Inside the mind of Patrik-Ian Polk
The ‘Blackbird’ director speaks on Pride, HIV, and absent divas
The name Patrik-Ian Polk is synonymous with black gay cinema. A skilled and fearless filmmaker, his independent films have stirred up conversation and controversy. Polk became widely known for his groundbreaking LOGO television series “Noah’s Arc” and a list of films, that includes; “Punks,” “The Skinny,” “Noah’s Arc: Jumping The Broom,” and his most recent film adaptation of the Larry Duplechan novel “Blackbird,” starring Oscar-winner Mo’Nique, all of which have cemented his place as a gay trailblazer.
Georgia Voice caught up with Polk ahead of his scheduled appearance at the Atlanta Black Pride Welcome Reception.
Georgia Voice: Patrik, you’ve attended Atlanta Black Gay Pride in the past. What keeps you coming back?
PIP: At this point, I really associate Pride celebrations with work. When I do attend, I’m usually promoting a new film project. This time around is a little more special, since we are doing an event with the CDC to promote HIV testing and awareness and the PSA campaign I directed with the “Real Housewives of Atlanta” and “Fashion Queens.”
Have you had any interesting or memorable experiences with fans during ATL Black Gay Pride?
The most memorable events were the ones I attended with my cast members, especially during the “Noah’s Arc” heyday. But I can say it’s always nice to hear from fans of my work. I meet so many gay men, young and old, who are diehard “Noah” fans. Kids in their late teens and early 20’s who used to hide in the closet and watch the show. It means a lot to me that my work has been a positive force for a lot of gay black men.
Why did you decide to take on the CDC HIV/AIDS PSA?
I’ve been working on this project with the CDC for almost two years. We all know the statistics by now- as many as 45 percent of gay black men in this country may be HIV positive. And those numbers continue to grow. My initial pitch to the CDC was to feature a major celebrity of importance to the GBM community- to use their popularity to more effectively deliver HIV messaging to gay black men. After approaching a host of major black female celebs we were unable to find one who’d agree to appear in our campaign. Every single one of them said ‘no’. I was incredibly disheartened that not one of these dozen or so A-list black celebrity females was willing to stand up, on camera and appeal to their gay black fans about their health and well-being. We’re fine to dust your face, beat your wig, deck you out in the latest red carpet fashions, but when it comes to engaging with us on a meaningful level such as HIV awareness, I got crickets.
But I’m a lateral thinker, so I kept pushing. And I noticed my twitter feed was full of RHOA tweets every Sunday night. It was clear that RHOA and its cast members were extremely popular, especially among gay black men. So I reached out to my friends Kenya Moore, and “Fashion Queens” stars Derek J and Miss Lawrence- they all agreed to be in the PSA and they also helped connect me to Claudia Jordan and Cynthia Bailey. The RHOA cast gets a lot of flack and negative press, but they are brave heroines in my eyes.
Marriage equality is now legal nationwide. You portrayed a same-sex marriage on “Noah’s Arc” well before it was legal in most states. Why was it important for you to show two black gay characters making that commitment?
I made “Noah’s Arc” simply because I wanted to see gay black men on television. I also wanted to see black gay men loving other black gay men on television. And I figured if no one else is gonna show this, then I guess I’ll have to do it. You look at television today and we’re still not there. Every gay black character on a current scripted television series has a non-black boyfriend, husband or lover. We draw a lot of life lessons and inspiration from pop culture, so the fact that young black gay kids grow up never seeing images of themselves loving other black men is a big problem.
Why was it important for you to bring your recent film “Blackbird” to the screen?
I’ve wanted to make this movie since I was a freshman in college when I discovered Lar- ry Duplechan’s brilliant coming-of-age novel. We haven’t had a lot of black gay coming-ofage films, especially with a religious theme. So I’m glad the film lives now and people everywhere can see it on iTunes and Netflix.
What can fans expect from your next project?
I wrote and directed an episode of a new series produced by MTV for Netflix called “We Are Lovers.” That’ll be out next year. And the “Blackbird” soundtrack comes out later this month. Beyond that, you’ll have to wait and see. I wait until something’s ready before I start bumping my gums about it.
“We’re fine to dust your face, beat your wig, deck you out in the latest red carpet fashions, but when it comes to engaging with us on a meaningful level such as HIV awareness, I got crickets.”
—Patrik-Ian Polk, filmmaker