People are pissed with writer/actor Nate Parker.
The Twittersphere seemed shocked to learn from news reports that the “Birth of a Nation” star’s wife was white, as opposed to being thrilled for him on the safe birth of his fourth child. That’s social media for you.
But Nate’s white wife wasn’t what set Twitter on fire. Some of Nate’s checkered past miraculously came to life after he revealed his wife’s race. On top of his 2011 rape acquittal, Nate said back in 2014 that he would never star as a gay character in a film.
So basically, Nate crapped out, and Twitter was mad AF. Again.
I personally could care less who Nate is married to, and as a woman, I’m disturbed by his rape acquittal. But on the other hand, I get why he wouldn’t take on the role of a black gay man in a film.
Back in 2014, Nate Parker chatted up the topic during a BET promotional interview for the film, “Beyond the Lights.” During the talk, the subject somehow turned to the topic of roles Nate would and would accept. According to Ebony,
“…Nate Parker [declared] that in an effort to “preserve the Black man,” he will, among many things, never play a gay character…Parker complained about Hollywood offering Black men roles that requires dresses and duct tape – a legitimate critique – though Parker took it one step further when he said Hollywood also offers Black men roles that consist of ‘men with questionable sexuality.'”
In the end, Nate’s suspected “homophobia” seemed to add fuel to the Twitter Mob’s emotions 2 years after he made the comment, and I don’t think it should have.
Besides the comment being old, Hollywood has a pitiful history of making marketable, gay black characters. It’s so bad, that gay black actors can barely be gay in real life, let alone on the big and small screens. Or as “Survivor’s Remorse” star Darryl Stephens puts it,
“You can be one or the other…You can be black or you can be gay. You can’t be both.”
This is why it’s such a huge deal when gay black actors “come out”, even though many people argue that they’re contributing to Hollywood’s “gay agenda” when it happens. Criticism aside, when black actors come out as LGBT or Q, it’s actually a huge deal.
So was Nate Parker really trying to say that being a working black actor in Hollywood was hard enough for him to deal with, let alone taking on the role of a gay black character?
Perhaps. Hollywood has a long way to go when it comes to marketing multi-faceted, gay black male characters in lead roles. I could easily see why taking such roles would be discouraging for a writer/actor like Nate Parker. It’s pretty messed up that he feels the way, but I get it.
Here are a few other reasons why Nate Parker may have also said no to ever portraying black and gay male characters in film.
1. There aren’t many iconic gay, black characters in lead roles
In an LA Times article about being black and gay in Hollywood, “Glee” actor Alex Newell says that there’s a price that comes with Hollywood’s acceptance of gay black male characters.
“Hollywood will accept gays and put them on TV, but there’s usually a sense of masculinity [to the character]. That’s why you have straight men playing gay characters.”
It’s true that gay black male characters don’t always have the luxury of being a balanced, and that’s enough to turn any actor off, whether they’re gay or straight. For example,Jussie Smollett’s character Jamal Lyon (Empire) is extremely multi-dimensional. He’s not overly effeminate, and he’s not extremely masculine. He’s just a dude who likes dudes, who makes dope music, and has a dick for a father.
On a side note, I may have described half of the gay population of Atlanta, but I digress.
There’s also Omar from “The Wire” who was probably one of the best gay black characters ever written, and Michael K. Williams’ career skyrocketed as a result. Titus Burgess, star of the hilarious Netflix show “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” earned a 2015 Emmy nod for his laugh-out-loud character on the show.
But Jussie, Michael, and Titus are the exceptions, and not the rules. The truth is that many straight black actors are paying close attention to how gay black characters are being portrayed in film. Until Hollywood starts featuring more gay black male characters in groundbreaking roles, straight black male actors probably won’t feel like there’s an incentive to portray those kinds of characters.
It’s not right, but I get it.
2. Homophobia and marketability
So what happens when you’re a black actor who plays a gay role in a show that tanks? The simple answer is that it could leave a stain on your resume. It also means that Hollywood investors would be less willing to take a risk on any film that isn’t going to get butts into seats.
Is Nate Parker wrong for wanting to use his money and notoriety as a straight, black male actor and writer to advance narratives that are less risky than gay black male narratives? In a word, yes. But Hollywood is still a business, and he wouldn’t be the first black dude who shook off advancing gay, black male narratives for a guaranteed check.
“Noah’s Arc” and “Blackbird” director Patrick-Ian Polk talked about this in an LA Times article on Hollywood’s lingering reluctance to feature gay black actors. One reason why is not just because of the risk, but because of homophobia.
“There’s the assumption that black folks are more homophobic than other folks…I don’t think that’s true, but I think we are aware of limits this culture places on us as black men. We have 15 seconds to get our foot in the door and if we don’t, we’re in the dark forever.”
“Black actors are very aware that they have to work hard at remaining commercially viable. It’s a matter of our own cultural hang-ups [both black culture and American culture] as well as lack of access to varied roles that keeps us locked in this fear of presenting anything that is not hypermasculine.”
With all of this said, I can’t say that Nate is entirely wrong for wanting to use his fame as a straight, black male actor to advance their stories first. After all, black people need as many positive Hollywood stories as we can get.
But gay black men should not be left out to dry as Hollywood looks to incorporate more black narratives. Nate Parker is in a unique position to change that problem, and it’s a little sad that he’s willing to throw the opportunity away because of the risk a gay male character poses for investors.
Again, I’m not surprised he feels that way, and I also wouldn’t be surprised if other straight, black male actors felt the same.