Jason’s Lyric (1994)

Rated R

Starring: Allen Payne, Jada Pinkett, Bokeem Woodbine and Forest Whitaker

Rated: R Crime/Drama/Romance

Set in Houston, Jason’s Lyric, centers upon the life of a young, African-American man, Jason Alexander (Allen Payne).  Caring, affable and responsible, Jason is dedicated to his mother, Gloria (Suzzanne Douglas), and his brother, Joshua (Bokeem Woodbine).  He finds contentment in his daily job working in a neighborhood television repair shop and supporting his mother, who works two menial jobs.  Joshua has been recently released from prison having served time for the latest of many crimes.

The tension between Gloria and Joshua is high, as Gloria does not trust Joshua or his intentions.  Jason attempts to help Joshua in securing a legitimate position to work, despite his criminal past.  However, Joshua, who is poorly educated, turns to selling drugs and seeks to become involved in a robbery in order to make quick money. 

Adding to the delicate balance that Jason is trying to maintain between his mother and brother is his new-found love with Lyric (Jada Pinkett), a waitress at a local soul food restaurant.  She intrigues him, as she asks him about his life, his aspirations and his dreams.  Lyric, who wants to see the world outside their environment, inspires him to plan for his, and, hopefully, their, future.

Complicating the young couple’s plans are family ties and the past, including his complicated relationship with his late father, Mad Dog (Forest Whitaker) and her loyalty to her brother, Alonzo (Anthony “Treach” Criss), who dates her good friend, Marti (Lisa Nicole Carson), and is the mastermind behind the robbery in which Joshua is part.  Will Jason and Lyric be able to overcome their pasts to begin a new life … or will what has occurred previously be insurmountable for the young lovers?

Jason’s Lyric received, overall, positive reviews.  The actors’ performances and cinematography made the storyline believable for many of its viewers.  Writer Bobby Smith, Jr. and producer/director Doug McHenry provided artistic guidance that prompts those who watch the film to care about the Alexander brothers: you wonder how they turned out so differently but also how they grew to be so fiercely loyal to each other.  Smith and McHenry also invite us to become invested in the gorgeous Black love between Jason and Lyric.  Not since the bathtub love scene of “Priest” and “Georgia” (accompanied by the desire-filled sounds of “Give Me Your Love”, lustfully sung by soulful crooner, Curtis Mayfield) in Gordon Park’s Superfly have viewers seen such passionate love between a Black man and Black woman. 

Some critics, including Lisa Schwarzbaum of Entertainment Weekly and Peter Ranier of the Los Angeles Times, derailed the romance scenes of Jason and Lyric.  However, Black filmmaker, Jamaa Fanaka wrote, specifically in response to Ranier, in “Big Amen for Rhythmic, Riveting and Sexy ‘Jason’s Lyric’” published in the Los Angeles Times that “We African Americans especially crave love stories like that of Jason and Lyric who are both pure of heart and completely committed to one another. And have sexual appetites! Indeed, what is romantic love without sexual spices?  Blacks have too often been cinematically castrated ever since Edison invented the Kinetoscope.  Jason’s Lyric helps provide us with a sort of cinematic ‘sexual healing’ …  it is 1994 and it falls to us African American filmmakers to help define our own unique existences.  In Jason’s Lyric, director McHenry and writer Bobby Smith Jr. have taken us one step closer to the intellectual realization of our cultural Promised Land.  Jason and Lyric represent the romantic ideal to which we all aspire.  When they win, we all win!  And, make no mistake about it, vicarious winning, sexual or otherwise, is one of the more exquisite rewards of good cinema.”

Adding to the success of this film was its 1994 soundtrack.  Peaking at “#1” on Billboard’s “Top Black Albums”, it also secured a spot on the “Top 20 Billboard 200”.   Jason’s Lyric contained three hits singles: “Crazy Love” covered by Brian McKnight; “If You Think You’re Lonely Now”, a hit originally sung by Bobby Womack, covered by K-Ci of the R&B group, Jodeci; and “U Will Know” by Black Men United (BMU), a collaboration of Black male musical artists, including After 7, El DeBarge, Intro, R. Kelly, Lenny Kravitz, Keith Sweat, Christopher Williams, Stokely Williams and D’Angelo, who wrote the track.

Indeed, Jason’s Lyric is, as Fanaka exclaimed, “one of the more exquisite rewards of good cinema”!

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