Starting out as a cliché-brimming film about online dating and innocent gay relationships, Bwoy quickly turns into a chilling and magnificently executed cliffhanger that, for the entire run time, makes you feel like you’re walking on pins and needles, but in a good way. John G. Young’s fourth film about homosexual and interracial love is so seductively skillful at keeping you on the edge of your seat that you almost can’t believe so much complexity can be the bedrock of a seemingly simple two-hander.
The premise of the film seems tame and fairly transparent – Brad O’Connor (Anthony Rapp), a white man in his forties who works as a bill collector for a call center in Schenectady, New York, decides to try his luck on a gay dating site. Searching for a hookup or partner from Kingston, Jamaica, Brad eventually finds Yenny (Jimmy Brooks), a sweet and carefree 23-year old gay man. Unlike his sulky and repressed self, Yenny is always high-spirited and unbridled, looking to please his newfound lover and to become his “Jamaican pussy boy”. Despite rooting for them and their enthralling connection, we soon notice red flags that Yenny might actually be a catfish – and pointlessly hope that Brad sees it too.
The two men’s relationship hastily goes from a few steamy texts to phone calls, money transfers and online sex. A theme that constantly defines their interaction is their daddy-son kink, but which takes on a more sinister undertone when we learn that “daddy-Brad” is actually a father who lost his son in a horrible accident and is still married to his African-American wife, Marcia (De’Adre Aziza). The further the film progresses, the more you begin to understand – this is not your usual LGBT movie.
Shrewdly using identity and deception as a levee for building suspense, Young dissects the ready-made tropes of conventional gay films and overturns them. The polished, mature portrayal of homosexuals that you typically expect has long been exchanged for a raw and unedited depiction, while the ubiquitous LGBT clichés have been reshaped into self-inquiry instruments. For instance, the concept of the white savior is progressively deconstructed throughout the movie and eventually turned upside down, as we find out that “daddy-Brad” had been played all along by his chipper lover. Moreover, deliberately or not, Young takes a jab at the idea of a white rescuer, but concurrently dissolves the image of black people as victims who need saving. What’s interesting is that Young never hammers on any of these ideas, but rather leaves behind subtleties for the viewer to pick up on. One such nuance is introduced in the initial scene where Brad is browsing through the profile pictures of Jamaican gay men. The naked photos are juxtaposed with images of slaves, once again drawing a parallel between over-sexualization and trauma. The epitome of the metaphor is of course Brad, the white man prodding and clicking through the countless pictures put at his disposal, for his pleasure.
The main performances are breathtaking and overwhelming, brilliantly driving the film’s point home. For the first half of the movie, most of the communication happens via screens. You might think having to read dialogue off text and chat messages is tiring and would kill the movie’s drive. And you’d be right – but not in the case of Bwoy. Young and Rapp cleverly play off this type of interaction and get you glued to the screen by creating tension and anticipation with every new message. The virtual communication does the opposite of what you’d expect and only serves to further draw the viewer in.
Uncovering the obscure depths and harrowing effects of trauma, Young’s feature film also scrutinizes themes like infidelity, class and cognitive dissonance. Brad’s character is a glaring manifestation of attempting to deal with trauma by avoiding it – the results are always the same, the pain and hurt induced by the trauma always resurface in one form or another and eventually blow up when least expected. Ultimately, the film’s open ending lacks any real resolution and is reminiscent of a rat’s running wheel – Brad joins the dating site once again to look for partners and simply repeats the cycle. There is no closure or character growth and the trauma of his son’s death is never knowingly addressed.
Under the pretext of a typical hookup, Bwoy delves into deep-seated issues concerning intimacy, race, identity and trust in what seems to be a relevant cautionary tale about the tangled distortions involved in today’s online dating world. Critiquing conventional tropes and defying the stereotypes of tidy on-screen gay relationships, Young’s feature brings a crude, but refreshing perspective to LGBT cinematography. The dismal approach to sexuality, incestuous overtones and heart-wrenching performances turn this slow-burning film into a masterpiece of suspense that draws us in with every scene further down the rabbit hole of twisted relationships and dark, trauma-based love.