Walter’s World: Homo-Harlem

by Walter Rutledge

The first annual (second actual year) Homo-Harlem film retrospective highlighting the people who have shape the gay aesthetic in Harlem opened with The Polymath, or, the Life and Opinions of Samuel R. Delany, Gentleman. The opening night screening and reception took place on Monday June 21, 2010 at the Museum of the City of New York. The film was a candid look into the life and work of author Samuel R. Delany.

Director Fred Barney Taylor spent over five years creating this cinematic portrait of an artist whose life and work were shaped by the latter second half of the twentieth century. His work and opinions were clearly influenced by overt racism, homophobia, the black northern migration, social morass, and violence of the times. He also shares with us his upbringing in the Harlem community, the gay sexual climate in New York from the 50s- 80s and his coming to terms with his own sexuality. All of these aspects combine to provide a look into the life of an openly gay artist whose experiences precede civil rights, woman’s liberation and the Stonewall Riots of 1969.

Mr. Delany is a director’s dream. He is unrepentant, gregarious, and informative. Often with a comedic delivery and a biting wit, Professor Delany is always educating us. We learn about the secretive life of the 50’s and 60’s homosexuals; married yet promiscuous, sexually repressed but exhibitionistic – the dichotomy was astounding. We also explored the critical moments in his life (almost drowning as a child) that forever altered his psyche, thus directly impacting this prolific artist’s body of work.

In her opening remarks festival co- curator Valerie Jo Bradley said “Last year was the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, people thought that the launch of Homo- Harlem would have played a larger role in the celebration. Unfortunately we were not included. Historically the LGBT community hung out in Harlem, especially during the Harlem Renaissance. To now be marginalized is a shame. The Harlem influence is an important part of the city history not just to the history of the uptown community.”

The contributions of gay Americans of African decent encompass all aspects of American/ world society. We as a community need to dismiss harmful and draconian stereotypes and prejudices, and acknowledge and celebrate these pioneers. History not recorded is history forgotten; unfortunately it also becomes history rewritten.

The film we experienced is a prime example; created in 2007 the production has received no mainstream attention. With the exception of Gay and Lesbian film festivals it had been deemed too far field for even mainstream gay television, which is driven by on air product merchandising (Madison Avenue finally figured out who is really shopping on Fifth Avenue). This is the sad reality of how culture and history are marketed; it should also be a wake up call to action through education.

We are all part of the evolution of the Harlem community. Undoubtedly change will reshape the community in many ways. The heritage and contributions of Harlem past have a profound affect on the present and the future. Knowledge is power; the Homo- Harlem film retrospective is helping to empower the Harlem community.

via Harlem World

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