Director Patrik-Ian Polk Reaches New Heights With His Latest Film ‘Blackbird’
Multi-faceted film mastermind and director, Patrik Ian Polk, most certainly has a message that he is sticking to. Depicting films based on individuals leading homosexual lives, through aspects of triumph, community, and liberation, Polk’s vision has both inspired and created a movement all on its own. On April 24th his latest film, Blackbird, opened in select theaters nationwide revealing the story of Randy, a young black male who is sincere about his religion yet struggles with his attraction to other boys. In Polk’s latest coming of age film, he shines light on an issue that is constantly being swept under the rug in the black community. Much like his previous works, Blackbird is a film that touches base on controversial issues with one goal in mind: to evoke change.
Bleu staff had the privilege and the honor to talk to the influential and innovative forerunner about his audacious behavior, the adversities he’s continued to overcome and the next gutsy moves he plans to make.
Bleu:We’re in a time where homosexuality is more accepted than it ever has been but you’ve been making movies about this controversial topic for 15 years. What gives you the courage to continue to bring this topic to the forefront.
Patrik: Growing up in Mississippi in the late 70’s and 80’s I had no images, no books, no TV shows, no movies -nothing I could see that reflected who I was as a young black gay male and so when I went to college I stumbled across the ground breaking novel by Larry Duplechan. It was the first time I had experienced a work of art that was told from the point of a view of a black gay character. The story was about a young black boy discovering who he was. I was moved by the power to evoke change. So as a filmmaker I wanted to create a film that I wanted to see and something that I wish I had seen when I was younger. To make it in Hollywood you have to have big balls. You have to be fearless and you can never take no for answer. I’m not 100% sure where the boldness and audacity comes from but I think it stemmed from having a supportive family but more importantly it was me realizing early on how I could use film to change lives and wanting to be a part of that instead of just making films to entertain. As an independent film maker I haven’t made a lot of money yet, but 15 years later people still talk to me about my film ‘Punks’, 10 years later people still talk to me about Noah’s Arc. Younger men in college write to me all the time and tell me that my stories have changed their life. So when people come to me and tell me how my work has helped them, that certainly fuels my fire.
Bleu: In this film you have 2 of the biggest names in Hollywood playing the roles of Randy Parents? What did you see in Isaiah Washington and Mo’nique that made you think they would see fit in helping getting the message in this story across?
Patrik: It started with Isaiah Washington, he’s one of my favorite male actors. He has an amazing 20 plus film career and he was my first and only choice in deciding who would play the father. Once I got him to sign on he actually reached out to Mo’nique. I never thought we had a chance at casting her but they had a friendship so he ran it past her and to my surprise she actually liked it and made the decision to come on board along with her husband, Sidney Hicks, as executive producers and we were off and running from there.
Bleu: What conflicts have you faced when it comes to casting for your films and why did you decide to choose Julian Walker ,who had no prior acting experience, as the lead for this film?
Patrik: One of the things that I have experienced through out my career is the difficultly in casting black gay characters. There’s always this resistant from Hollywood actors who are afraid to play gay roles because they think it will have a negative impact on their career but if you take a look back in history there hasn’t been one actor whose brand has been hurt by playing a gay role. It just doesn’t exist! If anything they get more credit for playing these characters, especially straight actors. People think of them as bold and extra courageous for playing these roles. So I’ve always had resistance from industry actors,always. I’ve had to look to new cool talent , newer actors coming up, those who maybe haven’t had much experience but sometimes those tend to be the most fearless . They haven’t learned enough in the industry,they haven’t been around enough to sort of develop those bad messages and I went through the same thing on this film when I was casting the lead character. We saw a lot of actors in Hollywood who were uncomfortable or felt like they couldn’t do it for religious reasons. And then I got this audition out of the blue from this kid who was a sophomore at the University of Southern Mississippi located in Hattiesburg, which is my hometown where we shot the film. He heard about the audition from a friend and sent in an audition tape. It was totally unprofessional and I could tell he was a novice and never acted before but I saw a spark in him. I asked him to redo his audition tape and I gave him a couple of pointers on how to make it more professional and the same spark was there so I had him come in to do an in person audition and I could really see that he had something. Even though he never acted a day in his life he had a natural ability , an unspoiled talent and he was openly gay which I feel made him the perfect person to play the part. I never worry when I’m going through casting difficulties because I always know the universe will send me who I’m supposed to have and the universe never fails.
Bleu: What is the relationship like between the cast members off the screen?
Patrik:Mo’nique has taken Julian under her wings. She believes very strongly in his talent. She’s taking the responsibility of introducing this young man into the industry and they have built a very close relationship. The same goes for Isaiah, together they embraced him and by creating this connection off screen they were able to translate their relationship on screen while filming. We’ve all fallen in love with Julian, he’s the sweetest kid ever and this is what we all hope to be a long and fruitful career for him. He’s graduating from college next month and then he’ll be pursuing his acting career full time.
Bleu: With the adversities you have faced, has there ever been a moment when you thought maybe this wasn’t it?
Patrik: Absolutely not! I knew as a teenager that this is what I was going to do and not pursuing this was never an option. I pursued my goals with a single mind devotion . I mapped it out, I read Spike Lee’s first book, ‘She’s Gotta Have It’ which accompanied his debut film where he spoke on what he had to do to get that movie made. He talked about going to film school and using his grandmothers credit cards to make that low budget film that introduced him to the world. I read that book when I was 13 and that really showed me what to do. I could put a black face on film making , I found out what film school was and I was able to chart my path on that. Once I made that decision that was it, I would never be deterred from that. Film making has always been in my blood and I knew that was my calling.
Bleu:So what can we expect next?
Patrik: I’ll be shooting a movie over the summer in Atlanta with Julian Walker and working on developing concepts for TV shows. I’m just staying focused on new projects and working on my next small screen film.
Keep up with Patrik On Social Media!
Be sure to check out Blackbird in select films below!
AMC Phipps Plaza
AMC Southlake Pavilion
AMC Town Center 8
TCL Chinese Theatre
Los Angeles Cinemark 18
City Cinemas Angelika Pop UP
DC ArcLight Bethesda
New York City
AMC Empire 25