Dec 26

“For Colored Boys”: Gay and Suicidal

In 1974, playwright Ntozake Shange published For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When The Rainbow Is Enuf. The book would go on to inspire legions of women for decades and would later become the subject and title of a hugely popular movie in the fall of 2010. While the film was selling out movie theaters, young black gay men were literally committing suicide in the silence of their own communities. Magnus Books, publisher of For Colored Boys

One response to this tragedy of widely neglected and/or ignored proportions is a new book, For Colored Boys Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Still Not Enough: Coming of Age, Coming Out, and Coming Home,edited by Keith Boykin.

The publisher states the following about the book: “addresses longstanding issues of sexual abuse, suicide, HIV/AIDS, racism, and homophobia in the African American and Latino communities, and more specifically among young gay men of color. The book tells stories of real people coming of age, coming out, dealing with religion and spirituality, seeking love and relationships, finding their own identity in or out of the LGBT community, and creating their own sense of political empowerment. For Colored Boys is designed to educate and inspire those seeking to overcome their own obstacles in their own lives.”

Boykin tells Ebony that several young men inspired the creation of this anthology: Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover, Jaheem Herrera, Raymond Chase, and Joseph Jefferson. As Rod McCullom further relates:

Those names are probably not familiar to most readers. The first two were 11-year-old boys who took their own lives after relentless anti-gay bullying in 2009. The latter two were openly gay college students who committed suicide in late 2010.  Chase and Jefferson’s deaths happened around the same time as the tragic case of Tyler Clementi, the 18-year-old gay college student who jumped to his death in September 2010. Clementi’s case received international attention and sparked the ‘It Gets Better’ project…

‘The implication was that the lives of Black men were not worthy of news coverage,’ said Boykin, a former aide to President Clinton. ‘Not to take anything away from Tyler but our society often ignores the pain and suffering experienced by Black men.’

Clay Cane, The Huffington Post, who’s a contributor to the book: “The voices in For Colored Boys represent empowerment, which isn’t always beautiful and sometimes laced with grit. We colored boys are slapping flesh onto a monolithic image of black LGBT people, who are usually regulated to being accessories for heterosexual women in campy reality shows. With President Barack Obama stating his support for same-sex marriage and Frank Ocean making pop-culture history as the first mainstream R&B/hip-hop artist to come out, For Colored Boys is relevant, regardless of the reader’s gender, race, or sexual orientation.”

Few reviews are available at this time, reminding me of Sarah Schulman‘s complaint about the mainstream media, noted in a recent post (“Familial Homophobia“).

Oct 12

“The Perks of Being a Wallflower”: Plus, “Someday This Pain…”

Two new movies, The Perks of Being a Wallflower and Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You, have both been adapted from novels about adolescent males whose life experiences lead them to therapy.

I. The Perks of Being a Wallflower

The Perks of Being a Wallflower, the only one of the two that I’ve seen, is adapted from the 1999 novel by Stephen Chbosky, who also wrote the screenplay.

It’s the early 1990’s in Pittsburgh. Logan Lerman plays “wallflower” and high-school freshman Charlie, who’s just been in “the hospital.” As described by Richard Corliss in Time, Charlie is “a tender soul scraped raw by the sudden deaths of his best friend Michael — ‘Oh, he shot himself last May; kind of wish he’d left a note’ — and, in a car crash, his beloved Aunt Helen (Melanie Lynskey, seen in flashbacks).”

The first to finally welcome Charlie into a clique, a group of seniors one of them calls “the Island of Misfit Toys,” is Patrick (Ezra Miller), a gay youth who, as Corliss states, “is also deep in trauma time” related to his secret relationship with a football player.

A couple girls in the group provide love-trianglish dynamics. Patrick’s half-sister Sam (Emma Watson) catches Charlie’s fancy; she, however, is drawn romantically to someone else. Meanwhile, Mary Elizabeth (Mae Whitman) manages to pull Charlie into his first dating relationship—one that’s not really right for him. And he’s poorly equipped to handle that.

About the overall mood of the film, David Edelstein, New York Magazine, asks: “Has there ever been a time when you were among friends and felt as if you truly belonged, yet were aware at the same instant that the joy was fleeting and you’d soon be alone—and that the pain of loss would be almost as intense as the bliss?” Similarly, about Charlie finding his social group: “It’s magic—but every emotion, happy and sad, is so heavy.”

The trailer for The Perks of Being a Wallflower:

A highly significant turning point occurs when Charlie gets ostracized for kissing Sam and breaking up with Mary Elizabeth.

No spoilers here—there’s a worthy and realistic twist.

Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times: “The movie confirms one of my convictions: If you are too popular in high school, you may become so fond of the feeling that you never find out who you really are.”

Being not so popular, in other words, is more likely to lead you to an examined life.

II. Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You

Unlike WallflowerSomeday This Pain Will Be Useful To You, another film adapted from a celebrated novel (by Peter Cameron), has been widely panned.

In this film the young male protagonist is gay. According to IMDB, viewers see “…an intimate inside view of James as he works through his life at the therapy sessions which his parents insist he goes to. We learn about James’s past and present through the stories he tells and his recounting of previous therapy sessions.”

In the following trailer, you’ll see James (Toby Regbo) with the “life coach” (who’s actually a shrink) played by Lucy Liu.

Joe Neumaier, New York Daily News: “His pain may be useful to James someday, but to viewers, it’s annoying right here and now.”