I found Spike Lee’s 1996 film Get on the Bus to be an interesting, although not satisfying, look at Black American masculinity in its multitude of forms in the mid-1990s. One aspect of the movie that stuck out most for me was the depiction of queer (in this case, gay or MSM) identity. I was particularly interested in the character of Kyle, played by Isaiah Washington, a black, gay republican whose relationship difficulties play out on the bus over the course of the movie. One detail I noticed during the screening is the book that Kyle is reading during the road trip.
The book is called B-Boy Blues: A Seriously Sexy, Fiercely Funny, Black-on-Black Love Story. Referred to by most simply as B-Boy Blues, the book was the debut novel of writer James Earl Hardy. The novel tracks the love affair of Mitchell Crawford and Raheim Rivers, two young Black gay men in the early 1990s. More broadly, B-Boy Blues is “about the lives of black gay men in New York City [and] is unabashedly and unapologetically written for the African-American male. Rough, sexy, humorous, and authentic, B-Boy Blues is a first-rate love story.”
Many black queer folks talk about the impact that B-Boy Blues had on them– especially the significance of being able to read a love story about someone who looked and talked and loved like them. I’ve attached an article here that I think describes pretty well just how important this work was at this particular period in time.
B-Boy Blues was published in November of 1994, less than two years before the release of Lee’s Get on the Bus.
I probably wouldn’t have noticed B-Boy Blues in Kyle’s hand had I not read the book before. I’m glad that I did though, because Lee’s inclusion of the novel in his film says something about black gay men’s culture in that particular moment– or at least the way that it was being represented in media at the time. Hardy’s B-Boy Blues brought the very siloed conversation of different expressions of black gay identity (i.e. anything other than effeminate expression) out into the mainstream. In some ways, this made the representation of Black gay identity that was Kyle’s character (a macho military-serving, Black, gay, republican on his way to see Farrakhan) possible.