I just finished listening to the Mister Cee Hot 97 interview and here’s the thing that I think is getting lost in this conversation about this interview: there is genuine love and respect and compassion between two, and then three, black men who are discussing non-heterosexual sexuality.
I certainly hope this show, Skin Deep The Series, gets produced…
…because there could be real power in a show that forthrightly addresses issues of race, sexuality, and masculinity in a way that forces us to rethink our assumptions and become aware of the contexts in which we live in the United States.
But this promotional video does give me pause because so much of the interaction between the characters is provocative in a way that doesn’t seem to reveal anything beyond the superficial. Obviously, it’s hard to tell anything from a 10-minute promotional video, but with dialogue like “take it” and “wrong color” and (apparently) cliche situations like bashings and thug fetishes this could be terribly exploitative, rather than progressive. There’s an illusion of depth here that suggests that the producers haven’t seriously considered who each of these men are.
Similarly, the additional promotional materials suggest that this show will be set in Atlanta, GA, but this presentation lacks a sense of place. This could be Any Diverse Coastal Town USA. The key then would be for the makers of this show to open up the world of these characters so we can understand where they come from and who they are. Right now – these are just archetypes.
For Skin Deep The Series to truly do what it seems to be setting out to do, it will have to really take seriously the realities and unique circumstances that produced each of these individuals. And that means being really honest rather than just provocative.
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.
I often feel like because same-sex attraction is so misunderstood and so denigrated, that so much of black gay male interactions end up becoming a big mess of power plays and mixed signals. So much of our sexuality is confused and complicated by how we think it affects our ability to be men in a partriarchal society.