Adrian Nicole LeBlanc
Photo by Kristine Larsen.
LeBlanc, Adrian Nicole. Random Family: Love, Drugs, Trouble, and Coming of Age in the Bronx. New York: Scribner, 2003. randomfamily.com
Poverty is as much a dynamic as a condition. It creates its own energies and intuition, propelling families more deeply into trouble, contorting already dimmed possibilities, both tightening and wearing down bonds. It is inaccurate, and dishonest, to freeze the frame of debate at our favorite national moments—”teenage pregnancy,” “crime,” “from welfare to work,” “from prison, back home.” “Love & Diane” shows this. Dworkin follows the push and pull of poverty’s motivating and resulting complications—how drugs and personal history and housing and case workers and adolescence are like fibers of a weave. What we call crack or foster care are also situations and expectations, knots that need to be untied patiently.
The emotion of love itself is as much a dynamic as the injustice—unfolding in new places, getting wounded, waning, then, snapping back again. I watch this film and become enraged. How much more? How much more suffering do we need to see to trust what we already know? How much more will we waste these women’s talents and strengths? What does it mean about the system when Diane’s request for help itself becomes dangerous, when her ordinary hope for a family becomes the cause for shame?
You could freeze any frame of this film and encounter the force of truth because Jennifer Dworkin paid close attention, and because Love and Diane can’t hide the power of who they are. Just look—at the reluctant pleasure in Diane’s face when she talks about dressing up as an office girl; at the heavy awkwardness of Love’s walk as she and Diane and Donyaeh head to the clinic; the untouched computer on the kitchen table; Love’s boyfriend, Courtney, distractedly touching Donyaeh’s leg while the child sits on Love’s lap, ignored. Hear the solid intonation of pride in Love’s voice when she shares with Diane the negative HIV test result. Watch Willie as he looks out the window of the apartment, surveying his new block—his slender neck, the flash of interest—there, then gone. If there’s anyway to miss it, stop watching, and, for a moment, just listen to the sounds-the train, the buses, the women talking to each other and themselves. Hear the urgency of the sisters’ voices as they try to help Love see herself, the hesitant honesty bouncing back and forth across those empty apartment walls.
Adrian Nicole LeBlanc is a frequent contributor to the New York Times Magazine and other publications. She has also been the recipient of numerous awards, including a Bunting fellowship from Radcliffe, a MacDowell Colony residency, and a Soros Media Fellowship. She lives in Manhattan. Random Family, which was short-listed for the international Lettre Ulysses Award for the Art of Reportage, is her first book.