It’s no secret that queer media, even in its recent rise in prevalence, is overwhelmingly centered around the narratives of white gay men, often relegating queer people of color to background roles or even to separate shows. And when queer people are onscreen, they’re often written by a wholly cisgender and heterosexual writing team, directed by a straight director and played by straight actors. As such, it’s even more important to champion pieces of art created by queer people of color themselves, telling their own stories in the most authentic way possible, and “Love the One You’re With” is the perfect example.
Directed by Spencer M. Collins IV and written by Sampson McCormick, “Love the One You’re With” intricately depicts the uniqueness of Black queer love. Namely, it explores the closeness of the community and how frustrating that can be, especially as the number of queer people in an area makes for the possibility of partner overlap between exes.
The story follows Miles (Donnie Hue Frazier) and Avery (Anthony Bawn) as they reach the bitter end of their six-year romantic relationship — it is quickly revealed that Avery struggled with depression and Miles had snuck around with Jazz (Danny Royce), even bringing him to the cafe where his friend Rene (Sampson McCormick) works. The film doesn’t shy away from the fact that queer relationships can be fundamentally different than heterosexual ones, often not conforming to conceived social norms of monogamy that straight relationships have established.
The film features a rather intimate storytelling style, making it immensely bingeable; it feels as though a friendship is blossoming between the audience and characters at every moment. The film’s choice of shots often lets you stare right into the eyes of the actors, feeling their internal emotions up close and personal, diving right into the complex psyches of their characters. The film’s opening shot, centering on Frazier and Bawn on their characters’ living room couch, is wholly honest and devastating — as if the audience were a fly on the wall, watching the mere fragments of their relationship die in real time while their love for each other is laid bare, eventually coming to an end.
Intentionally, the resolution of “Love the One You’re With” is widely left open to interpretation, allowing for thought-provoking rumination on the film’s interpersonal relationships rather than easily tying up the conflict at the film’s close. Just as queerness is never settled and always changing, the story is left open-ended, as exes still have lingering feelings for one another and much of the interpersonal tension is never resolved. In this sense, while the plot may be less satisfying, the film is a well-done snapshot of a moment in the queer experience, rather than a comprehensive retelling of a person’s entire journey.
Most importantly, this film very clearly presents a myriad of fleshed out, multifaceted gay Black characters, something not many other movies can boast. Queer people in media are very frequently tokenized and are not allowed to be complex beings in favor of being upheld as a positive representation of their specific community. In “Love the One You’re With,” however, Black gay men are given the space to make less than desirable relationship decisions, to be secretive and to have their lives be messy all around, rather than being the only Black queer people onscreen in a sea of white or straight characters.
While not the most polished story, “Love the One You’re With” is authentic in every sense of the word, truthful in its discussion of the complicated nature of queerness and bold in its presentation of Black stories at the forefront of this narrative, and these efforts should be loudly applauded.