Perception Drives What You See

Prompt Two
To begin with, it is interesting that despite the hints at Delmar’s “effeminacy,” there is no explicit indication that he is actually gay. The story is simply John’s perceptions of what a man should and shouldn’t do, which is, as it stands, a construct purely in John’s mind. While it can be inferred, or assumed, Delmar could very well be heterosexual and simply blur the boundaries between the gender roles society believes are “normal” because he is comfortable with himself.

John’s perception of Delmar and everything around him created the space for his homophobia, including the case of the song Dr. Jaxon wrote. John internally thinks that the solo lead should have been a woman’s part, but Dr. Jaxon gives the excuse that “no one else can do it justice” and “the girls in the ensemble really have no projection.” But it is unlikely that the story of Ruth would have been taught to the church as a homosexual story. It simply would have been another Bible story to John. Furthermore, when describing Delmar’s singing voice, John repeatedly references Sam Cooke. If John perceived Delmar’s voice to be masculine enough, his issue fell into the intertextuality of Delly’s previous actions as well as the fact that a woman was at the heart of the story being told.

Prompt Three
I found the documentary intriguing and heartwarming. Getting to hear the stories of black gay and lesbian religious leaders, as well as their parents, was mildly comforting. Particularly the section where the parents were discussing their children who passed from HIV/AIDS.

Coming out to my parents was not nearly that wholesome or warm and accepting, and is one of the many things that drove me away from religion. Hearing someone, especially someone close to you, justify their hatred of part of who you are using a book that cannot be verified as fact can often drive a wedge between you. Particularly when that person claims to love you. So it makes me happy that not all Black LGBT+ people have lost their faith because of the way other people have treated them

Queer People of Color Pride Flag

Heirlooms of Trauma

Generational trauma is a major part of systemic racism that often gets overlooked. Because black people seem to be inflicting this on ourselves, it is dismissed as a “Black Problem”. Parents passing their trauma and mental illnesses onto their children is not only genetic but a subconscious act. In both “The Sky is Gray” and Nothing but a Man, we can see examples of parents passing trauma to their children.

In “The Sky is Gray,” Octavia shows strong signs of depression. Between her vacant staring (commonly called dissociation), her lack of speech, and irritability, her symptoms come through quietly in the story. There is no real diagnosis in the story, which is not surprising, as the black community often recognizes mental illness as a weakness; something Octavia refuses to show. Her struggle with depression was likely passed to her from her own parents, though we never see them. But throughout the story, she visibly begins to pass her trauma to James. Not only does James’ internal monologue mention fairly regularly that he can’t show Octavia any “weakness,” but when he doesn’t kill the bird when she orders him to in chapter four, she beats James instead of explaining that they need the food. Her behavior throughout the story toward James makes him latch on to her, desperately trying to reach her expectations of him. In his internal monologue, he continually tells himself that one day he’ll buy her a red coat and that he loves his mother but can’t tell her. This is a textbook psychological reaction to being abused. If there were a continuation of this story, it wouldn’t surprise me if James eventually showed the same symptoms of depression that Octavia does.

Nothing but a Man film poster (1964)

As for Nothing but a Man, Duff wrestles with abandonment. It is mentioned throughout the film that Duff tends to sleep around, which is a common coping mechanism for dealing with abandonment. Then when he finds out that his father is in Birmingham, Duff goes to meet him. After asking his father for his name, and introducing himself, his father mentions that he wouldn’t have recognized him. Duff returns the sentiment. After a lengthy conversation with his father and stepmother, Duff suddenly decides he wants Josie to marry him. Latching onto people who show you affection is a common reaction to being abandoned. Even further, when someone has been abandoned, they often attempt to push others away before that person can leave on their own. This is apparent when Duff lashes out a Josie after he breaks a chair with his ax. She tells him that she knows he can’t help his rage over everything that’s been happening in his life, and he gets frustrated, saying that she should stop being so understanding, as if that is a bad thing. Fortunately, Duff may have been able to break this cycle at the end of the film. Though initially, he denied his bastard son, saying that the child wasn’t his when Josie kept bringing the boy up, Duff has a change of heart when his father dies in the backseat of his car. There is a chance the child will still feel unwanted, but hopefully, with his family, the boy would be able to find solace before the trauma was passed down again.

Manufactured Messages Pull Through

Fictionalizations of real-life moments are often packed with symbolism and meaning. It’s far easier to create a moral for a story when it has a manufactured ending than it is to pull apart the meaning from someone’s personal truth. More can be read in the final moments of the film Boycott, purely because it was designed that way. The end of Spike Lee’s Four Little Girls is powerful, truly. But as a moment of real-life, a documented moment of Junie Collins, Maxine McNair, and Alpha Robertson’s truths, the end of Four Little Girls holds little true symbolism to be dissected. Their emotion and connection to spirituality are specifics to be noted, however, Boycott‘s finale is packed with details the director and screenwriter intended to be noticed.

Rev. Abernathy (front left) with Dr. King (back left) and Rev. Smiley (back right) on the first desegregated bus in 1956
The woman in the image has not been identified

Pictured above is the iconic image of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr and Rev. Ralph Abernathy riding one of the first desegregated buses in Montgomery together. At the end of Boycott, instead of getting on the bus with Abernathy, Dr. King tells them to “go on ahead,” watching the bus pull away, as he stands in the street. In Valerie Smith’s article, “Meditation on Memory,” she postulates that this could be a representation of his assassination. King doesn’t get to join the rest of the group at the end of this particular moment, and because of his death, he never gets to see the fruits of his activism. There are dozens of other details that could be drawn from the film’s finale, such as King having a discussion with 21st-century teens, the siren and nod from the black and Latina police officers, even the small moment of King patting the head of a young boy as he passes into the future he doesn’t really get to see. Because each of these moments is fabricated for the audience, they all hold their own meaning to be deciphered.

Sweat + Inspiration = Art

Willie Cole is an American visual artist, known particularly for his use of domestic objects to create inspiring works. Many of his better known works involve the use of an iron or ironing boards. Struck by the connection to black domestic workers and the similarities between the iron and the format of a slave ship, Cole let the art guide him to create tributes to the culture of the enslaved black people stolen from their homes and the women who labored in domestic work.

Willie Cole’s piece, “Man, Spirit, and Mask”

In the video, “Willie Cole’s Beauties and Bottles”, Cole discusses how the work ‘spoke’ to him, and told him that they were a representation of the women who labored and suffered in domestic work, much like Delia did in Hurston’s “Sweat”. The story describes how skinny she had become and how knotty her knuckles looked due to her slaving over her washing work. Cole Rogers, who assisted Willie Cole in the creation of the ironing board prints, talks about how they flattened the boards so they could be processed and printed properly, like Delia, who had been beaten down by Sykes for years before she lifted a hand to protect herself. Even as the story progresses, Sykes continues to torture her with the snake and by flaunting his affair in her face while she’s in town working hard to keep food on the table for them both. Cole’s ironing boards and Delia are mirror images of each other.

Build You Up or Tear You Down, Music is Always Around

King Vidor’s Hallelujah! tackles the themes of black religion and black sexuality through the thick lens of music. The main character, Zeke, experiences a ‘Prodigal Son’ like story, leaving his family behind to pursue his lust for Chick, then returning to open arms after she has an affair then dies from falling out of the buggy. Through every moment Zeke develops and changes, music backs him to show his transformations. Howard’s article, “Hallelujah!: Transformation in Film” divulges the secrets of how Vidor expressed Zeke’s reshaping throughout the film.

(left to right) Hot Shot, Chick, and Zeke from the film Hallelujah! (1929)

One of the most interesting details Howard expresses is that when Zeke undergoes a change, so does his speech. As she points out, when the protagonist experiences an awakening moment, whether it be in the name of religion or lust, Zeke’s “voice becomes gradually affected, moving from the realm of everyday talking to that of recitation, chanting, song-chanting, and finally to song itself” (444). This particular use of song struck me because it shows that music doesn’t necessarily push him only toward Christianity. Most pieces would use song to show the character getting closer to God, while this film shows that music isn’t exclusive to religion.