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.
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.