Blackbird by Patrik-Ian Polk

The Reelout Film Festival took place January 30th-February 7th, with a variety of films being previewed in Kinston. The unique aspect of Reelout is that it is a queer film festival, where each and every film reflects at least one aspect of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) community.

The film that I had the pleasure of viewing at this year’s Reelout Film Festival is Patrik-Ian Polk’s Blackbird (2014), staring Julian Walker as 17-year-old Randy Rousseau. This film focuses on the struggles that Randy has to face as he gets older and is forced to take on a vast amount of responsibilities. Randy’s sister, Chrissy (Nikki Jane), went missing 6 years ago and his mother, Claire (Mo’Nique), has become mentally ill due to the disappearance of her daughter. With the leave of his father (Isaiah Washington), Randy is now the primary caregiver and support system for his mother who continues to hold on to the hope of Chrissy’s return. In the film Claire states “I may not be a wife or a woman anymore, but I’ll never stop being a mother”

Aside from his observable struggles, Randy is also dealing with some personal struggles in his life. Night after night Randy has the same dream that causes him much distress every time he wakes up in the morning. Randy finds that he is having dreams involving himself and one of his male friends engaging in various sexual activities. Randy is a very religious individual who comes from an equally religious family, therefore Randy has been taught heteronormativity– the assumption that heterosexuality is the only correct form of sexuality, and that living and feeling otherwise is a sin (Aulette and Wittner 121) for his whole life. Due to his beliefs, Randy wakes up every morning visibly distressed because of his unconscious thoughts and pleads to God to take his dreams away. Randy is a firm believer in sexual scripts, which outlines how an individual is supposed to behave based on their gender (Aulette and Wittner 120-124). Randy is not afraid of being an individual of the sexual minority seeing as his friends and schoolmate seem to be generally accepting of the LGBTQ community, and some are involved in it themselves. Rather, due to his belief in God and Christianity, and the dreams that Randy has, he is extremely confused about his sexual orientation.

As Randy continues to have these dreams, he gradually starts to understand that he is gay and that there is nothing anyone can do about it. Randy is persuaded by his co-worker at the time, Marshall (Kevin Allesse), who is an openly gay male. Marshall explains to Randy that God told him it’s okay if he’s gay. Randy soon learns the importance of accepting his homosexual feelings and is then able to truly express himself as an individual.

Randy’s acceptance of his sexuality is what leads into the scene that I found stood out the most in the film. I found that the distinct moment when Randy accepts his feelings is when he kisses Marshall after a night out together. They were in Marshall’s car and little did they know that Randy’s mom was still up waiting for Randy’s return. Claire walked outside and caught Marshall and Randy kissing in Marshall’s car. Because of their family’s strict religious practice that leads Claire to believe firmly in heterosexuality, she is extremely disturbed by the idea of her son being a sexual minority. At this time Claire yells at Randy, expressing that he is the reason God took away her daughter. As can be imagined, having his mother express that God is punishing them because Randy is gay took an extreme toll on Randy’s emotional state.

Sometime down the road Chrissy was found living with another family who abducted her for 6 years. When Chrissy returned to her family, I found it strange that everything seemed normal after 6 years of being absent. I think that the portrayal of this aspect could have been improved, because it is likely that Chrissy would have has some psychological damage after being separated from her family for so long and then returned like nothing ever happened. However, one of the largest aspects of character development is portrayed through this scene when Claire realizes that since Chrissy was brought back home, it must mean that Randy’s homosexuality is an acceptable aspect of who he is.

I think that Reelout is an amazing opportunity for people, especially today’s students, in the sense that it is a very eye-opening experience. Blackbird is the only film I attended, and I wish now that I had have gone to see a couple more so I could have gotten greater knowledge in other areas of the queer community that were not represented in Blackbird. In addition, being able to see the passion radiating off of the people who make it possible for this festival to happen is a truly rewarding experience because I was able to tell that they just want to make a difference in the world and help people feel like they can be themselves.

Work Cited

 Aulette, Judy R., and Judith Wittner. Gendered Worlds. Third ed. New York: Oxford Universty Press. 2015. Print

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8 thoughts on “Blackbird by Patrik-Ian Polk

  1. aba

    Rau! So glad to see someone else saw the Blackbird film too; I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did. I think the fact that Randy was so grounded with believing in sexual scripts was definitely influenced by others, but it is mostly the inner demon that people fight when in a situation similar to Randy’s. I think you’re so right in saying that Reelout is eye-opening, and hopefully it will help put an end to the scripts our society still follows to a certain extent.

    I also want to say that while I was watching the film, I definitely felt the same way you did during that scene with Chrissy. I thought it was very abrupt way for her to come back into the family, and very unrealistic for her to simply fit right in once again. It’s interesting… it seems like Chrissy’s reappearance into their lives was the only way that Randy could have gotten his mother’s approval. What if Chrissy had NOT been found and brought back, would this have caused more grief for Randy with his mother/his church?

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    1. rau Post author

      Thanks for the feedback aba! To answer your question, I think that if Chrissy had not been found and returned home, then the mother, Claire, would have continued to drown in her unstable mental state and furthered her obsession of trying to find Chrissy. I think this would have taken a huge toll on Randy because Claire would have continued to believe that Chrissy’s disappearance was God’s punishment because Randy is gay. If Chrissy had never been returned, I do not think Randy would have ever accepted his sexual orientation or be able to come out to his family, because he would continue to be blamed for Chrissy’s disappearance.

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  2. mac2121

    Thank you for the great review Rau! Blackbird seems like a great film and I will be sure to watch it on my own time. I too believe that Reelout is an important festival and provides students the opportunity to expand their knowledge on essential topics. Your analysis of the film was very interesting; I especially liked how you acknowledged heteronormativity within the film. Perhaps considering the little sisters reappearance within the movie could be further analyzed. I am curious as to why her reappearance made his sexual orientation acceptable for his mother. Did the casting play a role with the plot? If so, did it convey intersectionality? Overall a great film review and I look forward to watching it myself.

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    1. rau Post author

      Thanks for the feedback mac2121! To the clarify the importance of Chrissy’s reappearance; the entire Rousseau family are strong believers in Christianity, therefore they have total faith in God. Considering this, Claire (Randy and Chrissy’s mother) could never understand why God would take away her daughter. In the film, Claire catches Randy and his boyfriend having an intimate moment in the boyfriend’s car, in front of Randy’s house. Considering Claire’s strong belief in God and Christianity, Claire concluded that God took Chrissy away as a punishment for Randy’s sin: being gay. However, when Chrissy was returned Claire realized that her disappearance was not Randy’s fault, or God’s punishment for Randy’s behaviour, since they were now all back together. Realizing this, Claire was able to accept Randy for who he is, even though she was uneasy about it at first.

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  3. Jac

    Great review!

    I think this film has a really interesting portrayal of not only LGBQT people, but also of those who are disabled with the mother. I also find how the intersectional nature of religion and homophobia is intriguing and the way in which the mother almost seems to use it as a coping mechanism. I really like how this film, as you pointed out, explains that people who doubt their sexualities tend to be the result of external factors such as their parent’s approval.

    I think this correlates a lot to one of the short films I watched called I Love Her which explored how external factors often limit how an individual should be. In the case of I Love Her it was an actual law that prevent homosexual relationships, and this film also explored how liberating ignoring those external factors can be. They both also portray people who are disabled, as one of the women featured is deaf and mute. I think this type of representation being displayed at Reelout is excellent and really challenges the heteronormative, able bodied images from popular media.

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    1. rau Post author

      Thanks for the feedback Jac! I agree with you about the positive aspects that result from Reelout’s inclusion of individuals who are both mentally and physically disabled. I think minorities such as black women and homosexual individuals, to name a few, are often subject to develop disabilities (mostly mental disabilities, such as Claire from Blackbird). I think that the extend to their extreme neglect and underrepresentation can have very harmful effects on their well-being. I think this might be something that the films we both watched have in common.

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  4. Ash

    Rau, you did an excellent job critiquing both the positive and negative aspects of the film! You highlight the intersection between sexuality, religion and class, describing the struggles Randy has to face in a heterosexist society while being condemned by his ideologies and having to provide for his family. It’s great that you critically looked at the events following Chrissy’s return because they make the viewer question Blackbird’s message. Why couldn’t Claire simply accept her son’s sexuality because loving whomever he wants is perfectly okay? Why was it based on an external factor (Chrissy coming home)? One aspect you could’ve discussed was how black, homosexual men and women are rarely represented in popular culture, and how effective this movie was breaking these barriers.
    I agree with your opinion on Reelout – I only saw one film as well, however it was still an eye opening experience. I have never heard of a festival like Reelout, which exposes the public to films that we don’t generally come across in hetero-normative Hollywood.

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    1. rau Post author

      Hi Ash, thanks so much for the feedback! Claire couldn’t accept Randy’s sexuality because of her strong belief in Christianity. Although many people do not understand why everyone can’t just love everyone, I think it often stems from people’s religion. Claire’s acceptance of Randy’s sexuality is based on Chrissy’s return because Claire previously thought that God took Chrissy away because Randy is gay. Therefore, Claire made sure Randy knew that he was to blame, since she strongly believed that being gay is a sin. Once Chrissy was returned home, Claire realized that Randy’s sexuality had nothing to do with Chrissy’s whereabouts and that he was not to blame. Claire was then more open to the idea of Randy’s homosexuality because she knew that since Chrissy returned, God was not punishing them, therefore Randy’s homosexuality must be acceptable. I hope this helps!

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