Filmmaker Michael Rice spent a year interviewing a range of people within a very specific community for this documentary, and he packs rather a lot into the brief running time. ParTy Boi: Black Diamonds in Ice Castles is an exploration of the impact of crystal meth addiction on the gay black subculture in America. The people Rice interviews, mainly in New York, add observations from every side of the topic, which makes the film vibrant, important and very provocative.
For Rice, crystal methamphetamine has become entwined with issues of race, sexuality and equality in America, mainly due to its popularity on the chem-sex scene. Also known as ice, tina or simply T, crystal meth breaks down inhibitions, so those using it will seek whatever feels good in the moment. As one guy explains, it makes you want to take off your clothes and have sex with everyone you see. But this also makes it a dangerous date-rape drug, as clients spike rent boys’ drinks then get them to do unsafe things they would never do otherwise.
According to several of Rice’s interviewees, this is adding a particularly nasty racial slant to the drug’s use, as wealthy white men are able to control their poor black escorts in ways that are life-altering. This is not just because of the spread of HIV, but also because meth is fiendishly addictive, taking over a person’s life without them being aware of it. Meth has been around for more than a century, and most people now think of it as a white man’s drug, thanks to Breaking Bad. But it had a surge among African-Americans during the vogueing movement of the 1970s and 1980s.
Rice interviews a number of sex workers, dealers and health care professionals, as well as academics and family members, telling the story from several angles. Some of these young men are still in the grip of meth, knowing full well what it is doing to them. Others have managed to escape. One mother speaks about her son, who didn’t make it out alive. Spliced in between these interviews, Rice explores history in the context of the LGBTQ community, which was pushed into promiscuity by anti-sodomy laws, creating a culture of cruising that has led to easy sex through geo-positioning dating apps like Grindr.
The film is very well shot in some rather scary places, including a few drug dens. And Rice lets everyone have their say. But the editing makes it clear where his sympathies lie, as the film becomes strongly cautionary, even a little preachy, especially as some of the interviewees begin to share the conspiracy theory that those in power are using meth and other drugs to control and oppress marginalised communities. This feels perhaps like a step too far, and Rice thankfully doesn’t indulge these views. Instead, he merely presents the story and people he discovers, and lets the viewer know that this isn’t the harmless party drug they may think it is.