John Singleton’s film, “Baby Boy” holds a solid place in my memory as my first introduction to hood films and the ways of romantic relationships.
I am the child of an incarcerated mother and an absent father; most of what I learned about anything came from books, movies or friends. I thought of “Baby Boy” again most recently after hearing and engaging in conversations regarding Jay Z’s 4:44 album. While people marveled over the fact that even “a Beyonce” could be cheated on, degraded, and used for growth, I thought of Evette. I thought of female friends I’ve had over the years. I thought of my own mother. All competent women, beautiful, intelligent and hardworking. 4:44 made me consider the ways that many women share the same story and why is it that we don’t break free? Are we even interested in being free?
At 16, I had no personal dating experience and neither did any of my friends. We were black girls in a predominantly white environment. We were invisible. I paid close attention to any romance between black women and men, both on and off screen because it was a rarity to me. I was introduced to “Baby Boy” through my inner-city tennis team. We had traveled to Texas for a tournament. Though I never won any matches, I enjoyed the trips for the camaraderie among people outside of my usual private school world. The airing of “Baby Boy” took place in the hotel room I had been assigned to with three other girls. The room was packed with most of the team, minus whoever had snuck off to have sex. The DVD was wielded by one of my roommates, a mature fourteen-year-old Catholic school student who had already shared with us surprisingly wise tales of her lost virginity.
Why must the stakes always be so high for black women in love?
“Baby Boy” is primarily a coming of age tale, with the only love story being between Jody, played by Tyrese Gibson, and himself. Jody’s story is not unfamiliar to most of us; he is 21 and a parent of two children by two different women. Apparently, we are meant to take Jody’s relationship with Evette, played by Taraji P. Henson, more seriously than the one with his other baby’s mother, Peanut, played by Tamara LaSeon Bass. Evette is the one with a job, apartment, and car, while Peaches seems to spend most of her time smoking weed in her mother’s house.
At the time of my teenage viewing, the larger themes of the movie went over my head. I think we were mostly into it for the jokes and sex scenes. As someone who didn’t have cable, I was both impressed and shocked by the graphic nature of it all. Years later, I bought a DVD copy of “Baby Boy”. I have since watched this movie dozens of times. I enjoy catching snippets of it when it airs on TV. Still, it wasn’t until I had experienced some intimate relationships with men myself that I began to understand, and question, the larger themes of the movie and what we might have absorbed as young teens watching it.
Jody seems to get it together by the end of the movie: he finds a way to make regular income and eventually commits to Evette, at least for the time being. What it takes though is a near-death experience and for his other baby mama to turn him down. In the title track of 4:44, Jay-Z attributes his apology to the birth of his children saying, “look, I apologize, often womanize/ took for my children to be born/ see through a woman’s eyes.” I noticed that neither of these man-children’s transition into adulthood had to do with the women they claimed to love. Women often talk about how much “work” we put into making men better, but ultimately, it is not this “work” that changes them. It’s the decision that they make on their own to grow up.
Women often talk about how much “work” we put into making men better, but ultimately, it is not this “work” that changes them.
In both stories, the pain they wreak mostly has to do with the fact that they weren’t mature when they started their relationships with these women. We can talk about why they weren’t and if they should have been but ultimately the point is that they were not. And this is very clear. The difference in maturity between Evette and Jody is obvious from their first on-screen interaction. She spends most of the movie demanding that he grow up and he spends most of the movie trying to figure out how to do that. The reason for Evette’s anger is that Jody is doing his growing up on her time, but isn’t that something that she is, in some ways at least, in control of?
What I wondered when I thought about Evette is why didn’t she simply do less? Jody was charming in a way that might have been good enough for a high school boyfriend but he had not yet taken the steps towards adulthood that Evette already had. The car he drove was Evette’s. The homes he stayed in belonged to Evette or his mother. In terms of raising their son, Evette did mostly everything on her own anyway. There was no benefit, financially or emotionally, to having Jody around. They shared a son but were not legally married. She was free to do and date whoever she wanted but chose not to.
There is a part in the movie where Evette does suggest that she will go out and date any of the men that regularly ask her out. Jody becomes infuriated because, of course, it is believable that many men, probably much better catches than Jody, would love to get to know Evette. Jody’s response is that Evette can “go out and be a trick if she wants to”. The argument is followed by a sex scene which maybe we are supposed to believe is the reason why Evette stays, but I don’t think this is it. I think Evette believes that it is better to have a man around even if it’s more like raising another son. I think she feels shame that, should she walk away from the relationship, she would be left with the stigma of being a “baby mama”. It’s possible that she would feel as though she betrayed Jody, by not waiting for him to change, though she never needed to be waited on and has been betrayed by him many times. I think, also, that Evette’s lack of close friends and family has something to do with it. For all of Jody’s shenanigans, he may be the only person she can depend on for anything.
Why is it more important to so many girls for someone else to commit to us than it is for us to commit to ourselves?
I think of Beyonce in the same way; beautiful, talented and capable of getting attention from many different, worthy men. Instead, she chooses to stick it out with Jay-Z, through multiple miscarriages and infidelities, assuming the story is fact not fiction. For a woman like Beyonce, who has her own money and a supportive family, perhaps the image was worth more than the peace of mind. Also, considering what her own mother went through with her father, it is possible that she just believed, as many of us do, that the pain is a part of it. That she has money, beauty, talent, and supporters may not have any correlation in her mind if she believes that the pain is inevitable.
This is not to say that Beyonce might not have ended up with Jay Z in the end or Evette with Jody when it’s all said and done. What I’m getting at is the question of why must the stakes always be so high for black women in love? Why must it be all or nothing? What is so wrong with dating, as Evette threatens she might do?
I didn’t start dating until college, but once I started, I did plenty of it. I never pretended to be anyone’s girlfriend and when the fun ended, I stopped answering phone calls and texts. When people stopped hitting me up, I learned to leave them alone. Only a sociopath is the player in every scenario and only a true fool gets played every time. Every date I went on was not necessarily to find a husband. Mostly it was just for fun, a unique experience or at least an entertaining story.
The stakes don’t always need to be so high and everyone is more likely to have an enjoyable time when they’re not. When I hear talk of infidelity, possession or people being pressured into relationships, especially very young people, my only question is why? Why do women feel that it’s necessary to endure so much pain for love?
When I look at women like Beyoncé and Evette I see that this is not an issue of confidence or intelligence. Neither of those two women, along with countless others who can relate to their experiences, are lacking in those departments. So then the answer must lie in something we believe about men, something that must be untrue or at least not a universal trait.
What I always wondered about Evette is who she was outside of her relationship with Jody. What were her interests? Who were her friends? If the movie was called “Baby Girl”, centering Evette’s experience as a black woman, what version of Evette would we see?
Romantic relationships are only a small part of any given person’s life, yet somehow, they have become hailed as the most important. It’s a dangerous way to treat them. It leads to people pressuring mates they don’t even like to commit just so they can post photos on Instagram. It leads to cheating on those they could love if given enough time. The weight we put on romantic relationships by over valuing them causes them to combust often before they’ve even had a chance to flourish.
The subject leaves me with more questions than answers. What is the big rush to commitment? As women, what do we believe it says about us that someone has committed? Lastly, why is it more important to so many girls for someone else to commit to us than it is for us to commit to ourselves?