Why We Need Unapologetic Me: Black | Gay | Man (And Why You Should Care) by Damian Ruff

 background image by Whitney Browne

background image by Whitney Browne

Let me start by saying that anything dripping in melanated brothers I am here for, okay? For years Black media has remained an off-center part of the overall scheme of production and cultural legacy and it’s high time it got more attention. When I was invited to a screening of Justin Dominic’s Unapologetic Me: Black | Gay | Man I was down for two reasons: one, this is my “year of yes,” and two, it was free. I went in knowing nothing of what I was about to experience but I knew I was going to have a good time because one Malik of HIM asked me to come out and cover it. As this was officially a work event I let the spliff in my pocket rest there and prepared myself by enjoying the NYC back alley vibes of St. John’s Place in the cut just off Canal.

The event was hosted at the Living Room of Spring Place which oozed a quiet elegance like that of any hotspot lounge one would see on Sex and The City; I was living. Little did I know that even though the bar gave very much Miranda Priestly tease the sunken living room just to the back of the lounge would serve my inner Beat fetish.

 photo by Mark Clennon

photo by Mark Clennon

Living for the plush red sunken in seating area which was a complete square in the middle of the room, I positioned myself just the side of the front for optimal viewing. With Malik on my left and Trey on my right, I looked up at the screen where Daniel Calderon and the creator/visionary Justin Dominic introduced the short vid introducing us to some of the crew involved with the piece.

Justin Dominic, Ronnie Carney, Andre Drummond, and Nigel Campbell were our four principles, and each reflected the uniqueness that is the Black man. From the title, one can easily ascertain just where this piece’s niche target lies but there is universality in the arcs presented by each sequence. Each dance sequence, all of which had been choreographed by Dominic, tells a story of the Black gay man’s experience in subtle and powerful ways. In an attempt to not give away too much of something that must be experienced in order to grasp the beauty of it there were two scenes that stuck out to this writer in particular. Mind you, I was not alone in how powerful these scenes were as they came up in the subsequent Q+A with Dominic, Calderon, Carney, and Nathan Bajar, who curated the soundtrack along with Dominic and Calderon.

Hosted by the incomparable Emil Wilbekin, whose impressive credentials were so caringly mentioned in Calderon’s introduction of him, he carried us through the forum with such ease that I longed for it to carry a little while longer; but I digress. Dominic mentioned in the Q+A that some of the sequences were composed of watching the other subjects interact on the set which was an Airbnb rented for two days. When Dominic said they had managed to get all the shots they needed in one day I could see it in the chemistry between the principles on film.

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The first scene which drew the attention of the audience and was brought to my attention again a week later by Malik is a scene in the kitchen between Ronnie Carney and Andre Drummond which Malik calls “Levels.” Carney and Drummond have what can only be called a conversation-in-choreo where one gets the sense of a longing for intimacy yet a resistance brought on by internalized societal norms and expectations placed on Black men. You could almost hear the pleadings of each dancer as they beckoned the other for trust and truth and intimacy and your heart breaks when you see the walls go up in successive levels suggested by their arms blocking the space between them. It was like watching (and I’m going to personalize here) all the times you’ve wanted to reach out to another beautiful Black boy for that affection you desire and both deserve but pride and societal prejudices tell you that as a Black man you can’t be vulnerable. Of course, this is a toxic notion which we all deal with on some level but seeing it on the screen brought back just how unified we are in certain aspects of our lives.

One audience member speculated that the theme of the piece was touch, something that the dancers did a lot of, and Dominic confirmed this. In fact, the dancers seemed to do nothing more than touch or want to touch and connect with the others.

 photo by Mark Clennon

photo by Mark Clennon

Playing off of the theme of touch I want to take it one further and say that intimacy was my overall takeaway from the piece. Another such powerful scene was one where the principles and other subjects stood with their backs to the camera, and here without faces, we are shown the diversity of the Black man; diversity, of course, being another theme of the piece. At first, it looks like they’re just standing there like they’re waiting for something, then slowly we see that they are embracing one another. Hands on shoulders, on waists, heads leaning in, the men huddle together in a sequence that suggests that we have to be the givers and receivers of the intimacy we need.

Set against music that I can only describe as acid jazz meets psychedelia Unapologetic Me is a visual and audio treat. The cinematography was done by the Macaiah Carter who recently shot The Weeknd for Times Magazines Next Generation of Leaders issue. Not only are the brothers attractive, the music and sound bites of interviews with queer Black men provide the audience with visceral truths on Blackness, queerness, and maleness in a society which seeks to make us apologize for simply being alive.

 photo by Mark Clennon

photo by Mark Clennon

Written, directed, choreographed, and produced by Justin Dominic Unapologetic Me: Black | Gay | Man is, as Emil Wilbekin called, a “legacy” to be left in the ashes of queer Black art and history destroyed by the AIDS epidemic. Ronnie Carney (and I hope he doesn’t mind my saying) was the oldest of the dancers Dominic approached for the project, having been his instructor early in his career, Carney expressed excitement at being asked to participate but it was something he said in the Q+A that seemed all too poignant. “I no longer have to be that warrior walking down the hall. Now I’m more of a mentor or teacher to the younger generation.” What Ronnie Carney touched on here was the wide divide between homosexuality being a social death with a looming expiration date and cause of demise to being something almost completely accepted…almost. There is still this disparity between the older gays and the young ones, and a lot of our personal history has been lost to untimely deaths; Unapologetic Me: Black | Gay | Man is, and I don’t think I can say this enough, an answer to that lost legacy.

We as Black gay men are some of the most diverse people and we uniquely experience a world which either does not want us or, and perhaps more insidiously, feigns tolerance of us. We as Black gay men have to pick up the torch and tell our stories amongst each other, and allies who will listen, and even to those who don’t want to hear because our stories matter. I believe that if we are like Justin Dominic and create something that speaks to us then we will be able to speak to others. Unapologetic Me: Black | Gay | Man is a conversation starter and it’s time we joined the discussion.

 photo by Mark Clennon

photo by Mark Clennon

Like Patrik Ian Polk did with Noah’s Arc, P.U.N.K.S., and The Skinny so too do we have to continue to share in visual and visceral ways the truths of our existence. Because we are here, our stories are important, they tell a side of society so easily shunned and ignored until it is fetishized, and we need to show that we are more than Drag Race memes and victims. We are powerful, we are strong, and we have come too far to let another day go by where a little Black boy in Arkansas doesn’t know that there are people out there like him who love him. Go see Justin Dominic’s Unapologetic Me: Black | Gay | Man, catch your life and save a life. 

Watch the Trailer for UNAPOLOGETIC ME: BLACK | GAY | MAN below and get more informantion about the film at http://www.justindominic.com/unapologeticme/ 

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