Cypher Avenue Rating: 4 of 5      

The five-year-old black gay short film, The Young and Evil, recently resurfaced online as a cautionary tale for gay men of all ages. The intention may have been to garner sympathy for the main character, instead it comes off as a horror movie chronicling the origin of a villain.

[Editor’s Note: The following review contains spoilers. Scroll down to watch the short film before reading if you do not want to have the ending revealed beforehand.]

Directed by Julian Breece, the film tells the story of an 18-year-old black gay teenager Karel Andrews (excellently portrayed by Vaughn Lowery) living life on the edge. Burdened with caring for his debilitated mother and be an Out homosexual in an urban neighborhood, Karel adopts a lifestyle of dangerously causal unprotected gay sex. Upon hearing the news from a doctor that he tested HIV negative despite his risky sexual activity, the young man reveals that he actually wants to contract the virus.

“My favorite thing in this world is to get fucked,” he tells the doctor, “I like getting fucked so hard, I don’t know who I am when it’s over. I like high-risk, sometimes HIV infected cum. and I’m not giving it up.”

This is where the short film derails. One could speculate through subtext that Karel wanted to be punished for his sexuality, for being gay. One could speculate that Karel was turned on by the thrill-seeking adrenaline rush of engaging in high risk sex. One could speculate that Karel just didn’t care about life in general so he lived it like each day was his last.

The problem with all of that speculation is the filmmakers leave all of the heavy lifting for the audience instead of carrying the weight themselves. This is a trend that is heavily adopted in black gay short films and web series.

It’s never made clear why Karel lives the way he does. Throughout this short film we  just see random scenes of a character likely created based on the writer reading a newspaper or blog headline. The internal conflicts and motivations of the main character is never really examined at all. This is a huge oversight given the fact that Karel is depicted to be so self destructive. It turns out the writers devoted most of their attention in building the character Naaman, played by Mark Berry.


As Karel continues his quest to become HIV positive (seriously, this is the ridiculous premise of the short), he finds his way into a dark candlelit sex party. It’s here that he sees Naaman, an older man in his 40s that Karel recognizes from an online video of men speaking on their positive HIV status.

Karel follows the live-in maintenance man of the complex, Naaman, down to the basement of the building where he tries to seduce him. The more reserved elder man of the two clearly recognizes the game that Karel is attempting to play, opting to try to talk sense into the teenager instead.

What follows is a amazingly brilliant, superbly acted and well written pair of scenes that (almost) makes us forget about the shortcomings of the previous dozen. Seeing Naaman reluctantly resist the young man’s advances as Karel quickly calls audibles to adjust his plays was more engaging than any scene in any black gay web series to date.

By the end, however, we’re still left scratching our heads. What did we just see and what was the point of it all?

Was the message: Avoid unprotected sex? If so, Karel was an HIV negative man who wanted to be positive, unprotected sex was the best means to an end in his case.

Was the message: Beware of older HIV positive sexual predators? If so, Naaman did his damnedest to avoid sex with the teenager at all costs until he reluctantly gave in to unrelenting advances. The younger HIV negative man was the predator here. On top of that, whose to say the older man didn’t eventually grab a condom before giving in when all was said and done? The scene cuts off before that moment so Karel may have done all that for nothing.

The only points and messages I could muster from watching this film was:

– Black Gay men love sex, lots of it. Especially unprotected sex.

– Black gay men are weak and self destructive. (even our Naaman eventually gives in to temptation)

This short had to potential to examine possible causes for dangerous lifestyles and behaviors. It could have examined the larger issue of depression in the black gay community. It could have delved into the pressures young black gay men face in urban communities, which often leads to depression and/or risky sexual activities.

The story of Karel was essentially the origin story of a killer or predator. In the context of the world created, we know that once he reached his HIV positive goal, he would continue to have unprotected sex and possibly infect others. That is the only thing that explains his intentional efforts to become infected himself, to infect others. If suicide was his goal, there are much more effective ways to kill yourself. Especially since HIV is not the death knell that it once was.

So if you view The Young and Evil as a horror film (with emphasis on ‘evil’), it works well as a prequel to a larger and more interesting story. Still, given its shortcomings, the skilled directing, strong acting performances and amazing last couple scenes of the film make this a must see.