Amir Dixon's recently released documentary, Friend of Essex, explores the lives of young black gay men and the struggles they face.
Dixon, 23, packed the film with one-on-one and group interviews, and jarring narratives that probe the difficult questions surrounding masculinity, identity, sexuality, and race. Viewers get a closer look at the black LGBT church, notions of masculinity within gay culture, and most powerfully, the mask worn by many young black gay people.
Friend of Essex was inspired by the teachings of the black gay writer, poet, producer, and activist Essex Hemphill, who died in 1995 of AIDS-related complications. His work, which focused on homophobia, racism toward LGBT people, and community, set the stage for Dixon’s film.
“The film also pays homage to Marlon Riggs [writer and director of Tongues Untied], who displayed the experiences of black gay men in the late ’80s,” said Dixon.
The film has been screened at colleges, community centers, and other venues across the country since its release in January in Boston. But Dixon strives to push his film further — which is why he will be traveling to Uganda to screen it in late April. The Ugandan parliament is still considering the controversial “Kill the Gays” bill, and the country’s strict laws against homosexuality have forced Dixon’s screening to be held on a private, invite-only basis.
Dixon sees it as an honor to share his film with the LGBT people of Uganda.
“When I started production on my film I had met a young man from Uganda who had just moved to the states,” says Dixon. “He shared with me firsthand what was taking place in Uganda and the work that we as a community could do to support the LGBTQ community there.”
Dixon realizes the important nature of his work for LGBT people around the world, “because the struggles that our friends and family face in Uganda for LGBTQ equality is not just their struggle, but our struggle here in the States as well.”
Ultimately, Dixon hopes his film will “empower the voiceless. I want that little kid that lives in Small Town, U.S.A., and doesn't encounter anyone that looks like them to know that I do this for them. I fight every day for them.”
Dixon wants to be the fearless voice of courage much like those who came before him, like his role models Audre Lorde, Essex Hemphill, Marlon Riggs, and Assotto Saint.
“Audre Lorde told us our silence won't protect us, and I add to that, our silence is consent and affirmation,” says Dixon. “So I choose to use my voice, my work, and my words to face my oppressors head on.”
Friend of Essex screens in Boston at the Fenway Institute March 25, in Orlando April 5, and at North Carolina Central University April 8. Dates and times for future screenings can be found on the Friend of Essex website. Follow Dixon and Friend of Essex on Twitter: @Amirnow. Watch a trailer below.