Opinions are the writer’s own and not those of Blavity's.
Lil’ Nas X's music video for his song “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)” went viral almost instantly and sparked a flurry of Twitter posts. In the video, Lil Nas X boldly challenges traditional notions of Christianity by toppling gender roles and sexuality in the Bible by incorporating his own identity as a Black, gay, man.
Released just a week before Good Friday, the video for “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)” is a re-telling of the Christian Passion narrative — or the day Jesus was nailed on the cross — as well as a reflection on religion and Black, queer, art.
The video begins with Lil’ Nas X relaxing beneath a tree playing his guitar while a serpentine creature hovers over his head. A clear nod to the book of Genesis and the Garden of Eden, this scene makes a powerful point for those familiar with the story of Adam and Eve, suggesting people could live in their fullness without shame before the invention of sin.
Lil’ Nas X says the video is an ode to his younger self — a closeted queer boy who planned on keeping his same-gender loving identity a secret. In the video's introductory scene, Lil’ Nas X plays both Adam and a gender non-conforming character. While Adam initially runs from the non-conforming character, he ultimately sees them everywhere and gives in to their kiss. Similar to the story in the Bible, this yield to temptation forced humans out of Eden, leaving them open to sin, punishment and death.
In the next sequence, a pink-haired Lil’ Nas X is dragged into a judgment hall in chains. The prominent colors of pink, blue and gray suggest both gender dichotomy and ambiguity. As the crowd of gray and uniform masses jeer the pink wigged protagonist, they pelt him with metal butt plugs in what appears to be a public shaming. In the Bible, Jesus tells those without sin to cast the first stone. (John 8:7) In Lil’ Nas X’s version, the idea of execution by stone translates into a much more subversive, queer-friendly alternative.
The video then follows Lil' Nas X's initial ascent into heaven, where a stripper pole emerges. The protagonist mounts the pole and acrobatically spins as he begins descending into hell. Upon his arrival, a red-haired, thigh-high booted and scantily clad Lil’ Nas X begins giving the devil a lap dance.
This particular scene has many Christians, including politicians, up in arms. To them, seeing a Black, openly gay man gyrating on the devil is too offensive to comprehend. Lil’ Nas X snapped back at these critics with a tweet saying, “Y’all love saying we going to hell but get upset when I actually go there.”
This comment checks the hypocrisy of extreme Christian fundamentalists while maintaining an authentic sense of loyalty to his identity.
Hell is a concept that many queer people, especially queer Christians, know well. With increased risks of suicide, youth homelessness, housing insecurity and violence impacting LGBTQ+ people today, the construct of living in hell is nothing new. This reality is particularly glaring for those living under the compounded forms of oppression like race, class and disability.
After using his body to seduce and subjugate the devil, Lil’ Nas X moves behind the throne, runs his hands up this creature’s body and snaps his neck. Much like Christ in his pre-resurrection descent into hell, Lil’ Nas X takes Satan’s horned crown and morphs into a black-winged, angelic figure, freeing himself and (presumably) others. The imagery at this point in “Montero” alludes to the Great Commandment in the books of Matthew, Mark and Luke — the same chapter referenced by Lil’ Nas X for his controversial new line of sneakers — which implores people to love God and others as themselves.
What outraged parties seem to miss about “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)” is the artist's subjective and deeply personal experience with Christianity. Their backlash is rooted in personal biases and overall discomfort with a Black, queer man manifesting subversive images and his relationship with religion.
As Black, same-gender-loving women of faith, we never fathomed seeing a Black or queer person replicating, let alone re-imagining, the Passion narrative, the events of Holy Saturday, or other Biblical stories and theology.
“Montero (Call Me By Your Name)” is a brilliant, thought-provoking, symbolically rich, sometimes uncomfortable and irreverent work of art that speaks to the complex relationship that many Black and queer Christians have with their faith.
____Victoria Kirby York and Alicia Crosby are members of the National Black Justice Coalition.