My Black Gay Life: 3 Films That Helped Shape My Experience, Do They Still Hold Up?
It’s day three of Pride weekend, and here is the final piece of my series, for now. Here we will discuss a few Black LGBTQ films that helped shape my experience. Whether it be books, shows, films, or the people I was fortunate enough to meet along the way, these people, including the creators of the content that really showed me different perspectives, were so much more valuable than I ever could have anticipated. These films showed me sides of myself that I could recognize, some I don’t like to admit are there even still, and certain things I can be proud I have overcome. Not to mention some very pragmatic and useful information that would turn out to make my experience some of the most enjoyable moments I continue to treasure.
I hope these articles and this content can be useful to some of my readers, or maybe for some people you may know. At the very least you should find enjoyment in some good storytelling across the board and get a good laugh or feel some feels here and there. That and enjoy seeing some beautiful melanin. Am I right???
I remember thinking then and now how frustrating Faybian was for me. I definitely understood being unsure about one’s self, but dayum! He seems to push away nearly anything good for him away out of fear of letting people down. It is relatable, unfortunately, but thankfully his best friends Greg and Amera are there to provide some tough love after they’re trying to get him to recognize his good qualities clearly weren’t working. Lonnie, Faybian’s love interest, is much more patient than a lot of people would have been, and I wouldn’t have blamed him if he wasn’t. We as the audience know that Faybian feels insecure about his sexuality, that he feels inadequate for not having more/being further along in life, but Lonnie does not have access to this information. He’s not in Faybian’s head the way we are. When Faybian made it clear he was looking for something real, but then didn’t call Lonnie and didn’t take his call for days, I personally would have moved on. But Lonnie was patient and tried to meet Faybian at his needs. Lonnie wants to help Faybian come out of his shell and address his issues head-on.
One great moment that symbolizes their entire dynamic is when Faybian is nervously holding himself (a bit of a character tic I finally noticed where Faybian does things that show he feels vulnerable) before they have sex for the first time, and Lonnie gently has him put his arms down, so he can kiss his navel. Faybian admits to Amera later that, while the sex itself was amazing, he felt a genuine connection, but he continues to self-sabotage, this time because he feels weird about having sex on the second date. Faybian also has an issue with Lonnie working a lot and having to take calls, even in the middle of dates. While this is understandable, Lonnie has his own, very nice, place, and love doesn’t pay the bills.
Despite being frustrating as a protagonist, for me anyway, Faybian is incredibly relatable in some ways. I certainly can, and could when I first saw the movie back then, relate to wanting to solve problems yourself and not want to burden anyone else with them, even if they want to help you and don’t want you to suffer alone. Like Faybian, I also understand internalizing a lot and being in your own head, not always letting others in or saying what you really feel. I also, all too painfully, relate to not feeling like I’m where I want to be in life and wondering what I could offer someone in a possible relationship. But as Greg excellently points out, material possessions, money, and qualifications do not make a person who they are. What’s owning a nice car or having your own place if you don’t have any emotional maturity or don’t know who you are or what you want in life? Of course, Faybian also doesn’t quite know who he is or what he wants in life, but he’s young. Had I been one of his friends, I would tell him that dating, having a relationship, or even having fun does not require having everything figured out. You can do those things and they can help you find yourself along the way.
I would also tell Faybian and Greg that even if Jay is a sex worker, there’s nothing wrong with that as long as he’s being safe and in control. Just like we shouldn’t slut shame for all his casual sex, we should not be shaming sex work and other people’s survival. If Jay is able to pay the rent on time, don’t trip on how he got it, Greg. Though perhaps it might be fair to want upfront honesty about such things when it’s your place and not theirs. And even if you’re upset, don’t be biphobic, Amera. Greg, and no one else who is bi needs to “pick a side”. If they could “pick a side” they wouldn’t be bisexual.
Despite some outdated issues like slut-shaming (this movie was released in 2009, so yeah…), sex work shaming, and biphobia (out of anger, but yeah), I still think that the film is enjoyable, the budding romance is cute and the friendships feel genuine. Though the film ends with Faybian coming out to his traditional father from the islands. I don’t know how I forgot that Faybian is first gen, but re-watching I can understand, from what some of my friends have told me, how much immigrant parents can expect the world out of you. His father was on him about not having a better job, not having a car, and not having a girlfriend (all while ignoring his son’s painfully obvious homosexuality). His father physically attacking him prior to him coming out was difficult to watch. Faybian deserved a hug. Nevertheless, it was good that Faybian eventually returned and stood his ground, finally telling his father the truth. His dad didn’t take it well, but at least he knew now and didn’t attack him again. And while Faybian and Lonnie don’t get back together after Faybian broke up with him as he wasn’t ready to fully admit to being afraid to live out loud and being ready to be with Lonnie and stop self-sabotaging the relationship. Faybian sent Lonnie a letter apologizing and thankfully we got a sequel film, followed by a web series continuation.
My, My… How We’ve Grown…
Faybian has definitely grown a lot more as a person since the last film. He’s clearly more confident and got the job he was after in the first film. Faybian is closer to his dream of working within the music industry, and he’s thrilled and surprised that Lonnie is back in town, after a year since the first movie. Faybian has also been sending Lonnie letters and learned that Lonnie is now seeing someone else. Both parties clearly still have feelings for one another, but also retain some previous resentments: Faybian for Lonnie still being a workaholic, and Lonnie for Faybian not having let people in. The two end up sleeping together after Faybian admits to Lonnie that he loves him. But afterward, Lonnie is distant and when Faybian asks Lonnie if he loves him, he says no and that he needs to stay with the person he’s seeing. Ouch. However, I feel that Lonnie being afraid of letting Faybian back in only to possibly be hurt again was very valid. He did give all of himself to Faybian and tried to be there for him. But Faybian wasn’t ready then. The situation is sad and complicated, but it’s no one’s fault really. Lonnie was wrong to sleep with Faybian after Faybian confessed to being in love with him, and Faybian absolutely did break Lonnie’s heart in the first movie, and Lonnie’s hesitation and fears are valid.
Meanwhile, Amera is upset that Faybian would help Lonnie cheat on the grounds that she warned him not to beforehand and that he shouldn’t aspire to be the other man, also how would it make her feel if someone slept with her boyfriend? She’s suspecting her new boyfriend is cheating after he said that there are two types of cheating, physical and emotional and that emotional is worse. His secretive nature also doesn’t help her suspicions. Meanwhile, Greg is sleeping with Tammy, Amera’s cousin, whom neither wants to tell, and he’s also seeing a pre-med student named Reggie. Reggie wants to be exclusive with Greg, but Greg is clear that he doesn’t want to be tied down and wants to continue to have fun. I remember feeling like Greg should just be with Reggie because they seem to have a stronger connection and Greg’s connection with Tammy was purely physical. But now I realize that Greg didn’t have to choose and was being honest about his intentions and that Reggie should have opted out because clearly he and Greg were incompatible and wanted different things.
Disaster Waiting to Happen, and Some Silver Linings
Amongst other things, one of the climactic events of the film is a disastrous dinner party in which Greg, feeling guilty (for some reason) for seeing both Tammy and Reggie, despite them both knowing he’s not exclusive with either of them, decides to air the situation at the party in front of all of Greg’s friends, their s/o’s and even Jay whom in this movie Greg really doesn’t like at all. Greg even invited Lonnie in hopes that he and Faybian would get back together, but they only end up fighting. Tammy rightfully points out that Greg being bisexual and non-monogamous was not an issue, that she knew everything up front, but that exposing the situation in front of everyone was completely uncalled for and unnecessary. Reggie just leaves the table and goes to his room. I definitely, especially now in 2021, don’t understand why Greg felt the need to include a bunch of people into his business that didn’t concern them. All he had to do was sit down with Reggie and Tammy if he really needed them to know each other. I also feel as though some people can be involved in an ethically non-monogamous situation and have no desire to see or hear about the other person and be just fine with the arrangement. He really should have asked first. This really wasn’t it.
In the end, Faybian, who had lost his job as he has begun drinking after unexpectedly becoming friends with Jay, whom both previously hated one another, almost dies after accidentally taking a drink laced with drugs (Jay meant it for himself, but also didn’t stop Faybian when he sees him drinking it, possibly unaware that Faybian has only one kidney and that excessive drinking, as well as drugs, can kill him). Lonnie shows up, wracked with worry, and after Faybian recovers, Lonnie admits that he lied when he said he didn’t love him. He tells Faybian he loves him and the two get back together, the two promising to be patient and honest with each other. Amera realizes her boyfriend wasn’t cheating and that she has issues to work with and they reconcile. Tammy learns she’s pregnant and she and Greg decide to co-parent, presumably not being in a serious relationship but working together to raise their child. Jay and his lover, a thug named Omar, whom both have assaulted one another, meet up after Greg has kicked Jay out over Faybian (Jay claimed he was the one who called 911 and asks where Faybian’s friends were when he was depressed, Faybian had been drinking and partying with Jay over his worries), seem to reconcile, before one of Omar’s goons pops up from the backseat to start strangling Jay. It doesn’t look good.
The Jay Situation
Back when I first saw these movies, I thought Jay was a shady mess. I did not like him at all. I blamed him entirely for Faybian’s near-death experience and thought he had what was coming when he quite possibly died or was about to in the end. But re-watching, not only do I feel Jay was unfairly criticized for being a sex worker, but I question what really happened with the spiked drink. When Jay puts the powder into the drink, he has it in front of himself. When Faybian grabs it, Jay clearly turns around as though in shock. And while he does watch Faybian drink it, and one might interpret that as revenge for Faybian turning down Jay’s previous advances, it’s also possible that Jay had no idea that the drink/drug combo would affect him so adversely. I just don’t see Faybian casually mentioning that he only has one kidney or that drinking too much can be really dangerous for him. Faybian certainly never said anything as Jay kept taking him out drinking. Clearly, Faybian’s drinking was a coping mechanism for his heartbreak over Lonnie.
Jay also strikes me as someone who had had a very rough life and was on the streets at times. It seems that for him as well drinking, drugs, and sex are what he knows in terms of coping. So when Faybian was spending so much time with Jay, Jay was trying to help Faybian in the only way he knew how. Unfortunately, that way was not healthy for Faybian, or much anyone, but I don’t honestly believe Jay wanted to hurt Faybian, though I could be wrong. Omar and his abuse of Jay were hard to watch. He had had Jay jumped by his goons because Jay was doing sex work even though Omar made it clear he wanted Jay to himself. Meanwhile, Jay was on the DL and presumably living with his baby mama. So Jay had to be exclusive with Omar, but Omar more than likely was still sleeping with his baby mama, for when Jay showed up at their place and she answered she was wondering what he was doing there to see “her man”. I think that Omar really had Jay jumped due to the sex work and because Jay might have inadvertently outed Omar to his baby mama. Either way, whether Jay was knowingly and purposefully guilty for drugging Faybian (and knowing he could have died), Jay didn’t deserve to be possibly tortured and/or killed by a jilted lover. The follow-up web series may or may not address what became of Jay, but definitely it addresses that Reggie is not happy to know Greg and Tammy are expecting. Good stuff overall, the sequel is definitely juicer than the first movie, in my opinion.
This was the movie that put me on game to Teedra Moses’ incredible song “Invitation”, which I’ve listened to ever since. It also taught me about shower enemas, which have come in handy ever since. TMI? Get over it. This is Pride weekend and this information might be useful for some. It certainly was for me!
Starring Jussie Smollett, The Skinny was my first recognizable introduction to this Smollett sibling. I’m fairly certain I had not seen that adorable kids show with all the siblings and it would be years until I saw Jussie absolutely steal hearts as Jamal Lyon on Empire. Best of all, it was written and directed by Patrik-Ian Polk, the creator of Noah’s Arc!
And what a way to end Pride weekend IRL, as this film follows five college friends reuniting for Pride weekend in New York City. Our protagonist is Magnus, played by Jussie Smollett. His friends are the hopeless romantic and a bit naïve Sebastian, prim and proper intellectual lesbian Langston, cynical Joey, and sexually liberated Kyle. Magnus is also dating Ryan, with whom he had dated for five months and Ryan insists they don’t have sex for at least six months into their relationship to make sure their connection is real. Even back then, even as a virgin baby gay, I questioned whether or not I’d be willing to make such an agreement. Then and now I feel as though I personally would hate to become emotionally invested in someone only to find out we’re sexually incompatible. If you and your partner(s) are sexual, then sex matters. It shouldn’t be the most important thing, but it is important.
Over the course of the film, we learn that Ryan has not only been participating in sex club activities but has also shot porn in Magnus’ condo behind his back. And while the slut shaming and sex work shaming that ensues is uncalled for, the fact of the matter is that Ryan lied and he was wrong to have sex in Magnus’ home, let alone film it happening. It was here during my re-watch that I realized that again while shaming sex work and sex workers is not okay, even Jay back in Finding Me should probably have asked Greg or ran it by him first to do his work in his father’s home. At least to me, it feels like a violation of trust, but let me know in the comments below if sex workers should disclose their business under these particular circumstances. Magnus later physically attacking Ryan and calling him hoes, was simply not ok, nor was Joey egging him on.
The Infamous Drugged Scene
One of the main plots of the film is that Sebastian is secretly in love with Kyle and plans to lose his virginity to him. He wants to get as much advice as possible to make sure it goes well. He is definitely naïve in thinking that Kyle, despite his frequent and incessant hookups, could sleep with Sebastian and magically fall in love and want him only. Nevertheless, it is here we get the pragmatic advice from Langston about gay porn and how expert bottoms perform, and from Joey about proper hygiene. At one point Sebastian and Kyle spend the afternoon together and there are actually legit signs that Kyle might be romantically interested in Sebastian, which I had forgotten in my last viewing years ago. Unfortunately, things don’t go as planned the night Sebastian planned to make his move.
Per Joey’s advice, Sebastian, who is very petite, decides against eating anything that day and night. He still drinks, however, and Magnus mentions Sebastian being a lightweight and asks Kyle to look after him. Magnus, Joey, and Langston are all aware of Sebastian’s intentions, though they all try and fail to get him to see that Kyle is probably not the one for him. Kyle and Sebastian are eventually at a club alone, Kyle is popping E and Sebastian asks for one. After failing to secure his own, for Kyle initially doesn’t want Sebastian to take one, for Sebastian has clearly never done party drugs like that, Sebastian again asks Kyle for one, and Kyle secures one for him. Both rolling and also drunk, they dance until Kyle wanders off, leaving Sebastian alone. Two strange men end up taking advantage of Sebastian’s vulnerability and take them home where they r*pe him, with Sebastian thinking he’s having sex with Kyle. He wakes up the next morning horrified and goes with Magnus to get tested.
The Overall Purpose
Through his work, Patrik-Ian Polk spreads awareness of STDs/STIs and how they impact the Black LGBTQIA+ community. This film was no exception as we get a nice scene discussing PEP and how it works. Sebastian refrains from pressing charges against his attackers presumably because he wants to put the situation behind him and not be forced to relive it. We later see Kyle forcing them to get HIV tests once he has been made aware of the situation. The tests come back negative and he tells Sebastian the good news. Sebastian forgives Kyle for leaving him alone despite knowing how messed up he was but is saddened because he wanted him to be his first. Previously Kyle also kissed Sebastian not long before he learned the truth, which caused Sebastian to recoil and slap him. Looking back now in my 2021 lens, I would apologize to Sebastian, because he did not deserve what happened to him, but I would inform him that what happened to him was not actually sex and that he still has yet to have his true first time.
We later see Langston and Joey, who were both mostly out of the loop with Sebastian’s situation, finally get to hook up with the people they were interested in. Joey with the sexy go-go dancer he was eyeing all weekend, and Langston with the sexy lady bartender who earlier on challenged her to get out of her head and follow her passions. Magnus sees Ryan one last time, post-fight, and Ryan explains that his actions are for his survival. Ryan didn’t have the opportunities that Magnus and his friends had and didn’t get to go to an Ivy League University as they did. Magnus tells him he understands that but that Ryan lied and he can’t forgive that. The film ends with Kyle, still forgiven by Sebastian, but still saddened and riding off home alone, and the other four friends saying their goodbyes. Sebastian and Magnus have a moment where they agree that they will find love despite not having it with the ones they wanted before and that they all will meet again.
Some Lingering Questions
I loved the friendships and relationships as well as the rather complex moral and ethical questions I found myself contemplating even in 2021. Who was truly the blame for Sebastian’s tragedy? Should Sebastian not have asked for E on an empty stomach and alcohol? Should Kyle have not given it to him, especially when he himself was on it and was liable to wander off and abandon him? Should Kyle have called back one of their friends to fill in or take Kyle home? I believe all of the above can be true to some degree, but I give the vast majority of the blame to the actual attackers because they made a choice. I also don’t make it a habit of blaming the victim, so I don’t believe Sebastian is to blame since he clearly wasn’t prepared for the effects of ecstasy and alcohol. Especially for a lightweight. Also, was there something to Kyle indicating that Magnus might not have fostered an environment in which Ryan felt he could be honest with him? Or was Ryan just a lying liar? If Ryan had told Magus the truth, would Magnus have accepted him and wanted to be with him? There’s no telling, but honesty is always the best policy. Better be rejected for who you truly are than be accepted for a total lie you then must maintain.
Be sure to check out Finding Me, Finding Me; Truth, and The Skinny wherever DVDs are sold. You can also purchase, rent, or stream them on various digital platforms including iTunes, Amazon Prime Video, Tubi TV, and Peacock.