This week I was given the honor of viewing a screening of Patrick-Ian Polk's newest film, The Skinny, which is the story of five friends, all Brown University graduates, who are having a mini-reunion weekend in New York City during Pride. Many may know Polk from his previous works, such as Punks and the Logo series Noah's Arc. The Skinny follows in the footsteps of these past works by exploring the lives of gay black folks dealing with real issues in their communities. Many of the actors are up and coming, with Jussie Smollett leading the pack (you may remember him from The Mighty Ducks in his youth), along with some old favorites like Darryl Stephens (Noah's Arc) and Victor Cruz (Noah's Arc). However this film, beyond the beautiful actors and familiar faces, is a film that takes us deeper into conversations on sex, being black and gay, HIV, and what friendship means. The Skinny is produced and edited by Polk, and he even wrote and sang most of the soundtrack, showing us how much of a grassroots effort making this project is. One will definitely see Polk's hand in this movie, but don't come in expecting Noah's Arc 2.0, because this film is very different.
The film begins with all actors arriving in New York City to stay with Smollett's character, Magnus. In the beginning we understand that since graduation, these friends have come to live in very different places around the world. Polk paints the characters as truly dynamic individuals who are very different from characters we have seen in previous works, and through this he helps cultivate a cinematic environment that is ripe for hard topics and tough decisions that are relevant in all black, gay, and black/gay communities. As the movie progresses, we are given intimate looks into the dynamics of this long friendship between five people, and how their Pride weekend unravels in the backdrop of New York City -- of course giving us some steamy scenes that I am sure will keep this film rated R, at least.
To avoid giving anything away, I will only slightly discuss a pinnacle moment in the film that deals with an HIV scare and a sexual assault after a character takes Ecstasy for the first time. This HIV scare happens through circumstances that will make your stomach turn and could very well be triggering to many, but it is something that happens, and many are afraid to talk about it. I truly applaud Polk for writing this topic into his script. This instance deals with sexual violence, HIV, and friendship in a way that is real and understanding of the complexities around these issues, acknowledging that sexual assault is not always black-and-white but sits in a gray area that makes one uncomfortable. This pinnacle point will make many people uncomfortable, and will spark many debates in communities around consent and drug use, but it is important because it will connect with many gay men, black or of any other race. Drug use, HIV, and consent during sex are real issues that are kept under the rug in our community, and Polk is pulling up that rug, giving us a space to take notice and begin to do work.
In the end, The Skinny will leave the viewer with that satisfaction that we all desire at the end of films. However, don't get me wrong: there were moments in the film where I turned in my seat and had to shake my head, but that may be revealing too much, so the best advice is to see the film. Polk is part of a very small minority of black gay filmmakers in the world who are really pushing the envelope and creating projects that are not only progressive but gaining lots of attention. The Skinny is a film that is not skinny in substance or importance: it pushes at our waistlines and fills our minds with more questions to ask and lives to consider. It is a film about who is around you and how they care about you. Because that is what friendship is about: caring for one another.
This film is being distributed via Polk's own Tall Skinny Black Boy production company as an independent film, so it needs you there in your theatre's seats. Think of this as a way to support the arts and voices that are very much needed in the larger gay community, the black and gay ones.
To learn more about the film, watch a trailer, and to see when it will premiere in your city, visit skinnythemovie.com.
Follow Zach Stafford on Twitter: www.twitter.com/zachstafford