Since the beginning of Cypher Avenue nearly 5 years ago, we’ve always been on the lookout not only for depictions quality black gay characters in the media, but also quality “masculine” gay characters that don’t fall into typical hyper-masculine stereotypes.
Surprisingly enough, many examples of black gay masculinity have cropped up since that time. From television to film to web series, we’ve seen (and shared) the work of many artists and brave actors daring to show the world a different kind of black gay man.
The filmmakers over at Black & Sexy TV are the latest to step into this gay arena.
VERY Carefully and Cautiously, at is turns out….(more on that later)
WHAT IS BLACK & SEXY TV?
For those not in the know, Black & Sexy TV started out as a YouTube channel featuring quality web series dedicated to heterosexual romantic comedies and dramas featuring predominantly Black characters. Their goals are very clear, as stated on their website:
It all started with the film: A Good Day to be Black & Sexy, written & directed by Dennis Dortch. We are filmmakers who started our own platform so we can greenlight and distribute our own projects. With the success of the film, we discovered the need for more stories and characters from our point of view – a Black Point of View. Unlike mainstream media, here you will find a reflection of yourself and other people you may know. We have been creating non-stop since 2008, exploring racial politics, sexual politics, and intimacy.
Since 2009, when their Black & Sexy TV YouTube channel was launched, they’ve started to monetize their content and even license some of it to air on BET. This includes several successful web series such as RoomieLoverFriends (featuring Kaldrick King actor Andra Fuller), The Couple and The Number. Each series digs deep into the day-to-day struggles, joys and complications of “Black Love.”
Given the sheer lack of content created for and by Black Americans, niche networks like this are essential.
Even one of our long time Cypher Avenue supporters and contributors, screenwriter James Peoples, is among the team of artists at Black & Sexy TV, raising the bar for Online Content from African American filmmakers.
Over the years James Peoples, an openly gay filmmaker, has echoed our desires for more nuanced and varied characterizations of Black gay men in films and television, especially by filmmakers of color.
Let’s take a step back to understand how big of a deal this is…kinda. Black & Sexy TV, while not a mega machine like NBC, CBS or even Shondaland (ABC’s Shonda Rhimes lineup of Scandal, Grey’s Anatomy, How To Get Away With Murder), they are still a successful independent brand that has a strong and dedicated following. Especially among young Black millennial women who veraciously consume content on the web.
Having said that, I was always skeptical of a masculine Black gay character being accurately depicted on their channel. More specifically, one that wasn’t written as a down low, closeted, cheating, disease-spreading plot twist for the Black female protagonist to overcome.
This way of thinking wasn’t because I felt that the B&STV audience was homophobic (or they could be a little, who knows). I just felt that the pro-black-love stance in posts, tweets and memes that I see on social media typically excludes pro-Black gay love. Some even go as far as to say that Black Gay men are diluted men and are part of some “gay agenda” to destroy the traditional “Strong Black Family.”
[As if seeing Black Gay Men magically makes Black Straight Men no longer want to have families.]
I know full well that not ALL heterosexual Black people who care about “Black Love” feel this way. Many of them are very pro-LGBT.
But given the overtly neo-soul, natural-haired, heterosexual point-of-view that Black & Sexy TV has projected over the years (unfortunately similar to the homophobic Black people who share the above memes), I can’t help but admit that this unjustified perception of their audience has been there for me.
So when James Peoples informed us that Black & Sexy TV’s new reboot to their previously successful web series The Number (a show he would also be a screenwriter on) would feature the online network’s first Black gay male character, we hoped this would not be the flamboyant feminine stereotype seen on many other web series and television shows.
Peoples, and the team at Black & Sexy TV, blessed us with a Season Pass for “The Number (The Reboot)” to view and critique the show and character…I had no idea what to expect.
Well, that’s not entirely true…I did expect to see some handsome Black men and beautiful Black women. One thing that B&STV consistently delivers on is eye candy of various shades and sizes. But that wasn’t why we were sent the series. We’re media critics in the Black gay community. So let’s criticize.
The new “gay” character, Omar, doesn’t show up until the third episode, but in an effort to make sure I had the full context of his role in the show, I began at the beginning.
The series chronicles the challenges of Kevin and Melissa’s new relationship, seemingly built almost entirely on sex. The title of the series (and half of the first episode) focuses on the number of former sexual partners each of them have had. Although Kevin is shocked to learn that his new bae has a high body count (and keeps a spreadsheet tally of names on her laptop), this storyline pretty much goes no where from there.
Instead, the rest of the first season focuses in on Kevin’s insecurities and Melissa constant need to defend/explain herself to him for those insecurities. While at times this comes off as repetitive, it’s a reminder that real life relationships play out in much the same ways.
Speaking of insecurities, watching this series simultaneously made me want to date consistently again and also NEVER date ever, ever, ever again. Is this how black heterosexuals really act in relationships?
Giving your boyfriend an epic blow-job while his best friend (who’s a single Black woman named Meagan) waits in the next room…is that what they do?
This is a romantic comedy, so hyperbole is to be expected.
Except when it comes to the new Black gay character it seems.
This brings me to Episode Three where we are introduced to Omar, Melissa’s gay best friend.
Or should I say, Melissa’s gay best friend…in name only.
Omar, played by J. Kristopher Robinson, is everything we love to see in a non-stereotypical depiction of a Black gay man in the media. The character is masculine and handsome with varied interests that don’t include fashion and hair styling. He’s a “regular guy,” not some muscular, tattooed, oiled up six-packed model.
Having said that, there was nothing “gay” about him.
By “gay” I don’t mean that he should have been throwing around sassy one-liners or terminology like “Gurl” and “Gave me Life!”
How about, at the minimum, show us a little of the homo side to his sexuality?
At no point was Omar ever intimate or even flirtatious with another man. Quite the opposite actually, he spends most of the series giving public displays of affection to BOTH of the lead female characters on the show.
On top of that, the running plotline/gag is that Omar may not even really be gay at all.
For a network with the word “Sexy” in its’ title, they seemed to bypass that when it came to their first male homosexual character.
This brings me back to my above theories as to why Black & Sexy TV was a bit late to the LGBT party (at least when it comes to Black gay male characters). This is a delicate tightrope they have to walk with their audience.
Although the most well known actor on their entire roster (Andra Fuller) pulled off one of the most iconic and sexual black gay roles in recent memory (Kaldrick King), there appears to be a fear that a repeat of that “manly yet gay” characterization could turn off a large segment of their heterosexual female audience.
This is all just speculation on my part, I haven’t had any conversations with anyone at Black & Sexy TV about this (although I’m sure they will be open to discuss this in print or on a podcast). But if I’m correct, I can see the calculation made on their part.
I see them wanting to join the 21st century by representing more shades of lifestyles in the Black community, but more slowly as to not be accused of succumbing to the so-called “Gay Agenda.”
Omar seems to represent the middle line.
He’s gay…but not GAY!
Non-threatening to the straight female audience as Down-Low predators…and Non-threatening to straight male audience as Gross Out Deviants.
Omar is the Black & Sexy TV Starter Gay.
In their defense though, Black & Sexy TV is not a network for Black gay men. Nor does it pretend to be an all-inclusive network with the responsibility of representing ALL types of people who are Black and/or Sexy.
Part of my own frustrations may be like Kevin’s in “The Number,” misdirected.
I see B&STV as being a successful brand known for quality content across the board. With the exception of the work from Deondray and Quincy LeNear Gossfield, I can’t say the same for the level of quality from many of the Black gay filmmakers that we highlight on this website.
Besides that minor quibble with Omar’s veiled homosexuality, The Number is as good as any other Black & Sexy TV series. You can tell a lot of work goes into each episode and they have a lot of fun making them.
So until that day arrives when we have a GAY & SEXY TV, we’ll applaud B&STV for this huge, if not cautious, first step.
To see The Number for yourself, or any other series (Chef Julian, RoomieLoverFriends, etc), visit their YouTube channel or view the full length videos on their website: HERE
There is a 30-day free trial available. The subscription fee is only $7.00 per month or $60.00 per year for access to their library. You can also purchase individual episodes. Also available on Apple TV, ROKU, Android and IOS apps.