I got a hypochondriac flow that get real ill, get nauseous to the beat, I spit sick at will.

Getting the ‘Invisible Life’ Movies Right

The deal that E. Lynn Harris and Tracey Edmonds struck to make a series of feature films based on Harris' Invisible Life is historic. This is not just one feature film about gay and bisexual black gay men and black women. It's a series of films about gay and bisexual black men and black women.

It might sound hyperbolic, but there is actually no way to understate just how important these films are going to be. Gay and bisexual black men have almost always and only been portrayed in films as stereotypes and they have too infrequently appeared as the center of a film narrative (with Noah's Arc: Jumping The Broom the most prominent and most problematic, as a result). So these films represent a real opportunity to portray gay and bisexual black men and black women as the complicated, messy, three-dimensional human beings that they are.

If Edmonds and Co. are smart though they will treat the films exactly the way that Warner Bros. treated the Harry Potter films* – with a keen understanding that a world must be built and sustained over the life of the films, a world that most Americans have never seen before and will have to (at the very least) believe and appreciate, if not outright love.

Because there is real danger in these films, real danger in reinscribing harmful, narrow, representations of gay and bisexual black men, black women, and black culture. Harris was unafraid to introduce characters in melodramatic, and sometimes stereotypical, ways and then graft tremendous dimension on them in later books. As a writer juggling multiple perspectives, he understood how to balance the essential humanity of his character and the way that characters were perceived by other characters.

The filmmakers must do the same, and they have to do it earlier in the books in order for the films to work as a series**. Raymond has to be more than just self-loathing, Kyle has to be more than the life of the party, Nicole has to be more than a BAP, and, critically, Yancey and Basil have to be understood as deeply damaged people first, monsters second. The filmmakers have to resist the urge to oversimplify. The early films must be set in the 80s and the later films must reduce the bourgie name-dropping that infected the later books.

And the films have to stay true to the fact that some of the characters do horrible things to one another but for reasons that make sense to them. For instance, they have to keep in mind that John Basil Henderson emerges as the single most complex character in all of Harris' work and, perhaps, the single most fascinating and complicated portraits of a modern black male in contemporary African-American fiction.

And perhaps most importantly, the first film, Invisible Life, has to be Raymond Tyler's story, not Nicole's. Ever since Oprah inflicted JL King on America, we've been inundated with the trope of the DL black man as demon, hellbent on destroying the black community and killing black women***. That cannot happen here. The film will not succeed unless we emphathize with Raymond's inability to choose between Nicole and Quinn and understand why it is so hard for him to do so.

Anything less will be a failure and an insult to Harris, the books, and the audience.

 

*And like Warner Bros, the filmmakers should cast unknowns in all the principal roles. Though I could see an actress like Irma P. Hall readily as Mama Cee.

**When it comes to Basil and Yancey, the filmmakers should really study the way David Benioff fleshed out Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones so she felt like a real person instead of a cartoon villain as she is portrayed in the books.  In fact, the filmmakers should study everything Benioff did with GOT.

***The one exception is the cancelled-far-too-soon The DL Chronicles, in which creators Quincy LeNear and Deondray Gossett did a magnificent job exploring the many ways that sexuality is manifest in black communities.



Posted on July 10th, 2011 - Filed under Books,Film,Sexuality
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On the Narnia Films

I suppose we should just be happy that they are even thinking of making another Narnia movie.

”We are currently discussing with both Fox and the C.S. Lewis Estate whether we will make another Narnia film,” a rep for Walden Media tells EW. Although the rep stresses “nothing is official yet,” should a new Narnia film get the greenlight, the rep says “it will be Magician’s Nephew.”

While I'm not upset about this decision – The Magician's Nephew will give us a lot of Tilda Swinton, after all – I do think it sort of confirms that Walden and Fox just aren't interested in the challenge of making Narnia work.



Posted on March 27th, 2011 - Filed under Books,Film
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Making Narnia

Hollywood has pretty much written off the Narnia movies as not very good and not really worth paying attention to. The first film was beautifully done – Georgie Henley is a magnificent Lucy Pevensie and Skandar Keynes was perfect as Edmund, and both young actors are the best thing about the series – but the filmmakers did a terrible job adapting Prince Caspian. Eliminating Caspian’s backstory may have gotten us into the story faster but destroyed our ability to give a damn.

So one hopes that The Voyage of the Dawn Treader works out spectacularly:

 

 

because the Narnia books were, followed very closely by the Wrinkle in Time books* and Walter Dean Myers books, my favorite books as a child and I’d like to see them make all the books into films.

Of course, the likelihood of the rest of the books being adapted into films depends on how well Dawn Treader does.

But, the truth is, the books only get harder to adapt at this point – the fifth book, The Horse and His Boy, is so racist it will require tremendous care to adapt it – so the studios have got to put up or shut up. They can’t be afraid of the material or the fact that the Pevensies are largely absent for the rest of the films.

If the filmmakers are smart, they’ll follow the Harry Potter film template: first couple of movies are crappy, but the studio invests in better directors and writers to ensure that the subsequent movies rock.

My guess though? They don’t have it in ‘em. Dawn Treader does better than Prince Caspian, but not overly so and so they will either stop making the films or make The Silver Chair and then stop.

But I hope I’m wrong.

 

*I’m a proud heathen raised Southern Baptist/Lutheran, so I’m sure there is something interesting about books with such strong Christian themes having been – and remaining – my favorite books as a child.



Posted on November 10th, 2010 - Filed under Books,Film
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Tribute to E. Lynn Harris

E Lynn

Yesterday, I woke up after sleeping most of the day away to find a text on my phone from my friend Randy saying that E. Lynn Harris had died.

E. Lynn is an icon.  For a lot of gay and bisexual men, E. Lynn wrote our lives (or, in his later books, the lives some of us wanted to live).

I discovered his books in 2002 when I was trying to decide what to do about my life having lived the previous years as a celibate man.  Invisible Life‘s cover art, a man caught between a man and a woman, drew me in immediately.  I saw it in a bookstore and I just picked it up and read that two-page prologue right then and there.

I was hooked and I bought it and Just As I Am up right there.

Unlike most, I think, E Lynn’s Invisible Life novels — Invisible Life, Just As I Am, and Abide With Me — confirmed for me that I was bisexual and that that was something that was okay to be.  I thought Raymond’s story was beautiful and it spoke to a tug of war that I was dealing with that I didn’t even know I was dealing with.

Though Raymond decided he was gay in the novels, I knew after reading Raymond’s story that bisexuality was real and that I was bisexual.  As E. Lynn wrote it, I understood perfectly why Raymond would fall in love with Nicole and Quinn and though I understood why the plot unfolded the way it did, for me, I knew that I would never make the choice that Raymond did, choosing one gender over the other.  And I set out to live my life as a bisexual man, of course, having no idea how to even go about doing that (still don’t, by the way).

E. Lynn gave me that.

Over the years, I’ve followed E. Lynn’s career, reading all of his books, attending his readings, and debating with my friends about whether Boris Kodjoe or Rick Fox would make the better Basil Henderson.  Though I haven’t enjoyed his books much since the Invisible Life saga, I appreciated that our stories were being told.

People often criticized E. Lynn’s later work for being simplistic and formulaic, which it was.  And the elements of the earlier work that I liked least — the name dropping and preoccupation with status — eventually overwhelmed his work. But even if he continued to turn out serviceable fiction like his latest, Basketball Jones, nothing he could have done would diminish the beauty, sincerity, and heartbreaking prose in the Invisible Life saga.

Raymond and Nicole were ambitious buppies, but they had deep insecurities and struggled to find a center in their frequently tumultuous lives, all of which made them relatable and human.  And Basil Henderson is probably one of the finest, most fully realized portraits of black male humanity in contemporary Black fiction.  While Raymond eventually receded into the background in later books, Basil’s emergence as the most complex individual in E. Lynn’s world was surprising, rewarding, and frequently quite moving.

E. Lynn apparently used to tell folks that he was no James Baldwin.  He’s wrong.  Invisible Life, Just As I Am, and Abide With Me are still completely unique, incomparable works that should be read every bit as much as Giovanni’s Room, Another Country, and Tell Me How Long The Train’s Been Gone.  Like Baldwin, E. Lynn wrote about black love.  About its redemptive power. Its sometimes frightening intensity.  And its haunting, elusive beauty.

E. Lynn is a hero.  Little confused black boys and girls will pick up his Invisible Life saga for generations to come and get yet another glimpse of the beauty of black humanity and love.

Rest in Peace.

For the record, I still think Rick Fox has the stronger acting chops and would the better choice to play Basil, though Boris is what I see in my head when I think of Basil.



Posted on July 25th, 2009 - Filed under Books,Culture,Self-reflection,Sexuality
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VP Debate, Gwen Ifill, and the Monolithic Black Community

At this point, watching the American Right desperately try to win the election this year is just sad.

What's the latest, you ask?

Well, actually, it's an oldie but a goodie: media bias.

Ah yes, the tried and true.  I've stated again and again that the old calculus just may not work the way it did before when you got a Black guy and a White woman running.

But you know what, the Right will try it anyway.  I bet you could set your watch to it.



Posted on October 2nd, 2008 - Filed under Books,Current Affairs,Obama,Politics