Welcome to the Weekend Binge. Every Friday, we’ll suggest a binge-able title designed to keep you from getting too stir crazy. Check back throughout the weekend for even more gloriously queer entertainment.
The Richard Pryor Double Feature: Lady Sings the Blues & The Wiz
The 2018 revelation by singer Quincy Jones that actors Marlon Brando & Richard Pryor had a steamy, unapologetic love affair elicited a collective gasp from Hollywood. Though Pryor had supported LGBTQ rights and acknowledged his own penchant for performing fellatio, somehow, pop culture never seemed to count him as part of the queer community. Close friends and family of Prior have since revealed that he had no shame in acknowledging his bisexuality. Hey, better late than never…
As a salute to Pryor–one of the great comics of the 20th century–we offer up two examples of his fine work as a character actor. First up: Lady Sings the Blues, the Diana Ross-headlined 1972 biopic about queer singer Billie Holiday. The film does a good job condensing Holiday’s life and career into a two-hour runtime, and Ross gives a Hell of a great performance in the lead. For our money, though, the real surprise is Pryor, whose magnetic charisma allows him to do a lot with very little. Watching the movie today, we can’t help but feel a swell of sadness. Pryor actually had extraordinary gifts as an actor. That he didn’t get better parts in movies is really our loss.
For more proof of Pryor’s talent, look no further than The Wiz, in which he played the title role opposite (again) Diana Ross. Ok, so The Wiz–an urban retelling of The Wizard of Oz with an all-black cast–isn’t exactly a cinema classic. Despite the presence of Lena Horne, Nipsey Russell, and Michael Jackson (in his best screen outing), ugly set design, stiff direction, and a bonkers screenplay by Joel Schumacher make watching the movie a slog at times. Still, catchy music by Charlie Smalls, Luther Vandross, Timothy Graphenreed, Harold Wheeler, and George Faison as well as spirited performances give the movie more zest than it deserves. Pryor again gets to show off his acting skill as the inspiring, if withering, Wiz.
Richard Pryor always shined brightest on the stand-up stage. He could also command the screen…when given good material, anyway. How unfortunate that his filmography features more duds (Superman III anyone? The Toy?) than hits. For a hint at what could have been, and a testament to the remarkable talent of this one-of-a-kind performer, we recommend starting with this double feature. Both movies feature a gay icon in Ms. Ross, and hint at a much brighter career for Mr. Pryor.
Lady Sings the Blues streams on YouTube.
The Wiz streams on Amazon & YouTube.
He pretty much whittled down his “queerness” to “an addiction to sucking dick”. He also said some rather queer/homo shaming stuff throughout the years and did seem to contend with some internalized phobias. We need to acknowledge that Pryor was in the spectrum, but I don’t know about it being “awesome” considering his traumas, struggles and his messy comments. Acknowledge the whole picture rather than what sounds good in an article. He was a great talent and pioneer though.
This line in the article alone “isn’t exactly a cinema classic” about The Wiz let’s me know that there isn’t enough diversity and/or knowledge going around at Queerty…. So just as soon as I signed up to be a part of this community, I think it’s okay for me to remove myself from it.
Dude. Urban? No.
Hardcore83….amen and amen
The Wiz, sucked so bad. with all that star power noone said this sucks. shame
I remember when this came and some of my friends were so ga-ga over it, but even if it had some good songs, I didn’t think it did as good a job as the original, and just honestly felt like it was a blaxploitation movie that others were doing about that time (such as “Blacula”, “Shaft” and a few others) and not a serious work.
So he was into Pipes & Crack, & Flames, in more ways than one …..giggity
His daughter Rain Pryor, denounced these queer allegations made against her father. Of course, how would she know what her father did behind closed doors. Then again, her rebuttal has as much credibility as her sad acting career. Unfortunately black ppl always hated gay ppl. They were and are the most homophobic sector and hide behind religion. The sad part is that they are an oppressed group and collectively should have our backs. Now I’m sure some of you will throw out the “racist” card but I’m just speaking pure fact. Straight black ppl hate us and they use the church to hide behind their hate. Ironically, it was the first black President, the great Obama, that gave us the right to get married. We should all be grateful that we had at least one good prez in our lifetime. Now if we could get a sequel to Barack.
Richard Pryor was of an era where it was widely accepted and considered entertainment for any and everybody, of all races, to make fun of gays. Privately he enjoyed what he enjoyed. Though he didn’t wear it on his sleeve, he didn’t necessarily hide it either. That took courage that many today still don’t have. This is one of the reasons why he’s still so revered despite his shortcomings.
We give a bit too much credit to people for being “out” or being willing to admit that they indulge non hetero behaviors. I’d rather someone stay “in” and not be messy. A lot of “out” people (especially guys) still ultimately promote homo shaming, gay insecurities, hetero pressures/hetero superiority, fem shaming, trans-phobia, etc. Being “out” doesn’t absolve you from being messy, being an a-hole, promoting “problematic” shit.
Pryor was talented and brazen, and it’s clear that he had a lot of traumas and struggles and insecurities and probably contended with a decent degree of fluidity and contradictions. He also came from a different time. So, I don’t harbor any ill feelings towards him. But I’m also not about to anoint him as some “queer’ icon” simply because he admitted to liking to suck dick.
Donston you are just wrong! Times were different and the word BI did not exist but that does not mean BI people did not exist. Moms Mabley would if alive embrace being called gay or lesbian and Tullalah Bankhead would without a doubt in my mind (or anyone who ever read a single book about her) she would have said bi or even gay as she much preferred the company of women in her bed. Marlene Dietrich may have embraced BI as she was but the fear of losing work may have stopped her. Janet Gaynor and Adrian married each other as beards which is a well know FACT proven by their own writings in letters so they were both gay but the times were even more dangerous then for out people. To say they werent gay or bi because they didnt know the word is laughable and stupid and wrong like so many of your posts
Richard Pryor courageously queer!
Give me a break!
Man About Town
I strongly doubt if either Richard Pryor or Billie Holiday ever considered themselves “queer.”
That’s the problem with retroactively giving people identities. Just because we know someone wasn’t heterosexual or didn’t live an entirely hetero lifestyle doesn’t mean that they wished to view themselves as anything other than “straight” or that they would have embraced any identity nowadays. It’s as problematic as giving long dead people a “gay” or “straight” or “bi” identity when they didn’t publicly embrace that when they were alive. It’s just to just say someone was in the “orientation spectrum” or didn’t live an entirely hetero lifestyle.
We can never know anyone’s sexual dimensions and journey, preferences, struggles, how much of what they did publicly was out of sociology and ego and insecurities, where they were in the gender, sexual, affection, romantic attachment, emotional investment, commitment spectrum.
Richard Pryor frequently made homo shaming and fem shaming jokes, and he trolled “gays” on multiple occasions. Was he just a “risky” comedian and a product of his time and feeling some type of way about his own issues? Who knows, because we still see a lot of those behaviors from people (especially guys) in the spectrum nowadays. But I’m very uncomfortable with giving long dead people identities and making assumptions about their exact dimensions and sense of self.
They are both from a time when the word queer was very commonly used for and by gay men and women. It is more than likely they thought of themselves as queer at times, as it was a word that did not have the taint of effeminacy that fag did. Queer was first noted as slang for gay folks in 1914, and at that point more commonly used within the gay community without the pejorative connotations it took on later when used by straight people.
It is only fairly recently when it has been used by anybody who wishes to see themselves as outside of the typical gender/affectional norms. And that use has sadly empowered the anti-gay/right wing/religious right to use it as a pejorative openly with no fear of censure.
I’ve never been able to watch The Wiz. I just can’t get into it.
You can not tell me that Ma Rainey was not a lesbian or wouldnt think of herself that way? Cuz honey she was as out as anyone has ever been out