Guest Writer: Bishop Hartsel Clifton Shirley
Pose is the current television program that unapologetically displays the lives of gay, lesbian and transgender individuals. For some of us, it’s just short of sacred as it helps to reveal the hidden lives, pains, heartbreaks, and joys of a segment of the population all too often overlooked, ignored–and even worse--forgotten. Mainstream television has dabbled, at best, in depicting feeble portrayals of our lives.
In the recent past, there were other TV and web series that attempted to bring our lives to the “stage,” so to speak–and they had a good measure of success. Most notable was Noah’s Arc, which lasted just two seasons on a network that did not envision or plan for the show to become as popular and as well-done as it became.
Around the same time was the web-series The Closet, which dared to be a bit grittier in dealing with issues such as the DL (Down Low), and infidelity; the program even had an SGL (same-gender-loving) couple raising a child. I would not count Will & Grace among these shows – it fell into the trap of trying to please a “mainstream” audience – a.k.a. – White America.
In 1984, The Showtime network dared to be innovative by greenlighting a series that managed to surprise its creators: for five seasons, it became a staple for that network. That show was Brothers, about three brothers, one of which was gay. This was the first program to have a main character who was gay. Additionally, the character was not in the closet and had a very flamboyant friend. Brothers did not shy away from social issues of the time; instead, the program took them head-on–including the AIDS scare.
At that time, addressing AIDS was controversial enough. So, imagine a Black actor playing a gay man who had AIDS!
That actor was James Avery, who would later go on to play the beloved “Uncle Phil” on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Avery portrayed the character “Bubba Dean,” a pro football ex-teammate of “Joe,” the middle sibling in Brothers. “Bubba” turned out to be a very complex and well-developed character even though he was featured in only two episodes.
“Bubba” brings a dose of reality that was missing from 80s TV: a Black man with real-life issues who wasn’t living in the ghetto. In this first appearance, he is introduced as one of the teammates who shows up to surprise “Joe” with a brief reunion. Of course, the machismo is high and testosterone flies in the interaction until it is revealed that one of the guys is gay and has a crush on “Joe;” surprisingly, it’s “Bubba!” Now, not only do we have the first openly gay Black character, we have an interracial attraction!
The second episode with “Bubba” was also a first on network or cable TV. Never before had a Black gay character been portrayed as masculine. This was also the first time that a Black character, gay or straight, male or female, had been introduced on a show announcing that they had AIDS! The scene is a very dramatic one; it displayed the intensity that one may have felt when making such a confession then. Mr. Avery, in his last few lines, artfully communicates the weightiness of the reality many faced during that period.
Originally, Brothers was meant for major network prime-time television. NBC was the first to pick up the series, planning to air it in 1983. However, the network had concerns over the depiction of gay characters. ABC was given a shot but immediately passed. Eventually, Showtime got wind of the program and took it on. Brothers made such a huge impact that it lasted five seasons.
In 2017, ABC produced the min-series When We Rise, which was based around the Stonewall Riots era. Unfortunately, this series failed to authentically portray the LGBTQ Community.
Regrettably, the saying, “he who has the money, controls the narrative” rings true. However, what also rings true is:
We were there, we are here, and we will always be…
I invite you to watch the appearance of “Bubba Dean” on Brothers. The episodes were noted as progressive because they dealt with AIDS, an emerging epidemic across the United States in the early ‘80s. I hope you enjoy the humor and are touched by the show’s humanity.
LINKS TO THE APPEARANCES OF “BUBBA DEAN”
Season One, Episode Two (broken into three parts)
Part 1: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2uFSRZe5LoU
Part 2: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N46IIsjvicE
Part 3: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5rvp_v8-0Is
Season Two, Episode 18 (broken into three parts)
Part 1: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1LeSsn1BfQI&list=PLM98G2z5lG-JZVFGvVK0bfquSfZvxmekN&index=36
Part 2: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ytMqS4lMjbM&list=PLM98G2z5lG-JZVFGvVK0bfquSfZvxmekN&index=37
Part 3: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JRQ0Y5EsWGs&list=PLM98G2z5lG-JZVFGvVK0bfquSfZvxmekN&index=38
Bishop Hartsel Clifton Shirley is an author, writer, singer/songwriter, and bishop from Waterloo, Iowa. He received his master’s degree in business from the International Business Management Institute based in Berlin, Germany.
Currently residing in Atlanta, Mr. Shirley is a bishop of National and International Social Action, part of New Direction Overcomers’ International Fellowship (based in Richmond, Virginia).
A multi-faceted talent, Hartsel is a writer, author, and singer/songwriter. A bronze prize winner of the International Society of Poets, he has penned editorials for the Waterloo/Cedar Falls Courier. His best-selling novel is entitled Three Words, Four Letters, published by Ishai Books. Additionally, Hartsel has charted at #1 several times on the ReverbNation pop music charts.
Inspired by Langston Hughes, Bishop Shirley states, “I write what moves me. There is nothing I can’t write. I just have to care about it so I can write truthfully.”
According to Hartsel, his current book, The Night Eddie Sallis Died, is based on factual information he uncovered in 2002 about a 1966 jail cell “suicide” in Waterloo, Iowa (his place of birth). This revealing and riveting book pulls back the curtain on racism and police brutality. The author emphasizes, “These truths make Iowa a state not to be taken lightly–nor forget.”
Hartsel’s upcoming works include Three Words and Four Letters–the second and third installments of his first novel–along with his third music project, Rebel with A Cause.
Bishop Shirley can be emailed at email@example.com
I love your writing. I watched all the links to Brothers that you provided. I have never heard of that show. But I have heard of “The Closet” I have that on DVD. Thanks for opening my eyes to another great topic of conversation.