After a successful world premiere at Outfest in Los Angeles, the cast and creative team behind the new short film “Smoke, Lilies, and Jade” are preparing to screen their lush queer Harlem Renaissance drama for Atlanta audiences during the annual Out On Film Festival on September 26, at Landmark Midtown Arts Cinema. Directed and produced by married filmmaking duo Quincy LeNear Gossfield and Deondray Gossfield (The DL Chronicles, FLAMES), and adapted for the screen by writer Robert Philipson from Richard Bruce Nugent's short story by the same name. The film also includes voice narration by Emmy award winner Billy Porter (POSE, Cinderella).
Set in 1926 at the height of the Harlem Renaissance, “Smoke, Lilies, and Jade” follows Alex (Xavier Avila) a young artist of the Harlem Renaissance as he flirts with the idea of bisexuality through posturing and conversations he has with his girlfriend, Melva (Alexandra Grey), and his Bohemian mentor, Raymond (Harry Fowler). Upon meeting Beauty (Ernesto Reyes), a Latin man who pursues Alex with poetry and fire, desires are heightened. The music of a concert performance breaks the floodgates of Alex's desires, and he finds himself torn between Melva and Beauty. A semi-autobiographical retelling of Nugent’s own experience as a married man who publicly identified as bisexual—” Smoke, Lilies, and Jade” is the first positive expression of same-sex desire in American literature,” according to an interview with screenwriter Robert Philipson for PRIDE. Having first appeared in the one-issue Harlem Renaissance publication “FIRE!!,” and subsequently censored and deemed inappropriate because of its homosexual themes, Nugent’s exploration of bisexuality in his work and lived experience as someone who identified publicly with a sexual identity other than heterosexual was unheard of in the late 1920s.
“If you're queer and you're Black, you kind of think we just popped out of thin air somewhere here recently,” Deondray says. “This notion of out and proud and breaking down doors happened long before we came along. We've been existing in these spaces boldly for many years and the Harlem Renaissance is just one of those periods.”
“Nugent was the Lil Nas X of the Harlem Renaissance,” Quincy says. “He was very bold and open and scared the hell out of people when he would talk and write about being bisexual or being queer during the Renaissance. And not many of those artists were out at the time or even talking about it. It was too taboo of a subject. They were living it, but they were putting forth the proper face.”
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