Marsha Ambrosius ‘Far Away’ Video Takes On Homophobic Violence

The Black twitter and blog world have been abuzz with the release of Fly Away, the 2nd single and new video from former Floetry vocalist Marsha Ambrosius. The video is getting a lot of buzz because it is the first video from a major-label R&B/Soul artist since (as far as I can remember) Me’Shell NdegeOcello’s Levitivus: Faggot to really portray black gay men in a sympathetic light.

While I wish I didn’t have to see us die tragically on film, the fact is, some of us do, and I am struck by the fact that the video shows the impact of homophobia on a Black gay man’s life, the direct ways it plays out in the Black community, and his ultimate suicide (based on a real-life friend of Ambrosius).  I have had to personally deal with a number of the kinds of scrutiny, looks and words of disgust from Black homophobes–especially when I am with other Black gay men, whether we’re actually dating or not. But what is more emotionally moving to me is the way the video shows the relationship between the two black gay men, which we almost never see never see in pop culture, save Noah’s Arc (despite having a black gay man on most of the Housewife reality shows, Top Model or a number of fashion makeover shows, they are detached from any real relationships to Black gay community-they exist on these shows in total isolation to the rest of us). I really cried watching this video just from seeing the relationship between the two men.  I also appreciate the love relationship between Ambrosius and the couple in the video–albeit brief. If I had to base our value on pop culture (or even what happens in the community often) if we’re not doing your hair/makeup or singing in your God’s choir, our lives don’t matter.

It’s also a beautiful song–I just bought it to support this artist. Thank you, Ms. Ambrosius.

Gay Scandal: Nigerian Style

I just hosted a Nigerian gay activist on his stay in NYC recently, and it was really instructive to hear how queer politics are playing out in the country. Contrary to popular belief that the only discussion about non-normative gender or sexuality in Africa is one that results in violence. But in the public sphere of mass pop culture driven by tabloid and “reality” scandals, there  seems to be, according to my new friend, an obsession with gay identity in Nigeria at the current moment.

Case in point, Derenle Edun and Charly Boy. Edun is a Nigerian TV personality and Charly Boy is a popular musician. Tabloid Entertainment 24/7 (E247) published some scandalous photos of the two in a range of poses that apparently is a recent talk of the town. Nigerian entertainment website Under Da Rock also blogged about the article with the title

Derenle Edun gets erotic with Charly Boy for a mag!

This is currently a major story in many Nigerian newspapers based on my google search. But rumors have swirled around the two for years, and Denrele was asked by Naija Rules.com flat out if he was gay:

Q: There was this rumour sometime ago that Denrele is a homosexual?
A: I think the truth is that no matter how good you are, people will want to look for a loophole somewhere and penetrate you, but when they don’t find one, they will just say something. I am not bothered about the rumour at all, because if I am gay or homosexual, I will come and say it because I don’t lie, but what the allegation has done to my person is that it has put me in trouble with some people because they started to torment me. I am a kind of person that when they call me and say you are a gay, I don’t shout at them because I am one of the people that affect people positively. I don’t care who you are, your status, age, standing in the society or your sexual preference, I have a lot of gay friends and lesbians, but I don’t mind because it is part of life and life has to be lived. When they started to peddle the rumour, the first one I heard was that I went to a gay party and some people came to me, disturbing me. You know people just make fabrications. My family was not even bothered because they know me very well. What I will say is that when I am getting married, I will invite all of you to come and be part the of occasion.

While he clearly denies being gay, he does emphatically defends people’s right to their own sexuality and identity. So people, it is important to try to find ways to help LGBT folks in Africa defend themselves against unjust laws and violence (like what’s happening in Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo), but it’s important not to support certain discourses that paint Africa as forever and always socially “backward” or anti-queer.

Queen Latifah: Sexuality a “Private” Matter or Protecting a Corporate Brand?

There has been lots of speculation about Queen Latifah’s sexuality for many years. Most recently rumors were almost totally confirmed by photos of Queen and Jeanette Jenkins (thought to be her longtime partner) in clearly romantic embraces while at a boat party for the marriage of Alicia Keys and Swizz Beatz.

Latifah is the latest of a string of celebrities that have been known (allegedly) to be queer, and were all but outed by tabloids, gossip mags and radio, etc. But is Queen Latifah’s sexuality up for debate? Is it any of our business, or is it a “private” matter?

This week, writer Jamilah King opined at Colorlines.com about whether or not people, in this case Queen Latifah, have to come out in the political way that we think about it, or if outing people is an effective strategy. She writes:

She may not be leading next year’s Gay Pride parade down San Francisco’s Market Street, but she’s telling the world that she’s living her life and not particularly concerned with hiding it. The photos, which she clearly didn’t hide from, may say the rest.Queen Latifah may not have a particularly political queer identity, and if she wants to remain silent about her personal life, then so be it. But forcing someone into becoming a role model of any sort has never been a good strategy. If anything, it creates an atmosphere of shame and guilt. And love is always about much more than that.

While I recognize that many straight people (including homophobes, including black ones) and queers (including a lot of self-interested white LGBT organizations and activists) want people to come out for many reasons that are about their own shit. But I think  we need to ask some serious questions when we say that someone’s sexuality is simply a private, personal issue that is off the table for discussion, especially a multi-millioniare like Queen Latifah.

Latifah has partly made a career off of promoted heteronormativity in some pretty conservative films–not just as an actress but as an executive producer. The extremely racist and sexist Bringin Down The House was a film where her character , a black “ghetto” ex-con at first causes havoc to the life and family of Steve Martin, but in the end assists him in correcting his white middle-class, heteronormative family.  Latifah was executive producer. Beauty Shop is a film that has one mammy character after another, and even Last Holiday, while critiquing the ways in which Black women are forced into roles of servitude to their own detriment, still follows a traditional path that ends in her union with LL Cool J.

Since Queen is one of the very few black women in Hollywood who can really finance their own projects, don’t we have an obligation to ask how these very images not only contradict her personal life, but more importantly, promote hetero-normativity to the detriment of black queers, and even straight black people who choose non-normative lifestyles? At this point, I believe we are absolutely allowed to raise these questions, insofar as they speak to political choices that implicitly or explicitly promote homo/queer phobia.

But celebrities somehow have access to privacy, as a way to not only silence any gossip about who they’re fucking, but actually to silence others critiques to protect their privacy insomuch as it threatens their capitalist enterprises.

Not only does Queen have a rap and acting career, but has:

  1. a movie production company that has a DVD distribution  deal with Paramount
  2. a record label
  3. a perfume line
  4. is a spokesperson for Jenny Craig, Pizza Hut, and Cover Girl
  5. a Cover Girl make-up line for women of color, and
  6. owns at least one FatBurger restaurant.

I found one internet site saying her net worth was $50Million.

I understand that she may pay a higher price (as a Black woman) for coming out that Ellen DeGeneres did not pay, but protecting her fortune or corporate brand is not a reason for us to shut up about it.

Joi Re-Emerges “Hot, Heavy, & Bad!”

If you’ve followed my blog over the years, or know me personally, you know I am a huge fan of the work of Joi, the Nasvhille raised and Atlanta based artist who emerged out of the early 1990s as a pioneering voice in what was a new genre, “neo-soul” (which some say was originally penned by a reviewer to describe her 1993 debut, The Pendulum Vibe.).

But Joi is an iconoclast, and her follow-up recording 1997’s Amoeba Cleansing Syndrome (a project that was only recently released by Joi herself, after 2 record labels folded before it could be released), were it released, would have at the time made the neo-soul label passe, as the record break with any kind of convention of the time and includes a range of rock, funk, go-go, soul and hip-hop influences (check the video for the one single that got released, a duet with ex-husband and Goodie Mob’s Big Gipp, Ghetto Superstar).

Four records later, Joi is back, this time in a project with her current partner and guitarist (the smoldering hot) Devon Lee for a joint collaboration under the name Hot, Heavy & Bad. They’ve released their first single and video from the upcoming project, called One. I hate comparing artists work to one another, but the track and vocals are definitely reminiscent of what Prince B-sides used to sound like–trippy, dark,  heavy, dripping with sexuality, and overlaying one’s vocals on top of itself to create interesting textures behind a fairly sparse track. The video should provide lots of fodder for budding feminist academics writing about Black women’s sexuality and sexual agency in popular culture (You gotta see for yourself! Video below).

After a 17 year career, with 4 recordings, and collaborations on nearly every OutKast record, and with George Clinton, Curtis Mayfield, TLC, Raphael Saadiq and many others, Joi’s own hometown is just beginning to pay its respects. Creative Loafing, the alternative weekly of ATL, just gave Joi her first and well-earned cover story. So you can find out more about her work in that story.

If you’re in ATL, you can catch Joi & Devon every Saturday night at Pal’s Lounge, for her “Futuristic Throwback” set.

If you’re in NYC this Friday (August 13) at 9m  Joi is headlining Slum Beautiful: Music from the Gut of Black America at Littlefield, in Park Slope, BK. DJ Sabine of OyaSound Productions will be spinning. I’ll be there.

Antoine Dodson: Internet Star or Homophobic Joke?

I kinda love Antoine Dodson. The Huntsville, Alabama black gay (I mean he hasn’t said that, but can we just go with it?) man who has become an internet sensation because of a widely circulated local news story about an attempted rape made upon his sister with whom he lives in a housing project. The attempted rapist apparently climbed through the sister’s window and Antoine awakened to the sound of the ensuing scuffle, and helped chase the assailant out of their home.

So far there have been two news stories, and several remixes done by internet geeks of Antoine. I love that he’s so queer, clearly from a poor and /or working class community, and so visible–as someone who’s clearly somewhat femme in presentation if not identity, and not a victim. I have been, for the last several days, watched a lot of these videos and remixes with varying levels of pride, dismay, amusement, etc.

But some things are being lost here.  In my first viewing of this news story, I was less amused as the rest of America seems to be. A Black woman was nearly raped. And what disturbed me about the original video was that while Antoine and Kelly were angry, there was a way that it also seemed so normalized.  Maybe it was Kelly’s stoic way of dealing with it–I don’t want to tell anyone they need to perform their trauma  for the American media or public to feel they’re “properly hysterical”–but I hope that she has access to some support to deal with this. Is anyone helping her there or offering support? I totally commend her for being willing to come forward, which must not be easy, and could open her, and Antoine, up for retaliation. Maybe it was the way the story was produced that gave it a “this is what happens in the projects everyday” kind of tone.

Also, the news station intentionally included more footage of Antoine than Kelly, who was the actual survivor–were they going for ratings here? Did they stick this on Youtube? This just feels like exploitation of her situation by the press. You can tell the news station is responding to critism they received about the original story in the follow-up piece (no doubt some of the critique from bourgie black people who don’t think poor black people should ever be in public view at all, but that’s another blog post).

Secondly, like reality television, I am afraid that the joke is really on Antoine. Who, despite doing the right thing in this situation, is being made a mockery of, I think. If you really look at this phenomenon, this is really America making fun of this poor, black, and presumably gay man in a moment where he was clearly pissed off and angry about his home being invaded and his sister being subjected to violence. When I look at most reality TV shows like I Love New York/Flavor of Love, Jersey Shore, Real Housewives of ATL/NJ, etc, I really see how much the reality TV culture exploits poor and working class people, our struggles, and or culture, especially people of color. The (often black) gay sidekicks on these shows adds to the circus-like atmosphere of it all, but at after 20 years of being invisible in American visiual culture (including black visual culture), one can’t help but be glad we’re even visible.

So while we applaud Antoine, let’s not make a mockery of him, nor lose Kelly Dodson, and the horrific event that made us know who they were in the first place.

Kenyon Wants to Learn How to ‘Dougie’

Now I know how my parents felt. I am too damn old to be getting crunk (see, even the use of crunk marks me as rapidy approaching middle-aged grown and sexy) over the latest dance craze. But a friend just passed this song and video on to me and I kinda love it.You can best believe I will be at home practicing this shit when I should be working on my book, or my abs.

It’s from a group called Cali Swag District, and the tune is “Teach Me How To Dougie.” The track kinda reminds me of the percussion heavy, go-go inspired beats of early Salt-N-Pepa and Kid-N-Play tracks (again, dating myself). Despite my best efforts, I am really into how queer it is. I have to say, I am giving props to all the young black men breaking with the hip-hop thuggery of my generation. Two snaps to you!

RIP MJ

This is my favorite Michael Jackson video, “Remember the Time,” though “Wanna Be Startin Somethin'” is probably my favorite song. I liked Michael’s music like most people, but was far from a HUGE fan. Nevertheless, I have found myself weeping at his loss. Perhaps he meant more to me than I thought.