Tuesday, January 10, 2012

4 Colored Boys Like Me

I am not a racist.

There's a perfectly sound reason why my new project, Langston's, is subtitled "a film by (4) colored boys." Besides the obvious answer (it's a collaboration between four noted black and latino filmmakers), there's also a much more personal reason, dating back about 20 years to when I was a little colored boy myself (as my grandma would affectionately call me).

Back then, I would occasionally wet my bed at night. After such incidents I'd hide my gold-tinted "tighty whities" from my father, who would undoubtedly "whoop" me if he found them. Nonetheless, despite my best efforts, he would sniff them out after they had festered for a few days in some ill-concealed location.

He would then call out for me in his ironically shrill, baritone voice, and, after a series of insults, proceed to beat me, accentuating verbally my various flaws with each lash. My worst offense, however, would be crying, because "black men don't cry," an adage he'd bark at me whenever my eyes started to well up. So I would just bite my lip until he was finished, then retire to my room and cry secretly into my pillow, all the while thinking, "I need help."

Of course, I didn't mean I needed to be rescued from my father's "tough love." Rather, I needed help controlling my compulsion to be me. I didn't want to be me. I hated me. "Me" needed help, and I knew no other little "colored" boys like me who could show me the way. So I looked to pop culture for guidance: music, movies, TV. Bill Cosby? No. Montel Williams? Denzel Washington? No. Flava Flav? Hell no. There was not one media personality or public figure that reflected me. I wasn't relevant. I didn't matter.

I grew up, cried a little less, and, as a teen, became even more obsessed with the idea of finding someone to connect with -- other little colored boys like me. I discovered this newfangled thing called "the Internet" at the library. I made new virtual "friends" and consequently put myself in unsafe situations, sexually and emotionally, just to feel something, to relate to someone. I thought that love manifested physically between a 41-year-old Italian bear and a 15-year-old little colored boy could fill a void, could help substitute for the lack of love I felt for myself; it didn't.

I recall going to my mom a few months later and having her take me for my first HIV test, and crying, and then her crying, and then us crying again when the results came back negative. And I remember thinking I would never be self-destructive in that way again.

I must admit, however, that the lure of boys and booze to fill a void still lingers, to gain instant gratification to temporarily replace constant feelings of illegitimacy. And while this could, in truth, be the story of anyone of any race, I find that my existence as a gay man of color has rarely been validated; how I felt as a little colored boy looking to the media for validation still resounds today as a grown colored man. Aside from a slew of big black men in pretty dresses (RuPaul, Tyler Perry, Eddie Murphy, Martin Lawrence, Jamie Foxx, and Flip Wilson, all of whom I admire, but almost all of whom aren't gay) and some admirable attempts by a few noted filmmakers (Patrick Ian Polk, Maurice Jamal, and Roger Omeus, to name a few), there has not been a constant presence of gay men of color in mainstream media or popular culture.

Coupled with negative societal perspectives on homosexuality, the diminished presence of black-themed entertainment that was so pervasive in the '80s and '90s, and the Euro-centric focus of most gay entertainment and advertising, it's not so surprising that self-destructive actions among young gay black men are on the rise, with the CDC reporting that new infections among said demographic saw a dramatic increase of 48 percent in recent years, with 59 percent of those carrying the disease unaware of their status.

As a filmmaker, I see the problem as a matter of value. Television and film are a reflection of reality, barometers of what is real and relevant. If you do not see "you" reflected, subconsciously or not, a feeling of irrelevance can set in. And when this occurs, it can devalue your existence, especially when you are at a younger, more impressionable age and trying to find yourself.

So what happens to little colored boys like me? The ones growing up with no one to look up to? The ones who wet the bed and can't make their fathers proud? The ones who hate themselves and cry at nights? The ones sleeping with older men to fill a void or sleeping with just anyone with disregard for their lives or personal health? Are they as lucky as I was, or do they become a statistic?

My resolution for 2012 is to create more works for boys like me and turn feelings of irrelevance into feelings of self-love and inner peace. This resolution is reflected in the aforementioned film Langston's, a piece that spans the gamut of the LGBTQ experience for people of color. After a year of development, the four of us have created a singular film comprising four interconnected stories set in a gay, urban nightclub in Brooklyn.

The film is unapologetically colored, daringly gay, and yet strikingly universal. More importantly, it will forever be a testament to the worth and beauty of a community, something for little colored boys to look to so that they rarely, if ever, feel the emptiness I once felt.

May your stories be told, no matter what race, religion, orientation or creed, as well. You deserve it. You have value.

Through Jan. 14, we are accepting donations for this passion project on Kickstarter. We welcome your support for our love letter to little colored boys like us.

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