REVIEW: Racism clouds Henry Gamble's Birthday Party

By Robert "Rob" Redding Jr.

Editor & Publisher

May 6, 2016, Noon - The film Henry Gambleís Birthday Party is a haphazardly put together independent flick that largely unintentionally hits on topic of race, while missing the sizzle of the topic that it purports to be about.

Writer/Director Stephen Cone's ninth film makes the bold decision to cast a young black closeted young Logan (Daniel Kyri) as Henry (Cole Doman) love interest. The film promises to discover how white evangelical Christians handle gay people. The director, who is the gay son of a minister, tells the story of Logan being the closeted gay son of a minister.

The director said that many of the racial subtexts that appear in the film, which was released this week, are coincidental. This becomes very unclear after Henry, who is white, starts the film masturbating with his straight white friend Gabe (Joe Keery), just after the two discuss the size of their manhood. Just a short time later, the two appear to shun Logan from the moment he gets to the birthday party. It gets worse when he tells Logan to "stop" when he brushed his arm at the party, is reluctant to hug Logan after opening his gift and that's just when Henry is not ignoring him. At many points, it feels like racism from the second Logan arrives at the party, but again the film is really not about Logan's race but about  Gabe's pretending to be an ultra-conservative Christian. The director also makes it clear that these good white Christians can't be racist because there is an older black man and white woman couple in the film who are also attending this party.

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To the point, Cone was asked about the race of his cast:

"Logan was not African American in the script; he may have been mixed race or he may have been white. I donít remember. I do remember thinking of him a little bit as a Ricky from My So-Called Life, but race wasnít a big thing. Also in the original script, Candace was African American and Keith, her youth minister husband, was white. But he ended up mixed race in the film and Candace ended up white. We went with the right actors. So, with that said, a lot of the racial tensions that may have risen with Logan are unintentional, but I think appropriate, as the evangelical Christian world is still very white."

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The problem with Cone's answer and the film is that race is a delicate topic that is only discussed in the context of the straight couple. A remark by one party participant who called Logan "a sad case" is never really rebutted. This is why it so hard for the film to handle such a complex topic like God vs. gays, because every second of this film is loaded on the issue of race.

The way director takes advantage of the race issue at every turn only makes this film feel reckless on race and phony in its overall treatment on the subject of God vs. gays.


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