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November 7, 2015

Children of God

by Franz Patrick


Children of God (2010)
★★★ / ★★★★

“Children of God,” written and directed by Kareem Mortimer, is a different kind of LGBTQ film because not once does it use overt sexuality to titillate or—worse—as an excuse to tell yet another coming out story with not much to say. This is a film for mature adults because it opens up a discussion about the hypocrisy in our society. Not one strand is left resolved; some characters do not change and it is likely that they never will.

Johnny (Johnny Roberts) is a painter who agrees to spend a couple of days in Eleuthera because his instructor feels that he needs to find his voice again. On the ferry there, Johnny comes across a former classmate, Romeo (Stephen Tyrone Williams), who is coming back from his grandmother’s eightieth birthday celebration. Because Romeo is familiar with the island, he offers to accompany Johnny at the next good opportunity.

There is a subplot that involves a pastor (Mark Richard Ford) and his wife (Margaret Laurena Kemp)—the former a closet homosexual and the latter a devoutly religious woman with a knack for anti-gay rhetoric. Although this strand is essential in order to show the hypocrisy within a religious community, it is not fully developed. I wanted to get to know Ralph and Lena as people, but they are defined solely by what they do or say when around others. Thus, they do not feel like complete characters but caricatures with some dimension to them.

There is, however, a highly effective scene toward the end which takes place at a dinner table amongst friends. The dynamics between the couple are so unpredictable at times, coupled with solid performances by Ford and Kemp, that just about every word or sentence they say to one another is a potential source of trouble. Ralph and Lena could have had their own film and, with further development, I would be fascinated.

As for the romance between Johnny and Romeo, it is handled in a way that their interactions are almost spiritual. The scenes are deliberately slow-moving as to cherish how they move relative to one another, the distance between their torsos, the contrast between the colors of their skin, the longing looks they give each other. The whole thing is like an elegant and poetic dance. I was transfixed at the beauty of the Bahamian beaches during daylight and the simmering energy between the two characters. Roberts and Williams have done a great job in not delivering sleazy performances. It felt real.

There are other details worth noticing. Note that when the pastor and his wife’s son (Aijalon Coley) speaks, it almost always reflects what he has been taught by his parents. He thinks it is not acceptable for boys to play with dolls because these are “girl toys.” A reverend (Van Brown) assures him that this is not so because toys merely serve as a conduit to one’s imagination. Later, the same boy warns his father that he should not be holding a cup a certain way because it is not masculine.

“Children of God” has a lot of sadness in it but right beside them are truths about our society right now—the Bahamian setting serving as a microcosm. At one point, a mother tells her son that she wishes he “only had a drug problem” rather than a “gay problem”—as if to imply that both were treatable, that one could choose to be an alcoholic and one could choose to be a homosexual. This film holds a mirror to our society and it is appropriate that we have a reaction to the ugliness, lack of empathy, and hypocrisy.

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