Although strides have been made, there’s still quite the dearth as it pertains to stories related to gay life coming out of Hollywood. It’s even scarcer when you think about narratives associated with the lives of Black gays. Throughout his career, director Patrik-Ian Polk has worked to counter the imbalance, first via the Babyface-produced Punks, which made its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, and eventually Noah’s Arc, the landmark television series chronicling the adventures of four gay men of color living in Los Angeles.
Currently, Patrik is traveling across the country in promotion of his latest feature film, The Skinny, a comedy focused on a group of four young, Black gay men and their lesbian best friend. Though The Skinny offers movie goers laughs, the movie also keeps in line with Polk’s trademark of tackling tough topics within the LGBT community, including date-rape, infidelity, and HIV/AIDS.
Polk has partnered yet again with the Black AIDS Institute, which has allowed he and his Skinny cast members the opportunity to promote the film while simultaneously advocating sexual health and HIV/AIDS awareness within minority gay communities throughout the nation.
Patrik-Ian Polk spoke with EBONY about the success of The Skinny, his longtime work with the Black AIDS Institute, in addition to his thoughts about the current state of gay creative works in Hollywood and optimism for the future.
EBONY: There are numerous references to HIV/AIDS and the overall importance of sexual health throughout the film. Considering your partnership with the Black AIDS Institute, how important is it to you to continue bringing about awareness through your creative works?
Patrik-Ian Polk: I’ve worked with the Black AIDS Institute for a number of years now [and] obviously HIV/AIDS remains a huge issue in the Black gay community so it’s only been natural that my work would address the subject and my new movie being focused on young adults – young adult gay characters – it felt natural to include more timely [and] update-to-date messaging around sexual health issues that specifically affected the characters.
EBONY: You’ve made mention of filming The Skinny in what you’ve described as “guerilla style.” Although there have been recent reports making note of an increase of gay characters on television and in film, do you still find it difficult to secure funding for projects that feature primarily gay characters of color?
Patrik-Ian Polk: Well, I don’t know about an increase. I don’t necessarily see an increase. It’s definitely difficult getting these projects made, certainly projects about Black gay characters. I largely financed this movie myself so it’s not easy, and [when] I said we worked guerilla style [it was] with respect to budget, but I’d like to think I made a movie that didn’t look like it was shot guerilla style.
There is a certain satisfaction that comes from giving an unknown actor whose really got some chops a chance to shine.
EBONY: Of the images we do get of gays – particularly with respect to those found on network television – we don’t see much in the way of sexual chemistry between many gay characters, especially in men. Whereas in The Skinny there’s many sexual overtones and very thorough depictions of gay male sexual acts, say how men prepare for anal sex. Is that a conscious decision to not be as ambivalent as other creative works out there, and if so, do you ever worry that might alienate certain audiences?
Patrik-Ian Polk: Well, I’m an artist, first and foremost, so I feel like I create the art I want to create, and who so ever will, let them come. I feel like in my attempts to be a real artist, I can’t concern myself with whether something is going to turn off an audience or whether people will be open or not open to my movie because of something that’s in it. For me, it’s rooted in the story I’m trying to tell and the characters I’m creating and if something makes sense for the story and characters then that’s what I’m going to do. I don’t really think myself with anything else, any of that external stuff. You know, what happens to the movie when you put it out into the world – I mean, I want as many people to see it as possible – but the movie is the movie. I’m saying what I want to say in the movie and people have to accept it as a work of art. Ultimately, that’s my concern.
EBONY: Have you noticed that while we may see more gay characters in other works, they’re not necessarily whole where we see them emotionally and sexually as opposed to characters featured in The Skinny?
Patrik-Ian Polk: I’m not comparing or I don’t compare. Certainly I’ve seen mainstream movies and TV with gay characters that keep them very, very super tamed or they don’t really give them fully realized, romantic love lives, and yeah that’s annoying, but I don’t know if I’m pushing