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ABFF 2021 Review: ‘Maya and Her Lover,’ How Maya Tries to Get Her Groove Started

ABFF 2021 Review: ‘Maya and Her Lover,’ How Maya Tries to Get Her Groove Started

On the surface, Maya and Her Lover attempts to be a sexy celebration of single Black womanhood, but in reality, the film is a cautionary tale about how chronic long-term low self-esteem can ruin a woman’s life. 

Maya (Ashanti J’Aria) is a 39-year-old privileged Brooklynite living off of her savings as she takes time to figure out what to do with the rest of her life. Even her age-appropriate “booty call” lacks luster. Her most fulfilling relationships are with her best friend Tracey (Faiven Feshazion), her niece Zoe (Madeline Grey DeFreece), and the owner of her neighborhood coffee shop Babatunde (Al Thompson).

Maya’s introverted life keeps her mostly at home ordering takeout, reading books, getting coffee, and receiving impromptu scone deliveries from her bestie Tracey. While visiting the coffee shop, Maya unexpectedly gets introduced to a young man who coincidentally happens to be her regular takeout delivery guy Kaseem (Shomari Love). When Kaseem calls Maya out of the blue for advice, she’s taken by surprise. Kaseem responds, “Babatunde told me you was a ‘college girl.’ I’m just tryin to soak up all the knowledge I can by someone such as yourself.” Maya can tell he’s “mostly flirting” and turns him down, but Kaseem convinces her to meet up for a working dinner. This ends up with her paying for the meal and him spending the night, which leads to an April/August affair.

Maya and Her Lover is written and directed by Nicole Sylvester and produced by Come Monday Productions. The look of the film is fantastic. Set in Brooklyn, it’s wonderful to experience NYC living authentically. Composer Camilio Rodriguez’s score blends in beautifully with the world of the film. The story focuses on the universal challenges single cisgendered straight Black women face dating in the 21st century. 

I love the relationships among the women in this film. The scenes with Maya and her best friend Tracey are the best parts of this movie. Faiven Feshazion’s portrayal of Tracey is hilarious, and the experiences this character has are actually the film I’d love to see. She steals and uplifts every scene she’s in and brings a level of joy to the narrative that makes Maya and Her Lover worth the time.

The other standout performance is Madeline Grey DeFreece as Maya’s niece Zoe. She is fresh and energetic, and her style of acting is the most natural in this film. I believed every word Zoe said was coming to her in the moment. She adds nuance to the story that made me lean in, wanting more of this captivating person’s story.

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Maya and Her Lover’s pacing is much slower than most romantic comedies. The scenes seem to be much longer than they actually are with a lot of dialogue and very little action. The main problem of the film is there is zero chemistry between the actors who play Maya and Kassem. The obviously transactional nature of Maya and Kassem’s relationship is tedious. Maya moves through the film like a modern day Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh. At first, I was rooting for her to find a way out of her funk, but as she got more involved with Kaseem, I gave up on this character and tuned out on their storyline. 

Throughout the film, the script reflects how self-hatred is injected into some women as we get older through ageism. Maya and Kaseem constantly have something negative to say about Maya’s age, and it’s exhausting to keep hearing them talk about it. Kaseem’s pious religious hypocrisy and misogynist social justice philosophy make the character less likeable. The love scenes between Maya and Kaseem are awkward, unruly, and difficult to watch. A disturbing intimate moment that stands out was when Kaseem had his hand clasped around Maya’s neck as if he were choking her during copulation. It’s an uncomfortable power dynamic to view. While Maya and Her Lover strongly defies stereotypes when it comes to portraying Black women, the writer chooses to place Kaseem into many of the stereotypes we currently see dark-skinned Black male actors play in films these days, which is unfortunate.

Maya and Her Lover attempts to weave in a theme of body positivity into the narrative and Maya is naked in several scenes, but instead of the nudity being intentional, it was gratuitous. Kaseem’s blatant misogyny is glaring in all of the intimate scenes with Maya. Their first kiss, which Maya initially pulls away from, has Kaseem biting his lip then planting slurpy, smacky kisses on her neck and grabbing Maya’s buttocks as he objectifies her as “thick.” Why is it that, in order to achieve full acceptance of her body, Maya must conform to Kaseem’s idea of what size a woman’s body should be? 

So many aspects of Maya and Her Lover had great potential to be a sexy, sweet coming-of-middle-age romantic comedy for a new generation of Black women. Instead, by telling the tired old story of a pitiful older woman with a manipulative younger man, Maya and Her Lover boldly goes where we’ve already been before.

Maya and Her Lover is screening at the 2021 American Black Film Festival.

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