While some of the characters and storylines needed more fleshing out . . . once Noah’s Arc picks up momentum it is absolutely enthralling. – prof Susurro
Not so Flattering Intro
For those unfamiliar with series, Noah’s Arc was a short-lived television show on Logo that recently made the jump to the big screen. The series was based on 7 minute shorts that featured all of the main cast and a message about safe sex. The television show smoothed out some of the edges and shifted the characters slightly. It was groundbreaking in that it centered the lives of 4 out African American gay men and their partners/love lives. In so doing, it opened the door for both black communities and mainstream queer communities to see the basic humanity and diversity of black gay men.
Noah’s Arc was also significant for its behind the scenes employment of African Americans as well. The writer and Director of the show, many of the people who worked on wardrobe, photography, etc. were all African American and some of them were also out gay men. Thus Noah’s Arc became a central place for the black gay community in Hollywood to work as well as to represent. In many ways this convergence of storyline, viewer, and labor excused some of the less polished aspects of the show.
Noah’s Arc also represented Logo’s attempt to capitalize on the huge vacuum left behind by the exit of Queer as Folk from Showtime. Like the L Word promos, the promos for Noah’s Arc promised viewers the one thing QAF did not: racial diversity in its core cast. The L Word gave us problematic multiculturalism and Noah’s Arc gave us an intense focus on black, including Afro-Latino, gay men. Similarly to QAF however, it offered cursory reference to lesbians and none to bisexuals, and all though it featured a transgendered character throughout the series, zhe was relegated to the background not actually part of the core cast. However, the fact zhe was there at all was another step forward.
Out of both anger at Logo for marketing this show like “black barbie” as if I could not recognize the mold and annoyed by not only the dissolution of QAF, including the core friendship between Michael and Brian, but also what I had lovingly referred to as QueerTime, the once gay abundant programming stripped down to ShowHBOknockoffTime, I refused to watch Noah and his darn Arc. Besides, I had never in my life heard a black person ask “what’s the de-ga-ga.” And like all Viacom channels, the commercials for the show were on a continuous loop featuring this inane phrase that made me desperate enough to want slit both my wrists with a rusty lid just to escape it. The only other time I’ve been that annoyed with supposed queer ebonics was when I was reading Abigail Padgett’s The Last Blue Plate Special. I’m telling you, Logo’s marketing strategy nearly killed this show for me.
But like The Last Blue Plate Special, I have to say “de-ga-gas” aside, Noah’s Arc turned out to be a surprisingly entertaining series that had so much more life left to live than Logo allowed. And I am grateful to the movie for resurrecting the discussion of Noah’s Arc’s place in queer media so that I would finally sit down and watch the entire series. While it is an uneven effort, it represented both a critical intervention into the prevailing definition of queer on television and a thoughtful look at the varied black gay community.
Season One introduced us to the titular character and his three friends: Alex, Ricky, and Chance. In the first two episodes they come across as histrionic and way too high maintenance. But by episode three, they have established a necessary groove that moves the characters beyond stereotype and into the realm of the believable. While some of the characters and storylines needed more fleshing out, & some scenes were clearly overworked, once Noah’s Arc picks up momentum it is absolutely enthralling.
Noah and His Lovers
At the center of the story is Noah, the doe-eyed ingenue, who is looking for true love up the “straight boy” tree. By season’s end he has coaxed his love interest, Wade, out of the closet, befriended Wade’s “straight” colleagues, and cheated on him in a moment of stifled self-absorption mixed with fear. Darryl Stephens plays the character with just the right mix of naivete, kindness, and self-absorption that allows the character to grow in unexpected directions by the end of Season Two. During the first season, Noah is trying to establish a realistic relationship and build his screenwriting career while cherishing his small group of loyal friends. While his is the idealist of the group he is just as flawed as anyone else and that makes him compelling even at his most selfish.
Noah’s second season relationship woes also provide the show with a wider range of characters to deal with. Thus he goes from dating Wade, a newly out man trying to negotiate both dominant definitions of masculinity and his own desires, to several much more established gay men. At the beginning of the season, he is dating Malik, the man he cheated on Wade with when Wade sent their relationship into hyper drive without warning. Unlike Wade’s constant need for reassurance through dominance, Malik is secure in both his masculinity and his queerness. His response to Noah’s unexpected move into his home, reflects this security in a way that comments on the immaturity of both Noah and Wade. In so doing, it highlights one of the things that Noah’s Arc does best: it offers a more complex or nuanced critique of many of its characters and situations than previous queer series have allowed.
From there, Noah moves on to Quincy, played by the imminently watchable Keith Hamilton Cobb. Cobb puts just enough compassion into Quincy’s character as a self-righteous idealog that you believe, he believes, he loves Noah. For me, Quincy was one of the most compelling members of the supporting cast because of the way Cobb shines a light on a certain kind of black male performative public intellectualism that should be recognizable to most viewers. His narcissism is like the back side of the Wade coin or even Chance, who is the academic of the group. When Noah is gay bashed, Quincy is the primary foil from which the story bounces off. Unlike the long suffering of Brian in QAF, who takes unrealistic responsibility for what happens to Justin, it never even occurs to Quincy that his need for the public spotlight and callous dragging of Noah into it, might have been the catalyst for the homophobic encounter to turn physically violent. (I want to stress the word “might” here b/c obviously gay bashing is an act of violence perpetrated by those who fear or hate, or both, a specific group of people regardless of their behavior. It is not something that is brought on by the actions of any queer individuals. Rather than victim-blaming, the parallel I am trying to draw here is one in which Brian is able to be self-reflexive about his own well-fought sense of safety as a 30 year old out, white, gay man vis-a-vis the ever shaky ground of his high school student partner at the prom, while Quincy never stops to think about how his age, 30-35 years old, intellectual standing, public intellectual status, and hypermasculine physical presence gave him a sense of safety that was unrealistic for his effeminate 20 something year old boyfriend who was out within the realm of an extremely supportive queer community and area of town. In both cases, these disconnects, raise important questions about what is written on the body and how the body may or may not be priviledged in the policing of heteromasculinity in similar ways to the policing of heterofemininity.) Noah’s self-preservation is imminently recognizable and also provides an alternative read to gay bashing that reminds us that not everyone is strong enough to face up to abuse predicated on state sanctioned maginalization. In fact, the majority of people never report their abuse. Sadly, many people with minor physical injuries or ongoing emotionally abusive encounters, simply endure b/c ultimately their abusers are backed by a system of homophobic oppression. While I tend to fall on the side of Justin, who ultimately did become a poster boy for anti-homophobia campaigns and also had that poorly executed foray into radical activism, Noah’s character is no less salient.
For Cobb fans, Noah’s Arc also resurrects the outfit from the Andromeda minus bone blades for a runway fashion show. Stephens steals the show in his long wig and feather-lashed eye but Cobb’s mesh top and leather pants cannot be mistaken. The nod to SF fans is incredibly cute and does not distract b/c it takes place during their rather painful breakup scene. Pay close attention to the MC’s voice over in the background of this scene b/c it offers up an astute critique of “cute people” that will show up again in the film. (I took this critique to heart b/c if I was to say I was like any of these characters it would have to be Noah, minus the cheating, and I don’t think there is enough critique of the impact of “innocence” and “cuteness” or the particular ways that they can be used by the person being described. It took a similar critique to the one Cobb levels at Noah in this scene for me to really think about that in my own life. I think its ripe for theorizing, especially from a media theory standpoint in which the example of “innocence” as multiple things is abundant.)
Jensen Atwood does some of his best acting of the show during these episodes as well. He turns in a solid performance as the concerned and caring ex-boyfriend who puts Noah first. He also transitions to anger much more smoothly and therefore realistically than either he or Stephens manage at any other time in the show. Unfortunately, his anger plays out in a scene ripped from a Veronica Mars episode in which, angered by someone abusing his ex, Wade goes on a rampage in front of the police station and beats up Noah’s assailants. It was cute when Logan did it b/c he was in high school. (He also had economic, race, and heterosexual privilege going for him, Wade has none of these and still manages to make it home for dinner.)
Finally, Noah has a “comedic” encounter with a British Hip Hop artist turned movie star named Baby Gat. I’m not quite sure what Baby Gat brings to the table except British ebonics and bling. And yet, Baby Gat is included in the movie when stronger characters like Junito, addressed below, are not. His particular kind of accepted closeted queerness, in which his public persona is overtly hetero and slightly misogynist, is obviously the stuff of DL fortunes.
I think he is there to remind us that even the most materialistic tendencies within “cute queers” are not an invitation to be bought. When Baby Gat showers Noah with expensive gifts, which continues in the movie, Noah’s rejection seems oddly out of step with his character, who in one of the first scenes of the first season laments Ricky’s failure to give him free clothes and takes a one of a kind designer sweater from the designer without question of cost or reciprocity. While he questions Wade’s spending habits, he clearly envies his economic success at certain points in the first season as well. Noah’s childish policing of his things when Wade moves in and his frequent wardrobe changes speak to a materialism that should have been attracted in some ways to what Baby Gat had to offer. Noah’s rejection of Baby then is supposed to highlight his own growing maturity, but honestly rings hollow in the series. By the time the movie starts however, Noah has established himself economically and emotionally and his assertion of independence with Baby Gat are much more satisfying.
For the series, the scenes in which Noah almost loses his apartment are much more convincing. When Wade writes him a check for thousands of dollars to cover his back rent, he is initially giddy and ready to accept in the same way he did the sweater from the designer and the painting from Baby Gat. But, upon reflection, he decides to stand on his own two feet. Even as he makes important sacrifices that represent a turning point in the way Noah handles his finances and his career in the show, he also maintains his underlining characteristics by readily accepting Wade’s studio hook up and his rebuying of Noah’s car.
Ultimately, all of these relationships are just opportunities to highlight the diversity of the black gay community while maturing Noah’s character. He is never far from being in love with Wade at any point in the series, and as implied by the cover of the Noah’s Arc movie, Jumping the Broom, Wade and Noah ultimately reunite. It is unfortunate that the series was not given more time to flesh out Wade and the relationship between Wade and Noah. Even though the movie starts 3 years later, Wade is no more secure with himself and his place in the world than he was on the very first day they hooked up. While I bristled at Wade’s abrasive and controlling behavior in the series, his behavior had to be filtered through the lens of transition from straight to gay and the particular racialization of masculinity at the heart of black men’s gender performance. There is no excuse, however, for his continued diffuse anger and sense of alienation and inauthenticity 5 years later. His lack of growth undergirds his ongoing conflicts with Noah which culminates in a scene that is more My So Called Life than feature film. And while I have a bias toward Ricky, no pun intended but still true in both cases, it seems terribly sad that the character once described as the “last romantic” settles for a relationship that seems so unsatisfying at every turn. The good news is that both Stephens and Atwood are much better actors by the time we pick these characters up in the film.
Ricky, Noah’s bestfriend, does Brian better than Gale Harold ever did, and Gale Harold is my personal g-d. Ricky’s life is an endless parade of beautiful men unmarred by nary a twinge of conscience. And yet, like Brian, he manages not to be shallow because of his loyalty to his friends and his occasional willingness to be self-reflexive. When he is shot down by one of his cute employees in favor of a transgendered clothing designer, his own incredulity opens the storyline for addressing gender differences within the black gay male community. And even as these moments raise issues of performance, identity, and desire, Ricky’s behavior also remains true to the character by always placing the question of his own “shallowness” at the center rather than making him a vehicle for a political point.
By mid-season an accusation of shallowness provides the openness Ricky needs to find love. This is one of the really solid transitions in the series. Ricky gets called out and in an equally shallow response, gloms on to the first man he hooks up with after the accusation. Despite an amusing attempt at a date, Ricky does not end up with this person. Nor does his openness lead him to an instant love affair somewhere else. Instead, he begins to build a relationship slowly and with the kind of trepidation that is befitting a player discovering real love.
His relationship with Junito, played by Wilson Cruz, expands the storyline once again to include HIV and AIDs from an African American perspective. As Noah’s Arc tells us, 46% of black gay men are positive (this number is based on the 2005 CDC study b/c of reporting and testing issues surrounding HIV, the number may be higher). Under these circumstances, Ricky is less afraid of being positive than he is of losing his positive boyfriend to the disease. Like so many in AIDs’ ravaged communities, and in the U.S. the black and Latin@ communities are being infected and dying an alarming rate for a western country, Ricky assumed he would be positive sooner or later. His friends are less concerned with the exposure that Junito may represent b/c they all realize that in a world of hookups between men of color where 1 in 2 men is infected, they have all likely already been exposed. This understanding of the place of AIDs in the black community does not belie responsibility it simply shifts the discussion from the privileged belief that you can insulate yourself and the types of reactions that come from that place of privilege. A subtle comment from Junito, in which he says that as long as you live in the West HIV is a manageable disease, also reminds us how globalization of racism from within big pharma has helped to create a diasporic pandemic that is largely outside the “healthy face” of misguided, bourgeois pos parties and ad campaigns.
The way that Ricky and Junito negotiate their relationship is one of the highlights of the first season. If I could, I would watch these moments in a continuous loop. They are that good.
One of the best things about the way their story unfolds is how it realistically mirrors relationships as ongoing negotiation. There isn’t just a single moment of fear and then acceptance, there are continuous questions, concerns, and the working out of desire between them that elevate the series in the simple light of normalcy. The queer media prof in me is already thinking about juxtaposing certain scenes with other depictions of HIV and AIDs to ask students to think about diversity, love, compassion, fear, agency, and desire.
Wilson Cruz and Christian Vincent shine in these roles and in these moments. Both of them offer up nuanced performances that not only elevate the potentially heavy handed issue of the AIDs pandemic but also show us what this show could become had it been given enough time. Vincent deftly moves between being the relationship novice to the “golden [sex] g-d” that makes both aspects of his character all the more endearing and helps establish Junito as an equal partner in their relationship. Cruz, the veteran of the cast, also infuses Junito with just the right mix of kindness and clarity that keeps him from being a push over.
The short shrift given the dissolution of their relationship in Season Two is ultimately jarring precisely because of how well it is written and acted. Not only do they deal with HIV but they also navigate different definitions of commitment in which Junito is monogamous but supportive of Ricky’s “need” for continual conquest and outside desire. And until Ricky’s friends interfere, the two are extremely adult about the disconnect, entering into the relationship with their eyes open and their cards on the table. This helps them avoid the manipulative mechanations of less honest relationships and establish an equilibrium where each seems satisfied.
One can only hope that the writers had imagined Noah’s Arc continuing past its second season so that the moment when Ricky declares his love for Noah and Noah hugs him and sends him “back to [his] boyfriend who is missing [him]” would have built into a larger story arc from which Junito’s exit would make more sense. Given the rapport established between these characters, this plot twist, is the only explanation for why Junito would accept Ricky’s petty, and obviously hurt, response to his declaration that they needed to recommit or end it. Junito seems quite clear about Ricky’s fears and how to navigate them.
Also, had this storyline been allowed to develop, it might have reflected back on to Noah who essentially set the dissolution of Ricky and Junito’s relationship in motion by questioning Junito’s celibacy. And it is Noah, that Junito goes to when he sees the writing on the wall, but Noah does not recipricate with one of the infamous emergency phone call sessions from the bathroom that is central to all of the rescues these 4 pull off for one another throughout the series. If they’d been given more time, how would these moments have been woven back into the future plot to flesh out both characters? Maybe, like Noah and Wade, Junito and Ricky would have ended up together or maybe we would have been given much more insight into the core friendship between Noah and Ricky. Either way it would have enhanced the series and the enjoyment of it by viewers. Given that Stephens and Vincent were originally cast to play each other’s parts, no one could have given us a better deconstruction than the two of them, since they have been inside both characters’ heads.
Since Logo canceled its self-proclaimed “most watched show,” after just two short seasons, there is no storyline development that moves us through Ricky’s growing understanding of his desire for Noah or whether or not Noah recognizes it. Instead, the issue is dealt with rather quickly in the film, and in such a way that it reduces Ricky to the same kind of simpering we’ve seen from Shane this season of the L Word. A travesty for both characters. And I find myself wondering why it is that writers of queer television give us such strong sexual beings only to reduce them to bad and shaming hook ups by the end of their prospective series’ runs. My gf says, that narcissism should never be rewarded and that hypersexual characters are the most narcissistic of all. Perhaps my own desires are showing, or my memory of who she used to be, but I think it is an awfully retrogressive message to say that those among us who harness and embody sex should ultimately end up alone and/or broken unless they are willing to get on the monogamy bus with the rest of us. As someone who has been happily monogamous for 20+ years, I don’t think we have the right to judge the non-abusive desires of others and I think there is something especially wrong about those judgments coming from within the queer community.
The Drama Queen
For me, the other two characters’ storylines are far less compelling. Alex is the desperately annoying queen with his porno star look-a-like boyfriend Trey, who spends most of the series squawking orders at someone and demanding that the world revolve around his ever increasing whirlwind. He never shows the compassion and dedication that would be necessary to run a free HIV clinic. The fact that Ricky has to have a HIV crisis in order for us to really delve into HIV and AIDs as a storyline speaks volumes about how ineffective Alex’s character really is as anything other than pseudo-comedic, histrionic queendom.
A scene between him and a co-worker about funding in the Bush era is utterly fruitless in Rodney Chester’s hands, who chooses to play the scene with a high strung “b-tch don’t make me slap you” attitude that cuts off any real discussion of the policing the Bush administration accomplished under the guise of abstinence-only curriculum. This is unfortunate not only b/c of the obvious but because Chester proves himself to be a solid actor in many of the non-drama related scenes of the show. The transition to running his own clinic as a result of this fight, is equally jarring but represents the failure of the writers not Chester. They provide no real insight to the conflict or interest in the shift to a new clinic, instead making the whole thing look like a vehicle to showcase Alex’s perpetual neediness-meets-demanding persona. If you watch the series closely, you see he is more than his latest drama moment, so when he is reduced to histrionics it is disappointing both from a storyline and viewer’s point of view.
Given how the character is written, it is no wonder he wrecks one of his bestfriend’s weddings to position himself as the center of attention. As Ricky points out, his boyfriend would rather go to Africa then deal with him and even though his boyfriend is going to help fight the pandemic, Alex only cares about what it means for him.
His entire first season storyline revolves around the sexual disconnect between him and his partner that is ultimately about his self-absorption and endless creation of drama. The opportunity to discuss the role of fantasy and experimentation in long term relationships, the growing import of internet hookups in the gay male community, and the negotiation of vanilla and kink are all lost here despite the writers laying down the necessary foundation. I cannot help but wonder where the failure lies here, since the outtakes of some of Alex’s scenes show Chester to be much more capable in this roles than the scenes that actually aired. In the outtakes Chester plays Alex more toned down so that he is still true to his drama queen nature without becoming painfully annoying. Had he been allowed to play him this way on screen, I think the issues embedded in his storyline would have been better explored without compromising actual comedy. The evidence is in episodes like the one where Alex explores his femininity through drag. His fear that he is “not man enough” for Trey offers another important insight to the insecurities involved in transgressing gender even within the gay community. (While I did find his drag a little frightening, I loved seeing Vincent dance and the bouffant on Stephens more than made up for his unexpected membership in the rythmless nation with yours truly.) This episodes, and scenes between Alex and Trey like the one in the grocery store on their aniversary, highlight the potential in the character and the skill of the actor. It is really a shame that we were not given more of this and less of the drama.
By season two, Alex has gotten slightly older but no better. When he is actually watching his relationship and his life being threatened, his closest friends do not believe him. Even after Noah finds a fake suicide letter that threatens Alex’s life, none of his friends actually see past the perpetual drama to come to his aid. It takes Ricky being threatened by the same man for the group to rally. Even then, his boyfriend of 7 years does not believe him b/c of his behavior. The resolution of this “whacky” triangle never results in self-reflection, behavior modificiation, or even the promise of change. Within moments of the exorcism of the boyfriend stealer in their midst, Alex is back to his drama.
The movie does little to flesh out Alex’s character. Instead, his role seems like a bad after school special starring Elizabeth Berkley. Like an actual episode of Saved by the Bell, Alex is popping pills that make him even more manic than usual. Despite being asked about them by several of the characters, he continues to pop them claiming he has too much on his plate (all of which he has put there himself) until he passes out in the woods. And just like Berkley’s character Jessie in that episode of Saved by the Bell, we discover that what he is taking is caffeine pills. Oh please. At least if he was on meth it would ring true, explain his behavior, and give us a chance for Alex’s character to finally become something other than not-so-comedic-relief. Meth would also link us back to the cybersex of the first season and make both Trey and Alex more complex characters as we unraveled how their competing desires led to this addiction. Instead, like Jessie we are expected to move on quickly b/c caffeine pills are not the danger in our midst. Is Logo owned by Disney? (Sorry.)
Alex does have one introspective moment in the movie when he admits that he is too domineering in his relationship and that he is worried that after 10 years something is going to give. The series ends with Alex and Trey, recommitted to one another and ready to adopt a child. The movie begins three years later with child in tow. I had expected to see a more well-rounded Alex who had either mellowed or channeled his energy into parenting, ie mellowed b/c of channeling or was hyper-parenting, neither of which happens. I also assumed that after the multiple ordeals Trey and Alex had endured that boiled down to Alex constantly ordering Trey around and acting desperate, jealous, and whiny, that they would have worked out many of their issues or split up in the three years we did not see them. Instead, Alex remains static and Trey is virtually eliminated from the film. The fact he calls their baby OJ is a whole other level of nothing I can talk about.
The Stifled Professor
Round out the cast, is uptight Professor Chance whose longing for bourgeois respectability and intellectual stimulation leads to all kinds of recognizable silliness. What I really like about the character Chance is how well he reflects a certain segment of actual academe. From his over-intellectualizing of “thug life,” which is really about analyzing his relationship, to his bored condescension toward non-academics in his midst, to his ego-driven predatory turn in the movie, he is a mirror whose reflection has many recognizable names. I also like that his character provides both leadership and drama to the foursome without becoming the excuse for other characters around him to give up their eccentricities and sell out to the picket fence. Finally, Chance and Alex characters also give the show an opportunity to discuss the role of the church and faith in the black community, unlike the villain the church often plays in mainstream discourse, Noah’s Arc reminds us that church is often a central part of black culture and that black intellectuals, queers of color (particularly gay men), and the like are always troubling the boundaries of religion vs. faith.
At the same time, there are moments with the Chance character that I can’t put my finger on but definitely don’t work as well as other characters in the show. Looking at some of the outtakes, I wonder if he had been allowed to camp out a little more, would the moments in which he did this on the series make more sense? There is also the issue of the do-rag he dons on his date with T Money, and the name T Money, which I am putting on the list of things I am not talking about. However, the writers did do a good job of ensuring T Money rose above stereotype as well and that was much more than I can say for some of the people making their careers off of writing about “thug life.” Lastly, I was disgusted that they changed Kenya from a black child to a light-skinned, blondish haired bi-racial child in typical Hollywood lightening tactics that I wish at least one black show would stand up against. (And I levy this critique as a biracial girl myself.)
At the heart of Chance’s story, is his uneasy relationship with his partner Eddie, an equally uptight, bourgeois, man. Their relationship provides a solidly acted and written opportunity to explore what we give up to become part of a family. Chance’s own desires for independence and space act out a much more mature version of Noah’s own meltdown in the same season. His ultimate decision to commit also seems to reflect a more developed sense of the trajectory of his life.
Chance also shows the most growth in the series. He moves from reluctant family man, to hurt/spurned lover trying to reclaim a mythic masculinity, to committed dad and partner. With each shift, Douglas Spearmen turns in a subtle and believable performance. It is that performance that elevates the character from stereotype.
In the second season, Chance also helps to closeted lesbians finally come out and commit to one another. The handling of their struggle is at once universal and specific to a certain segment of the black middle class. While Noah’s Arc fails to represent lesbians on a regular basis, the show makes this relationship the center of attention until its resolution, giving them far more prominence than other shows have done in multiple seasons. Again, I wish that Noah’s Arc had been given more time on tv so that we might have seen these characters recur and grow.
Despite their stifled, suburban, existence, Chance and Eddie are predictably coming undone by the time we rejoin them in the film. While Chance’s need to be desired and even worshiped by a student is sadly not uncommon, I was disappointed to see him hookup with his attractive, barely 20, former student just one floor below where Eddie slept. While Chance took responsibility for his actions with Eddie, he showed no accountability for his actions with the student. I realize that academic policy says that you can do whatever you want with adult students after the semester is over, but I do not think relationships based on the unequal position of tenured/TT professors and the young students who idolize them ever escape the dynamics of power represented in the classroom. The end of a term does not change the ability to change a student’s grade, impact the trajectory of their career through recommendations or lack thereof, their ability or success in graduate school, or the way certain colleagues view their success. This is a real detrement to the potential intellectual contribution of young scholars, particularly in the queer community, whose own brilliance may be forever overshadowed by whom they slept with “to get the job.” The reality of their own agency and desires has not changed perception and in some cases it has warped young scholars own sense of themselves. Given how many junior scholars I have seen derailed or tainted by these dynamics, I am deeply saddened by the way Jumping the Broom perpetuates the myth of mentorship. Yet I cannot fault the film for depicting reality. Chance’s midlife crisis, his commitment to being a desired intellectual, and his need to be wanted outside of the bourgeois trap he has built around himself are all undone in the eyes of his twenty year old hero worshiping student and Chance takes that moment of freedom in order to parlay it into the life change he would otherwise be unwilling to accomplish.
Ultimately, I am grateful to have finally seen Noah’s Arc, both the series and the film. While the film was a disappointing hodge podge of critical storylines that would have all made great films on their own, not to mention an underlining pessimism about long term relationships, the series was an optimistic, entertaining, look at black gay male life that was imminently enjoyable.
If the series had been allowed to continue, I can only imagine how much more fulfilling each of these characters and how complex the performances the actors gave us would have been. I like to believe that even Alex would have turned into a watchable and interesting character given the right amount of time and nuanced writing, and I have no doubt that Ricky and Noah would have given us endless thought provoking and sexy entertainment. I’d also like to believe that Wade’s journey would have led us somewhere much deeper. In just two short seasons the caliber of writing and acting did nothing but improve, in 5 or 6 it could have been the show that sparked diversity throughout small screen representations of the gay community and inspired the same rush to fill the void as its predecessor.
I’m told that the series was canceled because the actors dared to ask for money equivalent to other groundbreaking shows in the genre. If this is true, Logo’s greed not only cost us on the small screen, but ultimately on the big one where they failed to develop the characters and the plot to the level demanded by cinema. Worse it has robbed the black community of a show that made all of us, straight or gay, recognize the diversity surrounding us. The show provided an opportunity for black people to discuss homosexuality openly and honestly and to see black gay men depicted in all their wonderful, beautiful, human glory every week. It also opened the door for television executives and queer media producers to recognize that queers of color are just as legitimate and worthy of representation as the upper class white gay people that populate most of their greenlighted programs and films. Noah’s Arc could have been revolutionary if Logo had given it a chance.
Others have benefited from their short sightedness. Here network cast Jensen Atwood as a bisexual warlock in their campy Dante’s Cove. His acting has done nothing but improve and the character he plays has much more room to grow, if Dante’s Cove makes it back for another season. Darryl Stephens went on to star in Boy Culture and Another Gay Movie, films featured at the Here network. He too has evolved in to a solid actor and continues to be a compelling onscreen presence. Christian Vincent and Douglas Spearman have not been so lucky, which is a shame. Both of them showed a hidden range of acting talent in the series and both of them tackled more complexity with greater success during the series run. However, Vincent has a thriving dance career that includes stints with Madonna, Prince, Shakira, etc. and an ongoing commitment to mentoring up and coming dancers in LA. In fairness, I should note that my little sister was among those dancers for a short time. He is also an accomplished painter. You can see his work here.
For viewers hoping to see more than over the top black drag queens and Latino twinkie bestfriends or future Broadway stars, the loss of Noah’s Arc on the small screen is really inexcusable. While the Here Network did offer up the series DL Chronicles for one season last year, there has been no long term resurrection of a television show exclusively about queers of color. The DL Chronicles was a thoughtful dramatic series but it replicated the very emphasis that Chance rallies against in Noah’s Arc, that of the closeted gay black man. While he is a reality, I also think the media frenzy around the DL serves dominant desires to see the black community as more homophobic than mainstream society, even though there are closeted, married, white gay men all over this nation. And even tho the L Word does boast a multicultural cast of lesbians, its emphasis on lipstick whiteness has often failed to adequately represent lesbians of color, with the exception of Tasha. Thus we are left with singing pre-adolescents on Ugly Betty or American Idol or finger snapping black youth as back up to Heather Graham or Jennifer Love Hewitt (oh wait, that was Joey from Blossom . . .). The more I think about it, the more I think we need to challenge queer networks and the networks offering queer programming to do better. When this season of the L Word wraps on Sunday night, there will be no regular GLBTQ live action multi-cultural dramedy left on air in the states. Instead, we are left with reality tv, fantasy soaps, and British imports that are not even available to online subscribers. Do better.
The series has also come under attack because of the potential closeting of the actors. Only Wilson Cruz and Douglas Spearman have come out to audiences. Others, like Chester have actively denied any homosexuality claiming “mystery” is important. These controversies are no different than the actors and actresses on other mainstream queer television, with the Fab 5 and cast members of Project Runway being the most honest precisely because careers in fashion are less stigmatized. While I would love to see gay Hollywood take the keys to the kingdom, one needs only look at the yearly Oscar snubs or the butching up of obviously gay young actors on TV to know why they do what they do. More importantly, knowing their sexuality does not change the import of any of the shows they are on. While having out black gay men to look up to on television could make a world of difference, having out black gay characters on tv already has and we have Noah’s Arc to thank for that. Can you believe it took until 2005 for a show about them to air on national television in the US?
If you have not seen Noah’s Arc, you can watch the entire series on Netflix or buy it for a reasonable price at most online stores, including Logo. You can also rent the feature length film Jumping the Broom, at your local video store. I strongly recommend you watch the series first.
- all images come from Logo except those listed
- Jason Steed. contactmusic.com
- Christian Vincent. caravan photography
- Wilson Cruz. Cory SF
- Rodney Chester and Gregory Keith. Screenrush.uk
- Jensen Atwood. Men of Eros Magazine. 2009.
- Boy Culture movie poster
- Christian Vincent. unattributed