For Us and By Us!
Sunday 12th February BlackOut presented ‘Black Boys Look Blue in Moonlight’: A Celebration. This event followed Thursday 9th February special screening of Moonlight and collectively formed the BlackOut UK official launch; two events that ignited and transformed conversations by and for Black gay men.
BlackOut guaranteed the Ritzy a conservative 100 bookings for Moonlight and a small Q&A to follow. The appetite for Moonlight and for conversations about this powerful film; exceeded BlackOut’s modest estimation. By Thursday’s screening; it sold out with over 300 tickets. Thursday’s screening and the Q&A demonstrated BlackOut’s intent to create spaces for conversations! But with a 9:00pm start; an intro; and a 92-minute running time; the hour would be late when the film ended. And who could blame those wanting to leave immediately after.
Nearly no one wanted to leave it seemed. For many in the audience, the reaction to Moonlight was visceral . The atmosphere created by the film filled the auditorium and lingered after the credits finished. During the Q&A the audience reignited emotions felt with powerful reflections that facilitated conversations. The acting impressed the audience. People praised how the subtle looks and the slight movements helped to carry the Black gay narrative. And the silences; the imagery: all noted by those who shared their thoughts. And still many in the audience wanted us to appreciate where Moonlight sits; what it reflects in the Black gay artistic and cultural cannon. From the audience Cyril Nri led his reflection on Moonlight with an urging we need not reinvent the wheel; that we recognize the art and cultural production; Black gay culture; born on this here cold wet island.
The event finished with two powerful testimonies. One from a young Black man hailing proudly from Tottenham who expressed his gratitude for the opportunity Moonlight gave to have a conversation with his mates. He reported their reaction; young, presumably straight Black men attached to a particular kind of masculinity. He said “we’re having a conversation; many conversations about Moonlight … that’s really something.”
Jan the mom of BlackOut Co-editor Marc Thompson closed the event with her reflections and focused on Juan, the main character’s childhood mentor. Juan who sold drugs; and also, Juan who accepted Little; who taught Little to swim; and who demanded of Little “never let anyone call you a ‘faggot’.” Jan said “I thought about the Black men on the Front Line in Brixton in 70s and 80s; and I thought about my gay son: would they have looked after him like that?”
BlackOut titled Sunday’s event after the story that made Moonlight possible – Black boys look blue in Moonlight. Black gay men reflected on Black boys and Black men; how they look and feel; and how they/we see; how we survive and thrive in this world. We expected 50 to fill the space. We imagined something intimate less concerned about numbers believing if you build it with love and authenticity; they will come. Eventually more than 100 beautiful bodies from the broadest reaches of the Diaspora did come and filled and overflowed the space.
Black gay men; under 30; over 50; and everything in-between, burst the space and comfortably held conversations everywhere and the space remained intimate.
And even before the live performances people sat and stood and some swayed their bodies to the music as they engaged in conversations. The back wall of the space; a virtual wallpaper of projected videos and still images showed Black men at their finest inspired even more conversations.
There were students; doctors; counselors; MBEs; and that was just on the stage. And on the stage: nearly a dozen live performances. Men spoke of SHOWING UP and being counted; as Black gay men. Men spoke of validation; of celebration; of being unapologetic: old school attitudes with contemporary relevance and urgency.
BlackOut is all about conversation(S) and a soul that drives Black gay men to create virtual and physical spaces: for us and by us. Content to celebrate our journey and our survival; and content to ultimately save ourselves. On Sunday that soul expressed itself through a host of brilliant, articulate and reflective brothers; men who poured out their hearts in words and songs with truth and vulnerability.
And the message from Thursday echoed with strength on Sunday when men spoke of their truth as Black gay men living here – the history and the struggle. Readings from British poets including Dirg Aab-Richards; whose truth; like words written long ago by James Baldwin and Essex Hemphill; echoed down through the decades and resonated with profound contemporary relevance.
Black gay men informed, uplifted, entertained and offered up powerful expressions that elicited moans from the audience like those you hear from elderly folks at church. One performance described as a “personal sermon derived from my soul; a passage to be archived within the wider lived collective gospel of Black gay love and beauty.”
In its collective exhibition all the performances illustrated that each location throughout the Diaspora holds its own Moonlight; Black boys; Black men; live and look different in Leeds; Kingston; Lagos; Johannesburg; Chicago; and so on.
By the end of Sunday’s event hundreds of people came to BlackOut spaces. They and you affirm what we know; there is a strong appetite for spaces to engage in conversations that celebrate, protect, save and ultimately serve Black gay men in all our diversity.
For Us and By Us!