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Recognition of LGBT Artists

Since we are beginning Black History Month, let me spend a few words in praise of the NAACP and Noah’s Arc.

The longstanding civil rights organization created the Image Awards in 1967 to honor the work of African-American actors, actresses, directors, and producers. While the awards began largely in response to outlets like the Oscars and Emmys refusing to recognize black talent, the Image Awards continue to hold prestige and provide a platform for projects that are ignored by mainstream Hollywood.

This year, they have taken a bold step towards recognizing LGBT artists and characters. Among the projects receiving nominations are In Treatment, The Wire, Ugly Betty, Project Runway, and GREEK, which feature LGBT characters, as well as the recently out Wanda Sykes for her work on The New Adventures of Old Christine.

The most nominated LGBT project is Noah’s Arc. The groundbreaking series, the first to feature black gay characters, was a fan favorite during its two year run on Logo. While its sudden cancellation came as a surprise to many, a feature film, Jumping The Broom, was released to widespread acclaim in late 2008. Unfortunately, many people were not given the opportunity to see the film in theatres, as it showed in only a handful of cities. The upcoming DVD release should allow the film to find a wider audience.

The NAACP has added to the film’s accolades by nominating it for three Image Awards: Outstanding Indepedent Motion Picture, Outstanding Writing In A Motion Picture, and Outstanding Direction for its creator Patrik-Ian Polk.

Being recognized in such a fashion is unprecendented territory for a black gay media project. It was not long ago that black gay men were stereotyped as either flamboyant snap queens or as people who lived in a world devoid of other black gay people. Examples of the former are Antonio Fargas’s show-stopping role in the 1976 film Car Wash, Mesach Taylor in the Mannequin movies (who remembers there was a sequel?) , and the immortal Men On Film segments of In Living Color. Reuben Greene in Boys In The Band, Michael Warren in the long-lost Redd Foxx vehicle Norman, Is That You?, and Michael Boatman in the more recent Spin City epitomize the isolated black gay man.

While the flaming queen as the maintream’s preferred caricature of gay men presents its own set of problems, I think the latter image is equally dangerous on a number of levels. Portraying these characters as the only black person in the gay world gives credence to the notion that being gay is an example of “acting white,” a concept as ignorant as thinking that academic accomplishments are “acting white,” but one that continues to resonate with many people. More insiduous is the implication that black people must be more homophobic than whites, otherwise these people would stay in contact with their families, have other black friends, and black lovers.

That is why Noah’s Arc and Jumping The Broom were so important. Showing everyday (by Hollywood standards) characters as they went about their lives and loves put a new face on the black gay community for the world to see. Additionally, Jumping The Broom dealt with marriage, a subject some have tried to depict black LGBTs as having little to no interest in. You can already see the impact of Jumping The Broom in the recent commercial featuring a black gay family that aired in California. The marriage equality spot had been previously rejected by stations, but was finally broadcast last week.

Kudos also to the NAACP for recognizing Jumping The Broom. Even if it does not win any awards, they have increased awareness of the film and have made it that much easier for LGBT projects to be considered ‘respectable’ by the black community.

I do not want to give the impression that Noah’s Arc was flawless. The show and movie both had their critics, and nothing is perfect, but the complaints pale in comparison to their historical impact. Let’s hope the success of Jumping The Broom inspires more companies to take a chance on movies featuring LGBT people of color, including Polk’s first feature, the 2001 festival hit Punks that has never been released on DVD.

You can see the full list of Image Award nominees and information on the voting process at their website, www.naacpimageawards.net.

From “Blackout” from 2/1/09 by Anthony Rucker

 

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