Grading 2014’s Black Gay Films, Black Filmmakers & Black Audiences

By Nick Delmacy | Posted Jan 2 2015 | 13 Comments  

Pass-or-fail-post

In regards to race and homosexuality, 2014 will mostly be remembered for two things: The protests in Ferguson, Missouri and gay NFL draftee Michael Sam kissing a white man on ESPN. What will unfortunately be overlooked is last year’s abundant number of black filmmakers telling stories of being black and gay…and racking up awards, network television deals and box office bank in the process.

Oddly enough, this work was not done by the many web series producers who have been cropping up left and right. With the absence of Sean Anthony and his award winning show NO SHADE, the web offered not much that was quality, creative and original.

Fortunately, the professionals stepped up to the plate last year in a major way to show the amateurs on the web just how its done. Let’s take a look back at the 6 black gay films and television work released last year for our public consumption.


6. BLACKBIRD

Blackbird-4

Patrik-Ian Polk’s Blackbird had a great run on the festival circuit in 2014. Starring Academy Award winner Mo’Nique (Precious) and (reformed homophobe) Isaiah Washington, the film opened at the Outfest Fusion Festival, the Out on Film Festival, and took home the Festival Founders’ Award at the Pan-African Film Festival.

Having said that, the film sucks.

No, really. It was extremely hard for me to make it though this film while still taking it seriously.

Not only is the film a retread story of a young (clearly) gay young man “struggling” with his sexuality in a world where ALL of his friends are openly gay and/or women, it features a yet another tale of a gay man desperately looking for love.

Blackbird-5

I do applaud Polk for his ability to raise financing to continue to make films at a decent level of quality. On the other hand, his films continue to look visually bland and generic, even with budgets to work with. Independent film in particular seems to beg for the opportunity for experimentation.

Instead, Polk gives us this:

Blackbird-1

Take Dee Rees’ low budget 2011 LGBT film “Pariah” for example. It has a visual style that defines the main character’s journey.

Polk’s films do none of this. Admittedly, Pariah’s cinematography was helmed by one of the best in the business, Bradford Young. Not every filmmaker will have access (or be able to afford) a Director of Photography that can do this:

pariah-bus-sm1

Here’s the problem, though. Pariah was Dee Rees’ first feature film.

Blackbird is Polk’s FOURTH! Not to mention he also directed two seasons of Noah’s Arc! Why does his work still look and feel like after-school specials?

Speaking of special, the acting in this movie was not the strongest, even for a Patrik-Ian Polk film. While Isaiah Washington does a fine job here in his limited role, Mo’Nique hams up every scene she’s in shifting from psychotic to dementia at any given time.

True to form, Polk anchors the entire film on one young gay character who’s naive and unsure how to function socially. This time around we’re following the coming Out journey of main character Randy played by the really green newcomer Julian Walker.

BlackbirdCAM

On the other hand, Polk has always been great at casting the sexy young heterosexual male eye-candy that the softer main gay character lusts after for 90 minutes. Here, we get that in spades with the appearance of attractive newcomer Torrey Laamar.

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This is where most of the positives end for me. But I’m in a minority. The reviews for Blackbird have been very positive and the film was embraced by audiences in the festivals. I can only assume that the reason was that none of them wanted to go on record bad mouthing a black gay film in the same year that Michael Sam made history.

BLACKBIRD

THE AUDIENCE: C

THE FILMMAKER: F

THE FILM: E

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5. THE HAPPY SAD

Based on the Ken Urban play of the same name, The Happy Sad follows two unrelated couples whose lives intersect throughout the film when a black gay couple decides to start an open relationship.

We’ve previously discussed and reviewed this film, and we didn’t think highly of it. That opinion largely still stands, with a few new observations.

First off, this is yet another black gay film that lacks a distinct identity. Unlike Blackbird, this is surprising here. Director Rodney Evans’ previous film Brother To Brother took fantastic visual risks, elevating his status as a black gay filmmaker to watch.

This film, on the other hand, is shot pretty basic, almost as if Evans was attempting to keep the stage play feel of the source material. Speaking of that, the story is pretty basic as well. Not much actually happens in this film besides some couples moping about troubled relationships while simultaneously having No Strings Attached sex with other people.

Happy Sad, The (2013)

Fortunately the artistic simplicity ends there because the acting is actually very good considering what they had to work with. The actors playing Marcus (LeRoy McClain) and Aaron (Charlie Barnett), the men in the black gay relationship, do a fine job.

In the play, these characters were not originally written for men of color. This was a very nice choice by Rodney Evans, but he did so without injecting race (or a discussion of race) into the film as a result of this switch.

This is not to imply that the men should have been fitting into black gay stereotypes or had long discussions about interracial dating, but something to acknowledge the challenges of black gay men and their relationships would have been nice. Especially since Evans handled this so masterfully in his feature film debut.

Avoiding that element totally eliminated a potential level of complexity for this otherwise overly simplistic film.

Happy Sad, The (2013)-3

On top of that, the motivations of the main characters were blindly non-existent.

We’re to believe that after 6 years a monogamously gay couple, having no apparent problems in their relationship, would randomly decide to have an open relationship. Sure, they apparently had welcomed a third person into their bed before the film begins, but its never clearly established what led them to this drastic option to “spice things up”.

Also, one of the gay men falls in love with the white guy he’s sexing on the side. No, you read that right. HE FALLS IN LOVE WITH HIS HOOKUP BUDDY! After only a few sex sessions! Not even having had a single date or conversation lasting more than 5 minutes!

Clearly gay relationships are complicated, but in a film that presents itself as a character study, they shouldn’t be completely nonsensical.

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Sadly, this film was a disappointment. The actors seem capable yet they are rarely given opportunities to show range and stretch due to the depressingly bland screenplay. Fortunately for the film, it was well received by audiences in both film festivals and those watching it on Netflix.

THE HAPPY SAD

THE AUDIENCE: B

THE FILMMAKER: C

THE FILM: C

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About the Author
Nick Delmacy

Nick is a founder, editor and the pop culture expert at Cypher Avenue. Serving as the designer and webmaster of the site, he is the architect of The Cypher Avenue Matrix.

   
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13 Comments Feel Free To Join The Cypher.

  1. hannibal
    Hannibal | January 2nd, 2015
    0

    I’ve only seen Blackbird and Bros. I have nothing to say about Black Bird. I still don’t get the love for Bros lol. The whole thing felt completely inauthentic to me but maybe that’s just not my story.

  2. African King | January 3rd, 2015
    +1

    These reviews were very well written! One day I hope to see more of these gay black indie films at film festivals.

  3. Keith | January 3rd, 2015
    0

    I’ve seen them all except “The Return” (will put that on the 2015 list) and I liked “Dear White People” and “Bros” a lot.

  4. J's Destiny | January 3rd, 2015
    0

    Where can I see Blackbird?

  5. BlackguyExecutive | January 3rd, 2015
    0

    This was a really interesting chronicle of movie/film reviews. I have seen all of them except for “Bros” and thank you for sharing “Le Retour.” I have been studying French for the last several months and I watched it today and tried it without subtitles.

    I watched Dear White People at premiere screening in Tampa when it came out and the audience was pretty diverse but totally high-brow….Bougie black artist types….and self-righteous elitist whites made up the audience…I personally thought the film was overly hyped…the social media campaign was fierce. I was hoping to see my story depicted in the film. I went to an small liberal arts college with a small but vocal cohort of black students that resonated with the various personalities depicted in the film but like you, I thought the gay story line was muddled at best. Overall, I generally liked the film. Side note, my audience experience was not like yours but more along the lines of the mainstream praise the film has received.

  6. SB3000 | January 5th, 2015
    +1

    Def sold on The Return

  7. hannibal
    Hannibal | January 5th, 2015
    0

    In fairness though, Monique’s performance comes across MUCH better on a second viewing. I think it just takes a minute to adjust to her going to extremes really quick and not being sure if she’s crazy or, you know, crazy.

  8. Atumusic | January 6th, 2015
    0

    I’ve seen Blackbird and while I understand the criticisms, I still personally enjoyed it. I do hope for better in black gay films, soon. I will look out for the others though, if for nothing else curiosity.
    Thanks for the reviews tho. I’m really glad I stumbled onto this site. I’ve got to get more of my friends on Cypher Ave.

  9. Pascal | January 8th, 2015
    0

    I hope the filmmakers of ‘The Return’ get the chance to redo the subtitles of their movie before a wider release because the ones used at the present completely erase the ‘hood vernacular that’s being used, losing a lot of flavor in translation.

  10. Jade Films
    Jade Films | January 19th, 2015
    0

    In honor of MLK holiday, support an overlooked & marginalized film never been broadcasted before. RT http://t.co/Eypkye56NP

  11. NickAuzenneNOLA
    NickAuzenne | April 9th, 2015
    0

    I’m actually anticipating Blackbird. I haven’t seen anything but previews but I think It’ll be an interesting film albeit I’m not a fan of that Polk cats films. Saw the Skinny with my ex dude and It was the trashiest shit I’ve ever seen. Most people do search for love in our community but in ways I believe its more trying to find someone that loves them as they are being as though many of our families will not accept our sexuality as a real part of us. I understand then searching for romantic love to fill that void. I am interested in seeing how that plays out.




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