Rikki Beadle Blair makes earnest movies about the gay experience that are packed with character types the write-director takes pleasure in setting off one another. In a sense, Blair is an artist who works with personalities rather than with color. In that same sense, through, he tends toward primary colors rather than muted or subtle shades--and sometimes there’s an unfortunate sense that the medium Blair uses is the cinematic version of crayon, rather than oils or watercolor.
Does it matter? Not if the message is the object. In "Fit" the message was one of acceptance and respect among youths in school; in "Kickoff" the message was all about gays being accepted in the world of sports, as well as in wider society.
In "Bashment,", Blair uses the same formula and the same colors to drive at a more ambitious, less easily framed message. What is the root of homophobia? How do factors like race and class affect anti-gay hatred and violence? What can people who are cast by social roles into opposing camps learn from one another?
When a white rapper named J.J. (Joel Dommett) brings his lover Orlando (Marcus Kai) to a championship competition, where J.J. rocks the crowd and wins top honors, a small gang of homophobic rivals reacts by pummeling Orlando to within an inch of his life. The four assailants secure the services of a gay, liberal lawyer (Michael Lindall) who builds a defense around their contention that the victim deserved the beating that left him brain-damaged because he used a racial epithet; somehow, the court buys into this despite one of the thugs being white.
The film starts to meander and even thrash a little from here on out. When J.J. meets with the four thugs under the watchful eyes of the prison guards, insults fly. Clearly, these hardened ’phobes are anything but remorseful for the damage they’ve done. But when one of the inmates begins a romance with a woman he met just before the crime was committed (Jennifer Daley), she begins to open his eyes to the uselessness of violence and the myths of masculinity. Meantime, the white member of the crew finds himself forced to denounce his friendship with his black friends or suffer continued beatings at the hands of white supremacists.
The lawyer, Daniel, feeling conflicted about his role in defending the attackers, approaches J.J. with a plan to take the makers of Jamaican anti-gay "murder music" to court. But is it the music that’s really to blame?
Point by point, the film ticks through a long list of arguments as to what, exactly, makes violent straight men hate gays. Is it because they are "effeminate" and thus betray manhood? Because they are soft, easy targets that won’t hit back? Because religion tells them to attack and kill men who love men? Or because, as one character puts it, they don’t like it when men fall in love with one another "without your permission"?
The eventual answer, arrived at after much soul-searching and hand wringing and a prison beat-down or two, is hardly satisfying, and the film’s final act is an exercise in pure wish fulfillment.
Still, one has to give Blair props for passion and for packing so much into a single movie.
Screening At The Boston LGBT Film Festival