It’s still hard to perceive that even in 2020 public nudity still evokes a torrent of negativity. On one hand there are the juvenile reactions from people who left their teen years decades ago, and on the other hand there is still so much overwhelming out-of-place Victorian censorship . If you show more than a naked ankle on Facebook their narrow minded self-appointed expurgators will banish you and your FB page from public view until you recant.
It’s a regrettable situation that was part of reason why Belgian choreographer THIERRY SMITS developed a dance piece with 11 male nude dancers. Smits claims that this work is depicting a world “overrun by right-wing and neoliberal” ideals, conflating the unabashed nudity with leftism.
So Bare is a film by ALEKSANDR VINOGRADOV that documents the 11th month journey of Smits creating ANIMA ARDENS from the very start to the premiere performance.
The cameras are there for the very intensive couple of days of auditions. Interestingly one of the dancers questions the fact that they are being filmed naked, and he is concerned what will happen with these images especially if he is not cast. It’s a sad indictment of today’s culture where nude images are so often crudely exploited without permission.
Smits ‘ballet” is strictly about male nudity which is unusual in itself and some of the pieces in it are very phallic. Others however switch from the masculine and in one of the most profoundly moving segments, he has the men giving their own concepts of a birthing experience.
The nudity is not intended to be either erotic or provocative but it does show the sheer beauty of the male form. It actually turns out that most of this diverse group men that make up the cast are gay. This may (or may not) have added a level of both personal freedom and more sensitivity on how they perceived their own nudity
Kudos not just to the dancers and their sheer vitality but also to Vinogradov’s camera capturing so many close-ups that he wove into his beautifully edited film
If there is a novelty at seeing 11 naked men on the screen at the start of the film, that completely dissipates by the end. It’s a celebration of masculinity that was a joy to watchhttps://player.vimeo.com/video/405184049
Its protagonist, Nadir, a young trans man grieving the violent death of his mother and struggling to find his identity, discovers a journal left behind by Laila Z, a mysterious Syrian bird artist who disappeared decades before, in a soon-to-be-demolished building in Little Syria.
By switching between the journal and chapters narrated by Nadir, Joukhadar tells a story of love and loss that begins in Syria in the 1960s and winds its way into Nadir’s present in Brooklyn. Through Laila Z’s journal, Nadir comes to understand that people like him have always existed, even if they had to live their lives in secret.
Throughout it all are birds, both real and imagined. They drop from the sky, land on window ledges, and provide one of the central mysteries of the novel: Did Nadir’s mother, an ornithologist, and Laila Z see the same elusive and unsubstantiated species of bird decades apart?
While Joukhadar untangles the story of Nadir’s mother’s death and Laila Z’s life, he explores the interior life of a young trans man wary of coming out and the larger implications of gender, secrecy, and identity.
Joukhadar spoke to Goodreads contributor Samantha Schoech from his apartment in Sardinia, Italy, where he is sheltering-in-place with his Italian partner during the COVID-19 pandemic. Their conversation has been edited. Goodreads: Congratulations on the new book. What’s it like to have a book coming out in the time of COVID-19?
Zeyn Joukhadar: It’s definitely weird. I do feel lucky that it’s coming out later in the pandemic because I think we have a better handle on doing virtual events and that kind of thing. We’ve figured out how to connect with readers.
ZJ: I was focused on epigenetics. I think that did come into play when I was writing this book because some of what I was studying was the way that things that happen to us when we are in the womb affect us later on. If your grandmother was pregnant with a child with ovaries, that child already had the egg that would eventually become you. So, the things that happened during your grandmother’s pregnancy also happened to the egg and to us.
We know that trauma is intergenerational. But when you look at resilience and survival, maybe those things also can get passed down. When I was looking at queer and trans ancestors in this book, those were things that I was thinking about—that in a way our ancestors are present with us, maybe more than we can even know.
GR: The protagonist in your book is the grandchild of Syrian immigrants to New York. Even in the present-day New York City of the novel, there is a strong current of culture and history and Syrian identity. Did you grow up with this type of cultural awareness?
ZJ: I think it’s difficult to grow up in diaspora as a person of color in the United States without being made aware of who you are and where you come from. Even if that place is New York, if your ancestors come from somewhere else, you’re not allowed to forget that.
When I was researching this book, and finding out about the existence of Little Syria [in New York], even though this neighborhood was almost entirely torn down to build the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, the fact that it existed at one time really got me thinking about the fact that there were these people who were living there who were trying to find their own belonging in New York City. There was something really powerful about that. Even though I didn’t grow up in a predominantly Syrian American community or even a predominantly Arab American community, I did live in a community where there were a lot of immigrants.
GR: Do you think being Arab American influences the kinds of stories you’re drawn to telling?
ZJ: I think that that’s always going to be part of my lens, you know, just like for any writer, because that’s my experience. It’s always going to be present, and I think that’s something we should all embrace. Nobody comes to the page without a lens.
GR: OK, back to this novel. There is so much loss in this story—actual death, but also lost love, loss of country, and the loss of an unwanted identity. How do you see these things in relation to one another?
ZJ: Obviously, this book is about someone grieving the loss of his mother, but at the same time there is a realization throughout the book that the mother is very much present in his life and that our ancestors are very much present in our lives.
Grief over somebody dying is a very different thing from transition, and I think that part of the book was also disentangling those.
One of the things I was trying to hold in my mind and heart when I was writing this was the way that something can feel like loss when it’s not really lost. Oftentimes, transition gets framed by cis people as a kind of loss, and sometimes the people around a trans person will react to someone coming out as if it’s a loss, not realizing that the person is still very much the same person and that the only thing that’s happened is that something has been gained, something has been found—a new agency and joy and the ability to actually take joy in existing and in living more fully. I think that that’s a big part of the book.
GR: And what about birds? They’re everywhere in this book. They are both real and symbolic. They are in art and in omens. How did you come to that? Why birds?
ZJ: As I was writing, I started to think about the piece that inspired the title, which is a long Sufi poem that in English translates to “The Conference of the Birds.” The gist of it is that there are these 30 birds that are seeking God and eventually realize that they are reflections of the divine. It became sort of a theme for me in the writing.
I wanted to write something about finding one’s way to a feeling of holiness or sacredness. As a trans person or queer person, we don’t get to feel sacred or feel that we are a reflection of the divine. Nadir is searching in the book for himself. He’s also searching to find the sacred and the divine in himself and to feel like he is whole and loved. I think that that’s where the birds come in.
GR: What kind of research did you have to do to write this book?
ZJ: One of the great sources of information for me was going to see an exhibit about Little Syria at the New York City Department of Records in 2016, before I’d even written a draft. Then, in 2019, I was an artist-in-residence at the Arab American National Museum, and I took the research further in their archives.
Some of it is just knowledge of the times and being able to wonder, “Well, what if this kind of person had lived? What if this had happened?” When you look at queerness and transness in the historical record, you realize quickly that you have to read between the lines to find us. Either queer and trans people get erased outright or they weren’t able to be out. In a lot of ways, it’s very frustrating and sad and difficult. But what’s wonderful about it is that you can look at a period of time in history and know that there were queer and trans people there. It gives you this wonderful freedom to imagine how people lived and loved and had their lives in any time period and any place. And it might have been really difficult, but they must have also known lots of moments of beauty, too. And that’s a complicated feeling, but it’s also a wonderful one.
GR: Who are the writers who really influenced you as a fiction writer?
ZJ: I would say Toni Morrison, for sure. Her fiction, for sure, but I’ve been reading a lot of nonfiction lately for comfort, and I was reading The Source of Self-Regard. It’s brilliant. She writes a lot about craft. She talks about how she chooses her opening sentences and her final sentences. There’s this piece where she talks about Moby Dick and how the author might have been talking about the idea of whiteness in a way that he couldn’t express any other way. I feel like reading her has really made me a better writer.
GR: What’s some of the nonfiction you’ve been reading?
ZJ: I was reading Alexander Chee’s How to Write an Autobiographical Novel. I have been reading memoir and essay collections. I think that as writers, we have this impulse to make meaning out of things that happen. Obviously, that’s part of our craft whether in nonfiction or fiction, right? And I think that it’s been frustrating, for me at least, to not be able to do that yet. We’re in a thing that we can’t see the edges of yet, and maybe reading memoir and essay gives me the tools to try to make sense of what’s happening to me.
ZJ: No, it really has very little to do with my own life. I mean, obviously there’s a trans protagonist from New York, and I’ve lost a parent. But other than that, it’s not autobiographical at all.
I’m not sure I could ever write an autobiographical novel. I find the whole idea very terrifying.
GR: OK, one final question, and I know this is a hard one, but what are the books that you wish were assigned in high school and university courses?
ZJ: It’s really hard to answer that. I definitely wish that when I was that age I had read Love Is an Ex-Country that I mentioned before. I still have to read Laila Lalami’s most recent book, Conditional Citizens; I’m really looking forward to that. But The Other Americans was a really important read for me. And, of course, I wish there had been trans writers that I had been able to read. There’s so much good stuff out now by trans writers.
As we move firmly into November, there’s no escaping the fact that holiday season 2020 is upon us – and with the election result and news of a vaccine breakthrough, it feels like we might feel OK about celebrating this year, after all.
Making that easier for us all, of course, is the annual influx of holiday viewing fare that has already begun showing up on our screens, right on cue, to help us get in the mood. For LGBTQ+ audiences, that has traditionally meant having to settle for getting our fix of seasonal spirit vicariously through stories about straight people – but giving us even more reason to celebrate, this time around, is a plethora of inclusive options in which, at long last, we get to see our queer romantic holiday fantasies played out without having to filter them through a heteronormative lens.
Probably the most significant of these new entries – from the standpoint of cultural politics, at least – is “The Christmas House,” which comes amid the heavy slate of holiday-themed romantic movies from the Hallmark Channel, and represents a seismic shift at the formerly conservative network by placing a loving same-sex couple at the center of its warm and fuzzy storyline. Starring out gay actor Jonathan Bennett (best known as high school heartthrob Aaron Samuels in 2004’s “Mean Girls”), it focuses on a gay couple trying to adopt their first child, and co-stars Robert Buckley, Ana Ayora, Treat Williams and Sharon Lawrence.
To recognize why “The Christmas House” (which premieres Nov. 22) is as meaningful as it is, it’s necessary to look back at Christmas 2019. A lot has happened since then, but if you prod your memory, you’ll likely recall the debacle that took place when Hallmark caved to pressure from right-wing homophobic activists (particularly the misleadingly named “One Million Moms,” a front for known hate group the American Family Association) and pulled several ads for the wedding planning website Zola over the inclusion of a lesbian couple. The backlash from the LGBTQ+ community and its advocates was swift and profound, and a week later the ads were reinstated, with Hallmark vowing to work with GLAAD on a plan to move forward with more inclusive programming. It was an unequivocal victory in the “culture wars,” made even more sweet by the context of a flagrantly anti-LGBTQ political administration and the false perception of legitimacy bestowed upon homophobic social attitudes that it enabled.
For proof that the climate had changed – even before last week’s election – one only has to look at the words of Michelle Vicary, executive vice president of programming for Hallmark, whose statement when “The Christmas House” was announced late last month as part of the network’s seasonal lineup opened by saying, “Our holiday table is bigger and more welcoming than ever.” It might have the ring of carefully manufactured corporate-speak, but that sentence still represents the culmination of a decades-long struggle – and while not every member of the LGBTQ+ crowd may be excited about being represented in the kind of feel-good fare that straight couples have been enjoying together since forever, we can all still look at the fact that it’s finally happening as an important milestone worthy of celebration – though it’s worth noting that One Million Moms has another homophobic petition circulating in protest of this one, too.
Hallmark isn’t the only cable titan unveiling its first same-sex Christmas romance this year; the Lifetime Channel, similarly known for being a family-friendly seasonal juggernaut, is dropping “The Christmas Set-Up,” which stars two actors (Ben Lewis and Blake Lee) who are not only openly gay, but are an actual couple in real life. While the network last year aired “Twinkle All the Way,” which featured a same-sex kiss between two supporting characters, this time they are putting the gay love story front and center.
This one follows Hugo, a New York lawyer (Lewis), whose matchmaking mom (played by Fran Drescher) decides to set him up with Patrick (Lee), his old high school friend – and secret crush. According to the synopsis, things go smoothly between the two men at first, but they take a dramatic turn when (in true made-for-TV romance fashion) Hugo gets a promotion that comes with a relocation to London, forcing him to choose between his career and the man of his dreams. It also stars Ellen Wong (“G.L.O.W”) as Hugo’s best friend.
“The Christmas Set-Up” represents Lifetime’s efforts to bolster its own reputation for diversity and inclusion, in a Christmas lineup that also features the network’s first movie centered on an Asian-American family, “A Sugar & Spice Holiday.” In a statement made in September, when Lifetime’s holiday slate was announced, head of programming Amy Winter said, “The world we create on camera should reflect the world we live in.”
She went on to add, “Our hope with these inclusive films and others is that people will see themselves while enjoying universally relatable holiday romances.”
“The Christmas Set-Up” won’t drop until Dec. 12, but for fans of gay romance, it should be well worth the wait.
It’s laudable that these once-resistant cable networks have opened up their programming to include more diverse representation, of course; but while we have been waiting for them to get on board, we should not forget that streaming giants like Netflix and Hulu have already been leading the charge for quite some time. Both of them continue that tradition this season with LGBTQ-centric holiday offerings of their own.
While Netflix doesn’t have a specifically LGBTQ-centered title coming for the holiday season, it is bringing us “Dash & Lily,” based on the popular YA romance book series by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan, which includes queer characters – not to mention the non-holiday-themed Ryan Murphy adaptation of the Broadway musical, “The Prom.”
Hulu, however, is putting LGBTQ love in the spotlight with “Happiest Season,” a romantic comedy from director Clea Duvall, who also co-wrote with Mary Holland.
Featuring two queer icons (Kristen Stewart and Mackenzie Davis) in the leads, and yet another (Dan Levy) in prominent support, Duvall’s film revolves around girlfriends Abby (Stewart) and Harper (Davis), and Abby’s plan to propose at the annual Christmas dinner held at Harper’s family (Davis) home. When Abby arrives for the big night, she discovers that not only is Harper’s family ignorant of their relationship, they don’t even know that Harper is gay, prompting her to question how well she knows the person she’s planning on spending the rest of her life with.
That synopsis might give the impression that “Happiest Season” is more a soul-searching downer than you might want from holiday-themed romance, but official descriptions assure us that this latest lesbian-themed Hulu Original is “a holiday romantic comedy that hilariously captures the range of emotions tied to wanting your family’s acceptance, being true to yourself, and trying not to ruin Christmas.” And if you are enthusiastic to see the movie – which premieres Nov. 25 – you are in good company. Its star, Stewart, said in a statement: “I think I’ve wished to see a gay Christmas rom-com my whole life.”
Many would say – in this case, at least – that K-Stew speaks for us all.
Today, just in time for Halloween, The True Adventures of Wolfboypremieres in select theaters and anywhere you can rent or buy movies. This isn’t a horror movie though – it’s a beautiful coming-of-age film written by Olivia Dufault, a transgender woman, about the fears and emotions trans people may experience as they approach transition.
Paul (Jaeden Martell) is the wolfboy of the title (he has hair all over his face) and he is struggling with his fear that his condition means the world will only ever see him as a freak. As Paul stumbles toward self-acceptance, he meets Aristiana (Sophie Giannamore) who has already made that journey herself as a young trans girl. As she accompanies Paul on their adventures, Aristiana embodies the self-knowledge that many trans people possess, and she quietly shows Paul what it looks like to accept yourself as you are. Giannamore, a young trans actress, stars alongside Martell, John Turturro, Chloë Sevigny, Eve Hewson, and Chris Messina.
Wolfboy has been on GLAAD’s radar since 2017 when the casting director reached out to us for help finding a trans teen to play Aristiana. When Wolfboy premiered at NewFest last year, we published an interview with Sophie Giannamore and you can read that here.
There are very few feature films with transgender characters that are written by trans people, and Wolfboy is a shining example of why trans stories are more rich, compelling, and profound when trans people tell them. Wolfboy is a transition narrative, but since it’s written by a trans woman, it’s told from the inside-out, not the outside-in. We’re so excited to talk to Olivia Dufault about her thought process behind the creation of this beautiful film.
What inspired you to write The True Adventures of Wolfboy?
It was my final semester of college, and I’d waited until the last moment to fulfill my science course requirement. I ended up begrudgingly enrolled in a genetics class, wherein I was exposed to a presentation on unusual conditions passed down hereditarily. One of these slides displayed folks living with hypertrichosis, which results in thick hair that grows on the entirety of one’s face and body. It’s where many believe the “wolfman” myth originated from.
Immediately I was struck by this intersection between the mythological and the mundane, the fantastical and the very real.
But to be brutally honest, my interest in this topic was much more personal. I’d always struggled with my own relationship to my, at the time, unruly facial hair. This potential story felt like a poignant allegory for my issues, though one which I was uncertain how much I’d fully allow myself to explore.
GLAAD and other trans advocates have repeatedly urged cisgender creators to stop writing transition narratives. For one thing, like LGB coming out stories, it’s been done repeatedly and can be reductive if that’s the only story told about trans people. More importantly, the “before during and after transition” stories written by cis people are just not well done or authentic. But for me, Wolfboy is what a transition narrative looks like when a trans person writes it. Were you conscious of trying to write a different type of transition narrative?
I didn’t necessarily set out to write a transition narrative, but as my life and this script proceeded forward in parallel, I soon realized what this story wanted and needed to be.
I began writing Wolfboy about seven years ago, when I was twenty-six. At that time, I was grappling with gender dysphoria, before ultimately reaching the conclusion that I needed to transition in order to essentially survive. It was a thrilling and terrifying time; I was giddy and raw, confronting decades of internalized self-loathing and fear of societal acceptance. I desperately needed to process these feelings, and overcome the insecurities that had festered for so long in my brain. In many ways, writing Wolfboy was essentially the act of me mustering up the courage to transition.
Even at that stage of my life, however, I’d grown tired of the typical “transition narrative” tropes. I didn’t want to underplay the challenges of self-acceptance, but I also didn’t want to see a young trans person struggle endlessly onscreen. There’s enough trans trauma in this world.
As such, employing an allegory (as is so often done in fairytales!) felt like the perfect opportunity to discuss these complicated topics in a way that was unique, honest, and compassionate.
I really appreciate the fact that Aristiana isn’t subjected to the “trans trauma” that we’ve seen in other films.
Other writers might have chosen to leave the transgender story allegorical, but you chose to create Aristiana, a young trans girl who befriends Paul. For me, Paul and Aristiana both represent trans people at different stages of transition: one just starting out and full of fear, and the other comfortable with herself and her place in the world. Is that just me? Or did you choose to write Paul and Aristiana that way?
It’s not just you! This was absolutely intentional on my part. Paul and Aristiana very much represented my internal dialogue with myself, as I was processing my anxieties and overcoming my fears associated with transitioning. Paul was where I was, Aristiana was where I wanted to be.
I love allegories, but one of the problems associated with them is that they can often result in the erasure of a marginalized group of people that they’re intended to represent. As such, it was very important to me from the gestation of this project to depict a vibrant young trans person who was resilient, self-assured, and had already found a community of folks who embraced her.
ted to create a character that I could have watched at age thirteen and both resonated with and been inspired by.
Not to spoil anything about the story, but there is a scene where Paul gets to talk to an elder who also has hair all over his face and body, and Paul asks him “How hard is my life going to be?” I feel like young queer people often long to ask that question of queer elders, yet we rarely have them in our own families. That scene nearly brought me to tears. Did you have any trans elders in your life that you could talk to, or is this scene a moment you wish you could have had?
Sadly, this scene was absolute wish fulfillment on my part. At that time in my life, I would have very much appreciated a trans mentor figure to provide me with practical knowledge and emotional reassurance. I didn’t have that person, so I did the next best thing, and wrote one (of a sort) into existence!
What was it like to work with Sophie Giannamore as she brought Aristiana to life? Are you still in contact with her?
Sophie’s a brilliant actor and an even more brilliant human being. Getting to collaborate with her was one of the highlights of this whole experience. The first time I saw her and Jaeden Martell rehearse a scene together, I got chills. It’s impossible to imagine the character being portrayed by anyone else.
I’m fortunate enough to still remain in contact with Sophie and her family. I just had a socially distanced dinner with them a month ago! We spent the majority of the time gleefully bad-mouthing the Republican party.
I know you’ve written for AMC’s Preacher and FX’s Legion, is there anything else coming up on the horizon for you that we should keep an eye out for?
I have a few exciting projects currently in development, but unfortunately none that I can speak of officially. But stay tuned! I have an indefatigable determination to force the stories I want to see out into this world.
Check out the trailer below for The True Adventures of Wolfboy which is now available in select theaters and anywhere you can rent or buy movies.
In this deeply thought-provoking documentary Susan Polis Schutz uncovers the origins and complexities of hatred in America. Through a series of sensitive interviews with former white supremacists and other extremists, Susan explores how these people, who were filled with hate, bigotry and rage were able to change. They find love and compassion with a greater appreciation for all humanity, regardless of race, faith, or sexual orientation. This gripping film offers viewers a rare glimpse into the psychology of why people choose to hate, and how they have overcome it. Ultimately, it is a film about hope, the power of redemption, and breaking apart the systems that uphold hate in order to find true peace for a better community.
Sonoma Film Institute Announces Virtual Screenings for Fall
Sonoma Film InstituteAnnounces Virtual Screenings for Fall 2020 The link for watching the films will be posted on the SFI website by Friday at noon and will be good for 72 hours https://sfi.sonoma.edu
A White, White Day
Friday, Oct. 23, 2020 through Sunday, Oct. 25, 2020 A WHITE, WHITE DAY Trailer | TIFF 2019In a remote Icelandic town, an off-duty police chief (a chilling Ingvar Sigurdsson, who received Cannes’ Critics’ Week award for Best Actor for his performance) begins to suspect a local man of having had an affair with his late wife, who died in a tragic accident two years earlier. Gradually his obsession for finding out the truth takes over his life and inevitably begins to endanger himself and his loved ones. Combining classic thriller tropes with a distinctly Nordic arthouse sensibility, the second feature from Hlynur Palmason “engages in storytelling that’s both powerful and fresh throughout, marking him as a talent to watch.” – The Hollywood Reporter (in Icelandic with English subtitles)Free for SSU Students $12 for 72-hour rental to the General PublicReleased: 2019Run time: 109 min.
Friday, Nov. 6, 2020 through Sunday, Nov. 8, 2020 Sunless Shadows (official trailer) Mehrdad Oskouei’s follow-up to the critically acclaimed Starless Dreams (2016), Sunless Shadows takes another look at the lives of incarcerated teenage girls. As they serve time in a Tehran juvenile correction facility for the murder of their abusive fathers, husbands, and brothers-in-law-some of them abetted by their mothers, now on death row-a group of Iranian teenage girls share intimate, harrowing stories of the past and their adolescent dreams of the future. “It says everything that many of these long-mistreated young women finally find liberty in incarceration,” Guy Lodge writes in Variety . “The great grace of Oskouei’s subtly devastating film is that he doesn’t take it upon himself to say so.” ( in Farsi with English subtitles)Free for SSU Students $12 for 72-hour rental to the General Public Released: 2019Run time: 74 min.
It’ll be all treats, no tricks when a lineup of Broadway and drag favorites bring the Halloween chills and thrills to the cinematically striking stream of I Put a Spell on You at 8 pm Eastern on Thursday, October 29.
Save the date now for this virtual Halloween blowout, a musical spoof of and tribute to the cult classic Hocus Pocus.I Put a Spell on You finds the Sanderson Sisters breaking the internet and diving into a world of pop culture’s favorite villains. Watch for performances from Todrick Hall, Jay Armstrong Johnson, Eva Noblezada, Will Swenson, Bob The Drag Queen, Alexis Michelle and many more.
After selling out a live, in-person show the last four years, the Sanderson Sisters won’t disappoint in this year’s digital film complete with larger-than-life performances, over-the-top costumes and makeup and a healthy dose of Broadway magic. Visit broadwaycares.org/spell to discover insider perks for sponsors and VIPs.
And though the stream is free, all donations benefit Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. Your support during this sensationally spooky evening helps individuals living with HIV/AIDS and other life-threatening illnesses receive healthy meals, vital medication, housing, emergency assistance and much more. Their needs are critically heightened during the COVID-19 crisis.
We’re still in October, and that means as we cast our eye on our screens this month, it’s inevitable for us to also be casting our eyes on the past.
The most relevant offering this week is surely the debut of a new HBO Max docuseries, “Equal,” designed to fill in a few gaps in our education about what queer life was like in the days before Stonewall – just in time for LGBTQ History Month. Premiering on Oct. 22, it’s four episodes of slick, smart, and star-powered television that profiles various “leaders and unsung heroes” of the community who stood up, each in their way, to become pioneers in a movement for equality that might never have happened were it not for their refusal to stay invisible.
Narrated by Billy Porter, this look back at the giants upon whose shoulders we stand is not what you might call a “deep dive” into pre-Stonewall queer history; instead, it provides a sweeping overview of LGBTQ life in the middle of the 20th century, through a focus on some of the individuals who cast a long shadow in the ongoing fight for equality. That doesn’t mean it’s short on information though; a lot of detail is packed into each hour-long episode, and viewers are sure to walk away feeling much more informed about this long-obscured era of queer history.
From a collaboration of producers that includes the likes of Greg Berlanti and Jim Parsons, “Equal” looks to shine a light on figures whose stories took place within the shadows of past American culture: founding fathers of the LGBTQ equality movement like Harry Hay, Dale Jennings, Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin; pioneering trans women like Christine Jorgensen and Sylvia Rivera; and men and women of color, like Lorraine Hansberry and Bayard Rustin, who brought their queerness with them into the larger fight for civil rights in the arts and politics of the mainstream world. To that end, real-life archival footage is blended with newly filmed “re-enactments” – and a healthy dose of artistic license – to bring their histories to life.
Among the cast of queer and allied actors taking part are quite a few familiar names and faces. Cheyenne Jackson stands in for One Magazine founder Jennings, with Anthony Rapp as Mattachine Society founder Hay; Heather Matarazzo (“Welcome to the Dollhouse”) and Shannon Purser (“Stranger Things,” “Riverdale”) play Lyon and Martins, respectively; Jamie Clayton (“Sense8”) is Jorgensen, and Hailie Sahar (“Pose”) is Rivera, while Samira Wiley (“Orange is the New Black,” “The Handmaid’s Tale”) and Keiynan Lonsdale (“Love, Simon”) portray Hansberry and Rustin. The cast also includes Sara Gilbert, Anne Ramsay, Alexandra Grey, Jack Starr, Isis King, and Jai Rodriguez, as well as many additional performers, playing a mix of other real-life and fictional composite roles.
If you can’t wait for Oct. 22 to watch, you might be in luck, thanks to NewFest. The series is included as part of the line-up during the long-running LGBTQ Film Festival scheduled run between Oct. 16-27.
Celebrating its 32nd edition in the year of COVID-19 might not have been what this venerable film fest would have preferred to do, but like other prominent festivals that have had to adapt to life in 2020, it’s taken its show online – at least for the most part. That means that film fans who want to participate in NewFest without actually making the trip to NYC have gained an historic opportunity.
Organizers have put together what they describe as “an incredible virtual lineup” of screenings, special events, and panels, available nationwide for the first time in the festival’s history; and if you feel you must go in person to really feel a part of it all, there are even a few special drive-in screenings scheduled during NewFest’s 11-day run.
If you’re not a documentary person, NewFest has you covered, too. Don’t get us wrong – it features plenty of them. But it also offers a lengthy list of narrative options, both short and long form, from which film fans will be sure to find something to fit their personal tastes.
Among the highlights: “Ammonite,” the new semi-biographical 19th-century period romance from “In God’s Country” director Francis Lee, starring Kate Winslet and Saorise Ronan; “No Hard Feelings,” a debut feature from German filmmaker Faraz Shariat that explores a romance between two Iranian immigrants who meet in a refugee camp and has already won a German Teddy Award for Best LGBTQ-themed Feature; “Ahead of the Curve,” Jen Rainin and Rivkah Beth Medow’s documentary tracing the legacy of the groundbreaking lesbian publication Curve Magazine; filmmaker Mike Mosallam’s feature debut “Breaking Fast,” a cross-cultural gay romcom about a Muslim-American (Haaz Sleiman) whose blossoming romance with an All-American white boy (Michael Cassidy) is set against the backdrop of his family’s celebration of Ramadan; Laurie Lynd’s “Killing Patient Zero,” a riveting documentary about the scapegoating of Gaëtan Dugas, the gay French-Canadian flight attendant who was blamed for spreading AIDS to North America; and Stanley Kalu’s “The Obituary of Tunde Johnson,” a timely drama about a black teenager struggling with coming out to his parents while dealing with the trauma he experiences from both being closeted and being black.
There’s a long list of other features and shorts, most of which are available for the entire run of the festival after their official “screening” times and dates; there are also numerous special events – such as an all-trans cast doing a table read of “Brokeback Mountain. The full line-up can be found, along with all-festival passes, tickets and ticket packages, on the festival’s website at newfest.org.
With so much exciting queer content at our fingertips, even in the middle of a pandemic, even the gloomiest among us would have to call it an embarrassment of riches – more than enough to see us through until long past Thanksgiving. If not, don’t worry. LGBTQ History Month is barely halfway through, and there’s sure to be plenty more, still in store.
The groundbreaking queer Broadway show Slave Play has achieved a Tony Awards first, racking up the most nominations for any non-musical play in its 73-year history.
With 12 nominations, Slave Play has overtaken Angels in America, which previously held the record for the most Tony Awards nominations for a non-musical.×
The three-act play was written by Jeremy O Harris, and follows three interracial couples, including a same-sex couple, on a disturbing retreat undergoing “Antebellum Sexual Performance Therapy”, as the Black characters are not getting sexual satisfaction from their white partners.
The set of the play featured a giant mirrored wall and the house lights are kept dimly on so the audience is forced to put themselves into the narrative, and confront their own reactions.
The New York Times critic Jesse Green described it as “one of the best and most provocative new works to show up on Broadway in years”.
Slave Play is in some ways a “thought experiment”, Green said, asking the questions: “If Black people in intimate partnerships with white people felt safe to say how they needed to be seen, would their white partners be able and willing to comply?
“Or are Black people forever condemned by the legacy of slavery to live ‘squarely in the blind spot’ of their non-Black partners’ ‘myopia?’”