Tag Archives: black men

Conflating ‘Gay’ and ‘the DL’: Omari Hardwick on Playing Carl in ‘For Colored Girls’

I’m not entirely sure why folks are so upset at Omari Hardwick’s comments about how he played the role of a confused gay man in For Colored Girls:

Shadow and Act: In Tyler Perry’s “For Colored Girls,” you played Carl. He was the closeted husband to Janet Jackson’s character. How did you develop that role?

OH: Well, I can’t relate to being gay. It was a challenging role.

Shadow and Act: How was it a challenge?

OH: It was a challenging role for me because I am a black guy. And white guys like Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal can play those types of roles and their audiences will say that the roles are artistic.

Shadow and Act: So you feel that the role was challenging because the black community does not support roles like Carl?

OH: The black culture perceives roles like that one in a negative light.

Shadow and Act: How did you prepare for that role?

OH: I focused on being a deviant person. I focused on doing something wrong. I was lying to my wife. I was lying to these men. I prepared for the role by closing my eyes and thinking of times when I had lied.

Shadow and Act: You did not focus on the sexual orientation of Carl to get into character?

OH: No, because it’s like how could I do that really well? I focused on being deviant.

Shadow and Act: Did you tap into your own sexuality to build the role?

OH: You want me to explain how I used my heterosexuality to build this role?

Shadow and Act: Yes, I do.

OH: Okay, let me know if this is what you mean. There was this one time while we were filming in New York, where I was testing myself. l challenged myself to run through Central Park and behave like Carl. I wanted to see how I would run and live differently as my character.

Shadow and Act: And what did you find out about your character during this run?

OH: I did not get through the run without checking out women. It’s a natural instinct. So, that’s why I solely focused on being deviant. But you know what? Some of the greatest actors have played gay men. Anthony has played a gay man. Jeffrey has played gay. When it’s all said and done, I am secure enough with my manhood to say to the world, “I am a male actor, and its okay for me to play a gay man.”

Rod thinks he doth protest too much, but it seems to me like Hardwick is saying (in an admittedly inarticulate way) that he focused less on his character’s sexuality and more on the fact that he was lying to everyone in his life. That doesn’t strike me as offensive.

Citing Brokeback Mountain I think is telling because it suggests that he’s talking less about sexuality itself and more about the construction of “the DL.” It isn’t just that the black community might respond more negatively to a black man playing gay than the white community does to a white man playing gay. It’s that the reaction Hardwick is talking about is specifically about “the DL” and the reaction of black people in the context of the way that term has been pathologized as a uniquely black problem. Carl is a reviled character because he’s “DL” not because he’s “gay.” Hardwick doesn’t articulate this well because he is likely conflating the two terms (as many people do).

It’s important to remember that it wasn’t Carl’s story being told in For Colored Girls. Carl wasn’t a character, he was an archetype. J.L. King’s DL concoction in full effect. A black woman’s worst nightmare. We weren’t asked to contemplate Carl’s torment, his self-loathing, his struggle, or his humanity. He existed to contribute to Tyler Perry’s weird and virulently inhumane re-working of a masterpiece. Nothing more.

I think we do want actors to put in the best work they can and try to infuse even the flattest and most ridiculous characters with dimension, but I don’t even know what playing Carl more “gay” would have looked like – or what that even means.

It’s easy to get distracted by Hardwick’s inarticulate comments here, rather than sustain a critique of Perry’s bad writing and penchant for anti-homosexual sentiment in his films. But it’s not really the real problem.

Flashback: Black Men United, ‘U Will Know’

 

There are so many small pleasures in this song that grab me. The first time the hook comes in and you hear these amazing voices in harmony. The depth and power of Gerald Levert and Christopher Williams ("it _taint_easayyyy"). The stunning clear tones of Joe and Brian McKnight. The absolutely devastingly beautiful performance of R. Kelly, who takes that moment – "woo hoo" – to let the message sink in.

But it's Raphael Saadiq and McKnight who choke me up every single time:

And then I got stronger
And tired of the pain
That’s when I picked up the pieces
And I regained my name

I love the vulnerability of the couplet- "That's when I picked up the pieces/And I regained my name." It's the heart of the song for me. It's the moment that the song reveals itself to be more than an anthem. It's empathy for black male brokenness makes the whole thing work so that when you hear "you must act like a man" it doesn't feel like judgment. It's recognition. And I regained my name.

The song is hopeful of course, but that undercurrent of profound sadness actually makes its anthemic qualities resonate more deeply. It's literally the struggle to be a whole, healthy black man in song.

Lupe Fiasco and the Radical Messiness of Black Male Feeling

Get More: Lupe Fiasco, Music News

 

I wonder if people – black people especially – really appreciate how beautiful it is to live at a time when black men are allowing themselves to feel so openly, to be emotional in public.

Lupe Fiasco articulates something that black men have been saying for a long time: that black men are dying, killing themselves and each other, that we live in a society where black male life is disposable. And he’s eloquent on the substance of what you see in this clip.

But what is truly remarkable is that he lets himself feel something more than just frustration and anger at the plight of black men. This is a display of profound, deep sadness. It’s love. Pure. Messy.

It takes Lupe Fiasco a minute to find the words. Those precious, awkward moments before he starts to find the words are wonderous, awe-inspiring, and deeply affecting.

And yet, when I watched this I was uncomfortable because I still don’t really know how to respond. This is not my vernacular. My reference is the 90s’ cold, hard grip on “keepin it real,” even as I never felt fully a part of that. My language is 2pac’s righteous indignation and anger, even it left me in so many ways illiterate.

I struggle with deep emotion. Still.

Artists like Drake, J. Cole, Frank Ocean, Kanye West and others are playing in space that is quite new. And while I think they often confuse narcissism for reflection and miss the mark in communicating what they are genuinely feeling, I appreciate so very much that the range of emotion that black men can feel publicly – and be successful and lauded – is so much broader now than it has been in the past.

Millennials have so many more colors to play with than previous generations allowed themselves. We should celebrate that.

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.