Pass-or-fail-post


4. DRUMLINE: A NEW BEAT

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First off, I don’t know for a definitive fact if director Bille Woodruff is gay. True, he’s built his career directing music videos for Divas like Toni Braxton, Britney Spears and Mary J Blige…and he’s helmed girl-power films like Honey, Beauty Shop, and Bring it On 5…and then there’s THIS.

Either way, I’ve met Billie Woodruff (my gaydar went way off the meter) and he’s a pretty nice guy so it pains me to say his sequel to the 2002 hit Drumline for VH1 didn’t live up to the original. Giving Woodruff the benefit of the doubt, he had a fraction of the budget and less time than the original film.

Let’s start off with the positives.

I saw Drumline: A New Beat at a red carpet premiere screening in Atlanta. The director and many of the actors were present. As well as a theater full of black people [more on this later].

For the low budget and limitations, Woodruff’s directing was pretty well done in the scenes featuring the bands. They were big and exciting and felt energetic on the big theater screen we saw it on.

Also, the film’s young, attractive, unknown cast was actually pretty talented for the most part. There were only a couple eyebrow raising acting moments during the more emotional scenes but those are always tough to pull off for beginners.

Best of all, they were all pretty sexy.

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The actor shown above is newcomer Rome Flynn who plays the role of Leon, the film’s gay character. While I knew his character was Gay the moment I saw him on the screen, I had a feeling that he wouldn’t be the typical black gay stereotype.

As a matter of fact, once its revealed to his new best “girlfriends” that he’s gay, he responds to their shock with this statement:

“Yeah, we don’t all snap our fingers….”

Gotta admit, I was really proud in that moment. In a theater full of black faces, here was a film (soon going to premiere on network television) definitively stating that not all black gay men are flamboyant or feminine. This built up a lot of good will for me to dismiss its subsequent shortcomings.

Then everything got even better.

Leon actually had his own gay storyline that had nothing to do with the main characters. In a scene with the others, he notices an attractive fellow student football player Quentin (played by Quentin Plair) slyly checking him out in a campus diner.

Hold up, this happens in public, not a cell phone app?!

In exactly the same way I would have done if I saw Leon out in public!

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Later, Leon joins his friends at a local heterosexual night club and guess who’s also there?

Fine ass Quentin!

And guess what he does in the middle of the club without giving a fuck?

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The two men immediately start dating and things seem to be going pretty well. I was impressed with VH1 and director Billie Woodruff making the brave choice to include this type of subplot into the film. It definitely added to reflecting the diversity of real college bands.

News Flash: There are a lot of gay men in college bands. They exist.

Everything was going well until Leon stumbled on Quentin hanging out on campus with his fraternity…and his girlfriend.

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Sigh.

So at the end of the day, despite previously going against gay stereotypes about black gay men, they fall right back into one of the biggest ones. Black Men On The Down Low.

The next time Quentin sees Leon, he tries to apologize and says this:

“I’m not like you, all Out with mine. I can’t have everybody all up in my business.”

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Hold up!

Wait a minute, yo!

Not all Out with mines?!

Then what do you call doing this in the middle of a heterosexual night club?!

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In what world does a college football player on the Down Low at a black university kiss an openly gay dude in the middle of the local club mostly filled with his fellow students?

Jumps in logic like this one and many others killed the potential for the film to rise up to its predecessor.

It must also be noted that every time Leon or Quentin did ANYTHING gay on screen (even just looking at one another), most of the black people in our theater audience groaned in disapproval. When it was revealed that Quentin was Down Low, there seemed to be an “I knew it” sigh from the audience.

In that moment the film had erased the normalization of college gay relationships they had spent so much time and energy building. The heterosexual black audience sighed in relief as a result of that outcome. This wasn’t “The New Normal,” this was “The Down Low.”

This dissapointed me in both the filmmaker and the black members of the crowd.

In addition to these gay missteps, the heterosexual storylines were just as poorly written and executed.

While the ratings were very good for the VH1 premiere of the film, the movie was UNIVERSALLY PANNED on social media.

DRUMLINE: A NEW BEAT

THE AUDIENCE: F

THE FILMMAKER: C

THE FILM: D

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3. THE BROS (FORMERLY: BROS BEFORE HOS)

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In 2014, out of no where, openly gay screenwriter Benjamin Cory Jones released this well made pilot for a comedy series loosely based on his life called, “Bros Before Hos.” The short demo proved to be a witty, original perspective on the black gay experience.

The show looks and sounds great…and so do the actors. Everyone pops on-screen and delivers solid performances.

Its rare that you see black filmmakers (regardless of sexuality) attempt witty dialogue in a comedy. Usually there’s just a foul mouth male character who yells a lot and we’re expected to laugh. Benjamin Cory Jones actually attempts to build character and chemistry with his actors in the short amount of time he has them on-screen.

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This leads into my overall praise that the pilot (and possibly the intent for the series) doesn’t go for stereotypes or predictable character dynamics.

Examples: The gay character is not closeted. His brothers are not angry homophobes. The ambiguously gay male character turns out is not actually a secretly down-low athlete. The divorced black couple are not at each others’ throats and arguing over child support. The black man actually plays hard to get towards the advances of the aggressive, cute white woman.

The only negative complaint I have about this pilot is not much of a unique story is presented besides the fact that these are extremely close black biological brothers who are totally comfortable with the fact that one of them is openly gay.

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And while I appreciated the change of pace, I think having one brother more clearly uncomfortable with his homosexual brother could have created more conflict and complexity, even comedically.

Every heterosexual black man in the pilot was totally embracing of Kendall’s sexuality. They even all enthusiastically offer to help him find a boyfriend. I’ve been to Los Angeles, black people are progressive there, but not that progressive.

True, Jones only had 11-minutes to set up the characters and situation, but in the past we’ve posted indie short films on this website (like The D.L. Chronicles) that have told far more complete, expansive, world-building stories about black gay men in 10-mintues or less.

That’s not to say that Benjamin Cory Jones is not already prepared for this with a binder full pre-written treatments for future episodes and story arcs. It just would have been nice to see a bit more established here in the pilot to get me eager to see more.

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Outside of that, the spec is great. The directing, production value, well photographed visuals and high quality graphics makes this a great calling card for the entire team. We need much more creative content at this level of excellence in the world of Black and LGBT film and television.

Turns out, I’m not alone in that thinking. Audiences across the board seemed to dig the pilot. There were mostly positive comments on our site and others where the video was posted.

On top of that, the Hollywood news site Deadline announced that the show, now more appropriately titled, “Bros” has been picked up for a development deal with HBO. How’s that for reaping the fruits of your labor quickly!

THE BROS

THE AUDIENCE: A

THE FILMMAKER: B

THE FILM: B

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