Monday, March 3, 2008

The DL Chronicles

The DL Chronicles fits neatly in my category of “bad movies worth watching.” Most of the time “worth watching” means for sociological interest, and that is true here. DL Chronicles is four made-for-TV case studies strung together of closeted black men. More, actually, since at least two of the tales touch on the lives of more than one man. And the context for their closetedness.

DL, for “Down Low… (nobody needs to know…)” refers to sexual infidelity, and in this case the particular infidelity of apparently straight men, often married, who have gay sex on the side. The stories seem to get a little better with each installment, and that suggests the series has the potential to turn into something, if interest continues. The fourth episode will have you laughing out loud despite the ridiculous improbability of the story.

I leave it to others to assess the accuracy of the description of homophobia in a variety of black communities which keeps so many men in the closet. With three upper middle class success stories and one thug for subjects, this series can hardly be taken as representative of the black community as a whole. And if that were not enough, the fact that this is about four hunky men who look good with their clothes off leaves no doubt the film was not made with sociological accuracy the primary motive.

Which is fine. I think movies should be expected to entertain more than they instruct, and who doesn’t love eye candy. But if that’s all it’s about, we could do with a bit less hamfisted acting, and a whole lot better writing and editing of the soft porn. In the third episode there is a character shift so swift you feel you must have dozed off and missed something. The whole enterprise smacks of amateurism, and that’s a pity, since the characters are appealing and you find yourself rooting for each one in turn. Evidently the community is still taking its first baby steps and it will be a while yet before we get to something to match Brokeback Mountain for minority community players. If you are at home in the gay white bicoastal culture, watching this will make you feel like you’ve been taken back twenty years.

On the other hand, that’s why I think, for all its limitations, The DL Chronicles is worth watching. Get in on the ground floor. We still appreciate Boys in the Band today, not despite the fact its characters are types but because of it. We still appreciate Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner because nobody had covered the ground before. America’s many subcultures could all be making this film, each with their own details of resistance to changes in traditional attitudes to sex. It doesn’t matter which one goes first. Like the creator of Noah’s Arc before it, The DL Chronicles documents progress out of homophobia in black America, and clears the way for future work which will not have to make the point in such an unsubtle manner.

So rent the DVD (you won’t see it in theaters), sit back, lift your wineglass to the groundbreakers, and watch all these pretty people come around.

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