R&B superstar Frank Ocean is one of the most popular Black LGBTQ people in the world, so when he announced that he was putting together a club night entitled “PrEP+” in New York City, people couldn’t wait to see what would become of it.
After the event on Thursday night, many of those same people made it clear they were let down. Ocean has since responded to the criticisms.
The party was announced via press release on Wednesday, with no details about where or how the event was being thrown, and who could get in. Most of the details of the event were only revealed through the social media rumor mill, and Ocean’s Blonded team didn’t provide much info for the last-minute party.
Ocean’s press release claimed that “PrEP+ is the first in a series of nights; an ongoing safe space made to bring people together and dance.” It noted that they chose this name as “homage to what could have been of the 1980s NYC club scene if the drug PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) — which can be taken daily to prevent HIV/AIDS for those who are not infected but are at high risk — had been invented in that era.”
Ocean’s team made sure to clarify that theirs would be a no-discrimination tolerated policy and that “consent is mandatory,” according to Out Magazine.
However, by the time Thursday’s club night came around, much of what was anticipated for the experience didn’t come to reality.
First, it was unclear if PrEP+ was put together with Gilead, the company currently producing PrEP, or LGBTQ magazine Gayletter, before both clarified that they weren’t involved in Ocean’s party. The flyer that was released promoting the event featured music artist Joel Kurasinski, who doesn’t publicly identify as LGBTQ, and the flyer didn’t mention queer people or the LGBTQ community in any way.
Ocean’s team also followed several directives that made this event vastly different from the 1980s club scenes they desired to recreate. They specifically told partygoers that the “dance floor is for dancing,” and no photography or video would be allowed. It was then revealed that PrEP+ would be held in the Flushing, Queens basement of the collaborative arts space Knockdown Center.
Additionally, only select people were invited who could then invite other people, and there would be a limit to that number as well. “If you had to ask how to get a ticket, you weren’t getting one,” wrote Pitchfork.
Also missing from PrEP+ was any drugs, (including the party’s namesake pills) merchandise or material that further went along with the 1980s theme. In fact, ACT UP activist Jason Rosenberg reported that security was “tight” and they took his bottle of Truvada to inspect it, apparently unsure of what it was.
It was reported that a majority of the music played by the slew of DJs — which included a set by Ocean himself — was 1990s and 2000s house, latin and hip hop music, with a few snippets of unreleased music by Ocean and French electronic music duo Justice. There was no clear LGBTQ presence, music or appreciation at the event other than Ocean himself. Other than a DJ playing Sylvester’s “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)” at one point, people felt that PrEP+ failed to even acknowledge LGBTQ people of the past or present that night.
Partygoers reported the event as “so white” with “a lot of straight people there”, addressing the apparent lack of diversity in the invite list, all of which has led to Kanye West comparisons. “I just wish that it felt more like a queer New York party,” photographer Myles Loftin reflected. “The theme just felt a bit shallow and performative,” another attendee complained.
While much of the criticism focused on discussing how boring and non-inclusive the party was, many LGBTQ organizations and figures went further in claiming Ocean was trying to be “revisionist” with PrEP+, regarding HIV people and the AIDS epidemic that was prevalent in the 1980s.
ACT UP tweeted, “80’s nightlife was revolutionary because of people living with HIV and their caretakers,” and continued on to say that other than awareness, PrEP is still not accessible to those that need it. ACT UP activist Peter Staley tweeted, “The NYC club scene was amazing during ACT UP’s heyday. It was our escape from some hard shit, and our way to bond as we changed the world. Oh, and everyone was invited.”
Ocean took to Tumblr the next day to address much of the already mounting criticism of the event. He wrote that he was an artist whose responsibility it was to “imagine realities that don’t necessarily exist.” He defended the night as a success by citing the “awareness” bought to PrEP and HIV-prevention thanks to his party, and that anything more than that “isn’t always what we’d hope it would be… I’m happy that folks are talking about the subject in the first place.”
Staley did acknowledge to PAPER Magazine that he’s glad Ocean is bringing attention to PrEP, and also emphasized that much of what the artist spoke about in his imagined reality could have been real, if HIV research and the medical community had acted faster in discovering and releasing PrEP.
“In the end, I’m much less concerned about their minor flubs in messaging than the fact that Frank Ocean is talking about PrEP and HIV,” he concluded. “He’ll reach far more young gay black men than a hundred white gay PrEP activists ever will.”
It’s unclear when the next PrEP+ will be, if there is one.