Blackbird is a 2014 drama film directed and written by Patrik-Ian Polk. Julian Walker makes his debut starring in the role of Randy Rousseau; a male black youth of strict Christian faith living in a small Mississippi town, where he struggles with confusion surrounding his sexuality. His family had undergone intense turmoil when his younger sister, Crystal, was kidnapped, and were continually challenged as she remained missing for several years after. Randy’s father left the family, unable to adequately support him and his mother during this time as he struggled with his own grief. In the midst of this, Randy and his family look to Jesus and the Christian faith as a means of survival and hope. Randy becomes immersed in his role in the choir and remains committed to his faith, which is what initially causes much of his xenophobic tendencies, his fear that he may, in fact, be gay; something that is not only considered to be against the norm, but also a sin in the eyes of his church. He spends much of the movie both exploring his sexuality, but also, fervently denying that he belongs to the group of people society deems as “the other”.
The relationships that are established throughout the film help the audience make the connection between what they are seeing in the name of entertainment and the social impact of it. Randy’s friends and a man he meets along the way inadvertently help him reach a sense of self-realization. The initial indication that he may be gay comes to him as he frequently has sexual dreams revolving around one of his heterosexual friends, Todd, which leaves his sheets soiled in the mornings. His openly gay friend, Efrem, as well as their other friend, Justine, constantly question him about his sexuality, which causes Randy to react defensively. There are many instances where binary thinking is exhibited as the characters in the film automatically assume, time and time again, that Randy is very obviously homosexual, since he supposedly did not exhibit qualities that would outline him as heterosexual. There is very little thought given to the ideas proposing pansexuality, bisexuality, asexuality, etc. and there is a very clear understanding amongst his friends that Randy must be the “only” alternative to being straight; gay. Fetishsization is prevalent when Randy and Todd are both playing the lead roles in a rendition of William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” where – in their interpretation – the leads are actually two men and, as a result, must share a kiss that the two heterosexual females deem sexually enticing, and exciting, resulting in the objectification and exploitation of homosexuality. Randy sheds his situated knowledge as he gets to know the character that plays his love interest; Marshall. Originally, all of Randy’s knowledge, or lack thereof, concerning sexuality, sin and identity came from the influence of the church. Through his experience with Marshall he is introduced to a whole other world, not just of that of an openly gay male, but also that of an openly gay, white male. He begins to see differences between his world and Marshall’s, but also similarities, which helps him ultimately understand himself and accept his circumstances, something that his situated knowledge of the world had formerly prevented him from doing. The film is generally focused upon Randy’s relationship with his family, friends, the man that he is seeing, God and, above all, his understanding of himself and his identity. Intersectionality is heavily prevalent in this film as it explores his experience of his changing perception of himself and how his various identities merge together to create a separate and cohesive one that, in turn, is attacked in accordance. His experience as a young, black, homosexual male, of Christian faith leaves him privy to a very specific form of oppression that caters to all of his conjoined identities.
It is difficult, with Blackbird in particular, to pick one exact scene that is pivotal to understanding the context and message of the film. However, if I had to, I would choose the scene that follows the events that take place when Randy’s mother discovers Marshall and Randy engaged in an overtly sexual act outside her house in Marshall’s car and verbally attacks and belittles Randy in their home, telling him that his sinning is the reason that the Lord was testing them by taking away Crystal. The scene following takes place the morning after and involves Randy, his mother and the Church’s pastor as she had called him and notified him of the situation that had taken place the night before. In this scene the pastor engages Randy in a very placating manner and asks him if he wants to be saved, to which Randy complies fervently. The scene then cuts to the three characters in the church attempting to physically expedite whatever evil was within Randy that was causing him to engage in such supposedly sinful acts. This scene illustrates fundamentalism – a term that is used to identify religions that have a very conservative view of gender and sexuality – as it embodies a very dated method of religious cleansing and what was deemed necessary of such (Aulette, Wittner 526). It also presents the concept of heteronormativity, and how because Randy is straying from the only sexuality that is deemed acceptable and authentic, he requires saving in order to revert back to the norm. It was a very powerful scene that I, personally, found scary and very extreme. It was pivotal in understand how strongly the church and officials of the church felt about homosexuality and lengths they would go to in order to extinguish it. It also gave the viewers a sense of further understanding where concerning Randy and why it was so difficult for him to accept that he may be gay; in the back of his mind he still considered it to be an abomination.
Overall, Blackbird touched upon a multitude of issues and was an intelligently crafted story. I felt that there was quite a lot left to be desired when considering the acting and the technical aspects of the film but, in the grand scheme of things, it was still worth the watch and it made me reflect and tear up quite a bit. The only critique I had was with the ending as it felt rushed and very inauthentic. It seemed as though all the problems and issues concerning Randy and the unacceptance he faced was simply put on the backburner, or vanished completely, as his kidnapped sister was returned to the family home. I felt it minimized the situation and did not properly lay to rest what majority of the movie was concerning. The experience of attending this showing at the Reelout Queer Film + Video Festival was interesting, to say the very least. It introduced me to a whole other genre of film and caused me to analyze what I was watching in a whole new way.
10/10 would recommend.
Aulette, Judy R., and Judith Wittner. “Glossary.” Gendered Worlds. Third ed. New York: Oxford UP, 2015. 526. Print.