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Punks (2020)

DARBY as portrayed by Rockmond Dunbar, MARCUS as portrayed by Seth Gilliam, HILL as portrayed by Dwight Ewell, CHRIS as portrayed by Jazzmun and DANTE as portrayed by Renoly Santiago in PUNKS (2000).

Y2K rolled around and seems like we hit the jackpot. With PUNKS we get a movie that doesn't only feature Black gay men, it centers them. Set in LA, the film explores a group of friends as they navigate the complex mundanities of life like friendships and dating. This means we get to see Black gayness through a more intimate lens, with multiple perspectives in the same scene. The film dealt with sociopolitical issues, namely HIV/AIDS and violence against queer people, but the real focus of the film was the humans. The most central arc was the love story between the openly gay Marcus and the "is or he isn't gay" Darby. *Spoiler alert* he is! And through them, we finally get a kiss between two Black gay men on screen. I recently watched this film as part of the series #blackgayandstuckathome. Afterwards, @patrikianpolk joined for a very candid chat. He explained that it was very hard to cast Darby because all the actors they wanted for the part (who were established names, and also straight) would agree to do the role but not the kiss. Thankfully, he didn't acquiesce and they were able to find a then relatively unknown (and also straight) Rockmond Dunbar. However, Polk said he did have to shoot the kiss underwater to somewhat soften the impact and make it more palatable for audiences. Again, we can be gay, but can't do gay things. Sadly, a behind the scenes issue with music licensing stunted the wide release of this film which meant that it was relegated to only being seen by those in the know, with access to those early indie screenings. I didn't encounter this film until I caught it on Logo several years later. But I was in NYC in 2000. I'd be lying if I said I haven't wondered what my life would've been like if I saw this when I was 16. Bright side: Polk said the film is being prepared for a 20th anniversary re-release later this year.


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