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