Barbados-born director Menelik Shabazz has his parcel of cult following, particularly within the London black community. His previous feature films, The Story of Lovers Rock and Burning an Illusion were well received, and now, four years later, he brings us the documentary Looking for Love, about heterosexual relationships within the London black community.
In its Indiegogo page Shabazz claims it goes beyond being just a normal documentary because it centers into the realm of healing and is food for the soul. A mighty goal, but unfortunately Looking for Love feels much more like a bunch of vox pops poorly sewed together, relying solely on the charisma and opinion of the people in front of the camera to build the Ultimate Opinion About Love, Life and Everything.
Do not think, however, this is a cultural matter. Good documentaries transcend their boundaries. Many who couldn’t care less about Indonesia still shivered with The Act of Killing. And you don’t need to be a gamer to enjoy The King of Kong. What we have here, ladies and gentlemen, is a superbly half-cooked documentary that doesn’t even go deep into its extremely limited parameters. No interracial relationships (more surprising when we consider this is London, where all cultures come to melt). No same-sex relationships (yes, we are still waiting for the black documentarist that dares to touch the subject). No. Lightly zapping between the influence of slavery in black relationships, the sexualization of black girls during Carnival, online dating, sex, and, of course, it’s the mother’s fault if the kid doesn’t respect women, innit?, the audience doesn’t really understand what points are being made, if any (that is, besides relationships between non-blacks being all wine and roses, apparently).
With its “big” themes connected by Carnival twerking shots, people meditating on the beach watching the sunset (I wish I was joking on this one) and black and white spoken poetry that is great for the first few times but, alas, also becomes repetitive after the sixth time it’s used to disguise the absence of interesting material, Looking for Love does have one thing that makes it slightly bearable, and that is some of the people that actually express an articulate and honest opinion about matters to the camera – including the story of how a couple married for 50 years met, and a frank discussion about oral sex – but then, that is also the documentary’s biggest downfall. Because not all opinions are equal (or some are more equal than others), and you don’t have to have a vagina to feel the extreme 19th century mentality that comes out of some peoples’ mouth. Somehow, the fault rests on the black woman (the mother with many lovers, the girl that dresses revealingly during Carnival, the single mother who manages to support herself with the help of the State), who refuses to submit to men as she “should”. Obviously.
Too simplistic, barely a footprint on a big Theme, Looking for Love fails its ambition, barely showing something similar to a director’s voice, and barely scratching the surface of proper research into the real matters. If this is Love, send in for half a dozen of cats, please.