This year, after viewing the trailers for the line up that Reelout had in store, there were a number of movies that clearly stood out among the rest. The movie that ultimately caught my attention was Blackbird, directed by Patrik-Ian Polk. The story is a coming of age that focuses on Randy Rousseau and his experience with coming to terms with his sexuality. As a prominent member of his church and their choir, and an activist still searching for his sister who was kidnapped years ago, Randy tries his best to not give any attention to his growing feelings for one of his friends, Todd. After attending an audition, a new character named Marshall is introduced and he makes it very clear that he has an interest in Randy. While denying that he is gay, Randy continues to spend time with Marshall, the two of them getting closer. The more time Randy and Marshall spend together, the more Randy’s feelings grow stronger, and as an attempt to mute them completely, he has sex with his friend, Crystal. Todd and his girlfriend, Leslie, begin to experience trouble when Leslie discovers that she is pregnant, and her father, the pastor of the church, plans an abortion against both her and Todd’s will. Randy and Marshall eventually start to see each other but their relationship is cut short when they are caught together by Randy’s mother, who is physiologically affected by the kidnapping of her daughter, and she blames Randy and the fact that he is gay for all the bad things that happened in their life. During an attempt at trying to remove the ‘demons’ from inside of him, Randy discovers that Leslie committed suicide. Randy, although he has been forbidden to see him, seeks comfort in Marshall, and the two reconcile despite Randy’s family situation. Eventually, things start to look up when Randy’s little sister who was previously missing is found, and returns home. The end of the movie draws near as Randy is visited by Todd in a dream. It is revealed that Todd committed suicide to follow Leslie, unable to be a part from her. The dream Todd reveals things to Randy that his subconscious has been putting off, like his less than perfect relationship with Marshall and his mother, and his little sister and her inability to stop running away. The dream ends with Randy accepting what he has had trouble doing so for the last two months, and vows to start moving on with his life, finally at peace with himself and everything around him.
The only main character in the film who is white is Randy’s boyfriend, Marshall. Looking at the character of Marshall critically, he has a strong resemblance with the “new image” of the gay man, as said by Fejes in his analyses of the TV show Queer as Folk. (Fejes 2000 cited in Gendered Worlds, 417) Marshall is portrayed as a young, white, slightly buff, handsome, and educated gay man. The only characteristics he is missing from the ideal “image” of a televised gay man is the stable income and professional job. One can’t help but notice the tint of white supremacy within Marshall’s character, seeing as how he is portrayed as saving and teaching Randy the real meaning of what it is to be a homosexual man. In other words, Marshall within the film is paired with a white savior complex, and is seen ultimately saving Randy’s life for the better, just by being with him.
The movie itself is unique, as it comes from the perspective of a black gay man. In the scenario of the film, Randy’s race is tied to his community within the small southern town where he lives, especially involving him within his church. His gender ties with his family situation, expecting him to be the man of the house, as his father left, and his mother is unstable, so he must take care of the house, himself, and his mothers decaying mind. However, it is not just the two separate elements, but rather the intersection of them both. The fact that he is a black male, who ends up being in a relationship with a white male, says a lot about the film and its meaning. Comparing it to a black female in a relationship with a white man, or two white men in a relationship, the intersection of Randy’s race and gender allow for more to come from the film.
The movie, although it lowers the authenticity of it, features a number of subplots, one being the sexuality of Randy’s best friend, Efrem. In the middle of the movie, a new plot is introduced involving Efrem being caught in sexual acts with other men. Efrem is not sure whether men have always been his preference, or if it grew out of his desire to torment his own father, but he finds himself identifying as homosexual, eventually becoming happy with his decision to accept the truth. One key scene from the movie that captured my attention, and related back to the lessons taught during class, was the scene where Randy’s mother discovers that Randy is gay, and has been with another boy. She forbids Marshall from ever seeing Randy again, and then moves on to yell at Randy, blaming him for all the bad things that have happened to their family, namely the disappearance of Randy’s sister. Randy’s mother shows a strong sense of homophobia, not in the literal sense of fear, but in the meaning where she is prejudiced and discriminative to her own son, due to him being gay. She struggles with even the idea, and immediately prays to God, saying that Randy doesn’t mean what he is doing, that it is all a mistake, and that they both ask for forgiveness. This particular scene stuck out to me because it was very emotional, with its feature of Randy being told that his true self is wrong and a deviation of God, while his own mother begs for him to be fixed. The scene is strikingly alarming, but is the reality of a lot of people’s lives, which is why it gained such a strong reaction from me. The images within this scene feature a lot of iconography, specifically to do with the Christian faith, as the viewer can see pictures of Jesus, Randy’s mother praying on her knees, and a number of crosses within the house. This scene ties one of the strongest elements of Randy’s coming of age tale, his sexuality interacting with his religion.
The film should be commended as it demonstrates dealing with a number of issues, however due to its rushed ending, random and incomplete subplots, and at times the cringe worthy acting, the film as a movie was not so enjoyable to watch. Focusing on the aspects within the film paint it in a better light, and makes it easier to analyze the film. Living in the small town of Kingston that consists of the majority of its residents being white, Blackbird as a movie, and its screening, was definitely a sight to see. It was interesting to watch a movie where the entire cast was made up of black men and women, and that setting was a community that catered to black residents, in this case the setting of the film was in a southern small town. One thing that I would have liked to see more out of the film was more of a focus on Randy’s race, and the issues that he faced with that. Compared to the issues dealing with hi sexuality, the fact that he was colored plays a smaller role, and one might even say that his race in the film was marginalized. Overall, the film was pleasant to watch, although the technical aspects of it could do with a lot of improvement, the film does hold a lot of importance concerning gender and race, so overall, I would recommend the film to be watched.