Filmmaker Micheal Rice Tackles the Concept of “other” within His Community
by John Francis Leonard
I‘ve done more than a few interviews with an incredibly varied and talented group of people. They were all incredible, each and every one, but this interview was special to me. I saw it as something more than a way to use my talent and approached it as an opportunity to learn. It amazes me when conservatives claim that we magically have an equal playing field for our country’s Black and Brown people when the exact opposite is so glaringly obvious to any person with eyes in their head. Being LGBTQ+ and Black brings challenges within the LGBTQ+ community, the Black community, and the greater American community at large. Filmmaker Micheal Rice explores this topic in his thought-provoking and clear-eyed documentary BLACK AS U R. He explores the concept of what he calls “the other.” It’s an honest look at how a marginalized community, in turn, marginalizes its own. He, without hesitation, calls this out and illustrates how this can only hold a community back. He goes into traditional cis-gendered heterosexual spaces, engages others in honest and genuine conversations about how this came about, and doesn’t shirk from answers he might not agree with or like.
Micheal wrote some brilliant responses to my initial questions, and his PR rep facilitated a phone conversation between the two of us. In the interest of full disclosure, I was nervous initially. In an interview I did several years ago with a young, Black, queer artist, I misspoke, and things went rather off the rails. I wanted to do it correctly this time. I needn’t have worried. We hit it off, and each talked about our backgrounds and learned something in the process. We had much more in common than not, and it is a conversation I hope to continue when I’m in [New York City] again. Bottom line is that I will let this talented artist’s responses to my initial questions speak for themselves.
John Francis Leonard: In your film, you speak at great length about the concept of “other” within the Black community. You elaborate by calling to attention how the concept of “other” within the Black community perpetuates racism in holding down the LGBTQ+ and POZ communities by valuing them less. For our readers, please elaborate on this concept and how it holds a community back.
Micheal Rice: Patriarchy is the mother of all oppression. Anything that believes it has power over something stems from privilege and power. This conceptualized land field places people of power within their own aristocracy. A hierarchy can be defined hereditarily by race, sex, or even economic status. Sometimes those who have influence, power, and wealth can place themselves in a category of being elite, while others are seen as subhuman, placing them in the domain of “other.”
What is the Black LGBTQ+ community’s role in the history of the Black Lives Matter movement? How has it changed, and what further change is needed going forward?
The Black LGBTQ+ Community’s demographic has definitely a role in the Black Lives Matter Movement. Two of the three founders of BLM are queer Black women who have implemented clauses for queer Black people in the BLM mission statement. When BLM mentions, in their mission statement, the protection and advocacy of Black people, they mean overall. The only change I feel could be implemented is to continually work on and bring up Black queer news stories about hate crimes or the murders of those LGBTQ+ that have yet to see justice or have their voices heard. A lot of times, the violence and police brutality against Black men are often publicized before the violence against a Black trans woman or gay man would be. Due to media over sensationalizing, Black men are not seeing the value of the queer Black community that can be deemed only newsworthy when it comes to HIV/AIDS conversation, Pride month, or a political scandal.
How does the BLM movement as a whole, and has it with its stereotyping by white, cis-gendered Judeo-Christians, change going forward? What’s changed since the death of Trayvon? Why are we, as a nation, so scared of real and meaningful equality?
In reflection, I feel that the birth of the BLM movement, along with a slew of other large-scale events that have altered American society, like Charlottesville, Michael Brown, George Floyd, LGBTQ+ hate crimes, the pandemic, and the Jan 6th capital insurrection has led this country along a political fault line between the left and the right. The death of Trayvon Martin and the acquittal of George Zimmerman left a lot of the Black community in shock and asking the question, ‘Could this happen to my Black son or daughter?’ And in that conversation of preparing their child for ‘the talk, the BLM movement surfaced. I believe that the emergence of BLM definitely helped society after Martin’s murder. It created a space for accountability for police and brought to light women’s rights, and the reigniting of the Black Trans Lives Matter movement, bring[ing] a viewfinder to topics that would never have made headline news.
The statistics speak for themselves. HIV rates are disproportionately higher amongst Black LGBTQ+ individuals. There are, of course, no easy answers to this continuing epidemic. Many white LGBTQ+ individuals are oblivious to this disparity. How do you feel we can best serve those most vulnerable to HIV/AIDS? Are the largest AIDS organizations failing in this, or can we turn it around?
Outside of documentary filmmaking, I also work as an educator, teaching teens about the process of storytelling and filmmaking. What I have noticed in my decade-plus career is the lack of information students have based on sexuality, orientation, and harm reduction methods, including the use of PrEP and PEP. When speaking to students and some parents, they had absolutely no idea what either was. I find that disheartening because it’s that very demographic of people that would have to utilize government assistance for medical care to treat something that could have been avoided through education and exposure. As a filmmaker, I would like to see more mainstream programming about HIV/AIDS. I want to normalize the conversation in order to create spaces for breaking the stigma.
My favorite segment of the film, which I felt was most effective, involved you in the Black barbershop, where you engage in meaningful conversation about race and LBGTQ+ issues. Those men felt very differently than you about LGBTQ+ issues and identity, but they respected you. Is this how change is affected? Are we, as LGBTQ+ and POZ individual ambassadors within our own communities?
To some degree, even if you are not POZ, but LGBTQ+, you somehow, in many people” s eyes become an immediate advocate or activist, but I believe it’s needed to aid in breaking ignorance and stigma, especially if you’re an SGL [Same-Gender-Loving] person with a large platform such as Wilson Cruz, Lil Nas X, Billy Porter, or a Lena Waithe. I also have the understanding that your sexuality and generations of a pandemic do not define who you are because you’re queer. I am a person first, with thoughts, feelings, emotions, and complexities. Sometimes society wants queer people to be two-dimensional, and we are definitely not. I am a fan of educating people about harm reduction and informing young people about U=U, undetectable equals untransmittable, which I believe should be taught in secondary schools across the country.
Before BLACK AS U R, I actually wrote a play in 2020 for Pride Month to be performed, called There’s Black in the Rainbow, Too. It’s a play that journeys into the diaries of Black and Brown
queer people, speaking their truth about coming out as queer to their families, bullying, and suicide. I worked on finding an amazing cast of actors from New York’s theater scene and from across the country to workshop this wonderful play, such as Roenia Thompson, Nathaniel J Ryan, Tsilala Brock, and Complexion’s dancer Brandon Gray, to name a few. The awesomeness of BLACK AS U R derived after COVID disallowed the world to be around one another in close proximity leading to the cancellation of rehearsals, but I still wanted to tell the story. After the murder of Ahmad Aubrey, the brutal attack of Iyanna Dior and murder of Dominque Rem’mie Fells, I decided to gather my team to capture these stories in real time, all while making a parallel to the play I wrote earlier in the year.
Prejudice within the gay community is nothing new. For years there were gay bars and clubs which did not welcome Black faces. Many gay white men claim they are not racist, yet there are no men of color in their social circles. Worse yet, there are those that claim an exemption from racism only because they fetishize Black men. As a white gay male who, knowingly or not, benefited from white privilege, I ask, how can we do better?
Thank you for asking that. Recognizing your own privilege, education, access, and resources can always be an element of support and give room to queer people of color. It’s kind of strange growing up as a kid and teen in Tulsa and Dallas. I’ve always lived in the suburbs, always had an array of friends in the theatre club who were mainly all white, and I never ran into race issues. It was when I graduated high school and started working in the real world that I noticed that there were white gay clubs and Black gay clubs, and it always puzzled me until my late twenties when I really saw it for what it was. I started noticing white men engaging me only for sex, but nothing outside of that, or going to white gay clubs in NYC where my friends and I would be told we can’t enter because we are wearing sneakers, but a slew of white men would walk in with sneakers. I find it hard as an adult to make friends with white gay men to some extent. Even living in Brooklyn, NY, I would see more white gay men befriend Black women, but not really Black men unless they’re into Black men romantically or just for sex. It’s a lot to unpack, but I don’t have the space for it at this moment of my life, but my mom raised me to love everyone no matter race, religion, or sex. Maybe we will visit that another time.
I was blown away by your film. It took seemingly disparate problems in our country and communities and wove them whole. It was a compelling and thoughtful narrative. What do you hope to accomplish next in your career? What is your dream project?
Thank you kindly. This is one of my dream projects. I have never seen a documentary like BLACK AS U R created, written, and directed by anyone based on my research about the Black LGBTQ+ demographic. I have always admired those before me like Marlon E. Riggs, Rodney Evans, Maurice Jamaal, Patrick Ian Polk, Lena Waithe, Quincy, and Deondray Gossfield. Henry Lewis Gate and Michael Moore inspired me to go into film and tell the stories of my community through the genre of documentary film. My absolute dream project would be to work with people I admire, like Janet Jackson, Debbie Allen, or a documentary about Broadway.
For more about Micheal Rice, please visit him online at www.michealrice.com.
For more about the film BLACK AS U R visit www.blackasur.com
John Francis Leonard writes the Bright Lights, Small City column for A&U. Follow him on Twitter @JohnFrancisleo2.