Not too many people have the luxury of jumping on a plane at the last minute and flying to the destination of their choice for free, but I’m one of the few lucky ones and I did just that yesterday morning on a flight to New York City. The plan was to spend the day in the city with my friend Albert and catch a screening of Dirty Laundry at Clearview Cinemas in Chelsea before they carried out their plan to prematurely remove the film from their theater. It still amazes me how I can be in Atlanta one minute and in another city a few hours later and back home before the clock strikes twelve, ahh the beauty of planes…but I digress.
My goal was to confront theater management and ask them exactly why Dirty Laundry was being pulled from the theater after less than a week into a successful run since they refused to speak with me over the phone. After the movie I seized the opportunity to engage the theater manager in a little “Q&A” session that he was obviously unprepared for and it showed all over his face and in the bullshit answers he gave me to my questions, but more on that later.
Unbeknownst to me I’d become emotionally invested in the film and after seeing it for the second time today in over a year it became apparently clear. I am Sheldon Patrick/Patrick Sheldon. Rockmond Dunbar’s character Sheldon who prefers to be called by his middle name Patrick parallels my life in so many ways that it’s almost scary.
Patrick was born in a fictional small southern town called Paris, Georgia and I was born in the small southern town of Montgomery, Alabama. We both knew that we were ‘different’ at a young age and were often on the receiving end of anti-gay slurs. Patrick channeled his pain into his writing (something I would tap into later in life) and I channeled my pain into dance. Once we both became adults we left the south for the freedom and opportunity of life in New York City and vowed never to return.
The idea of living in New York City where the restrictions of living openly as a gay man were almost non-existent compared to life in the south, this was indeed attractive to Patrick and myself. To this day every time I return to Alabama it feels as if I’m suffocating. Do you ever get the sense that you just don’t belong in a certain place, the feeling that you’ve outgrown the people and the small town mentality? Like Paris, Georgia was to Patrick, Montgomery, Alabama is to me, my birthplace and not my home.
There’s plenty of dirty laundry in the film besides the secret that Patrick has managed to keep from disclosing to his family for years as producer Crystal Anthony McCrary so eloquently articulated on Reel Talk with Al Sharpton.
One major issue is the resentment the family felt for Patrick after he moved to the big city, got a big city job, fine clothes, new friends and an “uppity” attitude. I couldn’t begin to tell you the number of times I’ve had to listen to people from back home tell me that I thought I was better than everybody else simply because I had the courage to leave. The fact of the matter is I never believed I was better than the people I grew up with, but after living in New York City and traveling the world meeting people from different cultures, religious backgrounds, and sexual orientations, I began to respect and embrace the differences in people, a lesson many people in Paris, Georgia and Montgomery, Alabama were years behind in learning, including people in my family.
So with feelings of resentment comes the inevitable breakdown in communication, which leads to hurt feelings, estrangement and anger. Add a little homosexuality in the mix and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. But a person can only abide by the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that many black families have created for their gay and lesbian relatives for so long before the closet door is either flung open by the person in question or he is forced out perhaps by a messy relative. Now you know Sunday dinners in black families are famous for more than just the food being served.
Like Patrick I spoke my truth to prevent someone else for speaking it for me and while it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done it was also one of the most liberating. And while our families received the news with mixed reactions, the blood and unconditional love that made us a family superseded anything that could possibly be considered as a threat.
My mother always told me, ”Baby leave home in a way that you will always be able to return”. She says I never listen to her but after 10 years of being away I’m not exactly home but two hours away in Atlanta, and after 10 years of being away from Paris, Georgia Patrick returned, what a coincidence…lol.
As for the theater manager “Fajeem”, I asked him if it was normal procedure to pull a film after a successful opening weekend and he looked at me like a deer caught in headlights (I’m assuming he’d become accustomed to avoiding this conversation by hanging up on people who called the theater with the same motive, but I was standing in front of him) and replied, ”Oh I don’t know anything about that…how that all works, you’re gonna have to call the corporate office”. And then his sidekick Edwin, the ticket taker chimed in and said the movie was only scheduled for a limited engagement and was never supposed to run longer than a week because the distribution company (FOX? CODE BLACK?) wouldn’t authorize the theater to show the film longer than a week. Yeah right. If it sounds scripted then it probably is. Who knew I would get a show in the lobby too.
If you’re in L.A. and you haven’t seen Dirty Laundry yet then get your behind to the Beverly Mann Theater today. Atlanta, Baltimore, and Washington D.C. December 28.