The Generic Closet: Black Gayness and the Black-Cast Sitcom
Even after a rise in gay and black representation and production on TV in the 1990s, the sitcom became a "generic closet," restricting black gay characters with narrative tropes.
Drawing from 20 interviews with credited episode writers, key show-runners, and black gay men, The Generic Closet situates black-cast sitcoms as a unique genre that uses black gay characters in service of the series' heterosexual main cast. Alfred L. Martin Jr. argues that the black community is imagined to be antigay due to misrepresentation by shows that aired during the family viewing hour and that were written for the imagined, "traditional" black family. Martin considers audience reception, industrial production practices, and authorship to unpack the claim that black gay characters are written into black-cast sitcoms such as Moesha, Good News, Are We There Yet?, and Let's Stay Together in order to closet black gayness.
By exploring how systems of power produce ideologies about black gayness, The Generic Closet deconstructs the concept of a monolithic black audience and investigates whether this generic closet still exists.
"This is a book that pushes back against the notions of a monolithic Black community who is uniformly anti-gay while, too, tolerating if not embracing stereotypical representations of 'black gay' identity."
~Robin R. Means Coleman, Horror Noire: Blacks in American Horror Films from the 1890s to Present
"The circuit of culture approach illuminates the complicated queer politics of the generic closet, offering readers important and meaningful insight into the limits and limitations of black gay visibility . . . giving the reader a rich explanation of why black gay visibility has been so limited."
~Kathleen Battles, War of the Worlds to Social Media: Mediated Communication in Times of Crisis
"Blackbusting Hollywood: Racialized Media Reception, Failure and The Wiz as Black Blockbuster"
Journal of Cinema and Media Studies (Vol. 60, no. 2, 2021)
This essay draws attention to The Wiz as the first black-cast blockbuster and re-assesses its significance to issues of black media production, reception and distribution. With a focus on press reviews, this essay uses racialized media reception in order to understand the ways that The Wiz carried weight beyond its $23 million budget for black and white reviewers and moviegoers. Providing an analysis of reviews from both the black and mainstream presses, archival production documents and documents about the film’s distribution, this essay argues that film reviews, as cinematic paratexts, helped to structure consumption and shaped the narrative of The Wiz as failure.
“For Scholars… When Studying the Queer of Color Image Alone Isn’t Enough.”
Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies, “Forum,” 17, no. 1 (2020): 69-74.
The availability of more black queer images provides an opportunity to re-assess the ways we tend to study such images. When we bring our theoretical toolboxes to bear on a text, it does not necessarily illuminate all that we imagine it does. In this short essay, I examine the ways production-, reception- and industry-based questions about the series Pose engender a different set of conclusions about the series beyond deciding whether or not it is a positive or negative representation of black queers.
"Fandom While Black: Misty Copeland, Black Panther, Tyler Perry and the Contours of U.S. Black Fandoms."
International Journal of Cultural Studies, 22, no. 6 (2019): 737-753.
Using 50 interviews with black people about their fandoms (and anti-fandoms) of Tyler Perry’s media output, the blockbuster film Black Panther and the African American ballerina Misty Copeland, this article illuminates black fandom’s four interlocking discourses. First, must-see
blackness describes black fans’ “civic duty” to see blackness in all of its forms. Second, economic consumption drives “must-see blackness” in the sense that black fans are cognizant of the precariousness of blackness’s existence in spaces that are either historically white and/or have
been hostile to the presence of blackness. Third, black fandoms (and anti-fandoms) are driven by their pedagogical properties: how fit are fan objects for learning and role modeling? Finally, the pedagogical fitness of fan objects intersects with economic consumption and must-see blackness, which, in turn, illuminates black fans’ attentiveness to the machinations of the culture industries.
“The Queer Business of Casting Gay Characters on U.S. Television.”
Communication, Culture & Critique, 11, no. 2 (2018): 282-297.
Casting for gay roles in U.S. television occupies an important space within media production studies because it exposes the patterns involved with who is allowed to work within the culture industries. Drawing on literature on casting, queer labor and personal interviews with casting directors, this article explores the ways casting functions as a practice that doggedly works within “best actor” discourses that insulate the television industry from charges of deliberately failing to cast gay actors in projects. Ultimately, this article centers the import of queers’ ability to fashion their own self-images and re-asserts the specificity of gayness as an identity category. This article also exposes the three-tiered discursive spiral in which casting is bound: defensive truth, subterfuge and queer possibility.
“Queer (In)Frequencies: SiriusXM’s OutQ and the Limits of Queer Listening Publics.”
Feminist Media Studies, 18, no. 2 (2018): 249-263.
On February 23, 2016, OutQ, the nation’s only LGBT-focused satellite radio station, ceased broadcasting. This essay theorizes a queer listening public as intentionally imagined as such and concomitantly taken up as a queer listening public by queers. It utilizes in-depth interviews with OutQ founder John McMullen, and OutQ show hosts Frank DeCaro, Romaine Patterson, and Michelangelo Signorile, as well as posts from Facebook Fan Pages, to explore the ways OutQ was both imagined and functioned as a queer listening public. Using the interview data, the essay argues that a queer listening public functions in three ways. First, it creates a specifically queer space for queer listeners, almost at the exclusion of heterosexual listeners. Second, it creates a queer affective community where events important to LGBT citizens can be “felt” in a communal, mediated space. Third, a queer listening public seeks to create a national/transnational queer listening public for geographically isolated queers. Additionally, this essay argues that in the cessation of OutQ, SiriusXM practiced what I call queer dispersal, a term deployed to describe the ways marketable aspects of queer life, like entertainment and music, are dispersed and hegemonically incorporated into mainstream media properties.
“Scripting Black Gayness: Television Authorship in Black-Cast Sitcoms.”
Television and New Media 16, no. 7 (2015): 648–663.
This essay explores the creation of black gay characters within black-cast sitcoms Moesha, All of Us, and Are We There Yet? Using in-depth interviews with the credited writers for three episodes of black-cast sitcoms that feature black gay characters, I examine the ways the writers negotiate the creation of black gay characters within the writers’ room. In addition, this essay examines how the closet functions as an organizing logic for the ways black gay characters are imagined within the writers’ room, and the industrial logics that prevent black gay characters from reappearing in subsequent episodes. In addition, I argue that the individual writers’ autobiographies are important to consider when creating black gay characters for black-cast sitcoms, as they bring their positionality as black (and in one instance a black gay) writers to the episodes they wrote.
“It’s (Not) in His Kiss: Gay Kisses and Camera Angles in Contemporary U.S. Network Television Comedy.”
Popular Communication 12, no. 3 (2014): 153 - 165.
Although the number of gay male representations on American situation comedies has increased, an examination of the ways same-sex intimacy operates within sitcoms is of paramount importance. This article traces a brief history of same-sex intimacy in sitcoms, then uses film and television stylistic analysis of the contemporary sitcoms Modern Family, Happy Endings, and The New Normal to argue that the positioning of the camera and the spatial relationship between actors is deliberate and conveys critical information. The article argues that sitcoms in the 21st century obscure same-sex kisses through camera angles, particularly the over-the-shoulder shot, and that the public/private dichotomy factors prominently into the spaces where same-sex intimacy is permissible and how such intimacy is filmed within the televisual home. Ultimately, gay representation in American network television comedy retains a conservative approach to same-sex intimacy even as it continues to include gay male characters in greater numbers.