Where's The Gay #BlackLove?
What does it look like when Black queer people are allowed to control their own narratives on film and television?
This idea, sparked by a tweet, stopped me in my tracks on Saturday morning. A few nights before I had decided to watch the critically acclaimed film Call Me by Your Name, which has been deemed a “romantic marvel” and “erotic triumph”, and underwent countless comparisons to 2016’s coming-of-age film Moonlight. I never marvel at films like Call Me By Your Name because they are all the same. Conventionally attractive white twinks can be found on primetime television, and are not a rare sight in blockbuster films. While Call Me by Your Name had beautiful moments, nothing felt truly compelling or radical about two white men having a summer fling. LGBTQ characters make up only 4.8% of all regular TV roles, and while the figure is small, the number of characters of color is even smaller. Conversations around LGBT representation in television and film are had but rarely include people of color, who are the truly most underrepresented group.
While I appreciate the fact that there is queer representation on screen, there is a part of me that is less than elated over the fact that I’m once again seeing white faces at the forefront of gay culture, especially when queer people of color are responsible for a majority of it. Even depictions of historical events like Stonewall are white-washed, with queer and trans people of color -inaccurately-playing the supporting roles. But, there are a few queer black characters on television. William on This Is Us, Titus on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Lionel on Dear White People, and Dizzee on the now cancelled series The Get Down. When I began to watch these shows I was excited to see black men, who liked men, on my screen. They didn’t all behave the same, and I could see myself in each. But the tricky part began when they developed love interests. Titus finally finds love with Mikey, a muscular masculine white man. A highlight of the relationship being Titus performing his own version of Lemonade after suspecting infidelity. I binge watched the first season of This Is Us, to find that William had an old flame named Jesse, a white man with an accent. There was a very anti-climactic kiss –that was barely shown- between Dizzee and a white boy named Thor to close out The Get Down’s first season. And on Dear White People, Lionel finally worked up the nerve and kissed his vaguely ethnic boss named Silvio at the end of its first season. As these scenes flashed across the screen, to say the least, I was disappointed.
The Get Down particularly disappointed me the most at the time. Even on a show that revolved around people of color, the one queer character had to share the space with a white man. Would it really be that hard to give Dizzee a love interest who was a person of color? Instead they chose a blond hair and blue eyed white boy. The show is based in the fucking South Bronx. Seeing this narrative constantly is frustrating. I understand the concept of inclusivity very well, but the lack of black queer love is the exact opposite. And the lack of queer black friendship is actually pathetic. I remember being a young teenager and discovering Patrik-Ian Polk’s Noah’s Arc. This show spoke directly to black gay men, showing us the beauty of our black love, masculine and feminine, light and dark, large and small, college professors and starving artists. The relationships were beautiful, and not just the romantic ones. Films like Pariah, Blackbird, Moonlight, and The Skinny felt like us controlling our own narrative, written for us by us. And they put on display the ups and downs up of being queer and black. But these narratives are rarely the mainstream hits that white critics will fawn over like Call Me by Your Name. Even now that Moonlight has won Best Picture at the Golden Globes it must be compared to every gay film created by a white indie producer.
I want to see black queer friendships, black queer love, black queer and trans superheroes, black queer and trans bio-pics. I want these narratives to be black as fuck, and not need white faces to be deemed relevant. Imagine a world where our stories were told by us, actors included. Because how many times have our narratives been used as an opportunity for some straight man to receive acclaim for playing such a “challenging” role and win an award.
Being black and gay, having black queer friends, and making sure my social media feeds are as non-straight and white as possible, I have a strong grasp on what the lives of people like me are. In most cases, we are in relationships with other people of color, our conversations are about issues in our community (and you can throw a debate or two about Beyoncé or Rihanna in there). Queer black culture, in all its glamour, seeps from are skin. We are not all the token black gay in a group of white people, but how often are our storylines reduced to that? How many times has the black queer individual on a show been the punchline to a joke, or given one line where they’re the wise relationship guru for a hetero? With cisgender, heterosexual, white people attempting to tell our stories, nothing will change. Producers need to hand the reigns over to queer writers of color, because we have stories to tell and we have love that deserves to be on display.