There is a tender moment of revelation for everything. Sometimes it is on the bus or on the street, sometimes it is in yours/somebody’s bed, sometimes it is just somewhere that is nowhere worth remembering. For me, this time it is in the small and dark of a cinema watching a matinee screening of a film I’d been more than desperate to see over the past year with my ex-lover.
An Oversimplification of Her Beauty is an experimental film by Terence Nance that recreates the unspoken space amid friendship and relationships. Starring Terence Nance himself and the girl with whom he is caught up in this difficult dance, the film shifts between reconstruction and reimagining using both animation and live action. Whilst the voiceover attempts to question the power of emotional memory, where the line between fact and reality, fantasy and fiction in actuality lie, it is his telling woven into this vision that promulgates an earnest cultural dialogue.
I watched the entire film in awe both at the poetics and the visuals that are frighteningly familiar and spent the rest of my day in a heavy and thick daze. With something so earnest, so raw it becomes difficult to understand how such storytelling does not have an audience split themselves open as a consequence. I was unsettled to the core of me and in many ways so was my ex.
I am often caught between my vision as an artist and the place I occupy as a cultural critic, and yet it is this space in which they meet that creates an overwhelming response to something as beautiful as this.
Nance dares to do something that goes beyond the regular stipends of mainstream black film as we know it (ultimately defined by what sells in a white supremacist capitalist patriarchal market) and goes even further into a realm that is rarely delved into for the same reasons: a decolonial telling of (black) love and (black) masculinity.
He dares to be brave in the way perhaps Junot Diaz does with his writing, he carves out a space for his errors, for his weaknesses, his hurt and most importantly a reclamation of those emotions that come with being in love and being heartbroken. Here he reflects, not just of how he felt but what it meant for him beyond that, he traces out a series of unhealthy and unfulfilled relationships with women that for him often inhabit similar narratives to his female lead, the centre of this story. He talks about love in a culture that often denies men, and in particular black men, the room to talk about how they feel in order to love and be loved.
It seems in many ways that this awkward in between place is what allows Nance to get to the heart of this. Entirely desexualised, he is able to focus on understandings of love and intimacy that transcend typically masculine recollections of love that are often bound up and lost within sex. This reveals something no less problematic, that amidst the desire and the need and the want, amidst the intimacy that two people can silently share without possessing the capacity to articulate how you feel all is often lost. Without the tools, the know how, and the space to talk about how and what you feel as your own (fact or memory), there is little room to reflect, heal and nurture the possibility of honest and deserving love. It is this language that facilitates self-esteem, self-worth, self-healing, and self-definition away from fear, away from punishment, and into a realm of authenticity and wholeness.
Leaving the cinema and strolling on a warm spring evening, my ex mentions that he too had gone through something similar, he just hadn’t and still didn’t have the language to talk about it yet. Nance had and it was powerful, so powerful that young men like him too could relate, connect with, and make some sense of their own experiences. We part and I wonder if this would have changed anything about our own story, how we loved, how it ended, where we are now. For the romantic in me love reigns supreme, for the political woman of colour feminist in me even this remains even more so. Finding, creating and practicing decolonial love as individuals and as communities is a process. An Oversimplification of Her Beauty is a tale, a proven space of necessary expression, about what happens when we don’t know how to and what happens when we might know how.