Welcome to Screen Gems, our weekend dive into queer and queer-adjacent titles of the past that deserve a watch or a re-watch.
The Wide-Eyed: Blackbird
Patrik-Ian Polk continued his domination of gay, black voices with this 2014 sleeper, which, as with all things Mr. Polk, managed to combine comedy, drama, and a hearty dose of sexy situations.
Blackbird tells the story of Randy (Julian Walker), a gay teenager struggling to reconcile his faith-based upbringing with his growing attraction to men. That conflict affords Polk the opportunity to explore some frank sexual situations, including a striptease in a church that has to be seen to be believed…something we heartily recommend.
Besides Randy’s conflict over his sexuality, he also faces lingering guilt. His sister vanished years before, and her uncertain fate haunts Randy, as well as his ever-strict parents (played by Mo’Nique and Isaiah Washington). The tonal contrast between scenes of Randy’s sexual awakening–played both as fantasy, and for laughs–with the heavy domestic drama surrounding his vanished sister and abusive parents will likely prove jarring to some viewers. Randy also seems to have psychic visions at several points in the movie…for some reason.
Never fault Patrick Ian-Polk for a lack of ambition. So few directors are even willing to take on the story of a queer, black teenager, let alone place one in a story with such range.
Still, despite Blackbird’s flaws, Walker (who, incidentally, is gay in real life) gives a fine lead performance. Mo’Nique proves herself again a charismatic leading lady, and Washington, a man known for his own off-screen issues with homophobia, gets something of a mea-culpa as Randy’s compassionate dad. This is a frustrating movie, one that features a lot to enjoy, and a good deal of head-scratching directorial choices. We suspect that one day a director as bold as Polk could indeed make a great movie of this material. For now, we’ll take this one, flaws and all.