Lives of young African American gay men on film are not seen and heard enough.
We are missing out on the untold stories of complicated livesâ€”subject matter one would think is fertile ground for filmmakers.
A filmmaker capturing these stories on film is Amir Dixon, creator of Nu Nation Productions, with his docudrama “Friend of Essex.”
By traveling to huge urban enclaves across the country, like Los Angeles, Houston, Atlanta, Florida, Boston, New York City, DC, Philadelphia and North Carolina, Amir, acting like an ethnographer, deftly gathers and exposes the present-day stories, struggles and experiences of young African American gay men.
â€œWhen I began to produce the film, the young men I met guided me; they looked like me, they sounded like me and our stories were the same. And I wanted to share this in a very organic and authentic way. I also was shocked at how much they really opened up to me, and I realized their silence had been broken,â€ reflects Amir.
The young men open up to Amir with themes of internalized racism, racism in the LGBTQ community, masculinity, religious homophobia, depression, homelessness, identity, and HIV/AIDS.
The stories of these young gay males are heart-wrenching.
There is the heartbreaking story of how one young man contracted HIV the first time he had sex, and how all alone he felt.
According to the recent 74-page report that came out in July by the Black AIDS Institute, “Back of the Line: The State of AIDS Among Black Gay Men in America 2012,” black gay and bisexual men are 1 in 4 of all new HIV infections. This young man unfortunately now adds to this statistic.
Depression among these young males is evident and palpable in the film.
Every male in the film shares how he dealt with depression at some point in his life. Research shows that depression and anxiety among black gay men is more than double the national average. There are several reasons for itâ€”hurt and abuses the black Church, family and community inflict on these men for being gay, but also how their internalized homophobia and anger are acted out with each other even in intimate moments.
Another story in the film is a classic example of internalized racism. One young black man makes it a point to not date men of color stating “they” are not desirable. Amir shared with me “I remember sitting there thinking to myself as he spoke, does he not understand that he is among that ‘they’ that he spoke about. He went on to share the fact that other black gay men are ‘drama’ and ‘not stable.’ He kept speaking of black gay men as if he wasnâ€™t black.”
The films also explore how white evangelicals went to Uganda and successfully waged war on its LGBTQ community because their visits were viewed by many as a sign from God to listen and adhere to. The inspiration for the film is Essex Hemphill. The current LGBTQ would understandably ask â€œWho’s Essex?â€
Also, because of the omission of LGBTQ people from the annals of black history many are led to believe that the only shakers and movers in the history of people of African descent in the U.S. were, and still are, heterosexuals. Because of this heterosexist bias, the sheroes and heroes of LGBTQ people of African descent,â€”like Pat Parker, Audre Lorde, Marlon, Joseph Beam, Bayard Rustin, and Essex Hemphillâ€”are known and lauded mostly within a subculture of black life.
Essex Hemphill (1957-1995) was a renowned writer and activist whose seminal text “Brother-to-Brother: New Writings by Black Gay Men,” edited by Essex Hemphill and conceived by Joseph Beam is still a must read.Â His opuses illustrated the specificity of African diasporic same-gender loving male literature, culture and artistic expression in an effort to encourage the development, longevity and professional growth of this artistic community. Amir’s film follows in this tradition.
Visually the film is alluring; it draws you in immediately with those beautiful chocolate and various hues of brown, beige and black toned, muscular and sinewy male bodies across the scene. And, of course, the message is important, poignant, and still needs to be heard as resoundingly now as when Essex and Joseph Beam were among us.
“Friend of Essex” will debut December 14th 2012 at 7pm at the Harriet Tubman House. 566 Columbus Ave., Boston, MA, 02118. Trailer:http://youtu.be/VlMAEX-arks