Mixed media from Daniel De Culla

Large light brown Medieval style castle with turrets and ramparts up on a hilltop with some trees below.
Segovia Fortress, picture from Daniel De Culla


It is in the Segovia Fortrees

Perched on top of a rocky spur

At the confluence of the Eresma

And Clamores rivers:

In the window of the Queen’s Toilet

Facing the rugged rocks

Is looking out, very pretty

With a little creature in her arms

Rosina, the royal maiden

From Violante de Aragón

Wife of King Alfonso X of Castilla

Waiting for to come close to her

Timoteo the sweeper of the Aqueduct

Who, like a juggler, sings to her

Every day at Angelus time

To see of conquering her.

From his house in Zamarramala

To the rocks of the Alcazar

He has put a board

So when Rosina hangs up

And walk with him by the hand

Do not stain their shoes.

But, in a sad moment

Rosina, so in love with him

Has looked out so much

That, in a slight oversight

When the sun hit her in face

The little creature was released.

So Rosina, brave and fearful

Because the king would have hung her

If the little creature  

would have been killed

From the window she has been thrown

That being a little chubby

To the rock, before the creature

Has arrived

Falling the Little creature in her arms

Saving her without harming her

While Rosina died crumbling

With a smile on the lips

Unable to finish telling Timoteo

Her aqueduct sweeper

Who, saddened, was crying with tears:

-I plan to marry you,  my love

When I turn twenty

In the church of the Vera Cruz.

-Daniel de Culla

Essay from Federico Wardal

Is “digital cloning” of actors the future of movie making? 

Young white man with black curly hair and a stage costume outfit, shirt and jacket with sequins, standing in front of a window and some houseplants
Count Federico Wardal, stage and film actor

I have a very positive view of the technology that allows for the digital creation of a person’s image. Therefore I have signed a paper giving permission to clone myself for the purposes of filmmaking. But all the uses of my image, all the films where my clone appears, must be aligned with my values of peace, human rights and anti-racism.

White mesh over a man's face, digital tech-looking image

It turns out that I am the first actor in the world to have signed such a consent form, but someone has to be the first.  So digital science has assimilated my creative output – my looks, movements and mannerisms – to create and personify ten roles. These include roles created by ancient Greek playwrights including Sophocles, Aeschylus, and Euripides, and ancient Roman writers including Horace, and 17th century writers including Shakespeare, and luminaries of modern theater, including Pirandello, Beckett, and Schiller. I’m also allowing for my cloned image to play characters in my own stage and screenplays.  

Three tech-generated, expressive white male faces, eyes closed, different expressions - showing teeth or not.

So whoever wants to see me, or other actors who will eventually give their consent to being cloned, will be able to see me, first in the role of Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

My clone will also act in my own play The Creative Mechanisms of Enchantment, a drama that I wrote twenty years ago, using the method of automatic writing, inspired by the spirit of Shakespeare.  Finally you will see a very complex work, where ‘Shakespeare’ reveals his creative processes!  

Images of a white male face on a computer screen. First image is bald like a mannequin, the second has color, hair, features and a calm expression.

The cloned form of an actor perfectly meshes with the person’s real artistic expression on stage. I’ve acted onstage since I was 14 years old and almost always in front of an audience in public stadiums or large theaters.  And often I am alone onstage.  You cannot imagine how much strength the audience gives me and because of Covid-19, I have had to go without the audience I miss very much. This is the greatest loss that Covid-19 has brought me.

Round dome, lighted stage for theater performance.

Fortunately, I recently starred in Hollywood on January 19, 2020 to celebrate my hero, film legend Federico Fellini. Now through cloning, everyone will soon be able to see my performance in “Federico and Fellini” in three-dimensional form.  Meanwhile, it makes me happy that an artistic short film that I wrote entitled “Cloned Life” has just been made with cloning.  It’s not three-dimensional, but it’s perfectly natural.  

Seeing myself acting in “Cloned Life” without ever having practiced or acted as the characters of “Cloned Life” was a strange feeling: my self wondered how it was possible to see myself doing something I’d never done.

Black and white cloned image of Federico Wardal

Time and space are normally linked by means of physical matter. If one of the three elements, time, space, or matter, is removed, the other two are automatically gone as well.  Cloning is the first step in overcoming the limitations of matter, space, and time in a revolution on par with Galileo’s discovery of the planets revolving around the sun. 

Man is migrating to another world.  Aliens are said to have taken this step.  There’s a theory that each of our actions is recorded by the universe and that the past, present or future are the same thing. Artistic cloning embodies this theory, muddying the gap between the past, present, and future. There are many organizations and institutions working on perfecting cloning, including some in Hollywood. This is the beginning of a new era.

Poetry from Shruti Iyer

I want to fall in love
I want to fall in love,
With the emerald green vines,
That glisten in the sun,
Reflecting brilliance in my eyes.

I want to fall in love,
With the tint of rosé,
That unfurls into the azure sky,
As the sun sets into the bay.

I want to fall in love,
With the peals of echoing laughter,
That resonate round the room,
And make my gut ache after.

I want to fall in love,
With the fragrance of fresh tea,
That teases my nostrils,
As my languorous eyelids unseal.

I want to fall in love,
With a stranger’s soft eyes,
As I muse over the cache of secrets,
That dance in disguise.

I want to fall in love,
With the gentle zephyr,
That splays a wisp of hair in my face,
Imbuing chaste pleasure.

But most of all,
I want to fall in love,
With just being,
2) Manifestation of My mind
I write,
To reveal the sorrows,
Trapped beneath my skin,
As I yearn to distill,
Turbid thoughts that lie within.

I write,
To pave the path to,
Uncharted corners of my mind,
As I peel away the layers,
Always beguiled by what I find.

I write,
When I want to bawl,
And bellow from atop the roof,
To run from deafening silence,
To meet eyes with the truth.

I write,
Because I don't know how else,
To oust this gnawing pain
I long to be understood,
But my effort is oft in vain.

I write,
When I can't enounce,
To give voice to words unsaid,
Words that always lose the battle,
Between the heart and the head

I write,
What I crave to feel,
Exhilaration to be alive,
Electricity coursing my veins,
Fulfillment even if I die.

When I write,
My heart bleeds,
As pen and paper bind,
A beautiful symphony,
The manifestation of my mind.
Feel the weight of the world,
On her wearied shoulders,
Strives to stay stoic,
As the tension smolders,
Her hands start trembling,
Her lower lip quivers,
Her eyes reveal,
A tell-tale shimmer,
A lonesome droplet,
Spills down her cheek,
Deceived by emotion,
They surmise she is weak.

The brackish water,
Stings her aching wounds,
That now lay bare,
A plight so cruel,
It wracks her body,
Relinquished control,
Once tears of affliction,
Now cleanse her soul,
She takes a deep breath,
Stoic and somber,
You thought it was weakness,
But she..
She's never been stronger.
 Reminiscing of Colour
The pretty periwinkles,
That adorned my hair,
When I was ten.

The ink I spilled,
As I scrawled on the wall,
With my brand-new pen.

The way I felt,
That gloomy winter night,
When my friend left.

The grass I rolled in,
Eyes opalescent,
With joy and zest.

The dainty dress I wore,
As I pranced around,
With my favorite kite.

The luscious apricots,
My brother and I,
Cherished with delight.

The blood I shed,
As I matured,
And first felt pain,

All I see, and all I feel today.
Bleak and boring, grey.
Warm, sultry night 
Garb of a teenage lass
Blissfully unaware
Dancing to the pulsating rhythm
Wide grin, short lived.
Malicious eyes
Locked on it's target
Languid walk, smooth talk
Stepped out for some air
In the alley, eerie silence
Within a heartbeat
Inhumanity was there
The air escaped her lungs. 

Disarrayed. Sullied. Violated.
She thrashed in agony
A blood-curdling scream 
The music was louder 
Tears streaming down her cheeks.
Please stop.
He paid her no heed 
Protest rendered nugatory
Flailing ceased...

Glaring white light. 
Probed everywhere 
Throbbing pain, unfamiliar surroundings
The black curtain falls
The show is over.

Mother at her bedside,
Eyes swollen and red,
Pulled into an embrace
Familiar territory. 
But she squirms
Skin scorching, afraid to be touched
Scarred for eternity ,
Flesh once pure,
Tattooed by his grimy fingers.
He served five years
She, imprisoned for life.

Thousands of candles,
Her flame, extinguished.
Surrounded by rings of darkness
Cried herself to sleep
For that's when she saw him.
Three years later.
Music blaring through the speakers 
A stranger's eyes met hers 
He saw sombre beauty.
She saw hope.

Personal essay from Norman J. Olson

a trip to Miami August 1, 2011

by:  Norman J. Olson

I normally do not do shows of original art, so this summer of 2011, I decided that since I retired from my day job and had some extra time…  I would see about having a couple of showings of my originals…  I am not sure why…  but bringing art out of my personal space, which I normally do by publishing drawings and paintings in literary journals, is really important or at least feels really important to my image as someone who does art that has some public importance…  and is not just a personal or therapeutic exercise…

the first was in Jay Gallery in Seoul, Korea…  that was cool because I love what is going on in Asia these days and so was very excited to go to Seoul, have my art there, etc…  I have written about that trip elsewhere…  the second art show was at Naomi Wilzig’s World Erotic Art Museum (WEAM) (now called the Wilzig Erotic Art Museum) in the South Beach neighborhood of Miami Beach, Florida…  this amazing museum houses Naomi’s vast collection of sexually oriented art objects ranging from ancient sculptures and artifacts from the far corners of this planet to contemporary American paintings and drawings…  I am a huge fan of this museum because I am fascinated by sexuality and how artists have given serious or sometimes not so serious consideration to this most human range of activities… 

I knew Naomi had traveling shows of erotic art in her museum and although my art is not strictly speaking “erotic” in that it is seldom intended to inspire sexual feelings in the viewer, it is certainly full of nudes and deals often with the various subjects around human coming together, sexual and otherwise…  and of course, my subject is often simply the nude and while female nudes are welcome everywhere, male nudes are not…  especially if they show any sign of sexual arousal…  and since my works show plenty of hard ons, I thought that WEAM is one place where my work would not be out of place and where all the pussies and dicks would not surprise and offend anyone…

Naomi has been very supportive of my work and was willing to put up a show…  I sent her images and she selected the works to be hung…  and we settled on the month of August 2011 for the show…  I framed the works and packaged them in homemade cardboard packing crates and brought them to Miami in late July…  and they were put up on a wire rack in the center of one of the rooms at WEAM…  I am writing this August 14, so the work will be up for 12 more days and then I will go down and pick it up…  the cheapest way for me to move the art is as checked luggage using my wife’s employee passes to fly down and back…  and there are usually seats to Miami at this time of year…

so, Naomi scheduled an opening reception for August 1, 2011…  my wife and I flew down July 31, 2011 and she had found an interline rate at one of the fancy downtown Miami hotels for that night…  I had worked out the bus routes in advance…  I know that Miami is a city with some pretty tough neighborhoods, so one needs to be careful where you go on public transportation and it is always best to travel in the daytime…  many years ago, when my kids were small, my rental car was attacked in Miami when I accidentally drove through the wrong neighborhood after getting off a cruise ship late at night…  I was very lucky to get out of that situation with my skin and learned for sure to be very careful in bad neighborhoods… 

it must be due to the cab drivers lobby or something but while there is a direct bus from Miami airport to Miami Beach, in fact, there are several…  there is no direct bus from the airport to downtown and since the fancy hotel did not have a shuttle, we had to take two buses to get from the airport to downtown… and since Miami Transit no longer uses transfers, we had to pay two fares or $4 each to get from the airport to downtown by bus (a distance of about five miles)… 

we caught the #J bus at MIA with no problem at about 2 pm on July 31 and a half hour or so later got off on Biscayne Blvd to transfer to the #3 downtown bus…  there was a Denny’s restaurant and since we flew down coach and had not eaten, we stopped and had lunch there at the corner of 36th Street and Biscayne Blvd…  I had the $2 pancakes which were very good and it is amazing that a meal can fill one up for $2…  anyway, we then caught the bus to downtown…  it was a very hot day and I am quite paranoid about being on time for buses, flights, etc.  I made Mary go to the bus stop about 20 minutes before the bus was actually due, so she was pretty warm by the time the bus came…  the bus was nicely air conditioned when it did come…  and very full…

all of the buses we took in Miami were quite busy stopping at just about every corner for people to get on and off…  the bus riders mostly looked like service workers, some wearing fast food uniforms….  with a sprinkling of middle class people and tourists…  most of the bus riders were dark skinned black or Latino and every bus had at least a few people who looked absolutely down and out homeless…  and a few very tough looking teenagers…  people were uniformly polite and friendly to us and the very few other tourists we saw on the buses…  when we got downtown, we asked the bus driver for directions to the fancy hotel and he did not seem to know where it was but gave us directions that seemed to be exactly opposite of where my had drawn map (from Google screen) was showing us to go…  but he was so friendly and helpful that we did not want to make him feel bad, so we waited until the bus left and then followed my map a few hot and sweaty blocks to the hotel…

we joked that we were probably the only people who ever checked in at that hotel who arrived via the local bus… and  when we walked through the glass doors into the palatial marble lobby, dripping wet from the very humid 94 degrees outside, the front desk person had the bellhop bring us bottles of cold water…  and then she gave us a huge suite looking out over the water for $76 a night…  so, we had a really amazing hotel room with four big windows looking out on a spectacular view of Miami’s waterfront…    so, after ohing and ahing about our fancy room for a while…  we went for a walk along the waterfront to Bayfront Park where we found all kinds of inexpensive restaurants serving various mildly ethnic foods…  and had a great dinner…  then we walked along the waterfront looking at the lights across the water…  the bridge and the headquarters buildings of Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines the lights of which shimmered in the water….  appropriately, I guess…  the night was warm and gorgeous and huge powerboats would come by looking at the people on shore who were looking at the people on the boats and so everybody was seeing and being seen…  then we walked back to the fancy hotel…

the next morning, we took the bus back to the airport to meet my daughter and son-in-law who came down for the opening…  we met them and took the express bus to Miami Beach which costs $2.35…  first, we waited a half hour and tried to take the free hotel shuttle, only to find that our Miami Beach boutique hotel was not one served by the free Miami Beach hotel shuttle…  as we often observe to each other while traveling it is really really hard to get good information when traveling…  what the fares are, where the buses go… where the rail lines go, how you pay…  where can you walk and where can you not walk…  etc. etc…  things are often a little different in person and a detour that only takes 20 minutes by car can cost hours to one walking or using public transportation and so much of the information available about traveling in the usa is of use only to motorists…

anyway, the Miami Beach express bus called the “Flyer” ends up at the northern end of South Beach at 16th and Washington Streets…  we stayed at something called the Haddon Hall hotel which was a very funky South Beach hotel with mix and match furniture in the room and blond woodwork from the 50s? 40s? 30s? in the room…  but the beds were comfortable and the hotel had a nice pool…  most of the boteque hotels in South Beach do not have pools and was only 3 or 4 blocks from WEAM…  and two blocks from the ocean…  it also had a huge lobby and two lounge rooms with overstuffed furniture, books on the walls and in one a large tv…  so, for $89 for the four of us, it was very nice… 

we parked our stuff at the hotel and walked down Ocean street across the street from the dunes that lead to the beach… and had a nice lunch at one of the sidewalk cafes…  with some fancy drinks…  and then walked on the path across the dunes to look at the ocean…  the beach here is wide and white sand down to gorgeous turquoise water…  my daughter and son in law waded in the ocean a bit…

then we walked back to the hotel, changed and walked the three blocks to WEAM…  where Naomi greeted us with her usual charm and grace…  I thought my work was very nicely hung (maybe since this is an erotic art museum, I should say “well hung”), and I thought it looked great (of course, all artists always think their own work looks great, even if they do not admit it!!!  as my brother used to say, “the monkey likes the look of his face in the mirror”)…  I had a great time talking about art to the few people who showed up and showing off my beautiful wife, daughter and son-in-law…

at ten Naomi came up to me carrying her purse to say goodnight…  we were leaving and she was leaving…  she looked like the lovely grandma that she is…  a lovely grandma who happens to own the best museum of erotic art on the planet…  it is great to see people my age and older who are still alive to the music of life…  when so many of my peers seem ossified or stuck some place back in the good ol days… 

anyway, at ten, we took the elevator down (WEAM is on the 2nd floor) and walked out into the warm, tropical Miami night…  we walked over to Ocean Street where the restaurants, clubs and bars were going full blast, never mind that it was Monday night…  and beautiful tourists in tank tops, bikini tops and flip flops were everywhere… the South Beach night is lush and the vibe is hot and friendly… 

our trip back to Minneapolis was uneventful…  on the bus from Miami Beach back to MIA, I sat next to a very tanned and pretty woman from Italy…  her equally tanned and pretty husband was across from us managing two massive suitcases…  as I talked to them and looked at them, I thought of Italy, Michelangelo, Leonardo, Raphael (who died so young) and of all the amazing art that has been made down through the years…  I felt honored and humbled to think that I could deserve the name “artist” and in my own small way was doing what those great minds and hands of the past had done…  after all, a blank surface is a blank surface and they had the same paints and brushes, pens and papers that I have to use…  well, they did not have the ball point pen, but then I do not have good quills…  well, WEAM amazing as it is, is not the Sistene Chapel and I am not even a small blip on the History of Art radar, much less Michelangelo…  but still, if Michelangelo had put his work at WEAM nobody would have had to hire Daniel De Voltera to paint over the genitals of the blessed or the damned…

about my trip to Miami August 1, 2011

we flew into Miami like

turquoise gods.  banking over the blind

white sand,

gliding above ragged palm tree grids,

we rode the old MD80

to the ground…

in bubbling heat, we walked from the terminal to the bus stop

on the J bus and later the 3, we

saw tattooed teenagers

as sad and sleek as Da Vinci angels,

a young black junkie with paralyzed fingers

and scarred veins,


a broken man with a rope for a belt

and Ezekiel’s beard…

I called those buses the limos of lost dreams

and with our own dreams

in our hands, we glided like cardboard ghosts

through the pastel desolation

of Miami…

of course, as we sweated from the downtown bus stop

to our fancy glass and marble hotel,

it was clear that we were not gods or ghosts, just

very white, very hot, very lucky tourists

from Minnesota

Sestina from Rachel Grosvenor

To Create
by R. Grosvenor
I know that she is near to the End
Each word that comes from her mouth is Sorrow
But when I mention Pride
She is Still
I beg of her, Rise
Be brave, and Create
Her response is not refusal outright, but she repels the plea Create
I draw her, pull her, away from the End
Drag her to her feet and speak the word, Rise
But, the cupboard is empty to her Sorrow
Together, we are Still
 We watch that beast, Pride
Each beat of Pride
Must be a pleasure, impossible for I to Create
My own beat is Still
It had not begun, so there could be no End
I will not be overcome with Sorrow
It is in my nature to Rise
The others around us do it every day, they Rise
They have no issues with who they are, they have filled themselves with Pride
But, they would not tell if they felt Sorrow
It is easy to Create
Not so easy to agree, that this is the End
Easier to pretend, to be Still
I tried to be religious once, I prayed and I sat Still
I agreed with the crowds that someone might Rise
That the earth really could End
But there was too much Pride
Belief and faith were not a part of what I could Create
I believe in myself and Sorrow
If I spent each day as I liked, perhaps I would feel no Sorrow
I could be Still
I could do nothing but Create
I would Rise
My self would be only Pride
My creativity would not have to End
The words are synonymous with each other, Rise and have Pride
Create and be Still
Realise your End and find Sorrow

Poetry from J.K. Durick

Visible Man
I’ve been CAT Scanned, MRI’d, ultra-sounded,
x ray’d here and x ray’d there, lab-tested and
examined till I’ve become the new visible man,
a new video game they’ve played on all their
screens, winners and losers alike adjusting this
prescribing that. I’m the visible man pictured
more for his insides than the out, the subject
of tests and reports, the much prescribed for
victim of our times and the woes of getting old.
I’m the visible man hiding at home waiting for
the next call, the email suggesting another
change in medicine or dosage or both or yet
another test or way of viewing the inner me,
the inner me I tried to hide away, but I have
become the visible man and they are all viewing
waiting to stake another claim, another diagnosis,
another bit of invisibility to expose.

                    On Mornings Like This

There are mornings, like today, when getting out of bed
is a task, a trial, something I would avoid if I could. On
mornings like this I stay under covers, on my side, on my
back, properly pillowed, secure and then I begin to think
about the day to come, I remember all the other days, so
many now, days that were frustrating, even frightening,
other days that hurt, days when I was happy, I was sad.
These memories hold me there, where it seems I almost
have a choice – begin again and let the day come to me,
let it be whatever it will be, or just stay there and let to-
day go on without me, like the elderly recluse I sometimes
imagine I am, bedridden, beyond caring what the day will
bring. It’s like the old one about doing the same thing over
and over and expecting different results – the insanity of
the thing, this getting up expecting something different,
something unexpected. My saner self just stays there, lays
there for a while weighing the possibilities, then he’s up
moving, starts up, feet on the floor, stumbles a bit, and then
sets out on yet another day.

                           Organ Recital
Today it’s my right elbow, feels like my left knee felt
yesterday, pain I can’t shake out today, couldn’t walk
off yesterday. It works like that, mobile, always ready
to relocate. It’s like my body comes up with a new dis-
traction each day; one day it’s my back, my shoulder
my neck, it stays long enough to slow me down, stays
long enough to make an impression but then it moves
on. It’s part of aging I’m sure. I remember as kids my
sister Liz and I used to joke about our old relatives and
called the first part of their/our visits ‘the organ recital.’
They would describe each pain in great detail, locate it
for us and compare it to other pains they knew we needed
to know about. On the way home or after they left we’d
imitate them, voice and all, and have a good laugh. Now
when Liz and I get to talk, by phone these days, we begin
with an inventory of aches and pains, this condition and
that. We get the irony, even call it by the name our joke
used, our organ recital. Today it’s my right elbow and I
feel like someone’s aging relative, feel like mentioning it
to anyone who would listen, knowing they need to know.

J. K. Durick is a retired writing teacher and online writing tutor. His recent poems have appeared in Literary Yard, Vox Poetica, Synchronized Chaos, Madswirl, Pendemic, and Eskimo Pie.

Essay from Jaylan Salah

Young woman with light skin and medium length straight brown hair and a blouse with a black and white floral design.
Jaylan Salah

Insecure: And then there were Men?

The Black Man of the 90s

“All in all I enjoyed spending time in Miz Bradshaw’s sharp, funny, finely drawn world where single women ruled and the men were disposable.”

Showing black men on screen is tough. Watching black men on screen is tougher if when I’m not one of the African American community since my judgment of the characters will only be clouded by my racial and ethnic background.

I’m a 90s gal, I grew up to icons like Eddie Murphy (the funny, cocky black man), Boyz in the Hood (the black teens struggling with violence and poverty), Will Smith (the hot, approachable black man), and Wesley Snipes.

If my Leo mania days were laden with butt cuts and dreamy looks, my Wesley Snipes days were hard-on.

I always fantasized about having two imaginary boyfriends –when real ones were boring and predictable- the dreamy, funny yet clean Leonardo Dicaprio of the 90s-00s and the dark, mysterious Wesley Snipes, all clad in black and sniping necks.

I first saw Wesley Snipes in “Money Train” and his sex scene with J.Lo –another icon of our time- was something of another world. Dreamy, beautiful, exotic, unlike the blond-on-blond action we saw in sanitized Hollywood movies, or the shocking scenes we secretly view behind our parents’ backs on the VCR in classics such as “Basic Instinct”. If Titanic was the ultimate sexual awakening moment for a young teen in the 90s, “Money Train” was an eye-opener to a sexual world that existed beyond the domination of Whitewashed fantasy Hollywood, where Steven Spielberg directed monsters into some kind of a sexual fantasy, natural disasters always involved a teen crush and horror movies were a milder breed than the nasty torture porn bullshit of the 2000s.

Wesley Snipes –sorry Will Smith- was the first black hero I knew, and masturbated to. He was dreamy as much as a dreamboy could be; dark, mysterious, hard on the edges, portraying grimy, scary black characters that happened to exist in another realm. He rarely smiled, actions first words sometimes don’t even follow, which created this black man fantasy in my brain. Snipes became the prince of darkness who haunted my dreams, and in my fantasies, we would both fight –me being a Xena warrior princess version of myself- after which we would make love. The love at first fight scene with J.Lo became a staple in my imaginary relationship with Snipes. Unlike the one, I had with Dicaprio where he would kiss my hand, read me poetry, and talk about his wounded past. With Snipes, there were no words.

Now that I am an educated 32-year-old Egyptian feminist, I would like to ponder on whether that was intentional. Was Hollywood trying to sell us how we should view black men in the 90s-00s; they were these funny guys, or these tall, brooding men who rarely spoke, relied on action rather than self-expression? As opposed to the coy sexiness of the butt-haircut dreamboats, or the All-American fun of Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt, the black man sexiness was aloof. He didn’t have feelings, he was just a fantasy filler, imagine this grand larger-than-life dude with a skin a few degrees darker than you going down on you. Imagine how his penis would look like?

My relationship with black leading men has been quite fantastical but more of those on the other side of the tracks. Unlike White action heroes of the 90s-00s like Nicholas Cage, Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, and Jean-Claude Van Damme who were dim-witted but each carried around a persona that branded him for life, black action heroes were dimensional, exotic and represented the fantasy of the Uncanny, no matter how hard the Hollywood machine tried to polish and glamorize it. The big studio execs intentionally kept us afar from the black man; until something magical happened and I began to see the black man for who he was.

A Brief History of Black men vulnerability and

The separation between queer culture and black culture dates back to the 1960s when the ideal white queer character was the face of the cultural and social awakening of gay rights. When the Stonewall riots erupted in 1969, queer people of color were on the frontlines, although cinema chose to save the legacy using white queers as protagonists of a story that –at its core- challenged brutality against marginalized communities in particular queer people of color.

The separation between queer and black identity could be thrown back to two factors. The neoliberal movement opened a window for queerness on condition that it disregarded labels of race, class, or gender. The white queer person does not belong to a specific movement or cause. They simply exist as a guest star in the narrative framework, accept a secondary role, a place within the broader scheme of life; harmless, happy to be reduced to a small part of the social and cultural rights movements, and do not stand up for any cause. Imagine the character Stanford or any queer character that appears on “Sex and the City”, they’re just for giggles but nothing more. In the latest TV series from Hulu “Mrs. America”, the difference in the black and white feminist experience is largely outlined, especially when the black lesbian leader Margaret Sloan-Hunter feels sidelined by the white-majority women’s liberation movement and decides to co-found the National Black Feminist Organization (NBFO). This brings us to the second factor which is the heteronormative representation of black masculinity as opposition to black queer subordination to “white vanilla” which typically destroys and deconstructs the black identity of attraction to all things black. Black queers are not in touch with their black masculine side and maybe secretly craving –as a form of latent submission- the white sexual object as relations of disempowerment or domination to signify a repressed opposition to coupling with black men.

Stereotyping black male sexuality as one of hypermasculinity and dominance harms the black image while not staying true to the black suffering and the black experience. Homophobia among black scholars and the black church –which exudes a major influence in the life of the black community- is not to be ignored. This damages the breadth of freedom where black men are left to express their sexual and emotional selves.

The pressure to be a black “man” as heteronormative as one could not stop at straight vs. queer. The image of a tough man who leads the family, identifies with manly activities, and attitudes while disregarding anything effeminate such as expressing emotion, showing an interest in fashion, mulling over heartbreaks, or showing a sensitive side have always been encouraged.

It was not until 2016 that I saw black men that defied conforming to assigned roles or masculine expression; that is, Moonlight.

Moonlight – circa 2016

Moonlight was the height of everything that year; great music, a great representation of an otherly black man that even black men resisted back then, great performances, emotional vulnerability at its finest. I watched Moonlight on my laptop with my sister and became immersed in the twisted emotional intensity that is Chiron and Kevin. Never have I watched a more raw, realistic depiction of a one-sided fantasy that wrecked someone’s life as the love that Chiron harbored for Kevin all of his life. Seeing it reminded me of the works of Jane Austen and Emily Bronte. Here was a man lusting after another, unable to get over him, remaining celibate if not for the single experience of having that man give him a handjob one hot summer night in Miami in front of the beach. Chiron and Kevin’s kiss, their late-night date at the diner while the “Chef’s special” soundtrack subtly cloaked the atmosphere, and Chiron’s pained confession at the end reminiscent of “White” films such as “Atonement”, “Becoming Jane”, and “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” reinforced the revolutionary take on the mystical black man and how it is portrayed on the big screen and subsequently on TV.

How Blindspotting made me understand White privilege like nothing before

After Moonlight, one of the bravest, smartest films on racial interactions, White privilege, and gentrification “Blindspotting” introduces us to Colin, and again a black man on my screen is more than the simple, easy on the eye sex appeal that someone like Idris Elba pours into women’s laps while kissing Kate Winslet in “The Mountain Between Us”, Colin has this onscreen interaction with a beautiful non-White woman Val and I am reminded of Chiron and Kevin, even of my past teenage lustful peeks at J.Lo and Wesley Snipes doing it.

Colin has already been to prison and through his glances and unease around law enforcement, I am reminded of the constant fear that African Americans go through in their own country. It takes me a while to see that same scene repeated in shows like “Insecure” and “Little Fires everywhere” although in the latter the black person in question is a woman, yet her fear when a police car pulls her over resonates with the one I saw in Colin’s eyes.

Three black men. Three different stories. The mystery of the black man cracks open in front of my observant eyes. Until one of my African American friends suggests “Insecure” after noticing my obsession with another HBO gem “Sex and the City”.

“You need another perspective other than the single White girl’s view on sexuality, relationships, work, and money.”

So I started “Insecure” and got sucked into Issa’s abyss, I immediately saw myself in both Issa and Molly; with their respective career and relationship struggles to be entirely different. I saw another side to black characters and black lives that were not defined by the Uncanny or the conventional. There were no “hood” or Momma bear characters. There were no mysterious black men or tormented black mothers. “Insecure” represented the black culture as relatable as it could be.

Insecure is the HBO-series from the creative mind of comedian Issa Rae. And in one interview she stated that the top item of wish-fulfillment on her agenda was having gorgeous, great men who are also grounded. This explains Lawrence.

And then there was Lawrence

What can I say about Lawrence? Not the Wesley Snipes, not the Chiron, not the Colin. Lawrence is the confused black man at his most vulnerable self, fragile, emasculated, unmotivated, hurt, and secluded in his bubble of self-pity and inferiority complex. People did not react well to Lawrence’s character. Black men were not used to seeing themselves as flawed, broken, and unwanted. A nice guy like Lawrence deserved women to stay faithful to him for life, deserved to be loved and respected. Male fans took their anger on Issa in what they saw as an act of betrayal for the black dude whom you’d take to church and introduce to your parents. We seldom saw a Lawrence character onscreen without being whitewashed or made impossible. Lawrence was written by a black woman who had all the creative freedom she could be offered and thus he showed onscreen as confused, sensitive, and yet realistic as a black dude with his personality could be.

However, nobody understood Lawrence. Feminist critics slammed him as a slob, a poor excuse that hindered Issa’s growth. Male fans on the other hand stood up in solidarity of Lawrence whom they viewed as a role model and a grim reaper ready to claim their good phantom selves, with the likes of Issa ready to discard them at the first hint of niceness.

I had a different opinion from both. Lawrence is neither a demon nor an angel. He is not a martyr who endured a cheating slutty girlfriend and not a low-lifer who dragged Issa’s growth and ambition behind. He is human. He is anti-black man tropes like Daniel, Chad, or Dro, who resemble the archetypal black man women like me have had in mind pre-Moonlight era. When I think of Lawrence I see an evolution of the black man on the screen; sensitive but cool, retaining the soul and the spirit of the average black dude and yet a specific characteristic that allows him to showcase his vulnerability and individuality.

Watching a black man struggle on-screen with self-image, romantic letdowns, inconsistent careers, and the inability to overcome a loss and betrayal was a refreshing shift from nominal, one-dimensional black men who appeared to be either satisfied with their status quo as “members of a gang”, or invincible action heroes. Black men were fictional versions of humanity on screen. Hollywood sold us the Will Smiths, the Wesley Snipes, and the Cuba Gooding Juniors to represent black men who could not be conquered. It was an upgrade from the sidekick role in films like “Lethal Weapon” or TV series like “Walker Texas Ranger” but still a demotion from who the modern black man was. That’s what Rae did with Lawrence. She wants her gorgeous men grounded. And yes Lawrence is one hot black man that I could lust after forever, but he is also insecure, extroverted, weak, and easily broken. His emotions are ballistic under the force of Issa’s awkward strength and sexuality, his attachment to what is and what should never be a testament to what men want after a breakup. Moments of introspection, even if their sex lives skyrocket, their emotional integrity remains at stake.