The Republic of T.

Black. Gay. Father. Vegetarian. Buddhist. Liberal.

Divas Sometimes Slip

I didn’t expect to be writing about Dreamgirls again so soon after my earlier post, despite the fact that I went out and got the deluxe edition of the soundtrack. And while the soundtrack is quite good (this isn’t a review, but I may write one later) it brought to mind something I surprised I didn’t think of when I posted earlier. Again, clearly the producers of this movie know they have at least one audience they can count onto see it even if no one else does: Gays. After all, it’s got Broadway cred, fabulous costumes, a flotilla of divas, a basis in the life story of a prototypical diva, and a show-stopping anthem that has kept drag queens in business for a quarter century. I mean, the deluxe soundtrack includes a dance mix of Jennifer Hudson’s “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going.” Okay?

But as Keith points out, Dreamgirls isn’t only the biggest gay film event since Evita. It’s also an important black film event, perhaps the most important since The Color Purple. (When was the last time you saw so many black actors in a movie this big? And a dramatic film?) And listening to the soundtrack (as I have, at least half a dozen times since yesterday), particularly to Hudson’s and Knowles’ gospel-influenced vocals as well as the call and response employed in so many of the other songs, as it was in the Motown music on which the show and movie are based, makes it tricky to promote a movie like Dreamgirls.

Not just because it has two different, though overlapping audiences, but because there’s some members of one audience are likely to bear some antipathy towards members of the other audience. And in the course of promoting the movie to those audiences, some young singer/actresses who honed their vocal chops in black churches will find themselves walking a fine line and sometimes stumbling over it.

Case in point, two different interviews given by two of the principal actresses in the film; Jennifer Hudson and Beyonce Knowles.

Let’s start with Knowles, who in a move predicted to “shock her more conservative fans” gave an interview to the gay magazine Instinct, in which she talked about her relationship with her gay uncle.

In the article, she reveals a gay uncle made her turn her back on stereotypes and embrace homosexuals.

Knowles also makes it clear that her strict religious upbringing never made her turn against gay men and women, despite the church’s opinion that homosexuals are abhorrent to God.

She explains: “I was raised by my uncle who passed away with Aids a couple of years ago. He was my mother’s best friend.

“He brought me to school every day. He helped me buy my prom dress. He made my clothes with my mother. He was like my nanny. He was my favourite person in the whole world.

“I never mixed Christianity with how I felt (about him). I am about faith and spirituality more so than religion, doing right by others and not judging.”

The singer insists she’d have no problems if a son of hers was to come to her with a gay confession: “(I’d say) I love him for the person he is with no expectations back.”

Then there’s Jennifer Hudson, newer to the business and not quite as experienced with interviews, who had this to say to the Dallas Voice.

In “Dreamgirls,” the song “One Night Only” is the soulful ballad that becomes Effie’s shot at a solo career. But through a payola scheme, the song gets co-opted by Deena and the Dreams, and Effie’s version gets lost in the dust.

On Dec. 30 in New York City, Hudson is the featured entertainer at “One Night Only,” arguably Manhattan’s gayest event during New Year’s Eve weekend. Tickets start at $65, and the singer-actress shares a bill with superstar DJ Junior Vasquez.

As a Baptist who’s singing at circuit party, has Hudson reconciled her spiritual beliefs and her gay fan base? Does she support same-sex marriage?

“Nobody has ever asked me these questions,” she says.

“Everybody sins,” Hudson continues. “No sin is greater or different than the other. To each his own. If it don’t bother Jennifer, then Jennifer don’t mind. I don’t really even think about it because I don’t believe in judging people for what they do.”

When referencing themselves, lots of divas probably do that schizophrenic thing where they toggle between first and third person. But did Hudson just say that being gay is a sin?

“According to the way we’re taught, and what it says in the Bible — it is,” Hudson says.

If her answers didn’t already sound like fundamentalist clichés, Hudson then added, “I have plenty of gay friends.”

And later, when asked about gay equality she added.

“I feel we should all have our rights,” she says. “It shouldn’t concern everybody else what somebody’s personal life has going on.”

And according to her Advocate interview, she does have a lot of gay male friends back in Chicago.

Here is a bit about she and her big group of friends in Chicago – almost exclusively gay men: “Girls don’t like me. People say, ‘Oh here comes Jennifer and a bunch of dudes.’ And gay guys always recognize me when I’m out. I love that. It happens so much – even if I have a hat and sunglasses on – that if I see a group of gay guys and they don’t [recognize me] I think, what’s WRONG with them?’”

Of course at least a couple of blogs have taken her to task for her comments, prompting Hudson to post the following response on her MySpace blog.

It should be a happy day because I heard that the National Board of Review picked me as one of the BreakThru Actresses of the Year. What an honor. I was so thrilled when I heard. But it turned into a sad day and I can’t understand why or how this happened. When you are up, people try to tear you down. Some paper is saying that I have a problem with gay people. Its just mean and wrong. My feelings are so hurt and I can’t sleep. Anybody that knows me, knows that just ain’t true. Its makes me so mad that people can twist your words and say anything they want. And, there’s nothing I can do about it, except to say,

please don’t believe everything you read.

For what it’s worth, I’m actually not mad at Hudson or Knowles. Oh, there was a time when I would have been particularly upset with both of their comments. After all, though it’s slightly less detectable in Knowles’ comment, there is a certain amount of schizophrenia in both of their statements. Knowles “never mixed Christianity” with how she felt about her uncle, and Hudson probably has to do the same thing with regards to her gay friends. In fact, it probably has to be second nature for both as they move through the entertainment industry and thus work with gays all the time. (You don’t think there were at least a few of us on the set and behind the scenes for Dreamgirls? Oh, come on.)

I guess it’s because as I read statements like Knowles’ and Hudsons’s, I still remember the homophobic black students Keith faced at Central State University in Wilberforce, Ohio; students whose faith was probably born and nursed in chuches steeped in the kind of centuries old homophobia that Horace Griffen writes about in his book Their Own Receive Them Not: African American Lesbians And Gays in Black Churches (which I reviewed earlier). In fact, the kind of compartmentalization that Horace says African American slaves had to practice in order to embrace Christianity, by ignoring the biblical passages that endorse slavery, isn’t that different than the compartmentalization that the Central State students practice in order to use some biblical passages to condemn gays while ignoring passages that just as surely condemn them.

And it’s akin to the kind of compartmentalization Knowles and Hudson appear to be practicing, except in a direction that devout African Americans seldom even contemplate or consider: simply not allowing religion or scripture to keep them from finding a way to accept the people in their lives whom they love and who love them, and who also happen to be gay. Like I said a while back about Kanye West speaking out against gay bashing and struggling with his own homophobia, it’s a step forward. Not perfect, mind you, or necessarily as big a step forward as I and others would probably prefer. But it’s a step light years ahead of the children at Central State. And it’s a step forward that wouldn’t have been possible without a gay person being out — like Kanye’s gay cousin, Beyonce’s gay uncle, or Hudson’s gay friends — and the other person being willing to take that step.

So, I’m not mad at Hudson. I know from experience how difficult it is to walk a fine line between two communities, especially if you’re doing it in heels. You can’t help but slip every once in a while. And that’s alright. As long as you keep walking forward.

4 Comments

  1. this was an excellent post about the difficulties that many gay blacks faced. the church has become the number one opponent, even as many gays dominate the pews. i’m sure Beyonce and Jennifer both have worked with enough gays AND bean counters to not condemn them, but still it’s apparent they only mean amnesty for the GLBT individuals they know personally.

  2. You are so forgiving aren’t you T? I don;t know how you do it, but I just find it so hard to deal with shit like that, I don’t bother – I learn to interact, but keep my distance at the same time.

    Probably why I get people saying, there is so much going on behind your mask Tony!

  3. Great post. I just stumbled upon this blog because I saw the list of 2006 BLGT finalists, so first in order as a congratulations! I’ve got a lot of reading to do.

    Second, to Tony, I’m not preaching (okay, yes I am) but forgiveness is the ONLY way. Decades ago, James Baldwin told us, as Black people in a non-Black State, the only way forward is through love and forgiveness. The same must be said for Gay people in a non-Gay State. We must move forward through love and forgiveness. My mother, who was at my wedding when I married my husband, who would let us sleep together in her house until we were married (and we got married in Massachusetts long before it became “lega” to do so) but who now does and embraces my husband as your son-in-law, would go out on every long limb to protect our Divine union against foolishness. And she still believes gayness is a sin. But so what. That’s her belief. She isn’t acting on it, is she? That’s all that matters in the end. She has found a way to reconcile those contradictions in her heart, a courageous and Herculean task as devout as she is, and that means kudos to her.

    Jennifer Hudson’s expression of her honesty is alright with me, and I don’t think she was trying to appease Black people by saying it.

    Peace,

    Craig Hickman

  4. Well,not the first time nor will it be the last that comments like these were made in ’04 the comment was made by knowles that homosexuality was a sin but a few more years of of hollyweird school has taught her to be politically correct to maintain your fan base certainly comments such as but your uncle is different than most gays was pobably made as was an acception to rule we will make for him . it is what it is and will always be religion unfortunately brings division especially in our community (african american) as well as in the larger populus christians say the baptist will go to hell cause the smoke in the church parking lot & so forth i personally rely on the ability to over look uplift & ignore.

    KRS10

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