The ABC television movie, “A Raisin In The Sun,” will be broadcast on February 25th 2008 at 8:00pm. The television film fulfills the black quota for “black history month”. Pop star Sean Combs. is the protagonist Walter Lee Younger. The title of the movie refers to black gay poet Langston Hughes poem “Harlem”.
African American lesbian playwright Lorraine Hansberry’s legendary play, once again, will be brought back to television to reach a new generation next week. Hansberry was the first black lesbian playwright to have a play produced on Broadway in 1959. “A Raisin In the Sun” was a huge success for Hansberry and launched her career.
The general public of course does not know that Lorraine Hansberry was a lesbian due to homophobia. Why is black lesbianism considered “private” yet “heterosexuality” is a part of the public domain? Although Hansberry married a white Jewish man, Robert Nemiroff in 1953, the couple separated in 1957 and divorced in 1964.Hansberry was conscious of her lesbian identity and she negotiated between the public and private spheres. Black lesbians encountered racism from the mainstream, white gay culture, and also persecution from heterosexual blacks.
Lorraine Hansberry’s lesbian identity emerges from the articles she wrote for the lesbian publication “The Ladder” in the late 1950s. Hansberry did not use her full name when she wrote articles for “The Ladder” she used her initials L.H. instead. In the 1950s, in America, gays and lesbians lived in fear due to witch hunts against homosexuals. Black lesbian women encountered a triple form of oppression in relation to their race, gender, and sexual orientation.
Can you imagine the difficulties black lesbians endured in the 1950s? Homosexuality was still considered a mental illness that can be cured. The topic of human sexuality was still taboo in the 1950s. America was sexually repressed due to heterosexual male domination and male supremacy. The racial and sexual apartheid existed in the United States and black lesbians lived in constant danger due to racism, sexism and homophobia. The civil rights and gay movements did not gather strength until the 1960s.
Black lesbians encountered racism from white lesbians and were barred from entering white lesbian bars and establishments during the 1950s. Black lesbians also endured gender discrimination due to being women and unwanted sexual advances of dangerous, violent, and hostile heterosexual men.
Hansberry was indeed a lesbian but this important component of black queer history should not be erased by the homophobic Occidental world. Heterosexual black publications always ignore the important fact Hansberry was a lesbian. I didn’t know Lorraine Hansberry was a lesbian until I read lesbian activist, feminist, poet, and writer Adrienne Rich’s incisive essay “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence”. Rich’s analysis is correct society attempts to erase, diminish, and destroy the contributions of lesbians in many ways. I believe the silence about Lorraine Hansberry’s lesbianism is due to the negative attitude that still exists against homosexuals.
Why is the term lesbianism treated like a scatological word? One argument is some straights believe “it doesn’t matter” and if people discover that Lorraine Hansberry was a black lesbian it might “scare people off” from watching the movie. Why is there this invisible code and this silent barrier? If black lesbian emancipation is to occur why is black lesbianism still a social taboo? Society appears to have a love and hate relationship with lesbianism.
The political, cultural, social, and artistic merits of black lesbians such as Lorraine Hansberry must be celebrated and not treated as some shameful abhorrent secret. It is the year 2008 so why are we still reticent? Why hasn’t this final chasm been shattered and the truth still shrouded in silence? Lorraine Hansberry proves that black gay people care about the black community.
Often heterosexual blacks believe black gays and lesbians only focus on sexual orientation and ignore race. Lorraine Hansberry proves through art that she was cognizant of the racial, social and political polemics blacks endured during the civil rights era. “A Raisin In The Sun”, is about a fictional story about a black family struggling to survive in 1950s Chicago at a time when America’s social and racial apartheid was at full strength.
Virtually all the articles published about “A Raisin In The Sun” always mentions Lorraine Hansberry’s race and her gender but excludes her sexual orientation. The question is why? It appears in the year 2008 homophobia reigns supreme. Lesbianism is more then just a sexual act there is more to lesbianism then just sex. Lesbians are women that are not sexually attracted to men but there is an illogical fear of lesbianism in society that lesbians are anti male.
Lorraine Hansberry lived a double life a life where she constantly was in fear that the heterosexist matrix would discriminate against her since she was a black lesbian. The real Lorraine Hansberry is blurred between the printed lines of “A Raisin In The Sun”. The sentences, paragraphs, thoughts, feelings, emotions, and doubt, lives in Lorraine Hansberry’s groundbreaking play. “A Raisin In The Sun” is about emancipation and personal determination I believe this also relates to the struggles gays and lesbians encounter. Perhaps Hansberry used her play as a metaphor to explore the internal struggles she endured during her own life?
Lorraine Hansberry’s incredible groundbreaking play proves that black gay and lesbian people were cognizant of the struggles blacks endured in the mid 20th century. Hansberry wanted to bring a greater awareness to the incredible racism, sexism, and economic discrimination African Americans experienced in the United States.
Lorraine Hansberry is very important she shattered an artistic and cultural barrier in the performing arts. It is such a disservice to ignore Hansberry was a lesbian. Lorraine Hansberry’s lesbian identity should not be concealed in the shadows and be treated as an afterthought. I believe it is imperative, and crucial that there be a dialogue about how Hansberry’s play relates to her lesbian identity. It is simply disgraceful that the mainstream press to ignore and attempt to erase the importance of lesbianism in Lorraine Hansberry’s life and art.
The articles Lorraine Hansberry wrote for “The Ladder” are very passionate and powerful she wrote about the struggles she endured as a black lesbian woman in the mid 20th century. Legendary African American actors Ruby Dee and Sidney Poitier were the stars of the original stage version of the play and the 1961 feature film. Sadly, Lorraine Hansberry died in her prime at the tender age of thirty four in 1965 due to pancreatic cancer. Lorraine Hansberry died at a very young age she was such an incredible talent.
The press have showered the movie with a lot of praise saying the three hour film is a testament of Hansberry’s incredible talent. The cast includes Phylicia Rashad, Sanaa Lathan, Audra McDonald, and the omnipotent Sean Combs. I will admit I might take a peek at the movie. However, I am not impressed that Sean Combs or P Diddy or whatever that guy calls himself is the star of the film. I wanted a younger black male actor to be the star of the movie.
The crisis in black Hollywood is the paucity of film roles available for young black actors. I am sure some black actors are seething right now that Sean Combs is the star of the film. In white Hollywood you rarely ever see a “singer” attain a prestigious movie role these days. Can you imagine Jon Bon Jovi as the star in a movie about Elvis? So why is there a double standard for black Hollywood? Why do untalented bottom feeders such as Sean Combs get to the be star of such an important movie?
I really feel for the talented young black male actors that are training hard at various universities, colleges, theater programs, across North America and the world. The only reason Sean Combs was hired is due to greed. The producers and director behind the television film believe Combs can generate huge ratings for ABC television. ABC television will hype this movie to the maximum I just believe a talented and much younger black actor should of chosen for the male lead.
The lead in “A Raisin In The Sun” Walter Lee Younger is a young black man and Sean Combs is thirty eight years old. Since Combs in thirty eight one argument is he can bring “maturity” to the role. However, I believe the feeling of naivety and optimism is diminished for the character Walter Lee Younger due to Combs advanced age.
A younger black male actor possibly someone between the ages of twenty five to perhaps thirty two should of been chosen for the role. Combs is simply not talented enough and too old for the part. Combs is also a rap artist he’s a wannabe actor he is not a serious dramatic actor. I have so much sympathy for the talented black actors that want to become stars in Hollywood but are not given the opportunity.
Why does Hollywood continue to insult the audience and cast these talentless flakes such as Sean Combs in such prestigious roles? The barriers for black actors in Hollywood are incredible there are limited opportunities to advance up the Hollywood star system. Twenty five years ago perhaps an unknown black male actor would of been chosen for the lead role. Hollywood is profit driven and the ideology is since Sean Combs already is successful in various demographics his fans will fans will flock to watch the movie. However, does talent not matter anymore?
Why do young blacks in Hollywood have to always be singers or dancers in order to breakthrough and get the big movie roles? Beyonce just won the lead role in a biopic about the legendary singer Etta James. I cringe because Beyonce is not an actress she needs acting lessons. Beyonce cannot act she requires an acting coach and numerous hours to learning the craft of acting.
Young talented unknown black actors are being disrespected and ignored. A young black male actor with talent would of been electrifying in the role of Walter Lee Younger. A young black actor could of brought pathos, complexity, sensitivity, and range to this very important role. Unfortunately, Hollywood is now all about profit margins, ratings, and the craft of acting is now secondary. The only glimmer of hope is that young people will learn more about Lorraine Hansberry and gain an appreciation for her incredible talent.