OWN’s ‘Love Is ____’ Helps Us Define Our Terms

With creators Salim and Mara Brock Akil, love is even more subjective than before

“He was a meteor that hit my life, I didn’t see coming” the opening line of the first episode of OWN’s newest show Love Is spoken from present-day Nuri. Told from the perspective of modern-day Nuri and Yasir, who are celebrating 21 years together, the story shows the lives of the couple who come from varying backgrounds. Both writers and dreamers Nuri and Yasir are in different phases of their lives; at least in the pilot episode, they are. The title of the show alone sent me down a rabbit hole of what I think love is. A subjective question, to say the least, love comes in many forms.

Set in 90s Los Angeles, around black Hollywood and the culture of the time— we can see some aspects of dating haven’t evolved much. “Buy ‘em light skinned with the long curly hair for free,” says younger Yasir to his friend before they see Nuri. The friend, Sean admits to succumbing to America’s standard of beauty or at least for a black woman. Nuri, played by Michele Weaver (Sister Code) fits that description until Yasir, played by Will Catlett (Black Lightning), sees her a year later with much shorter hair.

Young Love

On the cusp of breaking into the industry, Nuri is seen writing in a coffee shop, alone. A year later, she pulls up to a studio in a new Jeep talking to her friends before a meeting with one of our favorite 90s characters Kadeem Hardison (A Different World). “Why am I wrong for wanting a brotha to match my efforts as a prerequisite for marriage?” says young Nuri as she lists her accomplishments. Education, check. Career, check. Students loans almost paid off, check. New homeowner, check. Is requiring someone who is equally yoked too much to ask for?

As a young, black, educated and career oriented woman Nuri’s sentiments resonated with me. Most of her life reflected mine. Casually dating, wanting to focus on my aspirations, seems to have a checklist and plan for my life until that meteor comes and changes everything. Yasir on the other hand, his life is not as put together. A 30 something aspiring writer and director, Yasir finds himself in an unfulfilling relationship with a longtime girlfriend who no longer believes in his dreams. We see Nasir call his mother, one of the black mothers of Hollywood, Loretta Devine (Waiting to Exhale) for comfort and advice. Calling from a payphone outside a wig store, the vulnerability, unsureness, and love in its many forms we see between Yasir and his mother is relatable to any creative second-guessing their calling.

The Difference A Year Can Make

The life of a creative is seen from two perspectives in this episode. One struggling to survive and walking around in underwear, which I thought were biker shorts. And the other who seems as though they have it “together” but that’s only on the surface.

Nuri’s family dynamic almost resembles mine, in the closeness and transparency between her and her mother. Letting herself in with a key, Nuri’s mother finds her in bed with a coworker. “When’s your birthday,” she asks while following up with “Aquarius… he’s already in love with you! Don’t date one unless you’re serious.” Wise and true words even in the 90s. Soft comedic moments run through the episode including Nuri’s retort to her coworker reminding him “I told you not to fall in love with me!” If you’re wondering, Nuri is a Gemini— that makes sense huh?

“If all your doing is pointing out problems and no solutions, you’re a critic, not a writer,” Kadeem’s character Norman says at the writer’s table. This sentiment carries itself outside the studio office and into every day with both characters and their approach to life. The critique of what you want from a partner, the critique of your dreams and if their attainable. The solutions aren’t so easy to see, but both Nuri and Yasir work towards a simple solution between themselves. Over coffee and a back and forth over an invite to a Wynton Marsalis Pulitzer Prize-winning concert, the pair end the night telling each other “I love you.” After briefly meeting a year prior, leading two opposing lives, love is still subjective. At the end of the episode, we see that love means “I’d rather be with you” sang by Bootsy Collins as Yasir’s former relationship comes to an end.

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