Author James Earl Hardy debuted his bestselling novel “B-Boy Blues” in 1994. Nearly 30 years later, his dream of bringing the Black gay literary masterpiece to the big screen is now a reality.
“B-Boy Blues” is an urban love story set in the backdrop of New York City about young Black journalist Mitchell Crawford and street lion bike messenger Raheim Rivers who, despite coming from different worlds, fall in love. Crawford is attracted to Rivers’ “thug” personality as the novel explores their friendships, families, tragedies and triumphs.
The book has been considered a must-read for decades about the Black same-gender loving experience often ignored by the mainstream. Fans have praised the novel for providing an inside look at Black gay urban life which many refuse to acknowledge even exist.
In a recent interview with the AmNews, Hardy said he’s feeling better than “jood” (a term coined in the novel by character Rahiem). A former journalist himself, Hardy’s background includes degrees from St. John’s University and Columbia University and a celebrated career in media that started as an AmNews freelancer in the mid-1980s.
“In the summer of 1993 I started working at Newsweek as a research fellow,” he said. “One of my tasks was to read books sent to the staff editor and if something caught my eye, they might do a review. After a couple of weeks of zipping through those books, I was really depressed because I wasn’t coming across anything that reminded me of me or the world that I lived in. If you want to see something on a bookshelf that reminds you of yourself and the brothers you know, you’re gonna have to write it yourself. Three or four months later, ‘B-Boy Blues’ was born.”
The independent film adaptation of “B-Boy Blues” premiered at the American Black Film Festival in 2021 and stars Timothy Richardson as Mitchell and Thomas Mackie as Rahiem. The film also stars Grammy-winning singer Ledisi, who plays Mitchell’s mother and NAACP Image Award nominee Brandee Evans. The film was directed by Jussie Smollet, former star of the Fox primetime drama Empire. “B-Boy Blues” is currently streaming on BET+ in celebration of Pride Month.
“The story is an extension of the world I lived in at the time,” Hardy said. “It wasn’t the story that I went through but I grew up with many ‘Rahiems.’ The corner boys, the block boys and all of them were not heterosexual. That’s where my journalistic background came in handy. Not only listening to people but absorbing what they say. I was able to transfer that to my work as a novelist with the characters.”
Prior to the film’s creation, “B-Boy Blues” has been a live-action stage play since 2013. The play is wrapping up a month-long run at Theater Row in Midtown. While waiting for the film to become a reality, Hardy decided to take the initial step and turn the beloved book into a play.
Hardy said he prayed ‘“B-Boy Blues” would serve a deeper purpose beyond the characters and the story but as an outlet to tell the experience of so many Black same gender-loving people. Over the years Hardy initially received countless hand-written letters by mail from fans and today gets numerous messages via social media and email.
“When I wrote it I wanted to see something on a bookshelf but just judging from the many conversations I had with brothers at the time, many of us did, too. And some of us just didn’t want it, we needed it,” Hardy said. “It actually saved some of our lives. I never get tired of hearing that even today.”
Getting “B-Boy Blues” to the big screen began with Smollet coming to Hardy years prior with the idea of producing it. Fast forward to 2020, Smollett wanted to not only produce but also direct the film. Initial shooting began in October 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It was actually a little scary because there was so much unknown,” Hardy said. “You’re filming with a crew so there’s always going to be more than a few people in the same space. We definitely had to be very careful about how many people were in the space and that folks were always wearing masks and following protocols. Everyone was very attentive when it came to that.”
Since the film’s release, Hardy said he’s received positive feedback. Hardy has also authored several other novels in the “B-Boy Blues” series. He hopes the film will spawn a sequel or a possible streaming or television series.
While Hardy said the “B-Boy Blues” film “happened when it was supposed to,” the film’s Pride Month offering on BET+ is giving viewers the option of seeing a story that so many live that would have otherwise been silenced.
“Pride is freedom for me,” he said. “The freedom to breathe, to bloom, to be. The root of Pride was a rebellion, demanding that we have the inalienable right to own and not just occupy spaces in the world. Keep taking up that space and live your truth.”