“Blackbird”: Coming Out Young, Male, Black, and Christian

As reported by Neda Ulaby, NPR, the book Blackbird (1986) by Larry Duplechan changed at least one young life profoundly.

That same college student and up-and-coming filmmaker, Patrick-Ian Polkwent on to probably become best known for the creation of the TV series Noah’s Arc (2005-2006), about four black gay men in Los Angeles.

And now he has adapted Duplechan’s book for the screen, with the assistance of co-writer Rikki Beadle Blair. IMDB‘s description of Polk’s Blackbird: “A young singer struggles with his sexuality and the treatment of others while coming of age in a small Southern Baptist community.”

Jai Tiggett, Indiewire, elaborates on the plot:

Newcomer Julian Walker stars as Randy, a good-natured choirboy with a gorgeous voice and a host of personal issues – his little sister’s disappearance, the separation of his parents (played by Mo’Nique and Isaiah Washington), his strange and unsettling visions, and his repressed attraction to the same sex. Coming of age against a backdrop of blue skies, creeks, and pickup trucks and surrounded by a pack of misfit friends, he is the only one in his life who doesn’t seem to know (or accept) that he’s gay. As he and his classmates work on a controversial school production of Romeo & Juliet, all the problems in his life come to a head.

While any story like this runs the risk of stereotype, Randy’s confusion is fortunately balanced by a group of sympathetic straight friends (Nikki Jane, Torrey Laamar, Wanita Woodgett of Danity Kane fame) as well as other gay characters who are more sure of themselves. There’s Marshall (Kevin Allesee), his co-star in a local student film, and his wise-cracking friend Efram (played by standout Gary LeRoi Gray)…

A brief trailer:

The following conclusion from Tiggett has been echoed by other critics as well: “If there’s an issue with the film, it lies with story. With Randy facing so many challenges, there’s not enough space to fully explore them all. Closeted homosexuality, Christian proselytizing, child abduction, parental relationships, teen pregnancy, and more – are all tied up very quickly and perhaps, too easily, given the amount of conflict.”

Coming Out Young, Black, and Christian in Real Life

Although there is a trend toward more churches becoming gay-affirming, many LGBT young men still feel torn “between their identities and their faiths,” according to the Human Rights Campaign.

Some additional points from scholar Michael LaSala, who has studied the individual and family dynamics of urban African American gay youth (Rutgers news release):

Black parents often feel guilty when they learn their child is gay, and many African-American gay youths before coming out distance themselves from their parents…
Black parents may be less likely than whites to ‘mourn the loss of a normal life’ for their gay sons, perhaps understanding that a normal life was less of a sure thing, according to LaSala…
“I found that parents of African-American gay youth said, ‘You have everything going against you as a black man. This is one more strike against you.’ Conversely, parents of white gay youth stated, ‘You have everything going for you – and now this!’” LaSala said…
LaSala points to existing research that calls upon black men to be hypermasculine, a trait characterized by the absence of overt emotions and the appearance of vulnerability, as well as a readiness to have sex at any time. When gay blacks realize they don’t fit the stereotype, they often develop a sense of alienation, loneliness and anxiety, not knowing where they fit in.

Let’s hope, therefore, that Polk’s Blackbird finds its way to those many kids who are likely to identify with its important themes. Blackbird is available on DVD.

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