A group of BlackOutUK contributors went to see the debut of Matthew Lopez’s play, The Inheritance at the Young Vic in London. It’s on until May and definitely worth seeing. Inspired by the themes of Lopez’s epic, we got to wondering what knowledge, wisdom, or artefacts we have inherited from other black gay men and what we would like to pass on.
Here, Marc and Ashley share their inheritance/legacy
I have inherited the work of the playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney. I was first introduced to Tarell’s work back in 2014 on the Young Vic’s Introduction to Directing short course. I was presented with three plays and had to choose one to be my focus for the duration of the course. The choice was not a difficult one for me, I instantly connected to one piece; The Brothers Size written by Tarrell. A play about the relationship between three young black men, with undertones of same sex desire, written by an openly black gay man. It was the first time I had ever read a play that touched on so many themes that felt linked to my identity as a black gay man.
Mentored by Bijan Sheibani who directed both the original run and the recent revival of The Brothers Size at the Young Vic; I spent a week directing a scene from the play with professional actors. This was my first time working with actors on a piece of text. It was through this amazing experience that I first felt that assurance that directing is both something I could do and wanted to do. I believe that was in part due to working with a text that I could connect and relate to.
After the course, I went on to discover more of Tarell’s work, ‘Wig Out’, ‘The Choir Boy’ etc. Years later I was then pleasantly surprised to discover that the film Moonlight, another work of art that had a significant impact on me; was adapted from Tarell’s play ‘In the Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue’. In the year that Moonlight went on to win the Oscar for Best Film, I decided to pick up the metaphorical pen and start writing
I want to pass on my own stories in the form of both theatre and film
As an aspiring writer/director I want to pass on my own stories in the form of both theatre and film. In the hope that I can add to the collective work of black gay men who have gone before me, to continue the conversation. To contribute to giving the community that much needed representation and maybe even as Tarell did in part to me, inspire the next generation to tell their own stories
I’ve chosen Patti LaBelle’s live performance at Live Aid as the item I inherited. When I saw it on 13 July 1985 it was the first time I was introduced to the significance of the black diva in our lives. More significantly, I saw it at my first gay party; my first encounter with black gay men. It represents my introduction to the community I am proud to have been a member of since.
It was the week after my 16th birthday and my boyfriend (another first), took me to a house party in Clapham.
I never thought I was the ‘only gay in the village’, but I was sure I was the only gay that looked like me and came from the same African-Caribbean background. Imagine my joy and delight when I arrived at this small gathering to be surrounded by black men from Brixton, Tottenham, Barbados, Guyana and Trinidad. Men who looked like my older cousins, my uncles, the guys in the barbershop. I swore one man looked like he’d fit right in with my grandfather at the betting shop!
The music was music I knew from family parties and pirate radio stations. The voices, dialect, accents and cuss words were all familiar. The food was curry goat and rice and there was a steady flow of rum punch.
And then at around 2am (the show was live broadcast from Philadelphia), there was a flurry of activity, lots of screaming and shouting. Men telling men to ‘Hush girl’. They huddled around the TV and there she was, Miss Patti LaBelle.
This magnificent creature.
Hair spiked, dotted with pearls, a long, flowing evening gown, mic in hand. I’d never seen anything like it.
But that didn’t prepare me for what I witnessed next.
“Yes Mi Love”, “Go Miss Patti, GO!”, “Child she gonna kick off them shoes in a minute!” “Ooh if she does Over the Rainbow I will lose my shit” “Ooh Miss Thing, there go the shoes!” “Gurl HUSH!!”
The transformation in these grown men was immediate. The love and the adoration were palpable. I watched this group of men, men who didn’t ‘look gay’. Arms around each other, transfixed. They were united by this one single black woman, singing at the top her lungs. Prowling the stage like a cross between a Pentecostal preacher and an Opera Diva at La Scala.
That night was transformative for me. I was introduced to the world of the R&B Diva and her significance to black gay life. How we as black gay men have an undying love for and connection to black female singers from Billie Holiday to Ella Fitzgerald, Aretha to Patti and Chaka, Anita Baker to En Vogue and Mary J to Beyonce.
How their experience of glamour, pain, redemption, drama, rejection, the love of good and bad men, sometimes mirrored our own black gay lives. Songs and performances we vicariously lived through and through which we projected our hopes, dreams, fears and loves.
Transfixed by Patti, I was introduced to my family of brothers. The camaraderie, connection, joy and love I witnessed and took part in that night strengthened my own identity and empowered me as a young black gay man. That night confirmed I wasn’t alone in the world; that no matter what happened, someone who looked like me and loved like me would be in my corner.
The following morning, I came out to my mum.
I’m passing on Imitation of Life because in those lists of ‘The films every black gay man should see’, it doesn’t usually make an appearance. Guys you’re missing out!
I’ve met countless men of a certain age who tell me it’s their favourite film of all time. Like when Princess Diana died, when Whitney crossed over, or when Bey dropped Lemonade they can tell me what they were doing and where they were when they first encountered this stone-cold classic.
I was about 7 years old, I watched it with my mum and it was the first film to make me cry. It left a lasting impression. After I’d worn out a VHS copy taped off of a Saturday afternoon showing on BBC2, I bought it on DVD. I then upgraded to Blu-Ray, I’ve streamed it on Apple TV, watched it on YouTube, on my phone, and most recently saw it beautifully restored on the big screen at the BFI as part of the Black Star season. 42 years later, it still has the power to move me.
On its surface it’s a technicolor melodrama about mothers and daughters. Two hours of dramatic acting, glamorous outfits and memorable one liners, the gospel legend Mahalia Jackson and THAT final scene.
Scratch a bit deeper, and it’s a critical observation of race in America in the pre-civil rights era of the 1950s. Go deeper still and it’s a story about authenticity, the facades we create, the lengths we go to, and compromises we make to fit into a world that doesn’t want us just as we are.
The film talks about rejection of family, so we can live what we believe to be our authentic selves. And how we can find redemption and wholeness when we ‘come home’. It might be a tenuous link, but these are themes explored in the Oscar winning Moonlight that’s resonated with many black gay men in 2017. But where Chiron finds redemption and love in the arms of another black man, Sarah Jane finds solace in the arms of whiteness – that is a whole other Oprah Winfrey show conversation.
Tell us about what you have inherited and what you would like to pass on #BlackOutInheritance
The Inheritance is on at the Young Vic until May 2018 – get tickets here