Director, screenwriter and producer Patrik-Ian Polk brought us Noah's Arc: The 'Rona Chronicles last yearwhich felt like a comforting and comfortable Zoom call with old friends during a time when the world was everything but. The show also brought attention to various non-profit organizationsincluding Birmingham AIDS Outreach, Mobilizing Our Brothers Initiative and LGBT Detroitthrough a donation link associated with watching the 15th anniversary virtual reunion special.
Polk spoke with Windy City Times after being a special guest at GLAAD's virtual HIV Stigma & Faith Summit and reflected on the legacy of Noah's Arc and what it was like growing up gay in the South.
Windy City Times: What made you decide to do Noah's Arc: The 'Rona Chronicles?
Patrik-Ian Polk: A former executive at Logo who had worked on the show reached out to me and said, "Oh, hey. I've been seeing all these sort of COVID reunionslike people getting together on Zoom and either reading old episodes or reuniting. What do you think about doing something like that with Noah's Arc?" Very quickly I thought, "Let's just do a full-on special episode set in the time of COVID." I put some feelers out, got some corporate sponsorsand then I was off and running.
WCT: So, the 'Rona Chronicles had an intro to the director's cut by Lena Waithe, a lot of impressive cameos and a Janet Jackson song at the end. What was that like?
P-IP: It's a reminder of how beloved this show is and the fact that people still stand for Noah's Arc. The fact that it took very little effort to get Lena to come on board, to get Janet to give us a thumbs-up … especially because this was a labor of love, raising money for some really great Black LGBTQ charities across the countryyou know, some of the not-so-obvious ones. It's just a reminder that the show still means a lot to a lot of people.
WCT: Did you find it hard to think of what they'd be doing so many years later?
P-IP: It wasn't that difficult because I've revisited the show in more recent years in terms of thinking about rebooting. I had a good idea of what I wanted them to do, but it was just about sitting down and thinking, "Okay, who are these characters, where would they be seven years later and then almost 10 years later?" And they're still the same guys, you know?
WCT: Are we going to see them again?
P-IP: I would love for you to; [I'm] waiting to see what Paramount+ is talking about. The show is a Viacom property, so it stands to reason that if they were going to reboot it, they'd reboot it for their new, big streamer. So, fingers crossed.
WCT: Recently, in a piece in the Chicago Reader focused on HIV-positive character representation on TV and film, a lot of the interviewees mentioned Noah's Arc as a show that did a great job. What are your thoughts on why Noah's Arc and its characters still resonate so deeply this many years later?
P-IP: The show was novel then and it's still novel, unfortunately. There still hasn't been anything like it: a show that really centers around Black, gay characters. We've had Pose, which has come the closest, thankfully shining a bright light on transgender people of color. And even that, it's just been announced that that's getting cancelled. It's, like, "Why is this important, groundbreaking show only getting three seasons?" Anything else Ryan Murphy does at least gets four or five.
WCT: In the GLAAD HIV Stigma & Faith Summit, during the panel you introduced, a theme that came up was showing up for yourself authentically. And it was similar to what you've said was why you created Noah's Arcyour hunger for representation. You created what you wanted to see, which was yourself and your friends on screen.
P-IP: Again, in terms of seeing myself, there still hasn't been anything like a Noah's Arc. But, every once in a while, I'll see myself in something that is not intended to be an LGBTQ kind of situation. When I saw the Broadway musical Passing Strange, I heavily identified with the main character. Certainly, I saw myself in Justin Simien's Dear White People or in Lena Waithe's Twenties. You find it in other ways, but it's also like, "Here we are in the 21st century and we have so many outlets for entertainment. Why isn't there more progress?"
WCT: The summit panel also touched on the varied experiences of being Black and gay in the South. As someone born in Mississippi, do you have any thoughts to share in terms of your own experiences?
P-IP: Growing up in Mississippi, I kind of inherently knew that homosexuality was not something I could be could be open about. Or perhaps I just didn't get to the point where I learned how to be open about it. I think I was still kind of figuring it out, as most people are, when I left to go to college. But I knew enough to literally say to myself as I flew on the airplane, watching the ground in Mississippi get smaller and smaller, "When I step off this plane, every person that I meet from now on will know that I'm gay."
P-IP: I wasn't entirely met with resistance or anything like that as a child, but I also kind of knew enough to sort of keep it quiet. And then I went off and found myself and was out from that point.
WCT: What are you working on now?
P-IP: I'm co-executive producing season four of the Showtime series The Chi, and I'm co-executive producing season two of P-Valley on Starz. Both shows are in production this year.
WCT: What was it about those shows that made you want to be involved?
P-IP: The Chi is created by Lena Waithe and it's a very Black show set in the Black community in Chicago. They're telling a nice myriad of interesting stories with interesting characters, including some LGBTQ lead characters. With P-Valley, it's a very unique kind of show set in Mississippi, where I'm from. It's very unapologetically Black and it has some wonderful, interesting LGBTQ characters and storylines. So, both of these shows are really right in my wheelhouse.
WCT: What's next?
P-IP: I have a comedy series in development at Showtime with Gabrielle Union's production company called New Money. It was announced recently in the papers. Hopefully, we'll be seeing that somewhere on our TV screens next year.
Watch the GLAAD HIV Stigma & Faith Summit panel, "At the Intersections of Blackness and Queerness in the South," with an introduction by director Patrik-Ian Polk, here: www.facebook.com/watch/live/ .
To donate to the Noah's Arc Virtual Reunion Charity Fundraiser, visit gf.me/u/X9MAXH .