I once believed that finally seeing black gay male representation in mainstream media was a win for all of us despite the small numbers. As I became more exposed to a variety of media content and digested how black gay male representation was often depicted, I started to question why all the limp wrists in mainstream film and television.
Why Only Black Gay Effeminate Men in Film
Black gay male representation in film and television has always been at the lower end of the spectrum. When we do have a moment in the spotlight, representation typically shows black gay men imitating women through their personalities and/or attire. Thanks for everything, To Wong Foo!
Julie Newmar’s character, Noxeema Jackson, is what you would expect from the token black gay character in most movies: sassy, flamboyant, and unsure of their abilities. She also happens to be a drag queen. You would assume that Noxeema certainly wouldn’t take trash from anyone. Quite the opposite.
Noxeema avoids conflict at almost every opportunity, even if it involves assisting others that may be in need. I can recall the scene where Noxeema is trying to defuse an argument with Vida and Chi-Chi that started because Vida wanted to help Carol Ann, who at that moment was getting beat up by her husband.
Instead of Noxeema being the one who took action (who, in my opinion, was physically the stronger one amongst the three), it was the white heroine who saved the day. Vida marched upstairs while Noxeema and Chi-Chi followed to view the pending spectacle.
After Vida dismissed Carol Ann from the room before she put the paws on Virgil (Carol Ann’s husband), Noxeema was outside the room comforting Carol Ann and ensuring Vida wouldn’t be discovered as a man.
Despite the few sassy remarks throughout the movie and the savage “boy in a dress” read, it wasn’t until the end of the movie that Noxeema decides that she would take more risk in life, pursue her aspirations without fear, and would no longer allow the opinions of others to dictate her happiness. Certainly, realising your self-worth is important, but too often, we see black gay characters not having much self-worth if any.
We often see black gay characters supporting their white counterparts and protecting them at all costs despite the lack of reciprocity. Vida mostly called for help from Noxeema whenever she was in distress, and Noxeema was all too willing to rescue her. I find this to be a theme because it provides comfort for white audiences. It allows them to reinforce what they’ve already heard and seen regarding black gay men while simultaneously providing new negative stereotypes. Despite what many believe, studies show that white audience members do equate what they witness in films regarding black people to what they would expect in real life. There are various other ways mainstream media continues to amplify negative stereotypes of black gay men.
What’s With the Limp-Wristed Black Gay Male Representation on Television?
In today’s technologically advanced world, some of us are privileged in having access to a variety of streaming platforms such as Netflix and Hulu. Despite such vastness in technology, content for black gay media consumers has limited options and the content available is likely to include the stereotypical flamboyance mainstream media loves. Television stations such as Bravo and Logo are notorious for portraying black gay men in a feminine and ostentatious manner. The show Fashion Queens where Miss Lawrence and Derek Jay are often showcased in the latest skyscraper heels, haute couture garments, and say all of the catchy phrases you’d expect to hear is one example of this.
An interview published on Arise Entertainment 360 shows host Lola Ogunnaike and Patrick Riley introducing the Fashion Queens cast as individuals who “serve up fashion commentary with flare, fierceness, and fun-loving shade. They read, spill the tea, and rock some serious heels.” Shortly after the introduction, Riley gives them the “Gag Award” while, of course, emulating the way Bevy Smith tends to present the award herself. This may be amusing seeing Riley swivel his head back and forth, but once again, we are met with imagery where all of the black gay men are expressing themselves in a feminine flamboyant manner.
The recently released top-rated British television miniseries ‘It’s A Sin’ centres around a group of gay men living during the HIV/AIDS crisis in the UK. The first episode involves young Nigerian character Roscoe Babatunde who appears initially in more masculine attire. His parents are shown trying to pray the “gay demon” away, stating he has “fallen into the pit of sodomy, save him oh’ lord.”
His sister then tries to give him money so he can escape out of the country after informing him their Uncle Basil has arrived to take him back to Nigeria. Before forcing the money in his hand, she states “Roscoe, if they send you back home, they will beat you. You stupid little kid. Uncle Basil is downstairs. Just run.”
In defiance, Roscoe storms downstairs and swings the door open, now appearing in a mini skirt, halter top, and purple scarf wrapped around his head. He essentially tells his family to “piss off” and slaps his father repeatedly as he walks out of the house to only escape into the gay underworld in full head-swivelling, finger-snapping effeminate regalia.
All of these things are inspired by contemporary American limp-wristed Black queer bravado, dressed up as 1980s fact-based drama. We would expect the crowds to cheer, and they most certainly did cheer on from their lockdown settees. It doesn’t matter that any out and proud Black people on the London gay scene at that time were most definitely of Caribbean heritage. Yet, it’s more dramatic for the Black character to leave his foreign-speaking family behind to pursue a hedonistic life of cultural isolation among a bunch of white gay men.
We could also look at other television characters such as Lafayette in True Blood, Noah and Alex in Noah’s Arc, and Miss Bruce in STAR: all of whom wear makeup and women’s attire, consistently or not. RuPaul’s Drag Race is the epitome of how mainstream media expects black gay men to perform, prancing around as mere entertainment, all to become a “drag superstar.” Despite the numerous problematic scandals and controversies involving RuPaul Charles and his famed stereotypically based show, it continues to air across the globe. Meanwhile, shows such as Noah’s Arc couldn’t even get more than two seasons. Apparently, a diverse cast of all-black gay males was too much for mainstream media, which still holds true today.
Mainstream media is only concerned with showcasing black gay men in a one-dimensional manner. It’s familiar, comforting, and diminishes the authentic experience many black gay men have. We are often shown as catty fashion snobs who love to gossip, drag queens, or experiencing extreme adversity. We know black gay men are more than such things, but how do we get mainstream media to move away from showing black gay men as effeminate?
Why Positive Black Gay Male Representation Matters
Mainstream media and media consumers need to get comfortable with seeing black gay men in all of our variety and not just the DL man that is confused or sleeping with a man behind his wife’s back or the hyperfeminine fashion guru who is all too willing to help you fix your fashion emergency. Black gay men are some of the strongest, most confident, resilient, and intelligent individuals I know.
It’s time we see a continuously diversified representation of black gay men in various sectors of mainstream media. Until mainstream media and consumers begin to truly uplift the more positive characteristics of black gay men that exist, we will continue to be reduced to gown-wearing, sassy, fingering-popping individuals in film and television.
Black gay men deserve to be uplifted and showcased as more and not just “demon-filled” individuals who are only worthy of love from family, partners, and the world if we renounce our homosexuality. We are certainly more.