First of all, Sylvie’s Love is good. This Tessa Thompson-led picture is beautiful, set in New York’s 1960’s jazz scene. The costumes, the decor, the music, all make for an immersive experience matched by the film’s sweet, simmering love story. That’s reason enough for the Latinx community to show up for Sylive’s Love but there’s so much more.
For one, it features our favorite leading ladies. This is Tessa Thompson like I haven’t seen before. I’m used to seeing her as a badass whether in Westworld, Thor, or Creed. Sylvie’s strong but her strength is the quieter, less sure kind. She’s the privileged daughter of an established Black Harlem family, engaged to one of its most eligible bachelors. But as her true love, Nnamdi Asomugha’s Robert, says, her fiancé is the least interesting thing about her. She has a keen ear for music, a heart wide enough to hold so much more than it’s being asked, and big dreams — that she accomplishes — to be a Black woman TV producer.
As the name suggests, this is her movie and it follows her as she figures out how much to rebel against the middle-class upbringing that has given her so much. She never ditches the good posture and good manors her mother taught her as the proprietor of a finishing school for Black girls. She does lose her virginity though and eventually, the “good” husband who married her despite being pregnant with someone else’s child. Still, for much of the movie, Sylvie behaves like the “good girl” she is, demure if ambitious. Only once do we see the full fierceness that we know Thompson is capable of when Robert is leaving her and her eyes fill with rage. It lasts just a moment, with Sylvie delivering the last quip before Robert staggers out, unhappy with himself again. At that moment, Sylvie’s Love allows Thompson her full range and Sylvie her full humanity and agency. It’s a dream role and I’m so glad to have Afrolatina Thompson in it.
Filling in the Latinx casting is Mexican American Eva Longoria vamping it up including a burlesque rendition of ‘Quizás, quizás, quizás.’’ In her supporting role, Longoria moves the plot along at a few crucial moments and generally looks like she’s having a lot of fun. Of course, it’s not just the casting or the artistry, it’s also how the film deals with themes that resonate with the Latinx experience, from gender roles to classism, that makes it such an essential watch.
Sylvie does what she’s supposed to, trying to be a good daughter, mother, and wife. A good woman. But it chafes. It doesn’t make her happy. So she searches for what will fulfill her (at one point even reading The Feminine Mystique), investing in her career, her female friendships, and eventually, her heart. She never curses her mother or burns her bra. Sylvie’s is a quieter revolution but it is one nonetheless. She achieves what we’re taught should make us happy, a handsome successful husband, a beautiful child, and it is not enough. So she pivots and finds something else. How many of us can relate to that? How many of our mothers could?
In addition to this classic feminist progression, Sylvie’s Love is also a wrong-side-of-the-tracks love story with Sylvie part of bourgeoisie Black society and Robert decidedly working class. He may be an extremely talented saxophone player but he doesn’t know what a “cotillion” is and his backup plan is working in a factory. Meanwhile, Sylvie’s backup is marrying the rich man her family set her up with in the beginning. It wasn’t lost on me that Thompson is light-skinned while Asomugha is not (nor that her reputation-obsessed mother is lightest of all). Colorism and class cannot be ignored and we know all about that.
We have anti-Blackness in our community and it would behoove us to root it out. We can start by showing up for Tessa Thompson just as we do for Eva Longoria. They both represent our community after all. We can also watch and support POC media of all stripes. More opportunities for Black creators means more opportunities for all of us, Latinx (Black or not) included. Films like Sylvie’s Love break the convention that only white stories, white romances, and white communities matter. We know that’s not true and it’s affirming to watch something that does too. That’s why we should show up and enjoy Sylvie’s Love for all it has to offer.
Sylvie’s Love is streaming now on Amazon.