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On the Downlow
On the Downlow
Actor: On the Downlow
Director: Abigail Child
Genres: Documentary, African American Cinema
NR     2008     1hr 10min

In this artful and thought-provoking film, highly regarded experimental filmmaker Abigail Child follows four young African American men in urban Cleveland, Ohio, who all live life on the downlow (the DL). — Uncomfortable wi...  more »


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Movie Details

Actor: On the Downlow
Director: Abigail Child
Genres: Documentary, African American Cinema
Sub-Genres: African American Heritage, African American Cinema
Studio: Docurama
Format: DVD - Color
DVD Release Date: 09/23/2008
Release Year: 2008
Run Time: 1hr 10min
Screens: Color
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 0
MPAA Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Languages: English

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Movie Reviews

An important matter in MY community
Jeffery Mingo | Homewood, IL USA | 10/18/2008
(3 out of 5 stars)

"1. THERE'S SOMETHING HERE THAT DIDN'T SURPRISE ME. In a lot of the scenarios, the straight Blacks had some clue about the DL brothas. One guy said when his girlfriend and he broke up, she screamed, "You like hot dogs anyway!" But yet she later took him back. When one guy came out as bisexual, his military father said, "I had been hearing stories of that." A straight female friend said to one DL man, "I knew that!" The Black community is my own community and I do think that sometimes it's not that brothas are hiding; it's that straights are willing to ignore the facts because they don't want them to be true in the first place. This DL thing is not fool-proof.

2. THERE'S SOMETHING HERE THAT SADDENS ME OR MAKES ME EMPATHIZE WITH STRAIGHT WOMEN. First, one brotha is dancing in sexy rhythm with his girlfriend, then later he comes out to her while his boyfriend is at the same table. The woman asks, "Does this mean this is the end of you and me?" and the DL guy affirms that. The sista bows down her head in sadness. I think a whole bunch of straight female viewers are going to get teary-eyed at this. This woman did not ask that her man be gay. She lost what she thought was a good partner through no fault of her own. The documentary does not pursue the issue further and some may feel that this short-changes her unfairly. But this scene reminds me of Dina Matos-McGreevey's autobiography and Liza Minelli's comments about the legitimate pain of straight women who find out the real deal about their male partners. Perhaps someone could make a documentary about how they suffer too. Those interested in this from a Black woman's perspective may want to read LaJoyce Brookings' autobiography.

3. THERE'S SOMETHING THAT ANNOYED ME. A lot of the people filmed had their faces blurred. The camera purposely used blurry movements so the viewer couldn't see some of the actions taking place by people in the camera's range. The DL brothas speak in low, mumbly tones so you could barely hear what they are saying. From an aesthetic perspective, this may have given a visual imagery to a topic that is meant to be so secret. But if you are a viewer that likes to be given all the facts and have a better chance to come up with your own conclusions, then you may hate a lot of this.

4. MISCELLANEOUS STUFF. Other discussions of DL have implied that DL brothas avoid openly gay men like the plague. The four men here never suggest that being gay and being DL are mutually exclusive. In a lot of ways, "down low" just means "closeted." In "Boundaries of Blackness," Dr. Cathy Cohen said the MSM term is frustrating because MSM often get busy with openly gay men. Remember when J.L. King said to Oprah, "Will & Grace and Queer as Folk don't matter because they concern whites, not blacks!"? Some say that DL brothas get down only intraracially. Some say DL is a response to not just Black homophobia, but also to white gay racism. The legal book "Hybrid" makes mention of this. In other words, DL may come from the thought that "White gays exclude us and Black straights would punish us if they knew the real deal, so this is how we'll negotiate those two things." Here, there seemed to be more interracial action that one might imagine. Don't get me wrong: this wasn't like the infuriating "Brother to Brother" where no Black male couples were present. There are brotha-loving brothas here. It's just that there are more whites here than some may imagine. Finally, I think bisexual activists may have a lot to say about this. These men never suggest that liking men equates to not liking women. They never say, "I'm so proud and excited that others don't know the real me!" They seem to be suggesting that liking men may prevent them from getting with women, so they just keep that side of them under wraps. If there were more acceptance of bisexual males, then maybe DL-ness would not be so widespread."
Living a Secret
Amos Lassen | Little Rock, Arkansas | 09/27/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)

""On the Downlow"

Living a Secret

Amos Lassen

The expression "on the downlow" has made its way into common usage now and I doubt there are many people who do not know what it means. Abigail Child in her new film of the same name "On the Downlow" gives us a look at four African-American men who live in Cleveland, Ohio and live their lives "on the downlow". The narratives of the four are interwoven through interviews that are quite candid and we get quite an in-depth look at men who lead double lives.
Many of out African-American brothers are not comfortable with being associated with gay culture as they feel it violates the Black concept of masculinity. We meet Billy who boasts that the best sex he has ever had was with the woman who carried his two children but he chooses to live with a male partner. Ray desires drag queens and Kerwin is comfortable with a beautiful woman at one side and a handsome man on the other. Antonio became involved with men when he was in prison and he dates a guy named George who has a girlfriend who does not know about Antonio. Obviously the "downlow" lifestyle is not easy and we see this through the real and poignant stories of these men. They live as straight men but their sexual lives are with men. Child must have been able to gain the confidence of these men in order to be able to tell their story and she gives us a wonderful and beautifully photographed film about something that most of us know nothing about.
"I am invisible, simply because people refuse to see me."
Matthew G. Sherwin | last seen screaming at Amazon customer service | 06/16/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)

"-quote by Ralph Ellison

On the Downlow is a rather well made documentary that showcases the degree to which young black men who are either gay or who like both men and women have chosen to remain "on the downlow" (which means "closeted") to avoid nasty confrontations and other social issues including the stigma associated with these lifestyles in the African-American community. The African-American community has usually been somewhat at odds with men who enjoy romantic time with other men; the black man is often expected to date women. This all means that many black men must at least superficially live their lives as if they were straight; this low budget yet powerful documentary seriously and meaningfully explores the issues these men face as a result of being something other than straight and therefore choosing or even having to live their lives "on the downlow." In addition, the action moves along at a good pace and the quality of the print is excellent.

We meet several African-American young men and we listen and watch as they talk, go dancing and socialize on film. We see very clearly how they choose to cope with their sexuality and how their relationships can either blossom or suffer as a result. One young man named Kerwin opens up to a platonic girlfriend and they become better friends while another young man says his family would disown him if they knew what his lifestyle really was. Another young man named Ray likes to go with men dressed up as women especially because he doesn't want to wake up to a scruffy face; he prefers to wake up to a woman's face even though he knows he's occasionally been intimate with a man. Ray goes through his life as a thug mostly on the downlow although of course he has some friends who do know his true preferences. Kerwin sweats it out as he dials his father on the telephone to tell him that he liked both men and women; how will Kerwin's father react to this news? We also meet Antonio who was intimate with men when he was incarcerated. Antonio tells us of how some men explore intimacy with other men in jail or prison and he adds that some of these men keep these preferences as at least part of their lifestyle when they are released from incarceration. We also meet George, who dates Antonio; and we see how George handles things when a crisis arises in Antonio's life. We also see Antonio's mother and how she reacts to the knowledge that her son is dating another man; and we witness the moment when George tells his "girlfriend" that they are over as a couple--when he takes her to a gay bar along with his boyfriend. How will she react?

The DVD comes with the theatrical trailer but the real plus is a valuable bonus: We get about fifteen minutes of extra footage with some of the men from the film and two more men who are not in the film. In particular, we meet Will, a school teacher who has feelings for men but yet wants children although he hasn't figured out yet where straight marriage stands in his life. Despite the fact that Will has feelings for men he is openly opposed to marriage between two men; again we see the heavy influence of the African-American community's belief that black men should be straight and that being gay or liking both men and women is neither truly acceptable nor valid as a lifestyle choice.

On the Downlow is an excellent documentary that takes a rare look at African-American men who have feelings for other men (or who have feelings for both men and women). I highly recommend this film for anyone interested in this issue.
Decent Documentary, Just a Misleading Cast of Players
Charlie B. | Washington, D.C. | 10/13/2009
(3 out of 5 stars)

"I'm still not convinced.

With the exception of Ray (who was younger and more masculine of the bunch) and Antonio (who used to be a crossdresser before he was sent to prison and is still very much feminine), the men were clearly homosexual. I don't like to perpetuate stereotypes, but from their mannerisms to the way they talked, it was quite evident. So during this documentary, I just found myself stumped beyond belief about how these Black women--and our Black women in general--play the fool to this at times. Is it a lack of self worth or a hunger to have a man at any cost? Kerwin, attractive as he was, was just as feminine as could be, yet there was a female in particular that was chasing him up until he sits her down to tell her that he sleeps with men. I felt he was still in denial because he never came out and said he was gay, he used the safe term bisexual. When Antonio's 19-year-old boyfriend George brings his girlfriend to the gay club and then tells her that he is gay, ending their relationship, it is hard to watch but I don't feel too sorry for her as I'm sure that's not the first time she had seen him with or around Antonio and suspected. When Ray talks about a female he is dealing with during a confessional scene who blurts out during an argument, "You like hotdogs!" but is still with him (and he eventually gets her pregnant), it's just amazing that she knows what he does with other men, but settles.

The kind of men I would've really been most interested in seeing in this documentary were those that Antonio mentioned who were in prison, married, with kids. He seemed to paint a more vivid picture of these men than the documentary does. During one of his confessional scenes he pulls out many pictures of guys he dated and/or had sex with, and speaks of one man who he recently saw out with his wife on the street. He becomes fearful when he runs down the amount of people he's been with and goes to a free clinic to take an HIV test. In contrast, Ray uses the promiscuity of men, cheating, and worrying about them having HIV as a means to get out of dealing with them altogether when he goes back to females or decides to just be by himself. I found sympathy with his story the most because he seemed torn and mental with his fascination with only drag queens and transexuals. The common thread between Ray, Kerwin, and Billy lied in their heavy involvement in the scene. They attended gay clubs or house parties and used the lingo (femme queen, trade, father), something I just don't see a true down low man being a part of.

Antonio's mother said she didn't want to believe [that he was gay] but she was aware. When Kerwin tells his father, who mentioned that he heard things, it was heartwarming to hear him say, "You're my son...You could never embarrass me." But in the end it confirms these men are just hiding from themselves because if a parent always knows, many others probably do as well.

I come from a time where the definition of a man on the "down low" or "dl" best described a man who was unclockable to the straight world; who basically carried himself like a man in masculinity and appearance, and kept up appearances to the straight world with the exception of being intimate with other men. A man on the down low knows not of the homosexual lifestyle or scene (clubs, lingo, etc.) and doesn't immerse himself in it; if anything he shys away from it for fear of being found out. A down low man wouldn't even put himself out there like this on camera. This documentary affirms what I see lately, a shift in the term as it defines any Black gay man--be it masculine or feminine--who has not come out or is not out to his straight counterparts.

In my opinion, this is just a documentary of open Black gay men telling their stories, as interesting as they are."