- Children of God
Children of God, written and directed by Bahamian filmmaker Kareem Mortimer, is one of the first Caribbean films to deal explicitly with homophobia and sexual minorities in the region. The film tells the story of an interracial gay romance between two young men, Johnny and Romeo, and the troubled marriage between conservative preacher Ralph and his wife Lena. The film centers around the shy and conflicted white artist Johnny, who embarks on a journey to find himself and work on his art. He meets Romeo, a young black musician, on the boat ride from the capital city Nassau to nearby island Eleuthera, where Lena and her son are also traveling. The three main characters are each escaping something: Johnny from his troubles at home, Romeo from his family expectations to marry, and Lena from her discovery that she has acquired an STD from her husband. Ironically, while Lena promotes an antigay campaign through her church, her husband Ralph is involved in a secret gay affair. The plot of the film is driven through their three stories and the backdrop of public debates regarding homosexuality in the Bahamas, portrayed through snippets of radio shows, sermons, and public meetings. The film details the internalization of homophobia and painful secrets of gay male desire within a conservative Christian context: the preacher Ralph leads a double life as he denounces gay rights through his church, and Johnny and Romeo grapple with shame about their same sex desire.
In many ways, this is a story we have seen before, particularly in lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) film portrayals of the tragic gay romance destined for failure and ending in violence, but what we haven't seen before is this story in this location. It is the nuance of place and religion that gives the film an edge in its representation of sexuality and homophobia. But it is also this nuance that makes one question the narrative choices made by the writer/director of the film, particularly in terms of race and sexuality. The premise of the story and focus on the white character is an interesting choice considering that the writer/director is a black Bahamian man. This is not to say that black filmmakers shouldn't write and direct films about white characters, but rather there is such a lack of black gay stories (and certainly none from a Bahamian perspective) [End Page 159] that it would have added depth and dimension for both the black and white characters to have equal attention. The story is so much about Johnny and his growth that it leaves out room to experience Romeo's growth. As the film progresses, we see Johnny accepting his sexuality and feelings for Romeo, while Romeo struggles with his secret desire because of family pressures until the very end. Nevertheless, Romeo is the catalyst for Johnny's coming into his own and it is through Romeo that Johnny affirms his sexuality. We never experience Romeo coming into his own, but rather he is more conflicted about his feelings through the course of the film. Johnny's courage to speak out and claim his sexuality leads to his death at the hands of a closeted young black man. The tragic ending of the film is framed through Johnny's growth and Romeo's fear.
Sex and sexuality in Children of God is represented mostly through a white male gaze—specifically in the scenes between Johnny and Romeo. Certainly, the interracial love story has its own attraction and appeal for a wide audience. The problem here is not the interracial love story itself, but rather the ways in which black sexuality is used in particular to awaken and inspire growth in Johnny and the way their relationship develops. The romantic affair between Johnny and Romeo unfolds quickly and in awkward ways that don't feel genuine, while their characters fall flat in a dearth of any real connection. The racial tensions subtly playing out between Johnny and Romeo are never addressed even as the film relies on their racial difference to...