Tyler Perry explores a new genre with his new film A Jazzman’s Blues, a story about forbidden love containing dark melodrama with soulful musical numbers. Perry wrote, produced and directed the film starring Joshua Boone, Amirah Vann, Solea Pfeiffer, Austin Scott, and Ryan Eggold and premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 11, 2022. He is best known as the creator and performer of the character Madea.
Set in the rural South of the United States in the late 1930s, the story details the life and death of a young black boy, Horace John Boyd (Joshua Boon), who goes by the name of Bayou. He falls in love with a black girl named Leanne, nicknamed Bucket (Solea Pfeiffer). They bond through their shared experience of family disapproval and their inane individuality and peculiarness. Leanne’s family separates the two; years later, they meet again but find that their circumstances have changed. Leanne is married to a sheriff’s brother and passes as white, while Bayou helps his mother run a successful juke joint. Many vital factors come between the two lovers throughout the film—such as racism, betrayal, jealousy, wealth, privilege and survival. However, they connect through music, love, and faith. Throughout the film, Bayou’s character narrates multiple parts of the story as he recalls events through letters he had written to Leanne.
The film starts in Hopewell County, Georgia, in 1987, showing a black woman in her household watching the current Attorney General (Kario Marcel) on the television. She turns it off and then treks to see that same man in-person to inquire about an unsolved murder that happened over forty years prior. Initially, the connection between the man and woman in the initial scenes is not evident until the story progresses.
The past then comes into play as the attorney reads the letters, indicating the forbidden love story of Bayou and Leanne and all the challenges they faced to be together. Throughout the story, their families burden Bayou and Leanne’s happiness by constantly separating them. Leanne’s grandpa sexually assaults her and sends her away with her mom, so she is not able to see Bayou anymore. Leanne’s mom uses her to marry into a wealthy family so they can be better off. Leanne’s husband threatens her that she will have no life if she left him. Bayou’s brother gets extremely jealous that Bayou is a more successful musician than him, so when they return to visit their mother, he tells Leanne’s husband’s brother that Bayou is in town. To escape the mob coming to lynch him, Bayou flees with Willie Earl and Willie’s manager, Ira, to Chicago where he becomes an unexpected hit at the Capital Royale club. Despite his success, Bayou is unable to forget his love for Leanne and upon hearing that she’s given birth to a baby, he realizes that the baby is his and plans a one-night return to rescue her. In the end, Bayou is reunited with Leanne and their baby, but a mob lynches Bayou to the distress of Leanne and Bayou’s family.
The plot was well crafted, as the connection between the two main characters is strong despite all the barriers they face, and Bayou’s love for his mother, Hattie Mae, for Leanne and for his community is admirable to watch on screen.
The costumes and set design were so realistic for the late 30s that I felt as if I could be watching a documentary. The scoring was beautifully matched to the themes portrayed in the film, creating entrancing and smooth melodies to follow along with the storyline. The soundtrack is an excellent mix of jazz and blues that correlates with the film’s time. The final song of the film “Paper Airplanes” by Ruth B does not follow that old-timey jazz and blues feeling that other songs in the movie possess. However, it is still a great song to end with as it discusses the paper airplanes Bayou and Leanne would send to one another.
Regarding limitations, the film could have added more to the storyline as it focused solely on the love story between Leanne and Bayou. I understand that it is supposed to focus on their love story, but it could’ve expanded on some of the side stories of Bayou’s family members or Leanne’s life after being separated from Bayou. In addition, the actors portraying the characters in the future, Waltrudis Buck as Leanne and Daphne Reid as Hattie Mae, looked to be the same age in the future scenes, even though they had about a 15-year age gap.
The film made me feel infuriated with the characters who set limitations on how people were to live their lives based on their selfishness and racist mindsets. More specifically, the racism most white people in this film had who were trying to “protect” their kind against black people when in reality, they were hurting the black community more. The selfishness from Leanne’s mom, grandpa and husband when all they wanted was to use her for her good looks instead of genuinely caring about her overall well-being, and Bayou’s jealous brother all jeopardized Leanne and Bayou’s happiness in being with each other. Another factor is that Hattie Mae seeks help to solve her son’s murder by providing the Attorney General, Leanne’s son, with all of his letters, but even after reading them, all he does in the end is visit his mother and watch her cry to Bayou’s song. Still, there does not appear to be any further action into the murder on his end. This lack of action proves how awful times were and continue to be for the black community. Their cases are not prioritized nearly as much in certain parts of the world as white people based on status, privilege and ongoing racism.
A Jazzman’s Blues is an excellent representation of love and of the tragedies that continue to happen worldwide when privileges are taken away based on skin colour, beliefs, gender, sexual orientation, or otherwise because of the constant lack of progression in an evolving world. The story shows the need for love and safety regardless of the barriers.
A Jazzman’s Blues was released on September 11th, 2022, and is available on Netflix.