Sapphic Cinema: A Luv Tale, A Black Lesbian Classic

 

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: indie films are lightyears ahead of Hollywood in terms of Black lesbian representation. Big budget movies about Black characters are almost entirely straight. And lesbian films that sneak into mainstream cinema are so white they need a special laundry setting. But Black lesbian films are there, if you know where to look. A Luv Tale was released in 1999 and it is an underrated Black lesbian classic.

Taylor James is an up and coming photographer. Her pictures capture the spirit of each subject, and have made the covers of multiple magazines. Taylor is photographing models for Meridian when she falls for the magazine’s editor, Candice Montgomery. Candice is a capable, confident woman at the top of her game. But Meridian doesn’t excite her anymore. Neither does George, the magazine’s owner, and her boyfriend of 12 years. Taylor does, though. A moment of chivalry and Candice is hooked.

A Luv Tale is more than twenty years old. Characters smoke in restaurants and speak to one another through landlines with chords. In some ways, it feels like another world. But in terms of romance, the thrilling possibility that it just might happen, this film is timeless. It has sexual tension so thick you could cut it with a knife.

And, as far as dyke drama goes, A Luv Tale is stellar. The film opens to Taylor’s best friend Akliva leaving a stern but loving voicemail pointing out that she always goes for the wrong woman. Tammy, Taylor’s ex, is modeling for Meridian. She has a jealous meltdown when she senses Taylor moving on. If Tammy is anything to go by, Akliva has a point! Then there is the fact that Candice was previously straight and has a son who is closer to age in Taylor.

Each of A Luv Tale’s 45 minutes is packed full of drama. It’s a short film with a small cast, all used to great effect. Would the magic of this film have been possible if it was made in a big studio? Unlikely. It’s impossible not to appreciate the flair and creativity of director Sidra Smith when you consider how much she accomplished with a tiny budget.

Taylor and Candice reciting Nikki Giovanni’s poetry to one another would likely have ended up on the cutting room floor on the grounds it’s not universal (i.e. relatable to a white audience). This was A Luv Tale’s most romantic moment, powerful because of how deeply Giovanni’s words resonate with a Black lesbian audience.

A Luv Tale was made with a Black lesbian gaze. Whether it’s seen through the lens of Taylor’s camera, or the beautiful lighting of Black women’s skin in the glow of a fire, that gaze is present in every shot. This film is special because it is by, for, and about Black lesbians. The characters aren’t warped in the white imagination or objectified by the male gaze. Two decades on, and this quality of Black lesbian representation is still a rare thing.

A Luv Tale is now streaming on Amazon Prime.