content.

From the Aaron Loves Angela cover story for the New York Amsterdam News

About Gordon Parks, Jr.

Born in Minneapolis, Gordon Parks, Jr. was the son of Sally Avis and Gordon Parks. By age 44, he had made four feature films, the action films Super Fly (1972), Thomasine and Bushrod (1974), Three the Hard Way (1974) and the coming-of-age romance Aaron Loves Angela (1975). Tragically, Parks died in a plane crash while at work on, “Revenge,” which his New York Times obituary describes as “an adventure film that was to be the first production of Mr. Parks’s new company, Africa International Productions” (April 4, 1979). Parks’s films often showed the gritty side of American life while centering Black characters. The films’ aesthetics, particularly the collaborations with Curtis Mayfield, and their overall critiques of the unequal distributions of power that constrict and obstruct Black people’s pursuits of happiness make them exciting and important to see today.

On a Philosophical Note

Love! I’m in Love! series explores the question of what it means to picture intimacy between two Black people. Dino Everett and Allyson Field’s recovery of Something Good-Negro Kiss (1898), believed to be the earliest depiction of black intimacy on film, raises the question what is the history to this? Who made this and why? If it’s been recovered now then where has it been? Consider also: what has been its future? Where are the Black love stories? What counts as “Black love?” How do the 1990s films fit into the history with Love Jones (1997), Poetic Justice (1993) and The Bodyguard (1992) — and Love and Basketball (2000) and so many others?

Each of the series’ films, in different ways, centers Black desire, pleasure and beauty, particularly in the eyes of another Black person, as a norm. And yet it’s also radical and spectacular. The dichotomous coverage of Claudine (1972), A Warm December (1973), and Aaron Loves Angela (1975) suggests that Black love stories mean different things to different audiences. Where A Warm December was tender and poetic to the Chicago Defender, it was “lukewarm” to the Washington Post and others in the mainstream press. Is this because it’s Sidney Poitier and Esther Anderson gazing into each other’s eyes, focused on their own lives and looking fabulous (Yes! John Wilson-Apperson’s costume design for the film was wonderful.) while doing so? The love story pushes all other political concerns to the periphery except when they discuss it as part of the process of building their relationship. Every shot, especially the lingering close-ups, showed care and tenderness on Poitier’s part to direct the gaze toward appreciative, respectful attention to Black actors’ faces, dialogue, movements and emotions, especially those unspoken.

If, as the character Mignon Dupree (Lonette McKee) remarks in Julie Dash’s Illusions (1982), “we’re nothing but props in their stories, musical props or dancing props or comic relief,” then Black filmmakers offer stories were Black actors can be leading characters within a world in which their feelings and ideas as well as their physical presence, take centerstage. Still, representation is not entirely a solution to the problem of lack of representation. Rather, the Black image is, as Michael Gillespie offers in Film Blackness (2016) less of a genre or a literal depiction of a person or “a people” and more of a negotiation between art and the discursive operation of race. It’s complicated. While these films are incredibly rich and in many ways radical in their seemingly simple depictions of everyday human interactions, within conventional narratives, the Black image so often in fictional narratives curves toward more refraction than representation — except when it doesn’t as audiences negotiate among themselves about what the “Black” in Black film means and what is enjoyable to watch on screen.

On Love! I’m in Love!

Love! I’m in Love! Classic Black Cinema of the 1970s features movies about people working mightily and joyfully to build happy intimate relationships. The post-civil rights era’s unfinished project of equal access to quality housing, jobs, health care, and education serves as both atmosphere and a formidable antagonist. Traditional in many ways, these romantic dramas center Black lives and feature Black stars in the archetypal narrative of people figuring out how to love and live fully, with purpose and delight.​​ 

Abbey Lincoln, “I’m in love! I’m in love! There’s a feeling of gladness mingled with sadness …

Love! continues Friday, February 21 with a public talk by Allyson Field in Franklin Hall 312 at 12:15PM ❤️✨

Recovering Black Love on Screen: Early Film and the Legacies of Racialized Performance

Allyson Nadia Field, The University of Chicago

In 2017, Dino Everrett, the film archivist at the University of Southern California discovered a c.1900 nitrate film print of an African American couple laughing and embracing repeatedly in a naturalistic and joyful manner—an incredible departure from the racist caricatures prevalent in early cinema. After some detective work, the film was identified as Something Good-Negro Kiss, made in Chicago in 1898 by William Selig with well-known vaudeville performers Saint Suttle and Gertie Brown. The film was named to the National Film Registry in 2018 and received widespread attention, including from a number of high profile celebrities drawn to the film’s moving depiction of Black love that continues to resonate. This attention led to further rediscoveries of Black performance in early films, thought lost. Taken together, these early film artifacts require a radical rethinking of the relationships between race, performance, and the emergence of American Cinema. And they have much to tell us about the cinematic expression of African American affection and how it can serve as a powerful testament to Black humanity at a time of rampant misrepresentation.

Allyson Nadia Field is author of Uplift Cinema: The Emergence of African American Film and the Possibility of Black Modernity (Duke University Press, 2015) and co-editor of Screening Race in American Nontheatrical Film (Duke University Press, 2019) and L.A. Rebellion: Creating a New Black Cinema (University of California Press, 2015). She is currently working on her next book, tentatively titled Minstrelsy-Vaudeville-Cinema: American Popular Culture and Racialized Performance in Early Film, for which she was named a 2019 Academy Film Scholar by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Field is Associate Professor of Cinema and Media Studies at the University of Chicago.

Still from recovered 1898 film believed to be the earliest depiction of Black intimacy.

Curated by Terri Francis of the Black Film Center/Archive, with support from IU Cinema, the IU Libraries Moving Image Archive, the Center for Research on Race and Ethnicity in Society, and The Media School. Special thanks to Yeeseon Chae. Dr. Field’s talk is hosted by The Media School’s Media Arts & Sciences Colloquium.✨💕

A view of the series poster designed by Kyle Calvert.

See BFC/A Exhibit in IU Cinema Display Case

💕An exhibit curated by BFC/A archival assistant Audrey B. Hood, and featuring items from the Black Film Center/Archive related to the actors featured in the Love! I’m in Love! film series is currently on exhibit in the IU Cinema’s display case. Highlights include a script signed by Sidney Poitier, James Earl Jones’ induction plaque from the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame, and a slap board used by Kevin Hooks while filming an episode of St. Elsewhere. There is also a poster exhibit on display in the quiet study area located on the ground floor of the Wells Library. See BFC/A Archivist Ronda Sewald’s essay on Diahann Carroll’s career, which adds context to the film Claudine and discusses some of the items on display at the cinema.

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