Punks, the 2000 feature directorial debut for Patrik-Ian Polk, is coming to us all sometime this year. Polk — who has broken ground multiple times over, first with Punks, and then later with Noah's Arc, but has continued to do this work with new shows like P-Valley — announced the news this weekend at a New Fest event.
"We are working on getting Punks out," Polk said in response to an audience question on Sunday at a screening for the film at the Brooklyn Art Museum. "It will be streaming somewhere." He later followed up and said that the film would release this year.
Punks follows Marcus (Seth Gilliam) and his friends — Hill (Dwight Ewell,) Crystal (Jazzmun,) and Dante (Renoly Santiago) — living their lives in West Hollywood. Marcus is a photographer and hopeless romantic who shoots beautiful men and imagines fairytale love stories that he never actualizes. Hill is a sexy married man living with HIV who goes through a rough patch with his husband Gilbert, played by Rudolf Martin. Dante is a spoiled, slightly rebellious rich kid and the baby of the group. Crystal is a highly polished drag queen living her best life while going through the wringer with her girl group.
This chosen family is thrown a twist when Darby, played by Rockmond Dunbar, moves in next door to Marcus: a straight, empathetic man in West Hollywood. The plot unfolds from there.
The project also featured Rodney Chester who would later play a key role in Noah's Arc, Loretta Devine as a health counselor, and Kevin Aviance, a legendary musician.
Produced by Babyface, the work did many of the things that Polk's work has done over the years: he presented Black gay men in ways that had yet to be seen on screen. He presented them all with nuances and complexities that reflected lived experiences. And he littered it all with a variety of lessons for the Black gay audiences he knew would watch the project.
'I wanted to teach certain lessons without being too didactic," he told the audience Sunday. "So I wanted it to be fun and sexy and all those things."
As we wrote previously, when Noah's Arc aired a reunion special:
Polk has built for himself a collection of work that was formative for a generation of Black gay men. In addition to Noah's Arc, he was the brains behind The Skinny and Punks. Through these works, as well as the work he still does, he allowed Black gay men to not only see versions of themselves but also provided them digestible venues for the pragmatic sex education that few others would provide
On Sunday, during the Q&A we asked Polk about this aspect of his work and he said that it was extremely intentional because many times gay acceptance stops at matters actually involving sex. This isn't the same with opposite-sex relations.
"You know you're indoctrinated with love and dating and all these things like with school dances and all this stuff," he explained. "We did not have that so we're forced to kind of learn it however we can learn it and often times we are learning it in ways that aren't so healthy. So, I wanted to kind of impart the lessons and things I thought I would have wanted to know as a young man. That was the idea, to show some of the things you go through.
"By the time I got to The Skinny, it was really like let's be bold about it," he continued, referring to his 2012 film. "So we were showing people how to clean their ass if they want to have anal sex and we were being direct about it. We didn't have anywhere to learn these things, so it was important that if this was going to be the only [film targeted at Black gay men specifically] it better try to do as much as possible."
When it was released, Punks was an independent project. Polk says that they were unable to sign a major distributor at the time in order to release it widely though there were lines outside of the theaters when it was shown in New York City. It has since been screened at various festivals and was even shown on Logo in 2011.
Polk did not clarify where Punks might eventually be available.