miami · queer

Miami as “fairyland”

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Yesterday’s discussion in my “Gender, Race and Urban Space” class was wonderful. I don’t know if it is because anything related to sports on this campus is bound to be lively.  IMG_0370.JPG

We thoughtfully juxtaposed Joe Namath, Luther Campbell, Paul “Bear” Bryant and Howard Schnellenberger with the initial rise of the University of Miami football program. What it means to be a “man” hovered over the conversation.

Namath’s hesitantly conservative views on the national anthem controversy as revealed in a recent interview foreshadows our focus next week on the silenced “queer” past in Miami as revealed in Julio Capo Jr.’s Welcome to Fairyland: Queer Miami Before 1940 (University of North Carolina Press, 2018). This book, which I just started reading and am greatly enjoying, will be paired with “Moonlight,” a coming of age film that won Best Picture last year.Moonlight_(2016_film)

When I addressed this film on a panel at UA’s Black Warrior Film Festival last year, I wondered “which Miami” was on display in it. Barry Jenkins, the film’s director, hails from Miami’s Liberty City, a once-predominantly African American neighborhood that is seeing demographic change. Crack cocaine suggested the 1980s, but the backdrops, and, indeed, the wide open roads of Florida, the palm trees, suggested, too, an alternately more recent and older Miami, the sort that early boosters promoted. All this alongside the mingling of certain bodies across gender, national, regional and racial lines, something also on display in the movie.

Just a few pages into Capo’s book, I see again how South Florida, and the Florida peninsula, is an interesting space to explore the unexpected and the still untold about the power of marginalized communities amid their ongoing oppression.

I look forward to hearing from the students next week. Perhaps our individual and shared analyses will better help us think ponder all of the possible ways to connect the images on display in the “Mecca: Atlanta, Harlem, Miami and Beyond” exhibit they curated for the Paul Jones Museum in Tuscaloosa. The exhibit’s reception is 5:30pm March 2.

Capo directs our attention to the “competing visions” for Miami when it was incorporated in 1896 (5). What are those visions?

Further, in using the word “queer,”  Capo takes seriously the ability of the urban space to have its own understanding of “who subverted and defined” what normal means.

I wonder what ties my students can make between such an idea in this latest read and ideas in earlier readings and visual clips and “texts.” I am already thinking of ways to think more deeply about motion pictures I’ve seen. The queered bodies in the 1996 film “Birdcage,” starring Robin Williams and Nathan Lane, like so much else, is part of a longer social and political history. But how do we find meaning in the specifics of a particular time and specific oppressions? That’s the task before us.

The cast of characters in Capo’s book include immigrants from the British, Spanish and French Caribbean, among them, the black Bahamians who built Miami. These Bahamians include men who left behind women who created interesting spaces that, too, are worth peeling apart for meaning.

Admirably, Capo participates in what he calls the “next urban history,” something he says considers varied ways of looking at space (i.e. points of view do not center just the views of “Americans”)  and engages a rich archive that includes not only documents from “official” sources like government records, but also films and even matchbooks.

As the pile of books related to Seminole history, sport history, Florida history and Miami history, on my shelves grows, I smile and smile. His work is paving a path across which I happily walk as a researcher and Florida native.

Postscript: Speaking of film, I address the technical skills needed to help make “The Grant Green Story,” a jazz doc I co-directed, today at UA’s Faculty Technology Showcase. If you’re on campus today, check it out at noon in Gordon Palmer A232. Peace.

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