Black, weird love stories – of all kinds – have a moment.
In recent months Lil Nas X has undoubtedly and inadvertently upgraded his live television shows and his music video for “That’s What I Want” (off debut album “Montero”). Lena Waithe’s character Denise spent the third season of “Master of Noon” in a complex black gay relationship. And the third season of “Sex Education” puts its black queer characters front and center in several major, poignant storylines.
The media and its gatekeepers are stereotyped – and completely shut down – at the intersection.
“Black queer people, black queer love is genuinely erased,” says Dashaan Usher, associate director of the Community of Color at Glad.
Experts say the current media landscape – especially social media and streaming – has opened the floodgates for all kinds of representation.
“(Media representation) has the effect of giving people the opportunity to be proud of who they are and who they are,” says Aymar Jean Christian, an associate professor at Northwestern University.
Of course, being black and weird in the world of pop culture is no stranger. Think of the 2000s drama television show “Noah’s Ark,” featuring four black gays living in Los Angeles. Or gay singer and disco star Sylvester. These series and artists paved the way for the next generation. And there is always room for more – especially happiness and love.
“I’d love to see so many iterations of black happiness and black trauma because some of it can be cured, some of it has to be said,” Usher says.
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How ‘sex education’ is changing the conversation
Netflix’s “Sex Education” refers to students’ sexual awareness and sexual positivity at a British high school. However, this latest season premiered in September, with Black and Queer characters leveling up and spotlighted in delicate relationships.
According to series creator and showrunner Larry Nunn, it all started with a diverse writer’s room. The writer’s room played an integral role in this season when Eric (Ncuti Gatwa) toured Nigeria with his family. Temi Wilkie, herself weird, Nigerian and British, wrote this episode.
“It was really important that those storylines had a certain pedigree,” Nunn says. In the episode, Eric visits a queer Nigerian nightclub and delights in the dark and exotic culture he never experienced at home. There, Eric cheats on his boyfriend – but it comes out of a beautiful moment where he feels a part of something bigger than himself.
“It was absolutely beautiful to see people portraying African queerness honestly and sometimes lighter. Instead of changing the same shocking stories and the shock stories that African queerness has about them,” says Dua Saleh, who plays non-binary student Cal.
Several non-binary characters have appeared in this season; The show hired non-binary consultants to paste all the right landings.
Cal and cisgender male character Jackson have an immediate connection. But before that connection blossoms into another, Cal explains that their relationship is inherently a queer one – which makes Jackson uncomfortable.
“As a trans person, that scene was very important to me. A lot of trans people I know have conversations with their partners, or they don’t understand their absurd identity, or what each person understands about their weirdness or sexuality,” Saleh says.
Saleh has burst into tears, giving fans an outpouring of love.
“For many of them, this is the first time they’ve seen a non-binary person on a show,” Saleh says. “It’s something to carry with me.”
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What Lil Nas X is doing to weird black people
Lil Nas X’s star shines brighter and brighter every day, whether it’s watching several different sexy, shocking Met Galas, or teaching safe sex between black queer men in a new music video.
The recording artist talks about his depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts on Ticktock in February and always posts tweets for LGBTQ rights – kissing one of his male dancers at the BET Awards.
Social media has exploded since the premiere of “Monteiro (Call Me By Your Name)” this spring, featuring a sexually explicit Bible and demonic imagery (he kills the devil, among other things). Advocates say their critics miss the big picture: their brave statement for black weirdness.
Lil Nas X, whose real name is Montero Lamar Hill, also wrote to his 14-year-old soul with the release of the song. “I know we promised to die with a secret, but this opens the door for many other exotic people to simply exist,” the letter said.
In another music video for his song “Sun Goes Down”, the artist is helping a younger version of himself while considering suicide and struggling to find his sexuality.
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Lena Whyte and trauma: This is reality
The third season of “Master of Noon”, which premiered in May, was turned away by co-creator and star Aziz Ansari, Lena Waithes moved to Denise and his wife Alicia (Naomi Aki). This is “the only time the television series has focused on black gay couples as its sole hero, and in such an intimate portrait,” wrote LGBTQ outlet editor-in-chief Carmen Phillips in May. It’s not a happy portrait – but it matters.
Wythe’s work has been criticized as “Black Trauma Porn”, similar to the movie “Queen and Slim” and “Master of Noon”. But “the sad reality is that being black in America means being in complete shock,” says David Johns, executive director of the National Black Justice Coalition. “To be black and bizarre, trance and nonbinary means we feel in an intersectional way. That trauma is often compounded.”
Usher says these stories need to be told. “It shouldn’t be the only storyline or the only thing that’s been told,” he says. “But it’s the reality of what happened, or what’s currently happening.”
Christian appreciated the originality of the series. “It seems like they’re trying to tell an intimate universal story that isn’t just trying to deny the darkness and eccentricity of the characters, but giving them a chance to live a life that doesn’t just focus on their blackness and eccentricity,” he says.
Examples of successful black, queer representation do not end here. See Starz’s “P-Valley,” and “Lovecraft Country” and “Random Events of Flyness” on HBO. Or the VH1 reality show “Love and Hip Hop: Miami.”
The more representation – especially when it comes to black, all kinds of weird love stories – the better.
“When people are proud of themselves, they live their lives differently,” and Christian says, and they force other people to confront and accept them differently.
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