Photo spread for an imaginary Sherlock Holmes of the Harlem Renaissance.
Wentworth Miller as Sherlock Holmes.
Idris Elba as Dr. John Watson.
1925: Harlem, New York City.
Sherlock Holmes is the light-skinned, blue-eyed son of a Black mother and White father, a man who has grown up with a foot in both worlds. By necessity, he is an astute observer of those around him, and frequently ‘passes’ as White. Holmes puts his powers of observation and his chameleonic tendencies to good use as a private detective in New York City, where he moves back and forth between downtown (White) Greenwich village and uptown (Black) Harlem, investigating illegal gambling rings, brothels, and speakeasies, where he is not above sampling the wares himself.
Dr. John Watson is a Black doctor who served in an integrated regiment during the First World War. One of the few commissioned Black officers in the U.S. Army, he occupied a respected position in the Forces, only to return to the harsh reality of a segregated society when the war ends. Originally from St. Louis, Missouri, Dr. Watson moves to Harlem in order to establish a private practice, where he can serve the up-and-coming Black middle class of New York City.
In a divided city, Harlem is where the classes and the races meet:
A major element of Uptown allure was its enormous social fluidity; in this urban free zone …the elite not only frequented public restaurants, but basement speakeasies, where they mingled not only with non-Social Register customers but with people of color.
From Hide/Seek (p. 28):
Prohibition…closed bars and dance clubs in white areas, but permitted them to fluorish in black neighborhoods like Harlem. Many white citizens first came to Harlem during Prohibition, crossing a profound racial divide that made Harlem essentially a black city in the midst of a white one. There, they first encountered Harlem’s personalities, social mores, and artistic culture.
The culture these white tourists found in Harlem was notably more tolerant of sexual difference, giving many whites their first taste of an unashamed, well-integrated queer culture. In venues like the Cotton Club, openly queer performers regularly entertained, and as the evening’s entertainment was already in violation of the law under Prohibition, it encouraged a sexual openness unavailable in other parts of the city.
Harlem thus became the center of many white homosexuals’ existence…For many white queers, Harlem was a ‘sexual playground’, and its poverty, un- and under-employment, and racial tensions were less germane to their experiences of the place than its erotic possibilities…
Fresh from the Army, Dr. Watson is thrust into this fervent neighborhood, into a Harlem where black and white, male and female, queer and straight, collide and converge. But his own understanding of himself, his race, and even his sexuality, is challenged when he meets Sherlock Holmes, who is investigating the death of a pair of singers at the Cotton Club. Originally called in to identify the cause of their deaths, the staid and sober Watson is thrown into a world where nothing is as it appears at first glance: a world where black is white and white is black, where the police pay pimps for the right to the street, and where moonshine flows like milk and honey. To make matters worse, the whole investigation is led by Holmes, a brilliant, crazy man who plays the dangerous game of passing as white in the city that never sleeps.
Thanks to AfroGeekGoddess for suggesting Wentworth Miller as a possible Sherlock Holmes in this canon.
This is my official demand for an apology from everyone involved in the RDJ/Jude Law Sherlock Holmes films, BBC’s Sherlock, and Elementary FOR NOT MAKING THIS SHOW INSTEAD.