Author: alh16

Get On the Bus | “Black-on-Black Love Story”

 

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. shot2

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.

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Tongues Untied | The Revolutionary Act | Midterm

“Negro faggotry is the rage! Gay black men are not. 
Spike Lee and others like him count on the complicit silence of those who know better, who know the truth of their own lives as well as the diverse truths which inform the total black experience.
Notice is served.
Our silence has ended.
SNAP!” – Marlon Riggs

I’ll start by saying that I love Marlon Riggs. I think his work documented a very important moment in Black queer history. The work he did in Tongues Untied as well as others, such as Black Is… Black Ain’t, illuminates the intersections of blackness, manhood, and queerness in a way that has not often been done on film. Riggs is able to share his own personal history in a way that allows the audience to get a better understanding of black gay life in the late 80s and early 90s.

Tongues Untied was so refreshing for me to watch. Most of what made this film so enthralling for me was that it actually took the time to portray black queer people in a nuanced way. Black gay men could be more than just the flamboyant hairdresser that got two seconds of airtime in a movie. Riggs reminds us that black queer people deserve to be more than just the butt of a homophobic joke. In my opinion, Riggs most clearly makes this point by choosing to include an excerpt from Essex Hemphill’s well-known essay, ‘Without Comment’:

“”I am a 45-year-old-Black-gay-man, who enjoys taking dick in his rectum.” SNAP! “I am not your bitch!” SNAP! “Your bitch is at home with your kids!” SNAP! SNAP!

In this moment, Riggs and Hemphill take a lighthearted approach to pushing back on the idea that gay identity negates a person’s blackness or manhood.

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The theme that I found most poignant in Tongues Untied is that of the power of black gay love. I think this is a theme that Riggs highlights throughout Tongues Untied. The film asserts this powerful message:

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In the end, my opinion is that Tongues Untied served as a much-needed intervention into the heterosexist-misogynistic narrative of manhood and masculinity that we’ve seen this semester, as well as in the patriarchal/homophobic movie industry in general.

The Help

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This Bamboozled screenshot comes toward the end of the movie as the Mantan: The New Millennium Minstrel Show has reached full swing. In this scene, Pierre Delacroix addresses Sloane Hopkins’ relationship with Manray as well as their own romantic history. The two discuss the chaos the show has caused and who should be blamed. Delacroix asserts, “I know where I made my big mistake. I should have never gotten romantically involved with the help.”

Hopkins replies, “What did you just say? N***a did you just call me your help? Is that what you think of me?”

The OED defines the help as a “person employed to give assistance in household or other manual work; in U.S., a hired labourer or servant, esp. a domestic servant.” This scene is important for understanding Bamboozled because it highlights the role of women, particularly black women, in this film. This scene illuminates the peripheral role that black women are expected to play throughout the film due to the intersection of their blackness and womanhood. Just as we come to see that the subjection of the black male body continues long after the ‘end’ of minstrel show, we are also forced to reckon with the fact that black women still suffer the effects of the mammy trope that was rooted in slavery.