Beat-sheet: Death of a Black Queer Boy
A beat-sheet is a template that screenwriters use to outline the structure and characters of a screenplay. Today, I would like to breakdown the major beats of a little indie movie titled “Death of a Black Queer Boy.” Enjoy!
1. Protagonist- Let’s call him Jamal, a young black gay boy who loves to dance, act, and write poetry. Typical for a flashy queer kid, right?
2. Objective- Like most queer black boys, Jamal wants to live and survive in a world that believes he’s dangerous for being black, but also a freak of nature for being queer; hatred on both ends of his identity. He wants to show the world that his character goes beyond his skin color and who he sleeps with by pursuing his art and telling his story. At the same time, he would also love to win the attention and love from another boy who isn’t “out” yet.
3. Antagonist- Who isn’t an enemy in this case??? When every story about a trans or queer getting brutalized or killed every day on the news appears, every day feels like a fight with the devil. We could blame the religious Grandparents for hating that their grandson is feminine. Or the mother who knows about his son’s sexuality but doesn’t defend him when he yells at him for “acting like a girl”; playing with dolls instead of playing football and not acting like the man he was named after. “No son of mine is gonna taint my name by acting like a bitch.” Homophobia is too abstract that permeates in the actions of all the supporting players such as teachers, parents, and classmates. For this piece, we’ll boil down the villain to the closeted, famous football player, Jamal’s crush, Eric. Eric is always down to get his nut in with Jamal in the boy’s locker room but will never associate with him outside of sex. Eric is aware of how Jamal is attracted to him and exploits on those feelings by telling him how pretty he is, or how he’ll promise to take him on a “secret date” that’ll never happen, but will always call him up when he wants his dick sucked.
4. Mentor- Who are the mentors for black and queer boys? Unfortunately, not many. If the mother weren’t under the bigoted thumb of the homophobic father, she would be great. Still, boys like Jamal often have to turn to social media: other queer celebrities and icons that have the confidence and privilege to express themselves and be themselves on display. An opportunity Jamal wished to have. English and art teachers tell him to ignore his bullies or notify the administrators about them, but Jamal knows they can only do so much. Perhaps if Jamal had a proper mentor, this story wouldn’t end so tragically.
5. Flaw- I suppose Jamal’s inner weakness is a lack of confidence in his ability to be seen, to perform, and share his perspectives with the world. Despite loving the arts, Jamal has a fear of performing in front of others because of what they’ll say or do.
6. Inner need- What Jamal needs is love from the people around him. Jamal needs validation for his identity. Jamal needs guidance for a stable social life and better coping mechanisms for when he feels depressed.
7. Setting/Normal world- Jamal lives in a world where gender norms are strictly enforced, determined at birth, and as a spectrum of many colors, but instead is seen as two binary colors: pink and blue.
8. Enticing incident- Okay, the stage is all set, and the story begins. At age 15, Jamal decides it’s time to come out on FaceBook, and even though for some this merely a confirmation of something they already knew, some were still shocked and disgusted.
9. Response- Jamal by himself responds only in kind to the bullying and taunts he’s been receiving, even before coming out, from the dumb straight students and the judgemental eyes from some of the teachers.
10. Call to action- Jamal knows that if he can get Eric to come out with him. At the very least, he won’t feel like the lone gay kid in school, but he’s also aware of Eric’s reputation among their classmates.
11. Friends- Jamal has few friends, and most of them are girls and mostly supportive of his coming out. Jamal used to have more guy friends before they stopped talking to him as if a gay germ was going to spread onto them. Beyond dance, theatre, and school, Jamal doesn’t hang out with many. He would love to go to sleepovers if the parents didn’t freak out over “why this boy wants to be around so many girls” despite the inherent “gaydar” that everyone claims to have.
12. Obstacles- Everything is against this boy that wants to be an artist: A homophobic school environment, homophobic parents, and other friends straight or otherwise who step up to defend him. The fight for normalcy alone is enough for Jamal to think that maybe the Christians are right; maybe God does hate him.
13. The Ultimate test- Jamal is going to tell Eric off for avoiding him in his time of need. When they finally meet-up, Eric leans in for a kiss.
14. Resolution- Jamal puts his foot down and tells Eric that he wants commitment and a steady relationship. Eric says, “I’m not a faggot like you. I want my dick sucked!” Jamal says, “You didn’t say that last week,” Eric says. “You’re a faggot! Not me” and runs off, leaving Jamal all alone.
15. Final fight- Eric blocked Jamal’s number. The few friends Jamal have don’t know what to do but believe he’ll be okay. His dad smacks him for being a “faggot,” his mom watches. Jamal tries to fight his feelings of worthlessness but feels so lonely, and the darkness closes in on him as blood streams from the veins on his wrist.
16. Rebirth- Normally, this is the part of the movie where we have our main character summarize what they’ve learned from all the previous events, but we’re going to subvert expectations by not showing any progress. Jamal didn’t learn anything, or he learned that the world wasn’t suited for him if he did. This lesson of discovering a world that hates him is assessed by his cold, bleeding, and lifeless body found on the bed. If a queer black kid feels as if the world doesn’t love him, to the point where they kill themselves without a note…that should tell you something. That should tell you enough.
James Quinn is a Louisville native writing and teaching English to inspire others to express themselves, and tell stories. Mr. Quinn writes poems about genre fiction stories, and about his thoughts on the evolving and chaotic world around him. He discovered a knack and a need to write during his undergrad program at Spalding University, and strives to tell and write stories from multiple mediums. So far as a writer, he has published two chapbooks collections The Undergrad: The Mis-Education of James Quinn, and Time and Time Again.
James Quinn is also a massive nerd who reads comic books, genre fiction, and manga, and often writes about his thoughts on his blog site titled “Ebony Geek Thoughts”; a site where he discusses “geek culture” through his own lens as a queer African American.