Bravery on our minds

Andromeda is, according to the erstwhile wikipedia, “she who has bravery on her mind.” In the ancient Greek world, Andromeda needed courage when she is sent as sacrifice to a sea monster, only to be saved by the handsome, strong Prince (son of Zeus) Perseus. Andromeda is most empathically female, the root of the western story of the princess saved by a prince. In western art Andromeda is anything but brave: she’s cringing, quaking, and frightened — where’s Perseus when you need saving?

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Titus Andromedon, played by Tituss Burgess in the Netflix series Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, is a princess of a sort, a gay man seeking his prince in the wilds of Manhattan. download-1

Titus Andromedon is a refugee, an openly gay black man who escaped his (married-to-a-woman) southern life as Ronald Effin Wilkerson to become a butterfly — except, butterflies don’t just pop out and flutter. Titus has been dragged down low, constantly seeking his big chance at stardom and living instead in a basement (sorry, “garden”) apartment, struggling to make ends meet (and not working all that hard at it).

But he’s not down and out; instead, Titus is optimistic and brave.

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The costuming of the character is about playing up a vintage (because if it’s old-enough thrift shop, then it’s cool-vintage and not just old-style sad thrift) vibe as a Golden Girl — another odd little classical theme. The character Titus favors loose blouses or tshirts, open draped cardigans, and a scarf or necklace. Without ever mentioning it, Titus dresses in bits and pieces of women’s clothing, navigating a gender stylistic field with finesse.

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Here, we’ve got patterned rayon pants from the mid-1990s, a teal tshirt, a soft gray draped jacket, and a teal rayon scarf with dramatic fringe. What’s so lovely is how lovely Titus the character, and Tituss the actor, look. There’s such a hopefulness, an optimism, and a joy to the costuming.

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Usually Titus is in the purple realm — again, there’s several messages here in the costuming choices. Titus (the Roman general of myth, history, and Shakespeare) Andromedon (the masculinized name for Andromeda, the first western-style princess in distress) wears purple, the color of royalty but more importantly, the Lavender of gay culture.

And Titus the character loves his purples, burgundies, and wines. In the most famous bit, Titus creates a music video for his song Peeno Noir. Above we see one of the many costumes for the video — Titus is in his burgundy, pinot-noir shaded satin robe. By the way, the lush setting of the video is the Manhattan home of Julian Voorhees, a despicable corporate billionaire. Titus and his renegade friend Lillian raid his apartment and use it to film Titus’s video. So there’s an undercurrent of Roman-style wealth, decadence and misbegotten riches. And if you didn’t get the allusions, here’s another costume from the fake-music video by Titus Andromedon.

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Titus finds true love by season two, in Mikey, the newly-out gay construction worker. In this scene, the two men talk – note that the character Titus is wearing that same gray open draped jacket, this time over a red paisley blouse.

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Titus Andromedon’s basic goodness, optimism, and joy is conveyed by his clothing choices. Blending masculine and feminine, always with an eye towards style and panache, the show tells viewers about the character they’ve created. And there’s real depth here: the name is a joke and a comment on gay-ness, masculinity, and triumph.

The third season of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt has been teased with a fabulous scene — Titus, thinking Mikey is cheating on him, goes “lemonading”. I haven’t seen the episode yet, but my guess is the two stay together. But Tituss Burgess, playing Titus Andromedon, now leaves us with this extraordinary image of Tituss/Titus, a black gay man, inhabiting the optimistic anger of the betrayed woman.

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Titus’s “lemonading” is a play on Beyonce’s amazing video Hold Up from her landmark and freaking-good album, Lemonade. Like the classical Andromeda, Beyonce opens the doors to the classically-styled building and out gushes water, down the stairs of the temple. And in her baseball-bat rampage, she flicks open a fire hydrant, spraying water high in the air.

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But Beyonce’s yellow dress renders her a goddess, not a princess like Andromeda — and in the video, Beyonce is very specifically the West African goddess Oshun. And Oshun is a woman of power who controls the water by herself; she gives life, she controls destinies. She is not afraid of the water — she embraces and is the water.

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In the classical, Western world, Andromeda is chained to a rock, sure to drown if not eaten first by the water animals. In this 19th century painting by Gustave Dore, the sadistic, soft porn appeal of the story is clear. Screen Shot 2017-05-18 at 8.07.14 PM

Beyonce and Titus reject this premise. There is power in embracing the water, riding the wave, and wearing the bright rainbow colors. And if you are dizzied by the fluidity of this whole discussion, well, get used to it. You live in a rainbow world where masculinity is expressed through women’s clothing; Beyonce’s vision of power is built upon the truths of the African diaspora. Titus Andromedon is both a Roman general and a “helpless” princess; women wield power; and optimism and hope really do win.

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