Struggling for Inclusiveness

Hollywood aims at gay African-American depiction broader than the down low

Patrik-Ian Polk’s “Noah’s Arc” provides a real alternative to the white-bread ethos of “Queer as Folk” as well so many other gay-targeted entertainments.

In series format, available on DVD and playing around the country to various test audiences, the new series centers on a circle of African American gay friends in Los Angeles. Noah (Darryl Stephens) is an aspiring screenwriter, turbulently involved with a more successful industry insider, Wade (Jensen Atwood). Alex (Rodney Chester), an AIDS counselor, has his own problems with his anesthesiologist boyfriend, Trey (Gregory Keith). Ricky (Christian Vincent), the group’s playboy, owns a trendy Melrose Avenue boutique.

College professor Chance (Doug Spearman) is married to and Eddie (Jonathan Julian) and the couple lives with Eddie’s young daughter. Other characters include Bryan (Johnny Smith), Chance’s teaching assistant, Dwayne (Nate Adams), Ricky’s hot, new store clerk, and Romeo (Dwen Curry), a flamboyant fashion designer.

The series wastes no time getting to hot-button gay issues. Even as Noah wonders about indulging in bareback sex with Wade, he finds himself in a three-way with a woman, also suggested by the ever sexually waffling Wade. The sexually obsessed, raucously high-camp behavior of the characters will probably alienate some viewers, as does “Queer as Folk.” Many gay viewers adore this kind of rapport, but others might crave depictions of quieter, more intimate moments between gay men. But the show is handsomely shot and Polk doesn’t stint on the unapologetically candid sex scenes. The actors are certainly attractive, and apparently relish the rare opportunity to provide screens with fully developed gay male characters.

In New York on a promotional tour, Polk told Gay City News, “I saw a need. No one else was doing shows like this and it was kind of something I was interested in. It was something I wanted to see.”

Unlike so many films, this one is not in any way autobiographical, said Polk.

“We did the characters and came up with the story, he said.

As for Noah being any kind of gay everyman figure, Polk noted, “I don’t think any character can really be that. He’s kind of a young guy just trying to find his way. He’s talented and smart, but he hasn’t quite figured it out. You know, as most of us haven’t. But there’s stuff in him we can all relate to.”

Polk found his cast through notices and auditions of more than 120 actors. As whether anyone in the cast has been skittish about the series’ candid sexuality, Polk said, “Everyone knew from the beginning that was going to be required of the parts. I made it pretty clear up front, so there were no surprises and nobody had a problem.”

The director bristled a bit when asked to divulge the film’s budget: “I do mind, and it cost very little,” Polk said. “It was very low, but everybody pitched in and believed in the project, so we were able to make it look really good for very little money.”

Polk bristled again when asked about some of the “down low” aspects of Wade’s ambivalent character: “I don’t think it really addresses a down low anything. It’s just a guy who hasn’t come to terms with his sexuality. Every gay person has a point where they deal with that issue as a teen, a young boy, a 20-something or 30-something or 40-something. Everybody’s story is kind of different about when they acknowledge that sexuality, and when they actually start living as a gay man. So, actually he’s not a character who’s living the down low at all.”

Polk said there has been a mostly positive reaction at screenings around the country.

“We’ve gotten standing ovations in San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia,” he said. “I’ve probably screened it for about 3,500 people all put together and the response has been amazing at every screening.”

Asked if there has been any negative feedback, he replied, “No, it’s been very positive, nothing negative. There might be some, once the project gets out there in a more mainstream way, but I can’t predict the future and am not concerned about it.”

So far, two episodes have been filmed and Polk will be going back into production in September. His company, Tall Skinny Black Boy Productions, is searching for a permanent home on a cable network.

“It will be on DVD,” Polk said, “but we’re actually talking to a network right now, so if we can negotiate a deal, it will be on in the early part of next year.”

Originally from Mississippi, Polk believes he was born gay. He attended film school at University of Southern California.

“It was cool, you know, an opportunity to learn the mechanics of filmmaking,” he recalled. “It served its purpose.”

Polk made his first film, “Punks,” in 2001, which he described as “sort of a ‘Waiting to Exhale,’ gay romantic comedy. It was really popular in New York, sold out at the Quad for weeks.”

In November, Polk will begin another film, “Ladies Night,” produced by Lee Daniels (“Monster’s Ball”).

“The cast keeps changing,” he said, “but, as far as I know, it’s Beyoncé, Monique, Alicia Keyes, Macy Gray and there are some others, but those are for sure. It’s not a musical, but a comedy drama.”

“We had a really good time with ‘Noah’s Arc’ in New York,” he said. “‘Punks’ did really well here so we knew we had to come here and have a really nice promotional weekend.”

Polk added, “The main thing is for everyone to understand that this is a real grass-roots effort and we’re counting on the support of the community to make this project a success and keep it going.”

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