[1] I am hesitant to use the expression “politically correct,” but feel it is closer to the original sense (from radical feminist debates regarding what kind of sex is “politically correct”) than the more recent backlashes against feminism, multiculturalism, and gay and lesbian studies. Chuck Kleinhans has suggested to me that this controversial aspect of The Polymath might explain its reception:

“It played successfully at the last Tribeca film festival, where it premiered, but it has not had further distribution or exhibition, even at gay film festivals, probably because it is a very sympathetic presentation of Delany and his views, which are fairly ‘politically incorrect’ on matters of unprotected, casual, anonymous, and public sex” (personal correspondence, 1 January 2008).

(Fortunately, it has since screened at gay film festivals in San Francisco and London.) The Tribeca Film Festival paired The Polymath with the documentary On the Downlow (Child, 2007), perhaps suggesting that both documentaries explore complex and politically incorrect topics within African-American and gay communities (despite the politically correct name of the festival program, “Coming Out”). I would like to thank Fred Barney Taylor for sending me a promotional copy of The Polymath for this review. [return to page 1 of essay]

Works cited

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Films cited

And the Band Played On. Dir. Roger Spottiswoode. Writ. Randy Shilts & Arnold Schulman. HBO, 1993.

A Walk into the Sea: Danny Williams and the Warhol Factory. Dir. Esther Robinson. Arthouse, 2007.

Bush Mama. Dir. Haile Gerima. Tricontinental, 1976.

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Fenced Out. Paper Tiger Television/New Neutral Zone/FIERCE, 2001.

Gay Sex in the 70s. Dir. Joseph F. Lovett. Wolfe Video, 2005.

Gay Sex in the 70s (trailer). YouTube:

Gendernauts: A Journey Through Shifting Identities (Gendernauts—Eine Reise durch die Geschlechter). Dir. Monika Treut. First Run, 1999.

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Railroad Turnbridge. Dir. Richard Serra. 1976.

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The Cruise. Dir. Bennett Miller. Artisan, 1998.

The Polymath, or, The Life and Opinions of Samuel R. Delany, Gentleman. Dir. Fred Barney Taylor. MaestroMedia, 2007.

“This Used To Be My Playground.” Music video. Perf. Madonna. YouTube [taken off due to copyright claim]

Urinal (Pissoir). Dir. John Greyson. Frameline, 1988.

Zizek. Dir. Astra Taylor. Zeitgeist, 2005.

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