Derek J is fierce. Not just because the award-winning celebrity hairstylist, television star and entrepreneur wears flashy, flamboyant styles with stilettos. But now, the Toledo, Ohio, native is ferociously taking on the biggest role of his career: filmmaking.
The reality TV star, best known for Bravo’s hit shows “The Real Housewives of Atlanta” and “Fashion Queens,” recently released “Gay Like Me,” a new documentary about Black gay men. The film tells the story of five openly gay men who look straight or fit into society’s definition of “masculinity.”
Derek J, 36, explores this hunky male image of gayness, one rarely shown in mainstream media and in contrast of his own.
Washington Informer: Why did you want to produce a film only focused on “masculine” men?
Derek J: I have masculine friends that say they never see themselves on TV. So I said, hey, if you have a problem with it, let’s do something about it. For this to be my first project, I really wanted to make an impact. I made sure that the men were good-looking and well-spoken. I wanted a woman or a gay man to look at them and say this is someone I would date. Or for a straight man to say, ‘this could be my homeboy.’
I went back to my high school in Ohio and I noticed there were a lot of feminine gay Black men. What I realized is they are acting out what they visually see of gay men on television. I wanted the film’s message to say ‘hey, there are other types of gay men out here.’ The film is a learning tool for everyone.
WI: Some people would say you perpetuate and exploit the stereotype of Black gay man in mainstream media. Do you agree?
DJ: In the opening monologue of “Gay Like Me,” I say I am guilty of it. Derek J is a costume. He’s a character. We all have a gimmick to take us to the next level. The heels are mine.
In entertainment, being gay on television is still new. Black women are not mentally evolved enough to see a gay Black man that she can be physically attracted to.
WI: Have you received criticism for focusing on the stories of just “masculine” men?
DJ: Not yet [laughs]. But I really think the content of the stories are so well-rounded people will look past that. Regardless of the look of it you could see yourself in one of these stories.
The stories of these men helped me understand them, but my story is different. I am considered a feminine gay man. I’ve never been gay-bashed. My mom knew that I was gay. We just didn’t talk about it.
Through making the film, Derek J said he’s learned masculinity is subjective and open to interpretation and discussion. He plans to add a sequel to the film that explores how parents cope and react to learning their child is gay.
For screening dates and locations, go to gaylikemeproject.com.