‘Really Love’ Is a Smoldering Dream

There has been a resurgence of films with majority Black casts across all genres coming from mainstream studios, and independent films. Romance films starring Black people have returned to the screen after a near-total erasure since the ’90s. Recent films like The Photograph, Moonlight, and If Beale Street Could Talk have reminded audiences about Black tenderness and intimacy, even when these moments are brief and fleeting in the narrative. However, with Angel Kristi Williams’ Really Love, a film centered squarely on a romance, we are reminded of the gentleness of Black love and that Black women, in particular, deserve big grand gestures and declarations. 

Set in gentrifying Washington D.C., Really Love follows Isaiah (Kofi Siriboe), a struggling painter vying for representation and a solo art show. Watching his peers and his mentor (Michael Ealy) continue to soar is beginning to weigh on Isaiah’s self-esteem. His astounding talent is clear — even if his own family doesn’t entirely support his career choices.

Yootha Wong-Loi-Sing as Stevie and Kofi Siriboe as Isaiah in 'Really Love"
Yootha Wong-Loi-Sing as Stevie and Kofi Siriboe as Isaiah in ‘Really Love” | AFI Festival

In ‘Really Love’ Isaiah and Stevie come gliding into each others’ lives

Stevie (Yootha Wong-Loi-Sing) is also at a crossroads in her life. Stepping into her final year at Georgetown Law School, she’s torn between the activism work that tugs at her heart and the bigwig law firms that are vying for her attention. If it were up to her mother, she’d be commanding a corner office in some big city sky-rise, but Stevie isn’t so sure. 

Though they are both trying to determine their next steps, as fate would have it, Isaiah and Stevie come gliding into each others’ lives, first at an art gallery and later at their mutual friends’ club-opening. Under the club’s muted lights with Go-go funk in the background and on the hood of a cherry red jeep, eating fried chicken and sipping wine, they fall for one another hard and fast. It’s all happening just as their careers and dreams seem destined to tug them in different directions.

‘Really Love’ has elements of ‘Love Jones’ sprinkled throughout

Colorism has been a long-held issue in Hollywood and the Black community. Really Love is almost a unicorn, full of melanin-filled people, buttered skin, and glossy fros and tresses. In addition to Siriboe and Wong-Loi-Sing, Uzo Aduba, Mack Wilds, Blair Underwood, Naturi Naughton, and Suzzanne Douglas also star in the film. Through Williams’ lens, it becomes a sensuous Kehinde Wiley portrait come to life with elements of Theodore Witcher’s Love Jones sprinkled throughout. 

The first half of Really Love moves almost too quickly. Williams and her co-writer, Felicia Pride, ask the audience to immediately get swept up in Stevie and Isaiah’s romance. Because Siriboe and Wong-Loi-Sing are so magnificent, their electric chemistry bounces across the screen, forcing you to indulge in them while ignoring the work obligations, family expectations, and lack of communication that are slowly splintering their bubble.

In ‘Really Love’ Black women finally get a grand sweeping gesture

When conflict eventually erupts between the lovers, though expected, it is startling and harsh. It’s like being shaken away from a lush dream. Pride, disappointment, miscommunication, and lack of thoughtfulness make for an explosive cocktail. Despite themselves, Isaiah and Stevie haven’t quite learned to trust themselves or what they’ve been building. 

Yet, the narrative isn’t burdened by the weight of toxicity, infidelity, or moral failings that have plagued past romance films like Love & Basketball and The Best Man. Instead, what Really Love offers is an examination of the work it takes to have it all. And at long last, it gives Black women the grand sweeping gesture and declaration of extravagant big love that we deserve. 

 Really Love was screened and reviewed for AFI Film Festival.