…And, other ways I’ve been brilliantly challenged.
I am black. I am gay. I am from Chicago. I lived in New York for fifteen years. I am a creative professional. You don’t get much more liberal than me. On most things.
Still as uber liberal as I am, we all have room to grow and that’s what: Bruce Jenner; Oxygen’s new show, “The Prancing Elites Project;” and, Patrik-Ian Polk’s new film, Blackbird have forced me to do. Oh yeah, Jaden Smith too!
When I heard the news that Bruce Jenner was undergoing a gender transition; I was confused. My first thought was concern for his family. ‘It has to be difficult to have your [ex]-husband and father announce that he wants to be a woman,’ I thought.
It didn’t dawn on me to consider how difficult it must be to live in what you feel is the wrong body for 65 years. It must be particularly excruciating for an Olympic champion decathlete who was once a banner example of masculinity.
It wasn’t until I saw all of the insensitive jokes, memes, comments and posts on social media about him online that I questioned my feelings. The sheer cruelty and lack of understanding forced me to challenge my lack of compassion. And, then, by all accounts it was revealed that the great majority of his family was supportive of his decision. So, what right did I have to question it or feel sorry for them? I didn’t. None of us have that right.
As the universe always does, I was pushed even further when a friend asked me to watch Oxygen’s new show, “The Prancing Elites Project.” The show is about a black gay dance troupe in Mobile, Alabama who perform a style of dancing called J-Set. J-Setting is typically performed by women and girls, but there are many organized groups of male J-Setters across the south and the Prancing Elites is one of the best.
Admittedly, I had no intention of watching the show. I have been very vocal about my disdain for television’s one-dimensional portrayal of black gay men as effeminate, high-heel wearing fops. With that said, I respect everyone’s right to express themselves as they see fit, but by presenting this one image of black gay men television shows do more harm than good. I just saw “The Prancing Elites Project” as yet another perpetuation of this prevailing stereotype.
I was wrong again. True, the members of the troupe are all feminine men. But, the show is much more than their style and self-expression choices. As you can imagine, the people of Alabama (and the south in general) aren’t fans of the high stepping group.
The troupe was denied access to walk in one of the biggest parades in the community (parades are their favorite) solely because of who they are. Defiantly, the Prancing Elites decided to attend the parade and dance alongside the route as people cursed, threatened and berated them. It hurt my heart and, then inspired me.
My preconceived notions of what the show was about were off base. “The Prancing Elites Project,” has the universal themes of acceptance and being who you are in spite of the challenges you may face. It really inspired me to see their bravery and their commitment to fight injustice. To be exactly who they are as God made them and intended them to be. Yes, as God made them to be!
In a heart-warming conversation with a young white girl, they rightfully positioned their crusade as a quest for civil rights. She was crying because of the way the crowd at the parade treated them. One of the members vowed, “we won’t cry anymore and we’ll keep going.” I’ll definitely be tuning in to root them on with the hope that their efforts move people forward just as I was.
My dear friend, Patrik-Ian Polk’s film, Blackbird debuts in theaters on Friday, April 24th. I have seen the film multiple times because of my friendship with Patrik and I also represented his production company in the negotiation of its distribution deal with RLJ Entertainment. Again, with each viewing of the film, I was forced to evolve.
Based on Larry Duplechan’s novel, Blackbird tells the story of Randy Rousseau (newcomer, Julian Walker) who struggles with his sexuality while coming of age in a small Southern Baptist community in Mississippi. Mo’nique, in her first role since winning the Oscar, stars as his mother Claire with Isaiah Washington starring as his father, Lance.
It wasn’t the story that pushed me because I have lived through many of these stories of rejection and judgment by parents because of a child’s sexuality. I was pushed because of Blackbird’s unapologetic and accurate depiction of a young man’s sexual exploration and evolution.
In signature Patrik-Ian Polk style, the film’s sex scenes (both fantasy and real) hold no punches. When I saw the film at the American Black Film Festival (“ABFF”) last year, I found myself cringing at those scenes. Clearly, I had seen two men have sex before so that was certainly not the issue.
As I watched the film at a press screening last week, I realized that my issue at ABFF was that I was focused on how the straight people would react. I was uncomfortable for them. Geesh!
I had to laugh at myself. At the same time, it was a very telling situation regarding the state of acceptance and tolerance in our society. Here I was a black gay man that was uncomfortable seeing two men (or three) engage in a sexual act on screen.
My own internalized discrimination and self-hatred made it difficult for me to watch something (next to straight people) I had seen countless times. Last week, I snapped out of it and fully enjoyed the film without worrying about my fellow audience members that were straight. They’d be just fine.
Then, there’s Jaden Smith. I have three words for him: “You go boy!” He is defying gender norms and whether they have a place in our current society. For him to use his inherited platform to push our society forward is beyond admirable. His sexuality is not even important to me because his courage is so encouraging.
I must also applaud his mega-watt celebrity parents, Will and Jada Pinkett-Smith for allowing both of their children to be who they are and loving them just the same. As it should be.
Needless to say, my eyes are opened just a bit more by all of these pop-culture and entertainment moments. The movement of the universe will always be forward whether we like it or not. It’s a good thing for all of us that we are become a more accepting, inviting and loving society (even if some of us are moving along kicking and screaming).
For all of you that have pushed me, I have two words for you: “Thank You!”
“The Prancing Elites Project” airs Wednesdays on Oxygen 10/9c. The Prancing Elites Official Site
Blackbird is in theaters (check this site for cities) tomorrow, April 24, 2015. Blackbird Official Site