Not sure what you were watching on television last night, but once again HBO's Sunday night programming has once again become must-see television. Alan Ball's True Blood is their newest hit with a cult following. The vampire series is described as a "mix of southern gothic, horror, suspense, mystery, romance, and comedy" and the reviews are uneven but the quirky characters are pushing the envelope. One of the standout character is Lafayette Reynolds, the flamboyant black gay vampire played by actor Nelsan Ellis.
Lafayette Reynolds is a study in contrasts. The short order cook slash escort runs the gamut between hyper-masculine thug and flaming makeup-wearing queen. His storyline will become crucial to the season finale. While the black gay e-telligentsia have been slow to warm to the series and character, Ryan Canty applauds the role because Lafayette is "not a stereotype at all."
[Lafayette] has wit for days and an equally colorful ensemble of fishnets, tight pants, and fabulous makeup. But, there is more to Lafayette than that. He’s quite intelligent and cunning. And, I am enjoying how Ball is peeling away his layers in every episode of the show.
Critics haven’t warmed up to the character yet and have accused Ball of writing the black characters on True Blood as one-dimensional stereotypes. Yet, I question what it is they are seeing. Alan Ball has always been a master of creating flawed and original characters for his many film and television projects. Lafayette is a prime example of this. Lafayette more than fits in with the rest of the community and is not a stereotype at all. In every episode, you learn something new about him that makes you rethink and reconsider how you view him on True Blood.
There are few depictions of gay black men on television, and, as we saw in Noah's Arc and again in the upcoming movie, when these roles are presented, people are often looking for perfect characterizations. Not sure what would be a "realistic" depiction of a black gay southern man in a series focusing on vampires, telepathy, and, sex orgies featuring vampire blood. Money quote from Ryan Canty's review: "Television isn’t perfect, and I don’t need it to be. I need my shows to be complex, ambiguous, messy, and fun." Bravo for HBO and Alan Ball for pushing the envelope and presenting a layered and multi-faceted black gay character.