More disappointing time spent this week viewing another black gay web series on YouTube from a “can you review my web series on your website” director’s email request. I’m replaying dialogue in my head between Nick Delmacy and screenwriter James Peoples from Podcast #23 about how to “fix” black gay films and web series. I get it, most of these black gay “film makers” write and direct what they know and are familiar with. This is still kind of sad within itself, if all you can seem to write about is a group of friends that are over the top caricatures filled with drama, promiscuity and treachery.
As James Peoples stated, “it’s not a problem if it’s done well” but that’s the problem in that it’s hardly ever done well. Unfortunately some of us are beyond tired of the long waiting for gay short film elite-ness by way of the Gossfields and DL Chronicles. Their stuff is fantastic but you only get to see it every 72 years like Halley’s Comet and now we have to wait months to see the new HBO series Bros which will feature a SGL man of color within the story line…so what to do?
Fortunately or unfortunately I have to get my entertaining creative fixes from other sources. Enter Bag Man. Bag Man is about a 12 year old boy that the viewer can perceive as running away from home all the while protectively guarding his mysterious duffle bag. Why am I linking this entertaining short film to the likes of black gay web series or short films? It’s because Bag Man is simple in its story, it has a black protagonist, much of the short takes place in an urban city (like many black gay series and shorts) and for the first 8 minutes, the protagonist could be any young black male in any city scape environment in any web series or short we have seen…he is just a normal kid. What’s interesting is that there is no dialogue from the star and the climax of the film has a creative science fiction twist.
Bag Man comes from brothers, Jonathan and Josh Baker who have directed a portfolio of entertaining television commercials for major corporations. From an interview with the twins discussing the short at Short Of The Week they spoke to the origins of the film and also to the young actor who stars as The Boy;
This short has certainly gone through some evolution from concept stage to screen. Originally we wrote it about a young village boy in the Congo, and were planning to shoot it in Nigeria. We got to quoting stage with a local production company, and even looked into hiring a hyena for the shoot, but ultimately it was all too expensive and to be honest, dangerous.
So we reworked the story to be set in Harlem NY (just a little bit closer to home), a location that also comes with its own set of preconceptions. We wanted the audience to think they knew what this kid was all about, before serving them up something fresh and new.
We also looked at this short as being a great vehicle to show our more dramatic side as directors. Coming from commercials, we wanted the complete opposite aesthetic – a quiet, drawn out journey, with time to appreciate the subtleties along the way. A glance from a stranger; the wind through long grass; the creak from a rusty roof. There were some obvious influences from past films, like Stand By Me or George Washington, but we didn’t want to simply walk in those same footsteps. We wanted to bring our own unique voice to the quiet coming-of-age genre, and take it to a completely different place.
The character of The Boy was the most important by far, due to him needing to emote without a single word of dialogue. We actually ended up with a pretty large list of contenders for this role, and narrowed it down to Judah Bellamy, who in 2011 played Simba in The Lion King, and just finished a run in Matilda. Judah had maturity and confidence, but also was able to show a level of innocence that was essential.
I know some will point out the budget, staff and experience these two had at their disposal to shoot this film but I think it’s safe to say a large chunk may have went to the CGI effects towards the ending….and I get that. There are still many black gay short films and web series that have large staffs and shoot in multiple locations similar to what was displayed in Bag Man.
Nonetheless, I think easily 90% of the short film is relatable to many black men and black gay men. When we were young, many of us faced troubles at home, skipped school, had to learn how to navigate the local streets, while trying to keep your nose clean and avoid local hoods. However waiting or needing somewhere to go, some solitude to escape, if only for a few moments to be at peace with one’s self.
Yet the craft and creativity within this short is constantly missing in media from gay content creators of color.