Star rating: ****
Director & Producer: Menelik Shabazz
Starring: Dr Umar Johnson (Psychologist), Dwight Turner (Therapist), Lennox Thomas (Child Psychologist), Susan Quillam (Relationship Expert), Jackee Holder (Executive/Life Coach), Neferatiti Ife (Councillor) plus comedians Andi Osho, Glenda Jaxson, Donna Spence, Mr Cee, Kojo and Slim.
Review date: Monday 21st September 2015
Film rating: 15
Length: 120 minutes
Looking for Love for many is the eternal struggle. Love is the staple diet of many a pop song, film, soap opera and story. People never tire of listening to romantic songs or watching romantic dramas, especially those relating to unrequited love. Writers know that, for the reader/viewer, observing the struggle and knock back or a doomed relationship is often more exciting for the viewer than portraying romantic success.
Menelik Shabazz’s latest documentary, ‘Looking for Love’ (SunRa Pictures) explores the subject of love, specifically black love (although 90% of the film’s subject matter was universally accessible ) via in depth interviews with expert Psychologists and Psychotherapists including Dr Umar Johnson, Dwight Turner, Lennox Thomas, relationships guru Susan Quillam and Executive Coach Jackee Holder, plus Comedians Andi Osho, Donna Spence, Glenda Jaxson, Kojo and Mr Cee.
Whilst the various experts talked about the subject from a professional point of view, the Comedians drew on personal experiences to add great humour and not a little pathos at times to the debate. I found that, along with the group discussions (with ordinary people) the documentary was a heart warming blend of expert analysis and entertainment, that produced a humorous, yet educational film about love, race and gender politics.
I was especially impressed by American Psychologist, Dr Umar Johnson, who talked about a wide range of matters including, as he coined it, the “psycho bull****” of any woman who, in his opinion, thinks she can hop around from man to man, holding down simultaneous relationships and not be affected or scarred by that behaviour. He lent some depth and cultural context to the film by drawing a link between slavery and the present day state of Black relationships. He was quite certain that there is a negative legacy of slavery extending into the sphere of personal relationships. For instance, that the emasculation of men as a consequence of slavery meant that women rose to be the head of many households, a position which many African-Caribbean men have never reclaimed. This has been further exacerbated by women’s superior career, educational and economic advancement that has resulted in the African-Caribbean race being the only one where the women have advanced farther than the men. That in his view has impacted negatively on the building of strong black on black relationships. I suspect he is arguing that this applies equally in Britain as it does in America.
Johnson felt that too many people run from relationship to relationship when one ends as a “convenient means of escape from dealing with their issues” (their contribution to a relationship breakdown) rather than take time out to reflect on what went wrong and identifying how to put it right in future.
Dr Johnson felt that childhood sexual abuse has had a negative knock on impact on relationships. He felt that too many people keep too many secrets from their partner with respect to this sensitive matter. Whilst it’s understandable that a victim won’t want to shout it from the roof tops, he feels that the suppression of it isn’t working, for its impact is unintentially evident anyway in people’s actions – be that having an attitude of distrust, fear, suffering or committing domestic violence or repeating sexually abusive behaviour towards others etc… He cited the importance of “owning the problem” by going to counselling and opening up, especially if the man or woman is not secure in themselves.
This is a view that was echoed by Jackee Holder who acknowledged that many people have a fear of revealing oneself and opening up to another person, be that their partner, or I might add a counseller or therapist.
Trouble with Women
One of the most profound and disturbing comments came not from an expert but a woman in the group discussion who blamed single mothers for the problems young men and women have with relationships. She said too many mothers had set a bad example to their sons e.g. by having numerous relationships and having countless men staying overnight in their homes. Subconsciously their sons reject this behaviour and grow up to disrespect their mothers and women in general and consequently go on to treat the women they meet in a disrespectful manner. I wonder if this might explain the significant rise in inter-racial relationships – the majority of which are black men with white women, in the sense that black men will not have viewed white mothers/women in such a negative way and therefore as they don’t come with that negative baggage, this arguably makes them more attractive to black men.
I would surmise that this is a view Dr Johnson would agree with as he stated that the first role models, the primary role models everybody has for relationships, are those we saw between our own mother and father – be that good, bad, indifferent or simply non-existent. “They are our first love and inform all our relationships and attitudes towards them.”
Dr Johnson talked about the impact of absent fathers on their daughters. The impact of this is that many women are looking to a man to fulfil a role of their absent father. That’s not necessarily a new or revolutionary concept, but I think for men to be aware of and understand just how deep a statement/truth that is could actually be very important if black on black relationships are to improve.
For if a man is aware that the woman he is with grew up without a father in their life, he needs to understand that this woman’s needs will be different to that of a woman who grew up with and perhaps still has a good relationship with her father. The woman lacking that will be more likely to be looking to their partner to provide security, responsibility, love and affection that they never received from a male when growing up. I daresay all women want that of course, but I suggest the urge is stronger in those that never had it. Such women may even have an idealised, romantic, unrealistic image of what a good, real, dad should be like and expect you to fulfil that “impossible” role. No pressure guys, just some food for thought!
This brings us back to single mothers. There has been a significant rise in their numbers, in both black and white communities over the last 30 years with the rising economic and educational attainment of women, plus increased equality in society. So much so that many feel they can successfully raise children without a man. As a result successive generations of women have felt and acted as if they can do the same, leading to more and more broken relationships and broken families. That’s not solely because of this but it’s a major factor that cannot be ignored. This gives the message to both sons and daughters, future mothers and fathers that they don’t have to stick around in relationships and for men especially, it feeds the terribly wrong idea that they don’t have to bear that sense of responsibility towards their own children and the mothers of the children, which more than likely will be very damaging to the children in various ways, some of which will be more blatantly obvious than others.
Put a ring on it
The film touched on the topic of women having children for men who have not committed to them by, (as Beyonce would say, “putting a ring on it”). There is something to be said for that. It meant something back in the day and still does today. Janet Street Porter touched on this in a recent article in the Indie, 26th September 2015, where she quoted statistics regarding the sustainability of relationships which bear children in versus out of marriage. 2 in 3 where the children were born after wedlock lasted, whilst a third fail. There’s also more financial security in being married than co-habiting.
Another woman talked about the differences between white and black relationships, saying that in the black community many a relationship can reach the 7 year mark with not so much as an engagement, never mind a marriage in the offing, to cement a relationship, yet amongst white women, they generally would not stand for being in a 7 year relationship unless at least they were engaged or married by year 7.
There’s something about taking a stand and seeking that formal level of serious commitment from your partner that black women could look to take on board. I have no idea of the statistics regarding how many do or not and that is something that the documentary could have picked up on and provided some useful data on (if it exists). After all, if they’ve gone through the trouble of researching and making the film, I think its incumbent on the producer to provide evidence to support or disprove bold claims made on film.
Build a relationship
One of the male therapists made the important point of saying people need to remember that if they want a long-term relationship they need to build and create one. It won’t happen without both partners putting in the effort to do so.
The conversation between Stand-up Comedians Eddie Kadi, Kojo and Mr Cee was a good mix of humorous anecdotes re their dating disasters – some involving trips to the cinema and wedding receptions, mixed with the more serious, for instance, Kojo talking about the importance of choosing the right woman to date as opposed to any and anyone. I guess you also have to throw into the mix with comedians that they are famous and that brings its own burden of additional responsibility to make the right choices.
Andi Osho was hilarious and had the cinema in fits of laughter with tales of her disastrous dates. Just don’t mention the stick! What I liked about her and all of the Comedians was that aside from the joking, they gave something personal of themselves to the process and were honest regarding their own short comings. Andi, for instance, came to the realisation at some point in her life that relationships were not just about what the man brings to the table, but what she contributes as well.
Glenda Jaxson in conversation with fellow Comedienne’s Angela Reid and Kayleigh Lewis was especially funny – talking about how she got proposed to and her eventual marriage.
Donna Spence kept it real when it came to sex talk – the do’s and don’ts of what, for her (perhaps many women), makes for a great sex life. I enjoyed the banter between her and Mr Cee in her interview for this film.
Donna Spence is too nosey!
Donna Spence also asked the question that must be on everybody’s lips who has watched the film’s trailer about why on earth Mr Cee’s nose was bandaged up!! I had to admit I’d heard the answer a long time ago but it seemed very strange that a bandaged up Mr Cee was featured so prominently in the promotional trailer. I’m sure it wasn’t meant to be but it looked like some sort of comedy set up, but wasn’t at all. I can’t understand why Mr Cee or the film makers left that in. Surely it could have been removed for filming purposes or if not film someone else. It wasn’t a good look at all and was certainly different, I’ll say that.
Moving on, there were no sub-titles naming who the comedians were, which seemed a little disrespectful to them. I’m not sure why that was overlooked as that’s standard practice to name check frequent contributors.
Notting Hill Carnival
There were quite a few scenes filmed at Notting Hill Carnival. Other than to show some of the slackness in dress code and dance style I failed to see why this was given so much prominence in the film as if to say it somehow represented Black relationships and culture. It doesn’t and the film didn’t even try to portray that so it was demeaning, odd, pointless and completely out of all context to cut back to the carnival so frequently. Apart from showing the charmless way some young men chirps women and some young women allow it, it was a distracting irrelevance to what was on the whole a serious examination of why relationships failed and what makes relationships work.
Considering the significant rise of the inter-racial relationship in British (and American) society, especially between black men-white women, it was a surprisingly major over sight of this film not to address that. When it comes to relationships, it’s been arguably the #1 topic of debate within the Black community on both sides of the pond for decades and it’s something that’s just so overwhelmingly prevalent and limiting of the number of available and suitable black men for black women. Aside from Alex Pascall OBE touching upon this with respect to the relationships he sees his grandchildren having and the cultural differences between black and white people that may not be understood by each other, that was it.
There was precious little said too re Christian relationships and the value many Christians see in putting God at the centre of their relationships.
I recently attended a wonderfully entertaining and enlightening 30th wedding anniversary and it was interesting to note that that the couple celebrating were not the ones with the longest relationship in the room! There were a few couples with 31, 33 and 34 year long marriages!! When sharing their secrets for a sustainable marriage the common themes amongst them all were:
- Putting God at the centre of their marriage.
- Realistic expectations of what marriage is. In fact this applies to any long-term serious relationship. Nobody said it was a bed of roses. It isn’t. You have to work at it. To be prepared to go through the ups and downs.
- Remember what it is that brought you to the alter when the going gets tough.
- Spend time with like minded couples. I think it’s no small co-incidence that those with 30+ year long relationships are all very good friends with one another.
All of these people were devout Christians and it is also no co-incidence that their faith has sustained their relationships through the hard times. That’s something that could have been explored more in this film.
The only couple interviewed for the film were Mr & Mrs Pascall, married for, I think, 50 years. They offered some useful insights into the endurability and success of their union. It would have been interesting to hear from other couples and how they manage their relationships and for the film to contrast and compare married v un-married couples; long-term cohabiter’s v married couples. Incidentally I loved the Pascall’s Black Labrador dog. She was unwittingly a very BIG, silent, star of the show!
The film maker did not really sum up their own conclusions at the end of the film, which he should have done to stamp his own personal view on what he had discovered as result of making this film.
Personally, there was so much to take from the film and I suspect different messages will resonant more strongly with people depending upon their personal circumstances, experiences and gender. There was so much positivity and constructive dialogue and advice given that anyone would be hard pressed not to find something of value in the programme, whether starting out on a relationship or in the middle of a long-term relationship.
At 2 hours length, it was something of an endurance test to watch till the end and far too long by about 30 minutes.
Thanks to the cast list of relationships experts, comedians and spoken word poets ‘Looking for Love’ is a very entertaining and consistently interesting film that is lively, educational, frank speaking and highly amusing. It shines a spotlight on Black relationships, but in fact its messages are pertinent to anyone of any race interested in the eternal question of why relationships fail and what is required to build an enjoyable, sustainable, long-term relationship or marriage.
Review © Tiemo Talk of the Town
- Looking for Love film official website
- Marriage play – Tiemo review – 14th August 2015
- Man up – Tiemo film review – 2oth July 2015
- The Love Punch – Tiemo film review – 25th August 2014
- Perfect Match – Tiemo review – 16th October 2013