Blackbird Film Review

On Tuesday, February 4th I attended the 2015 Reelout Film Festival at the Kingston Frontenac Public Library and saw the film Blackbird. Directed by Patrik-Ian Polk, Blackbird is an emotional, powerful and beautiful story of the life of Randy Rousseau. Randy, a religiously conservative black teenager is forced to face challenging obstacles that question his race, faith and gender identity in order for him to learn what it truly means to be himself.

The film opens with a remarkable rendition of Randy singing, “I Would Be Like Jesus” alongside his church choir. The scene quickly transitions into him making out with another male choir member halfway through the song. When Randy wakes up in a panic, the audience realizes that this scene was just a dream. This powerful opening scene guides the audience to understand that Randy’s confused thoughts and uneasy feelings are as a closeted homosexual. Throughout the film these dreams coincide with Randy’s difficult issues of having to deal with his little sister’s disappearance, his parent’s separation and his ongoing attraction to the same sex all while trying to be a faithful Christian. Observing how Randy handled his distress while managing to keep his head up was very moving and inspirational. It is through the roles Randy plays in the theatre, his supportive friendships and his experimentation with the opposite sex that Randy is able to ultimately accept his gay sexuality and find self-acceptance.

After witnessing her son making out with his friend Marshall, the film cuts to Randy, his mother, and the Pastor sitting on the stairs in their church. Randy is in his mothers arms while the Pastor’s hands are on Randy, praying. The Pastor is reciting words like; Clear this child. Heal him. Cleanse him. Erase his sins. Have mercy. (Blackbird, 2014) Interspersed with the Pastor’s words, Randy repeatedly says “Save me.” (Randy, Blackbird, 2014) The combination of intensifying music, dramatic voiceovers and fast past editing all create a very emotional scene. In fact, I believe that this scene late in the film is the best executed one.

This heartbreaking scene illuminates the complexities of Randy’s ambivalent feelings about coming out and his being open about his sexuality in light of his religious beliefs. In the New Testament, it consistently states that homosexual activity is a sin and is a result of denying or disobeying God. (Slick, 2015) This scene is very important as it shines light on the struggles that many people have to face when trying to accept their sexuality while also trying to remain faithful to their religious beliefs.

Another important issue that the film addresses concerns the stigma around racism and sexuality. The fears of homophobia, discrimination, prejudice and rejection in the black community has prevented many males from accepting their gay sexuality and being open about their sexuality. According to Dr. Eric Grollman, PhD, the term down low or DL, specifically refers to black men in heterosexual relationships who secretly have sex with men. (2013) The idea of hegemonic masculinity discussed in Gendered Worlds, chapter one, reinforces the idea that in order for men to fit society’s image of the ‘proper man,’ they should be heterosexual, and therefore, gay men believe they have to be in the down low.

I found it very uplifting and inspirational to see that by the end of the film, Randy, a black religious male, was able to accept his sexuality regardless of the shame-based messaging he continually received. I believe that this film will help to break down barriers for individuals in the future as well as encourage more filmmakers to present race and various types of masculinity equally through queer films in order to address these negative stigmas.

I found the use of costumes in the film to also be very interesting. In the first few scenes Randy is seen wearing a clean and perfectly pressed school uniform. It is not until Marshall, his soon to be boyfriend, picks him up for play rehearsal that we see Randy out of his uniform for the first time. He is still wearing clean, tailored clothing but he is now seen wearing a purple button down shirt. In the final scene in the film we see Randy in a much less tidy presentation with his shirt untucked. As Randy becomes more himself, his clothing slowly becomes less restricted. These subtle costume changes help to convey the message of self-acceptance in the film and further reflects Randy’s growing self-acceptance by ‘shedding’ his outer persona.

Overall, watching Blackbird was a very interesting and enjoyable experience. It was a nice treat to view a film on a weekday afternoon. Asides from a quick detour from getting lost I managed to secure a good seat for the film. Everyone was very friendly and the majority of the audience were young women. At the end of the film there was a moment of silence during which everyone digested what they had just witnessed. As I left the film I felt very moved. I continued to reflect on the film for many days after. The most enjoyable part was seeing the firsthand experience of the challenge of coming out. I also gained a greater empathy for the difficulties that some individuals may face when trying to be themselves. Patrik-Ian Polk did a marvelous job in portraying a coming out and coming of age story. I would highly recommend this film.

 

Work Cited

Aulette, Judy Root, and Judith G. Wittner. “Introduction.” Gendered Worlds. Third ed. New York: Oxford UP, 2015. 7-8. Print.

Blackbird. Perf. Julian Walker, Kevin Alless, Mo’Nique. KBiz Entertainment, Tall Skinny Black Boy Production, 2014. Film.

Grollman, Eric Anthony. “Being On The “Down Low”: What Does It Mean?” Kinsey Confidential RSS. The Kinsey Institute, 8 Jan. 2013. Web. 11 Feb. 2015.

Slick, Matt. “What Does the Bible Say about Homosexuality?” Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry. 1 Jan. 2015. Web. 11 Feb. 2015.

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Blackbird Film Review

4 thoughts on “Blackbird Film Review

  1. pennatucky says:

    I thought it was a very interesting point that you brought up about the changing of costumes throughout the movie, as that is something I would probably not have picked up on. It is a very amiable and subtle way of expressing change and or growth. As it seems from the review the film is relatable for the times we live in now. Within many countries around the world right wing fundamentalism and extremist Christian fundamentalism on the rise, there are probably a lot of teenagers that are in the same spot as Randy. It is interesting how, in the film they at first do not accept Randy’s sexuality but then come around to it. I think this film would be very inspiring to many teens in his position. I concur with you on the issue of hegemonic masculinity I relation to coming out and the idea of having fitting into the ‘proper man’ model that society forces upon us.
    You review makes me really want to see this movie. Hopefully I will get the chance to.

    Like

  2. redjr21 says:

    It seems that this film would have been rather moving, as many different themes seem to be addressed. From watching the preview alone, it is clear that the struggle of embracing one’s sexual orientation is influenced by many factors, and the filmmaker’s decision to emphasize the influence of religion on identifying with one’s sexual orientation is important. This is an issue that seems rather pervasive in North American societies, as the fight to legalize gay marriage permeates the United States, with many using religion as a tool of homophobia.

    I appreciate the scene that you chose to analyze, as it seems to encompass Randy’s struggle. Randy’s sexual orientation is regarded as a sin, and his mother seems to adhere to this thought, wanting to “clean him of his sins.” This terrible train of thought also remains present for many parents, as illustrated by Leelah Alcorn’s parents, who thought she could be “cleansed” of her transgender identity.

    I also enjoy your discussion of the costumes as indicating Randy’s coming to terms with his identity. This could have easily been overlooked, but one’s dress can play a significant role in their gender expression, and feeling comfortable with their identity, whether this pertains to their sexual identity or their gender identity. Performativity is a key aspect of one’s identity, and Randy’s ability to branch out seems to illustrate his comfort with his identity.

    One theme that could have been further explored is race; how did this play in to Randy’s struggles. Additionally, Randy’s gender identity is mentioned, however his being referred to as a male leads me to wonder whether he is cisgender, or whether his gender is more fluid. Overall, your review provides a clear summary of the film and has inspired me to watch it myself!

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  3. piper125 says:

    From your intersectional analysis of that particular scene, it is evident that one of the prominent themes in this film was the intersection of Christianity and homosexuality. As Redjr21 mentioned, opponents of legalizing gay marriage often use religion (not always Christianity) as a crutch to justify their homophobia. This is something that comes up often in popular media, but the day to day struggles of families identifying with aforementioned religions and finding out that their loved ones are homosexual. How did the family eventually come to accept Randy’s sexuality? Did the film emphasize one particular moment that seemed to be the turning point for his loved ones? I am curious to know because my only qualm with films like this is that it romanticizes a set of circumstances that often does not end in a happy ending. Youth like Randy may go the majority of their lives living in denial of their own sexuality.

    I really enjoyed that you touched on the change in dress throughout the film. Subleties such as this often shed light on the director’s intentions and it is interesting to see. It would have been interesting to hear your opinion on what role you think Randy’s racial identity played in the difficulties found in his coming out process. Black masculinity is often fetishized and sexualized to a greater degree than other races in contemporary society, which undoubtedly must have a significant hinderance on peer acceptance for gay black males. In other words, a white Christian male likely will experience different milieu from a black Christian male. How did the film address this aspect of Randy’s identity?

    Overall I really enjoyed your review– I can tell you really enjoyed the film!

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  4. Indeed a very interesting review. From watching the movie trailer, to reading your review, I sense an uneasiness towards the challenges that are presented to Randy. All of us have been through those teenage years and sometimes it could get pretty tough. As for the obstacles being presented to Randy at such a young age, I think we can all agree that it is hard to find a balance between believes, race and gender identity. But it seems like in the end he had found self-acceptance, which is fortunate because in reality, finding that acceptance under the influence of the society isn’t necessarily easy. I really like how you mentioned the costume changes in the movie, like PENNATUCKY said, it is not something that could easily picked up on; however, often than not, these details are usually the most crucial as well as symbolic.
    It really does seem like you enjoyed the movie very much and it reflects in your review.

    Like

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