The Irony of Isaiah Washington

(Originally written on April 11, 2016, I forgot to press publish)

Washinton standing with former castmate T.R. Knight


In 2007 Isaiah Washington was fired by Shonda Rhimes from Greys Anatomy when he used a homophobic slur during an argument with his openly gay cast mate T.R. Knight. But in 1996 he played a self-conscious gay man in the movie Get On The Bus. I find this entirely ironic. Yes, actors are just playing characters in Tv shows, plays, and movies, but to play a gay man in a film and actually be a homophobe is crazy to me.(I also find it insane that Shondra let him reprise his role in Grey’s Anatomy years after his exit) But I do find it interesting that the character (Kyle) in Get On The Bus is so reticent about sharing his sexuality as opposed to his partner played by Harry Lennix. I guess in a way the role mirrors his sentiments on sexuality. It’s also interesting to note that Harry Lennix is also a straight actor.

In one of Kyle’s moments of pride over his sexual identity, he says, “I’m a black man, my sexual prefence doesn’t change that” (44mins)

I may be wrong, but this is the first Spike Lee movie (at least that I’ve seen) that has openly discussed black sexuality in a positive way. All of the other romantic pairings that we’ve seen have been heterosexual. Even in Chi-raq, a film that pivots on human sexuality, gay relationships are not explored. What does this say about Lee’s feelings towards homosexuality?

2 comments

  1. I think it’s important to remember the step from School Daze in the context of conversation. Lee’s heteronormative gaze, and his clumsy grappling with sexuality, is evident throughout his filmography. I think the transition from School Daze to Get On The Bus shows definite growth in his views, but I believe he still has a long way to go.

  2. You bring up a really interesting point and I think Sasha’s suggestion of allowing School Daze to enter this conversation really would aid this discussion. That film does deal with sexuality on some level, even if it does not do so in a clear way or adequately enough. That’s why pulling in Tongues Untied right after School Daze was so crucial. Portraying black love on screen is already so revolutionary, so portraying a spectrum of black love presents even more potential problems, problems that are furthered observed by those actually living within these spectrums. I would love to see more from Lee in terms of shifting away from consistently hetero-normative characters, but I don’t think this lack is an indicator of his feelings about homosexuality. Rather, I see it as an indicator of the continued struggle of filmmakers to do the work most of us would love to see while balancing the nature of their industry.

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