2008: Year of the Black Queer!

2008 is the year of the Black Queer!

OK. That sounds really cheesy. But I was thinking about what my end of year blog entry would be, and while watching the finale of the Keyshia Cole reality show on BET, that Black Queer folks have been extremely visible in a myriad of ways over the last year.

Reality TV

Black queers have been most visible in the realm of reality TV. While the First Housewives of Atlanta was the third (and most watched) of the series on Bravo, it also had the most recurring Black gay men and transwomen and otherwise gender nonconforming folks of any of the three shows. Dwight Eubanks, ATL Celebrity Hairstylist and “gay husband” to NeNe, was on the show regularly, and seemed most often to be the voice of reason in the midst of all the drama. Similary, On Keyshia Cole’s show, her sister Neffe’s good friend and hairstylist Darrell was on the show regularly. Though their sexuality was never really discussed (though Dwight and NeNe had an interesting exchange about gender on the show), it was interesting to see such Black gay men (especially who were very gender noncomforming) on popular television. Also, Laverne Cox, the Black transwoman was a contestant on P. Diddy’s I Want to Work for Diddy show. She left about halfway through the show, and many things happened that were transphobic in nature, she wasn’t tragic and the show showed some level of growth in some other folks on the show who were clearly originally very uncomfortable with her presence.

Wendy Wiliams

So Wendy is not queer, but the queen of gossip radio’s 5 week pilot-run in several major cities brought Black gay culture to the mainstream in ways that the unsuspecting hetero may not realize. Her signature “How You Doin?” phrase has for years been a a way to signify Black queer culture with her radio listeners, as well as other phrases that she is beginning to popularize that come from Black gay culture like “Alright” and “The Girls Are Sitting” and “What’s the Tea?” Much like Beyonce’s continued use of Black queer culture for inspiration in videos like “Single Ladies” (the choreography is ripped from the pageant scene in Black southern queer bars and clubs), Wendy continues to bring Black gayness to the masses.

Noah’s Arc

Speaking of Tea, Noah’s Arc, the Black gay television series produced by LOGO (MTV Networks), made its way to the silver screen and opened to stunning per-seat sales at the box office in the 5 cities where it screened. This little Black gay movie became the buzz of the industry that never thought a film with Black gay characters not as buffoons (though it is a very soap-opera ish) as the leading characters could ever do well at the box office.

Politics

Not only did Keith Boykin and Jasmyne Cannick both become regularly called-upon pundits on CNN this year, mostly due to Paula Zahn’s now cancelled show, but because several political stories, Black LGBT became very central to of the framing of “gay issues” this year in a way we haven’t been. When Obama choose “ex-gay movement” mega church minister Donnie McClurkin to lead an event in South Carolina ahead of the primary, Black gays were most prominent in voicing our opposition. More recently, when white gays like sex columnist Dan Savage launched into many racist tirades to “Blame the Blacks” for the passage of Prop 8 in California, Black LGBT folk became somewhat prominent in the discussion. Race issues in the LGBT community are not new, but because of a number of popular Bloggers, writers and activists like Herndon Davis, Kai Wright, Jasmyne Cannick, Rod 2.0 and yours truly, there was an immediate and very public backlash from Black LGBT folks about Prop 8, and racism in the LGBT community. In fact when interviewing the back-peddling Savage, Steven Colbert even talked about Black gay people, specifically. In the 1970s-1990s, much of the response to racism in the community was documented by organizations and writers like Barbara Smith and Essex Hemphill, but it would be years before their works would be published and mass distributed. White queers who bought into the hype abot Black voters in California (I think) were quite taken aback by the Black queers who voiced our opposition to their racism in immediate writings, op-eds, blog posts, and TV/radio interviews.

Though there was lots of sad news this year in the murders of several people in our community as well. There were a couple victories– new trials for several of the New Jersey 4, and a recent high court decision in Uganda ruled in favor of lesbian activists that had been arrested and assaulted by police.

See you in 2009!

Noah’s Arc: Why I Want to Hate it, But Can’t!!!

When I heard that there would be a Black gay series on the first all-LGBT cable network, LOGO, I was highly skeptical. Who wouldn’t be? Hollywood (including gay cinema) has such a bad track record presenting Black people period, let alone Black gay men. Not only that, even if it was created, written, and directed by a Black gay filmmaker, what were the chances that it wouldn’t still not reflect what I think is an accurate view of Black gay life?

Well I watched the series Noah’s Arc, and though I sometimes cringed, I still like it. I saw the new movie “Jumping the Broom” which brings back the characters where they left off in Season 2, and though I also think it was far from perfect, I still, liked it.

The film, as the title suggests, picks up with the impending nuptials of Noah and Wade. They, along with their closest friends prepare for a weekend wedding on Martha’s Vineyard. And the DRAMA unfolds. I won’t give the film away, but it is much like the series in what it gets wrong, and what it gets right.

The Wrongs:

  1. It tries to take on too much, too many issues, too many subplots and twists. The script is over-written, but not broad enough to be a farce. Much like Tyler Perry, it’s hard to know what genre we’re playing in.
  2. Though improved over the series, some of the acting is not all that great. I “buy” the characters as they are, but sometimes they don’t convince me of the moment itself, which can be a weakness in the acting, the writing, the directing, or all three!
  3. It relies way too heavy on the upwardly-mobile, bourgie aspirational lifestyles that seem unrealistic. Much like Sex in The City, you wonder where they get the money for the lifestyle they seem to be able to afford. But unlike Sex in the City, some of it actually detracts from the story, rather than enhancing it. When I saw the film in NYC, the audience seemed more horrified than wowed by some of Noah’s outfits-me included. The costume designer did not give us Carrie Bradshaw, but someone doing a bad job of trying to copy it.
  4. You all know how I feel about the marriage issue. And this film is about a marriage. Need I say more?
  5. They clearly don’t know any lesbians or transwomen. I guess I do know some Black gays who don’t know (or like) queer women or trannies, but I don’t take these characters to be those kind of gays. I think it’s fine to not try to do everything in a script but I think (maybe I am being too generous) we tend to live a little more across gender lines than that.

The Rights:

  1. The relationships between the friends is the main reason we forgive Noah’s Arc for where it comes up short. I know alot of people who feel like the show is so unrealisitc and doesn’t represent the Black gay community, and it doesn’t entirely. But I think it does, generally speaking, represent the way many of Black gay men are differently gendered. There are some who feel like the characters are too femme, but I think there’s actually a range of genders represented.
  2. Though it tries to take on too much, it does at least try to take on some issues that we deal with from HIV/AIDS–sero-discordance and if it’s ever OK to stop using condoms in a committed relationship, ambivalence to marriage, raising kids, aging, butch/femme and top/bottom issues, being out to the family, etc. It’s refreshing to see the new young character in the film (played by the boy who was once once of Sandra and Elvin’s twin babies Winnie & Nelson on The Cosby Show), trying to figure some of this stuff out, but also has as much agency as the older characters.
  3. I think one of the things we severely lack in the Black gay community is examples of other Black queers negotiating dating, sex and relationships, and i think this film and the show does a good job of providing some models of how Black gay men love each other, whether in the friendships of the four main characters, or in the romantic and sexual relationships they have (or desire) with other men.
  4. It’s a good time! Though it gets ridiculous, hokey and melodramatic, much of the films is laugh out loud funny–especially the character Alex, and the Hollywood scenester and fag-hag Brandy. I was never bored, nor did I find it so problematic as to be irredeemable. It’s a good time at the movies, and sometimes it doesn’t need to be deep.

At the end of the day, no one show/film will ever be everything to everyone. And as much as I want so much more from it, I think the Noah’s Arc film Jumpin the Broom is worth seeing, for what it does give us. If you live in NYC, LA, DC, Atlanta or Chicago, where the film is screening (and did quite well opening weekend), you also get to be in a theater full of Black queers, which like, NEVER happens. It’s fun to just be in a movie theatre with nothing but the Kids and their best girlfriends. Black gay cultural critic Ernest Hardy didn’t dig it so much, but I think his Village Voice review is totally fair.