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Buck was convicted on nine felony charges in 2021 for injecting young gay men with methamphetamine in exchange for sex. For years he preyed on vulnerable Black men and evaded prosecution because of his wealth and his race. The film asks why a predator was allowed to do this time and time again. Better yet: Why did so many of us do and say nothing?
Five years in the making, the film pieces together the timeline before their deaths using news footage and commentary from those who knew the men, but, like its title, it goes beyond the work of traditional true crime documentaries. With the help of Raniyah Copeland, former president and CEO of the Black AIDS Institute, psychologist Gregory Canillas, award-winning author George M. Johnson, journalist Shar Jossell and many more, “Beyond Ed Buck” ushers in a nuanced conversation about how structural racism, homophobia and poverty make it easy for the Ed Bucks of the world to prey on gay and bisexual Black men.
Most important, the film doesn’t stop there. It includes Black trans women’s voices to ensure that viewers understand that the trans community encounters the same type of violence and systems of oppression as their gay, lesbian and bisexual counterparts, if not worse. Because no one in the community can walk away unscathed by Buck’s legacy, no one can be left out of the conversation.
Jayce Baron: When the news of Gemmel’s death first hit, it was devastating. Being part of the community, people began reaching out and asking how I can help, what can we do? I’m not a lawyer or anything like that, but I realized that since I am a creative, a film is how I could contribute. As the time went on, and I knew this was going to be an ongoing issue, I wanted to look at this situation, not just about Gemmel and Timothy’s death, but from a macro lens of different elements that made these deaths possible: The intersections of race, class and homophobia, along with crystal meth addiction and HIV in Black LGBTQ communities, and how and why people didn’t show up for these young Black gay men. But when Hailie came on to the project, she really opened up my eyes to the plight of trans women to make this film even broader than what I was even thinking.
Initially, we pitched it to a production company, and the room was only white people. One of the producers said, “This is such a sexy story,” like Ted Bundy or a true crime doc. Even worse, they wanted us to focus more on Buck and what made him this way. They wanted to center this criminal and sensationalize this story instead of focusing on the overall themes that lead the victims to Ed Buck. There are plenty of Ed Bucks and plenty of people whose stories align with Gemmel and Timothy, and that is the part that needs awareness and dismantling. Even when explained, that was not the route they wanted to go. I couldn’t believe it, but then again, I could.
Ultimately, the partnership didn’t continue, which forfeited access to their production resources and funding, which was a lot. It wasn’t worth it. To have the conversations we needed to have and make the connections we wanted to make, we had to be in control. Thankfully, Gilead [Sciences, a pharmaceutical company] jumped in and offered funding to support most of this project financially. As executive producers, this project was done independently and as an investment in the lives of our community with our own resources, team, dedication, tears and money.
Hailie Sahar: For me, I knew Gemmel — we came up in the West Coast ballroom chapters together — and I knew other victims of Ed Buck as well. One of his clients was my best friend, whom I had known since he was 9, who’s now deceased. So I was invested from the very beginning. When Jayce presented the idea to me, I wanted to offer my insight and lived experience and delve into sex work and the marginalized groups of people that fall prey to people in positions of power, like Ed Buck, which is heavily the trans community. Because if we’re going to tell this story, we really have to go all the way to the bottom of the totem pole and have a conversation about systematic oppression, employment discrimination that pushes trans women to sex work, drug use and much more. Also, I wanted to use my platform from coming off “Pose” to help spread the word about the film and these issues.
JB: No, I’m not worried, but I know that conversations about the oppressed being the oppressor make people uncomfortable. Yet it’s so rare that we acknowledge these topics and intersectionality, especially in mainstream media, so if people are mad, I don’t care. Many of us in the community know that just because someone identifies as a Black gay man doesn’t mean that they can’t be transphobic or misogynist. Like with Gemmel and Timothy’s deaths, we know that just because you are a white gay man doesn’t mean you can’t be a racist. Often people who are one notch or a couple of notches up from other marginalized people use their privileges as a weapon. That’s definitely been my experience. So this is the truth, and the one thing we were intentional about was breaking down that truth to make you feel uncomfortable looking inside yourself. We can’t move forward without that.
HS: Everyone assumes that because we live under this [rainbow] colorful umbrella that prejudices, racism or transphobia don’t exist within the community. It reminds me of the scene in “Pose” from the first season where my character, Lulu, and Blanca (Michaela Jaé ) go to that gay bar, and we get kicked out. Obviously, that took place in the ’80s, but that type of discrimination within the community goes way back, and I don’t want to say that we haven’t grown since then, but not as much as we should have.
I believe that when you decide to live out loud as a gay-identified or trans person, as a lesbian, or as bisexual, pansexual or gender nonconforming, you are living out the truth. What we are talking about in ”Beyond Ed Buck” is nothing but the truth in the same respect. When I decided to transition socially and medically, I decided to be real with myself and be authentic. If getting authentic gets under people’s skin, then more people should get authentic because it’s only in telling the truth that we can resolve some of these issues.
JB: It means a lot. Thank you to everyone at the ALLBLK division and AMC for being the first network to get back to us and see our vision immediately. They are taking a risk, and we appreciate them wanting to share this story. Too often, Black people, in general, try to “other” Black queer folks and not acknowledge our Blackness in our queer existence. So it’s important to know that we are part of the Black community and we still deal with the same racism and microaggressions from our white counterparts like they do. But we also deal with transphobia, homophobia and discrimination within our own Black community. Yet we don’t get to talk about this in this way, so to have a Black network be this bold is extremely rare, and I hope their audience is open to what the film has to say.
HS: It’s never been easy to tell marginalized stories — especially when those stories are labeled as LGBTQ-plus — in the [Black] community. So to have the ALLBLK community show up for us and allow us to speak to people is a beautiful blessing. Honestly, when it comes to who is killing Black trans women, it’s [cis straight] Black men, so I hope more will watch ’Beyond Ed Buck’ because we need to reach them.[Specifically for cis women] it’s important to just see trans women as women because we are all women, we are all sisters. Show up for us in the same way you show up for other cis women. Finally, I want to ask, “Where is the love?” I just want people to do the work and live in harmony. Life is hard for everybody, and it’s so short, so let’s get to a place as close to peace and love as possible.
JB: I hope people will come together and say, “We will not tolerate this anymore. Enough.” If there’s a law helping employers discriminate against queer people, call your senator or council member or whoever is in power because there is power in numbers. That’s the thing: If there is something in our community that you don’t like, as a community, we can make that change together. Hailie and I walked into this project knowing this is bigger than us; this goes beyond the film’s title; this is about everybody. Hopefully our film can be a gift where people can see everyone as human and worthy of protection.
This content was originally published here.