Writer/Director and “Freefall” creator Lamont Pierre debuts his newest LGBT web series, “Red Skin” starring Karras Jordan and Kevin Boles, Jr. The pilot episode is directed, edited, produced, photographed and co-written by Pierre himself.
Santana and Kaleb are a couple who each are addicted to the highs and lows of a turbulent love. Each are operating at an emotional deficit looking to fill a void in the other — all while their friends and acquaintances speculate and watch subversively from the sidelines. Will this volatile couple, in love but addicted to dysfunction be able to survive each other, go their separate ways to save themselves or will they ultimately, tragically and maybe poetically, crash and burn — together.
As critical of Freefall as we’ve been in the past, we were still bravely blessed by the producers with a Media Pass to view the full pilot episode for review.
Before I share my thoughts, here’s the Free Version of the episode:
First off, whether you are fans of Lamont Pierre’s work or not (or even know who he is at all), I think it’s time that we acknowledge his place in the annals of Black Gay Cinema. No other filmmaker has created more for the cinematic representation of this community than him. I know how that sounds, but its true. This fact didn’t hit me until I was halfway through “Red Skin.”
After 4 seasons of “Freefall” (yes, we remember the “Men In Black” memory-wiped “pilot season”), 2 seasons of Miles + Cal and a number of smaller web series, shorts and even a feature film…pound for pound, minute for minute, he’s created more Black Gay Content than any other filmmaker. This includes Deondray & Quincy Gossfield, Patrick-Ian Polk and Lee Daniels.
One could argue that it’s about quality over quantity, but given Pierre’s deliberate artistic aesthetic with very limited resources, anyone arguing against his contributions to the community are just haters in denial.
I would even go as far as to argue that Pierre has a better visual sensibility than the aforementioned Black Gay filmmakers. His images typically look pretty cinematic (albeit a tad too dark at times), so much so that it almost seems like you could pause his films at any point, print out the still image and sell it as a print.
While this ability isn’t all that is necessary to being considered a good filmmaker, it at least informs us that he, unlike many others creating Black gay content on the Internet, recognizes that film is a VISUAL medium. Not just a point-and-shoot medium.
Also, I have to give props to Pierre for continuing to buck away from the typical Black gay character stereotypes. At no point while watching “Red Skin” did I expect to see one of the characters snapping, twerking or brushing away invisible bangs from their foreheads.
I won’t use the much maligned “M” word, but these characters, like many of his others, definitely skew more on the testosterone-heavy side of the gay and bisexual spectrum.
Also, “Red Skin” (I keep wanting to say “Red Tails,” smh) fills in the world a bit more than we saw with “Freefall” and many other web series, where literally all of the characters seem to be handsome black gay men or black straight men who were like, y’know, totally cool with all that gay shit.
There are women on this show, and they’re not just there to be best friends to the gay men.
And the gay people seem to actually interact with non-gay people…in social settings.
This may seem like not a big deal, but I’ve seen a LOT of web series content over the years and 10 times out of 10, the characters live in Gay World.
A world where Black gays run the planet…
A world where ALL Black straight people are like, y’know, totally cool with all that gay shit…
Where straight people are “best friends” with gays and even go to gay clubs, just for like, y’know, fun.
So now on to what I didn’t love about this episode and series so far.
It’s clear from Lamont Pierre’s entire body of work that he’s very interested in dysfunctional co-dependent relationships. That seems to be a very common thread.
Does this come from personal experience? Is this merely how he views gay relationships in general? Does he just believe that drama equals conflict so his characters must be dysfunctional to convey that drama quickly?
Speculation aside, from an audience perspective, I felt that the dysfunction wasn’t earned in this pilot episode. When we’re introduced to Kaleb, he informs us through narration that he’s moving to Atlanta to live with his long-distance boyfriend, Santana, who he’s known for all of 5 months. Once we see them in the same space together, they are very distant, non-intimate and non-communicative.
Lamont Pierre, shouting from the window of The Arthouse, would likely say, “That’s the point! Their distance symbolically represents their relationship!”
I get that…but this is the first time we’re seeing these two “boyfriends” together. I didn’t see reasons WHY Kaleb would pack up and move to Atlanta for Santana, even just from an on-screen chemistry perspective.
Just from personal association, if I were to be so in love with a long-distance boyfriend to pack up and move in with him in another state, we would at least have dope conversations when you saw us together, especially home alone. Our relationship had been built on that up to that point, right?
This storytelling failure plagues the rest of the episode. I constantly kept asking myself, “Okay wait, so why are these two people even together again?”
It became a distraction. Even more so when the bulk of the drama depended on us caring that Santana is cheating on Kaleb with women…and that Kaleb even knows about it from the start.
They seem to even fail the co-dependency test.
Based on what has been established, Kaleb doesn’t NEED Santana…especially now that he lives in Atlanta, in college, is attractive and has Jack’d. And Santana clearly doesn’t NEED (or even seem to want) Kaleb for any reason other than to have a punching-bag roommate with benefits.
One of my favorite relationship based television shows is FX’s “You’re The Worst.” This show is also about a very dysfunctional couple, Jimmy and Gretchen, but from the very first episode we see them click on both a chemistry and physical level. We simultaneously think that these two people shouldn’t be together, while at the same time we hope that they stay together or get back together when they break up.
Also, there doesn’t yet seem to be much “there” there. Even after reading the synopsis and watching the full episode, I couldn’t really tell anyone what it was about.
So far, this series, like many others, lacks a distinctive premise.
There seems to be two formulas for Black gay filmmakers: A group of gay best friends sharing laughs and tears as they look for sex & love…or a fly-on-the-wall look at the struggles of an existing gay relationship.
This series seems to fall into the latter.
While Pierre has a great visual eye, his editing and direction still seems to be bogged down by the artistic super-villain inside of him. At times it seemed as if he was making this series for film critics over at the New Yorker Magazine, not for average Black gay audiences who may most identify with the characters and story.
There’s one stretch where the main characters just stare at each other, for what seemed like 5 minutes, in beautifully composed shots as a solo piano weeps in the background.
I get it. We all get it. You’re an artist.
But, in my view, telling a compelling, well-paced story with clear character motivations that keeps us craving for more is what will finally elevate Pierre into one of our best filmmakers that also gives us the quality, not just the quantity.
If the above kinks can be smoothed out in later episodes, this may turn out to be a decent series. Visually, it doesn’t look like any other that we’ve seen and with not much irreversible damage done to the characters so far (I’m looking at you unexplained Freefall rape scene), the writers could take the series in any direction to improve on the foundation they’ve already laid.