Tuesday, January 16th, 2018

Coming Out in Hattiesburg, MS

I liked the characters in the adaptation by Patrik-Ian Polk (Noah’s Arc: Jumping the Broom, The Skinny) of Larry Duplechan’s 1986 novel Blackbird. It keeps the ludicrous exorcism that is what I best remember from the book. Both the straight jock friend, Todd (Torrey Lamarr), and the white boyfriend Marshall (Kevin Allesee) of protagonist Randy Rousseau (Julian Walker) seem too good to be true, as does the general ready acceptance by everyone except Randy (and except for his guilt-tripping mother, played by Mo’Nique) that he is gay. I also liked the smart-mouthed gay friend, Efrem (Gary LeRoi Gray) and the gospel singing of Walker’s Rousseau. Most of all I enjoyed his dreams, especially the opening one of a soulful duet with Todd at the end of which Todd rips off his choir robe under which he was wearing nothing — at least above their chest, which is where the shot’s frame sticks). Todd also figures in the final dream in which he predicts/reveals the futures of the characters.

A surprise is that Isaiah Washington appears as the supportive father. Washington also was a producer of the film, presumably working on scrubbing out the slurs that got him written out of “Grey’s Anatomy” in 2007. That’s pretty much the only new ground of the movie. Another surprise is the general lack of homophobia in Polk’s hometown of Hattiesburg, Mississippi (see “too good to be true” above). The book was set in southern California two decades earlier). (I have no idea why the protagonist’s name was changed from Johnnie Ray to Randy.)

The movie would have had a greater impact (though the easy acceptance would have been even more implausible) had it been made sooner after it was published — in the late-1980s, or at least before “Glee.” And before Tarell Alvin McCraney’s play “Choir Boy,” centering on a similarly 17-year-old African American tenor grappling with acknowledging his homosexuality. (The play had full-frontal nudity, while the movie camera never goes below the waist in its scenes of love or of bed, except for a very passing glance at Walker’s buns.)

© 8 September 2015, Stephen O. Murray

About The Author

Stephen O. Murray grew up in rural southern Minnesota, earned a B.A. from James Madison College (within Michigan State University), an M.A. from the University of Arizona, a Ph.D. from the University of Toronto (both in sociology), and was a postdoctoral fellow at Berkeley (in anthropology). He is the author of American Gay, Homosexualities, etc. and lives in San Francisco.

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