By Don Simpson | September 9, 2014
Director: Patrik-Ian Polk
Writers: Rikki Beadle Blair, Patrik-Ian Polk
Starring: Julian Walker, Kevin Allesee, Mo’Nique, Isaiah Washington, Terrell Tilford, Gary LeRoi Gray, Torrey Laamar, Wanita ‘D. Woods’ Woodgett, Nikki Jane, Lindsay Seim, Nicole Lovince
Randy (Julian Walker) is a 17-year-old choir boy and high school misfit with an angelic voice and penchant for drama. Though everyone who has ever met Randy seems to know that he is gay, his god-fearing Christian upbringing keeps him from acknowledging his sexuality. As Patrik-Ian Polk’s Blackbird progresses, Randy’s existential struggle becomes all the more real. Prayer does not make his recurring wet dreams subside and Randy’s mom begins to blame the disappearance of her younger daughter on Randy’s apparent queerness. All the while, Randy’s friends want to help him come out of the closet. Even Randy’s father (Isaiah Washington) wants his son to accept his sexuality. But… What would Jesus do?
Never too Black, too Christian or too queer, Blackbird carefully balances its religious conviction with an agenda to open the minds of socially-conservative Christians. In Polk’s gleefully melodramatic universe, there is plenty of room for gays in Christian congregations and conservative small Southern towns. Blackbird is more about accepting one’s self, than having others accept you. Randy’s mother is the only person who does not accept him for who he is, but that is only because her mind is muddied and muddled by the loss of her daughter. When it comes down to it, Randy’s staunch moral conservatism is the only thing that is holding him back from fully realizing his sexuality.
If only coming out in a conservative small town could be that easy. Blackbird might seem a bit too fantastically positive, but that is only because it takes full advantage of functioning in a purely fictional universe. Polk relishes in dramatic contrivances, channeling Douglas Sirk more so than echoing the sentiment of John Cassavetes (the filmmaker revered by one of Randy’s friends). What Sirk taught us is that emotional authenticity is the core of the melodramatic narrative; Polk does well to abide by Sirk’s philosophy.