Chapter 1: Lists of Films and Episodes
Chapter 1: List of Films; Chapter 2: Black Mirror: San Junipero; Chapter 3: Carol; Chapter 4: Freedom to Marry; Chapter 5: Handsome Devil: Spoiler Free Review; Chapter 6: Handsome Devil thoughts with SPOILERS; Chapter 7: TAB Confidential; Chapter 8: The Out List; Chapter 9: Do I Sound Gay?; Chapter 10: Game Face; Chapter 11: Jenny's Wedding; Chapter 12: Breaking Free; Chapter 13: Velvet Goldmine; Chapter 14: Decoding Alan Turing; Chapter 15: Codebreaker (an Alan Turing film); Chapter 16: On the Other Hand, Death; Chapter 17: Yves Saint Laurent; Chapter 18: The Trans List; Chapter 19: Last Call at Maud's; Chapter 20: Out Late; Chapter 21: Wanda Sykes: Me (Stand-up); Chapter 22: Do You Take this Man; Chapter 23: Suited; Chapter 24: Paris is Burning; Chapter 25: The Normal Heart; Chapter 26: Passing; Chapter 27: A Luv Tale; Chapter 28: And the Band Played On; Chapter 29: Reggie Yates Extreme UK: Gay and Under Attack; Chapter 30: Professor Marston and the Wonder Women; Chapter 31: American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace; Chapter 32: Kevyn Aucorn: Beauty the Beast in Me; Chapter 33: Far From Heaven; Chapter: 34: Two Spirit; Chapter: 35: To Be Takei; Chapter 36: Billy Elliot; Chapter 37: Save Me; Chapter 38: Fair Haven; Chapter 39: More Than T; Chapter 40: The Wedding Banquet; Chapter 41: God's Own Country; Chapter 42: Beyond the Opposite Sex; Chapter 43: The Secret Diaries of Anne Lister; Chapter 44: Pride; Chapter 45: Pride Divide; Chapter 46: Intersexion; Chapter 47: God's Own Country: SPOILER Thoughts; Chapter 48: The Gymnast; Chapter: 49: Queens and Cowboys: A Straight Year on the Gay Rodeo; Chapter 50: I Do; Chapter 51: A Very English Scandal; Chapter 52: Women He's Undressed (about Costume Designer Olly-Kelly); Chapter 53: The Feels; Chapter 54: Jewel's Catch One; Chapter 55: Todrick Hall: Behind the Curtain; Chapter 56: Straight Outta Oz; Chapter 57: The Iron Ladies; Chapter 58: How to Win at Checkers (Every Time); Chapter 59: The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson; Chapter 60: Front Cover; Chapter 61: Angry Indian Goddess; Chapter 62: Breakfast on Pluto; Chapter 63: Arisan! 2; Chapter 64: The Feminists: What Were They Thinking? Chapter 65: The Gender Revolution: A Journey with Katie Couric; Chapter 66: Love, Simon; Chapter 67: The Untold Tales of Amistead Maupin; Chapter 68: Bohemian Rhapsody; Chapter 69: Colette; Chapter 70: Evening Shadows; Chapter 70: The Third Party; Chapter 71: The Happy Prince;
If spoilers are not listed in the description then the review is as spoiler free as possible while still giving enough information to help readers decide whether they want to see the film.
I have a separate set of metas for Maurice that includes discussions about both the E.M. Forster book and the Ivory-Merchant film.
Chapter 2: Black Mirror: San Junipero
This chapter reviews the Black Mirror episode "San Junipero", an interracial love story between two women in a world where the ultimate happy ending is possible.
I was beginning to feel like I was running low on available enjoyable LGBTQ films that weren’t sex with a hint of a plot on top of it. Finding good quality happy wlw stories can be a real challenge. San Junipero is uplifting, thoughtful, romantic, and definitely deserved the two Prime Time Emmys and BAFTA Television Craft Award that it won.
The majority of the episode takes place in 1987 in a small beach town in California named San Junipero. Yorkie, a shy and uncomfortable young woman with very religious parents, is visiting and stops by a club. She shuns the dancing and goes for an arcade game. After a man tries to hit on her she decides to sit down where she is joined by Kelly, who starts talking to her in an attempt to get away from a man who doesn’t realize that their fling is over. Kelly tries to convince her to dance, but Yorkie flees at the first opportunity. Kelly followers her and continues flirting, but Yorkie declines saying she is engaged. A week later she returns to the same bar only to find Kelly flirting with a man, but they reunite in the bathroom and really begin their relationship. Yorkie admits she had never had sex before and Kelly reveals she is bisexual and was previously married to a man.
The following week Yorkie can’t find Kelly and is advised to try a different time giving the viewer the confirmation that something strange is definitely going on. The remaining episode is a wonderfully written love story. The relationship has time to develop. It is also an equal relationship with each of them at times asking for more and the other one putting on the breaks. They are negotiating a relationship in which they will both set the rules.
The chemistry between Yorkie (Mckenzie Davis possibly best known on Tumblr for Halt and Catch Fire) and Kelly (Gugu Mbatha-Raw possibly best known on Tumblr for playing Trish Jones, Martha Jones’ sister on Doctor Who) is perfect and changes as the relationship develops. The theme of Black Mirror is technology and in San Junipero you can see both the benefits and costs. There is a very strong spiritual theme that lead to asking the question of what is the happiest possible ending.
The “science-fiction” element is something I remember reading in science-fiction novels and short stories as a teenager a couple of times, but the episode isn’t about that element. It is a love story that uses technology to realize it.
Make absolutely sure that you watch the entire credit sequence of the episode.
The song choice for the ending is the absolutely perfect choice and really captures the story. Interestingly, according to Mbatha-Raw the episode was shot quickly over three weeks and there was no read-though. This makes the performances even more impressive.
The original draft had a heterosexual couple, but it was decided (correctly, I think) that it had more poignancy with two women who could not have gotten married in our world in 1987.
My “behind the scenes” notes come from the Wikipedia page which I highly recommend reading after you see the episode.
Black Mirror: San Junipero is a Netflix financed show. I don’t know if it is available in all countries, but based on publications that reviewed it, it should definitely be available in the US, Canada, Britain, and the Philippines. (The first two series aired on Channel 4.)
Chapter 3: Carol
This chapter analyzes the film "Carol", a love story between two women set in the 1950s.
Starring: Cate Blanchett and Mara Rooney, Driected by Todd Haynes, Rated: R
It is hard to find good wlw films and writing up LGBTQ film reviews has really brought that frustration home. Cate Blanchett is one of my favorite actresses and although I have seen fewer of Mara Rooney’s films I know she is also a good actress. I have been a fan of Todd Haynesis my indie films snob phase when I was in my teens and early twenties. I have always loved the style of his films.
The atmosphere of the film and main theme is very similar to his earlier film “Far From Heaven”. Both take place in the 1950’s. In “Far From Heaven” a woman finds out that her husband is having an affair with a man. She begins a relationship with an African-American man. It is beautifully done, but not a happy film.
Although Carol has some really sad moments and Terese and particularly Carol pay a high price for their relationship the happy moments outweigh the sad ones.
The acting is superb and the chemistry between Carol and Terese is electric. Carol is confident in her sexuality and her feelings and attraction towards Terese, but is struggling with the consequences she will have to pay. She has moments of feeling that maybe the happiness she gets from being with Terese isn’t worth the price. I was born decades after the story takes place, but I am old enough to remember when saying you supported gay rights made many people think you needed a counselor.
Terese, who is younger, is more confused about whether she could be happy with a man and, thus, save herself from the consequences of being in a lesbian relationship. In contrast to Carol who is going through a messy divorce, there is a man who wants to marry Terese.
Their relationship has time to develop organically. Their sexual relationship is shown in a way that shows their attraction and love without feeling exploitative or gratuitous.
As with all of Todd Haynes’ films the film crew is crucial for creating the atmosphere and characters. The costumes, props, and locations are critical for creating the atmosphere. The music and sounds do not draw attention to themselves which fits the tone of the film. (This is 180% from his previous film “Velvet Goldmine”.) I don’t have personal experience with the 1950’s, but it fit with what I know of the period and did not feel current at all.
Chapter 4: Freedom to Marry
This chapter reviews the documentary "Freedom to Marry" about the fight for marriage equality in the US.
“Well, that only took 32 years,” Evan Wolfson.
“The Freedom to Marry” is a documentary that followed the fight for marriage equality throughout the United States. The film is a combination of history and a “how to guide” on the methods used to change minds.
Even though the courts are not supposed to decide cases based on public opinion they often are influenced by public opinion. The organizations supporting marriage equality made a long term plan that involved targeting three states every year and using grass roots methods to change public opinion in these states. Their first step was to have supporters agree to have five conversations in a week with people who opposed or were neutral on gay marriage and explain the personal, moral, and statistical reasons for supporting it. A significant amount of time is spent on their campaign in Texas.
The documentary also features comments by the anti-equality side including an excerpt of a speech by the horrid Roy Moore, the creep who thankfully lost in Alabama thanks in large part to black women helping save the US again.
The documentary gives a pretty good overview of the judicial reality in 2014 at which time the likely swing vote would be Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy. The lawyer arguing for gay marriage was Mary Bonauto. Cameras are not allowed during the questioning, but the film features some audio clips from her answers.
The documentary really shows the stories of the individuals named in the case who were fighting for the right to have their marriage recognized in all 50 states.
It wasn’t known in advance what day the decision would be handed down. One nice touch was it showed some of the main organizers meeting each day and waiting to find out whether the decision would be handed down that day only to have to come back the next day to wait again.
There was a previous documentary “Freedom to Marry” made in 2005. It is available on Netflix at least in some countries.
Chapter 5: Handsome Devil Spoiler-Free Review
This is the first of two reviews and analysis posts on the Irish film "Handsome Devil". This one is spoiler free. The following chapter will contain spoilers.
The title Handsome Devil and the picture associated with it gave the impression it was a film intended for teenagers. However, when I accidentally clicked on the drop-down description I saw a picture of Andrew Scott and decided to check it out.
The story structure is similar to numerous straight films, but one that is rarely used in LGBTQ films. A musically inclined loner with an attitude meets and accidentally becomes friends with the star of the rugby team. Add in a new English teacher who is moments away from a nervous break-down, but inspires and is inspired by his students and you have the basic formula. The difference is in this case the loner and the star rugby player are gay and they are roommates.
The film opens with the loner, Ned Roche (Fionn O’Shea) being driven to a school he hates so much he dreams of being expelled. Once at the school he is immediately bullied by his homophobic classmates.
The new English teacher Dan Sherry (Andrew Scott) quickly takes control of the class by deducing students in a bored voice and throwing a student out of the classroom. He then makes it clear that the obnoxious noise to indicate someone is gay is not allowed in his classroom.
The star rugby player Conor Masters (Nicholas Galitzine) is shown around the school by his mother and the Headmaster Walter Curly (Michael McElhatton). The mother is absolutely horrified to find out that her son’s roommate Ned has a picture on the wall of two men making out. Curly just seems resigned. Both boys talk to the Curly about not rooming together, but the Curly stands firm.
Ned and Conner slowly become friends after Conor shows a genuine interest in music. Sherry warms to both boys after learning about their interest in music. Sherry seems to know immediately that Ned is gay, but neither he nor Conor realize that the other one is gay until an awkward incident. Andrew Scott makes Sherry’s awkward embarrassment so realistic that it is uncomfortable to watch.
The rugby coach Pascal O’Keefe (Moe Dunford) is the worst kind of an obsessed youth sports coach and not surprisingly incredibly homophobic. He strongly disapproves of Conor’s friendship with Ned and asks Curly to investigate Sherry because some types of people shouldn’t be around impressionable young people. He warns Conor that if you hang around with dogs you get fleas.
The friendship has time to develop, but Conor’s fear and Ned’s anger cause them to hurt each other badly. I liked the fact that the film was willing to go there and show what the pressures of being gay and being bullied in a homophobic environment can make people do.
I don’t want to spoil the ending, but it was happier than I expected and true to the characters. One of the film’s main strengths is that the characters’ story arcs make sense.
Both Andrew Scott and Nicholas Galitzine were absolutely brilliant throughout the film. Andrew Scott does an amazing job at showing someone who is trying to convince himself he is happy and comfortable with himself when in reality he is awkward, often miserable, and on the edge of a breakdown. Outside of the deduction sequence there is nothing of James Moriarty in his performance. Nicholas Galitzine does a brilliant job of conveying emotions despite Conor having very little dialogue.
There is an “it gets better” scene that is absolutely heartbreaking as we see Sherry desperately trying to convince Conor that it will get better. We can see that Sherry is also trying to hold onto that conviction himself. Conor is at the point where he can’t even imagine it getting any better.
I was unsure whether we were expected to see Walter Curly as not straight or if he was straight, but didn’t think being gay is a bad thing. Either way the characterization worked.
Pascal O’Keeffe is horrible, but Moe Dunford gave a great performance and O’Keeffe never becomes a cartoon villian.
Fionn O’Shea had chemistry with everyone, but something about his performance as Ned felt flat.
Andrew Scott had a much larger role than I expected including his own storyline. This helps to make the films less exclusively “teenagersish”. (Teenagerish isn’t a bad thing. There should be LGBTQ films for teenagers. It is just that I personally have less of an interest in teenage marketed films.) I am increasingly convinced I would watch Andrew Scott recite the periodic table.
Chapter 6: Handsome Devil SPOILER Review
This is the second review and analysis of the Irish film "Handsome Devil". This one contains SPOILERS.
The more I think about the film Handsome Devil, the more I liked the film. (My non-spoiler thoughts were posted here.)
The fact someone is gay doesn’t actually tell you that much about them. Some gay men love fashion. Some gay men love musical theatre. Some gay men love rugby, hockey, football, NFL football, and/or basketball. Some love rap music. Some want to meet guys at clubs for one-night stands. Some want a husband and a house in the suburbs.
The idea that a gay man shouldn’t fit any of the stereotypes of gay men is problematic. If a gay man majors in English, loves fashion, and adores musical theatre he isn’t doing anything wrong nor should he be pressured into being someone he is not and giving up his interests. At the same time for some gay men to being their authentic honest selves means loving playing and watching sports.
I am a life-long sports fan. Off the record and quietly on the record it is widely acknowledged by players and people directly involved with numerous “macho” team sports that there are gay men who play and have played these sports professionally. Occasionally players come out after they retired and in extremely rare instances players come out while they are still active players.
I have been posting about documentaries a lot lately so I forgot to include the usual crew review. Film crews play a crucial role in the quality of a film by influencing the audience’s conscious and subconscious views the characters and story. The cinematography was excellent, the music choices helped the story along, the editor did a exceptional job with pacing of the film, and costume, make-up, and hair helped shape the characters.
Seeing Ned and Conor embrace was one of the most emotional moments of the film.
I am fortunate enough to have seen my teams “win it all”. After the players have a few minutes to celebrate among themselves the wives, girlfriends, and kids are brought down to celebrate with them. I have heard players talk about about how important their wives are to their success. There are a few women athletes who have their wives or girlfriends there for the celebration, but the Ned and Conor hug is something I have never seen in real life.
Ned pocketing Conor is a great touch. It really showed that Ned was starting to fit in and adopting some of the less horrible behavior of the other students.
One of the things I liked about the film is Ned, Conor, and Sherry are complex characters. Ned and Sherry fit more of the gay stereotype than Conor, but neither becomes a stereotype. None of the three show the remotest interest in fashion and Sherry always looks like he just rolled out of bed. This was a great costume, make-up, and hair choice as it contributes to the view of him as being on the edge of a breakdown. Andrew Scott is an attractive man in real life, but his looks were toned down for the film. Ned dresses differently than his rugby obsessed classmates, but not in a way that screams high fashion. Nor is Ned remotely flamboyant.
The introductory music for Sherry was a perfect choice. You already know something about the character before he does anything, but walk down a corridor.
Ned reading his essay at the National Essay contest (for which the school would get a donation) and his comment that people talked about it for months afterwards makes it clear that Curly canceled Ned’s punishment for disrupting the rally after outing Conor after Ned brought Conor back and Conor won the game especially since Conor presumably would have gone to bat for Ned.
It is interesting that the status of Ned’s and Conor’s relationship is left somewhat ambiguous. The only word we hear used is friend, but Conor refers to Sherry’s friend during the “it gets better” scene and Sherry’s friend is clearly his boyfriend/partner. I am guessing the status would be on the way to being boyfriends although that does leave open the question of them being roommates. On one hand it would be stupid to separate them. On the other hand would the school be ok with two openly gay students rooming together? (Yes, I sometimes overthink things when I start analyzing films.)
Chapter 7: TAB Confidential
This chapter reviews the documentary film "TAB Confidential", an autobiographical film about Tab Hunter, a "heartthrob" actor from the 1950's.
I’ve seen references to both the book and film Tab Hunter Confidential since they came out, but I couldn’t drum up an interest in an autobiography of an actor that I don’t think I have ever seen on-screen. Finally one night I was looking for some light viewing one evening and decided that it might be interesting for the coverage of the ‘studio era’ of Hollywood.
Tab Hunter was a ‘heartthrob’ actor and singer in the 1950s. During the 1950s an actor would sign with a studio and the studio choose which films an actor was in and would control his public image. Hollywood’s original interest in Hunter was based solely on his looks and it took him some time and acting classes to be treated as anything more than eye candy.
The documentary deals extensively with the role the studio would play in an actor’s career. The studio would choose the actor’s roles and would sometimes purchase roles specifically for the actor. Warner Brothers would also lend Hunter out to other studios for a large fee, but pay Hunter his usual salary.
Hunter finally decided to buy out his contract not knowing that it would be the end of his mega-star career. The market for an actor who was not attached to a studio and had left one was almost nonexistent. Being unattached to a studio also gave the tabloid press the ability to publish anything about the actor no matter how untrue or ridiculous. Hunter had enough and left Hollywood for an extended length of time.
Times had changed. Actors were expected to be anti-establishment and edgy. His ‘he’s a good boy introduce him to your mom’ persona was no longer appealing to casting directors. After a stint doing dinner theatre he returned to a limited extent. Probably of most interest were his roles in John Waters’ Polyester and Paul Bartel’s Lust in the Dust both of which were with actor Divine.
Early in his career he was arrested while at what the feared tabloid Confidential would later describe as “a limp wristed pajama party” (an obviously homophobic euphemism). Warner Brothers allowed the article to run in exchange for keeping Confidential quiet about Rock Hudson who was a bigger name at the time. Afterwards Jack Warner did ensure that article was forgotten. At the time entertainment journalists knew perfectly well that Rock Hudson, Tab Hunter, and numerous other actors were LGBTQ, but they generally kept quiet.
Warner Brothers had Hunter attached to a number of women including Natalie Wood, Debbie Reynolds, Etchika Choreau, and Joan Perry. Debbie Reynolds appears in the documentary several times. During his highly publicized relationship with Natalie Wood insiders joked “Natalie Wood and Tab Wouldn’t". As with many actors his homosexuality was an known to many in Hollywood.
His first real relationship was with figure skater star Ronnie Robertson who was told he would not win World’s if he brought Hunter. Robertson brought Hunter and did not win World’s. Their relationship was well-known within the figure skating world, but not the general public. He also had a relationship with actor Anthony Perkins, but Perkins was obsessed with his image leading to the end of the relationship. Perkins went on to marry a woman and had kids with her. He died of AIDS in 1992. Hunter has been with his current partner Allan Glaser for over 30 years. They met when Hunter pitched him Lust in the Dust.
Hunter is also an avid horse rider and now lives a largely quiet life with his partner Allan Glaser.
The documentary includes a number of celebrity participates including Clint Eastwood, Debbie Reynolds, Portia de Rossi, Noah Wyle, George Takei, and John Waters.
The documentary can serve as an introduction to the studio system and what it meant for LGBTQ actors at the time. The world was more anti-LGBTQ at the time. Yet in some ways it was easier in the pre-internet and pre-camera phone era for actors to have a gay relationship. Studios didn’t care if actors were LGBTQ as long as the public didn’t find out. The studio era described in the film ended decades ago, but the current system isn’t always better.
At the end of the documentary there is a brief discussion about how in many ways Hollywood is still stuck in the 1950’s when it comes to LGBTQ actors and how many actors feel their careers would suffer if they came out. The documentary came out in 2015, but if anything it has gotten worse in Hollywood with the election of Donald Trump and the right of the right wing fanatics. Ultimately, Hollywood’s only loyalty has always been to TPTB making money.
Chapter 8: The Out List
This chapter reviews the documentary "The Out List".
The Out List is an hour long movie that has 16 short segments of people talking about being openly LGBTQ. The list includes celebrities (Ellen Degeneres, Neil Patrick Harris, Wanda Sykes, Larry Kramer, Suzi Ozman, etc) and people in non-celebrity professions.
It features a drag queen, Lady Bunny, who reminds viewers to remember their history and the importance drag queens played in LGBTQ rights. I liked seeing it articulated that there is a difference between drag queens and trans women. The most controversial is probably the Log Cabin Republican, R. Clark Cooper. Log Cabin Republicans are LGBTQ Republicans. One of the best stories was from a queer woman teacher whose parents are refugees from Afghanistan. When she was younger she said she wondered if she could get away with not coming out by justifying that she came from a homosocial culture.
The Out List does a pretty good job of showcasing people who are Gay, Lesbian, Transgender, or Queer. It also features a number of POCs. LGBTQ media has been getting better about remembering that there are people of every race and ethnicity who are LGBTQ. The stories show the spectrum of how people of faith treat people who are LGBTQ. Some have very positive stories about churches. Others had very negative ones.
In terms of celebrities, Neil Patrick Harris talks about the diverse people he grew up knowing in the entertainment industry and gives the most positive view of any of the celebrities. Ellen Degeneres gives a more negative view of the industry and talks about people who help you stay closeted and try to convince you that since you are out within the industry you don’t need to be out to the public. She points out how many people were profiting off her before she came out. Wanda Sykes said that after talking about her wife and kids on stage she would still get questions about why she didn’t talk about being LGBTQ. As she pointed out that WAS what she is talking about when she talks about her wife and kids.
There was one major negative. The closest it came to representing someone who is bisexual was a woman who rejected the bisexual label because of the negative stereotype. They had people who were positive about every other label. Was it really impossible to find someone who identified as bisexual and embraced the label?
At the time The Out List was made most of the US did not have gay marriage. That isn’t a flaw. It did annoy me that Suzi Ozman said that everywhere else in the world had gay marriage. She was right that in terms of LGBTQ rights the US was behind South Africa, but there are numerous countries that do not have gay marriage now let alone in 2013.
The Out List originally aired on HBO. I watched it on Netflix. It seems to be a recent addition.
Chapter 9: Do I Sound Gay?
This chapter reviews the documentary "Do I Sound Gay?" The documentary examines gay men's feelings about the stereotypical "gay voice".
The documentary Do I Sound Gay? takes a look at one of the most prevalent stereotypes of gay men: their ‘gay voice’. The documentary focuses on an openly gay man who spends a lot of time with his openly gay friends, but isn’t comfortable with his own ‘gay voice’. He wants to know how he ended up with it and find a way to get rid of it. I almost turned the film off after about 20 minutes, but later went back and finished it.
Having seen the whole documentary I highly recommend watching it, but be warned that there is a lot of internalized homophobia especially in the earlier parts of the documentary. I particularly recommend it for people who wonder why older openly gay writers write stories that are ambiguous or downright hostile towards LGBTQ characters.
I am younger than the people featured in the documentary (except for the random young men on the beach) and am aware of the generation gaps in the LGBTQ community. People’s views of the documentary might largely be influenced by their age.
The documentary begins with him telling his friends about his plan to learn to sound less gay. Some of his friends support it. Others are bothered by it. He visits his high school best friend who says she never had a problem with him being gay, but didn’t like it when he came home with a different voice than he had in high school (1). Another friend said when she came out as a lesbian she bought a leather jacket and suggests that the change in his speech patterns was his leather jacket.
Random men on and by a beach are asked if they would date a man who sounds gay and the universal answer is no. Many of the answers reveal the men are disgusted by a partner who has any characteristics associated with women. The LGBTQ community has never been one large supportive accepting family and even the ‘gay men’ portion of the community has a lot of divisions. Heteronormative society sees gay men as less than men and some gay men respond to that by becoming almost a parody of traditional masculinity.
The documentary includes a number of well-known openly gay celebrities including George and Brad Takei, David Sedaris, Dan Savage, and Don Lemon. George Takei not surprisingly comes across as completely devoid of any internal homophobia. The others admit to having some despite being out and proud.
The documentary deals briefly with homophobia against actors in the Entertainment industry, but treads carefully. It is clear that the people who help gay men change their voices have a lot of clients who are actors, singers, and other entertainers. It also shows the number of ‘gay voices’ that are used for villains in films.
Unlike many LGBTQ documentaries the documentary includes discussions about race and ethnicity. Don Lemon talks both about the ‘gay voice’ and his frustrations with being told he ‘sounds white’. Margaret Cho talks about how determined her parents especially her father were not to sound Korean.
The documentary also addresses the origins of ‘the gay voice’ and whether it can accurately used to identify gay men. The ‘gay voice’ has feminine qualities and sometimes straight men who were raised in an environment with a lot of girls and woman (for example, a man who was raised by a single mother and has four sisters, but no brothers) ends up with a ‘gay’ sounding voice. Also for a certain generation upper class male characters often had a gay voice. Boys and young men who wanted to sound like they came from a higher socioeconomic class sometimes ended up with gay sounding voices.
I should note that trans men and bisexual men are not really featured in this documentary. Also the documentary is Americancentric.
The fact I am recommending the documentary probably gives you a clue as to how it ends. Suffice to say it is not a self-loathing ending.
1. The scene reminded me of a similar one in The Making of Me although John Barrowman’s friend is far more accepting.
Do I Sound Gay? is available on Netflix.
Chapter 10: Game Face
This essay reviews the documentary "Game Face" about a gay basketball player and a trans woman lesbian MMA (mixed martial arts).
Game Face is a documentary about Fallon Fox, an African-American trans woman lesbian MMA (mixed martial arts) fighter and Terrence Clemens, a gay African-American college basketball player. At the start of the documentary Fallon Fox is in the closet about being transgender. She is single at that point and it never says whether she is out as a lesbian. Terrence Clemens is also in the closet.
Fallon Fox’s daughter appears in the documentary the two of them are close and her daughter is her number one supporter. In order to fight she needs to be licensed and the license application includes a lot of medical information including all surgeries. She is honest in her application and gets licensed with no problem, but then she gets outed. The outcry is swift claiming that she has an advantage. (Hypocritically one of the women who claims she has an unfair advantage ends up failing a drug test.) The crowds turn against her. Her story does end relatively happily, but it is clear that her fight for respect and equality is not over.
Terrence Clemens had been a star on his high school basketball team until he was spotted kissing his boyfriend. Without basketball he drifted and ended up being incarcerated. The documentary picks up where he is starting a two-year college in Oklahoma that has a basketball program. He wants to come out, but he is scared to as he is afraid the other guys will be afraid to have him in the locker room and they frequently make homophobic comments. As the documentary goes on we meet other gay basketball players. Some of whom came out and it did not go well. The “mom” of the team adores him, but when she finds out he is gay even she urges him not to come out yet. He also gets a happy ending, but as with Fox it is clear that he will still have more fighting to do.
During the telling of Fox’s story we see a trans man triathlon athlete. Not surprisingly nobody worried that he would be at an unfair disadvantage as they worried that Fox had an unfair advantage. In telling Clemens’ story we also see Jason Collins, the first openly gay NBA (National Basketball Association) player.
This is a good documentary although not always a happy one. Sports can be particularly anti-LGBTQ and there are numerous professional sports leagues with no out players.
Chapter 11: Jenny's Wedding
This essay reviews the film "Jenny's Wedding".
It is hard to find good wlw stories and this is a good one that felt painfully close to real life. Jenny (Katherine Heigl) has no idea how to tell her small town conservative parents she is a lesbian so she waits until she is getting married.
She first tells her mother (Linda Emond) who doesn’t want to believe it and makes her promise to keep lying to everyone else including her sister. The cover story is that she was in a relationship with a married man because clearly that would be more moral. (Yes, that last bit was highly sarcastic.)
Jenny’s brother is happily married and only plays a small role in the film.
Her sister ends up seeing her kissing her fiancee Kitty played by Alexis Bledel (who the family think is simply her roommate) and immediately runs to tell their mother who admits she already knows. The sister, who thinks their mother loves Jenny more than her, gets mad at both of them for conspiring to lie to her. Her father seems more open-minded and has a friendly lunch with her after she tells him. We see him telling her mother that she looked happy as if he is satisfied and accuses his wife of not wanting her to be happy. The mother insists that the father always sets things up so she is the bad guy even though he agrees with her. The dynamic will change throughout the film with both parents showing some intense homophobia and seeming to be quite happy to lose their daughter in the process.
Much of the film is on the family dynamics as well as the homophobia particularly the dynamics between the Jenny, her mother, and her sister Anne played by Grace Gummer. Anne is realizing how unhappy she is in her relationship with the dead grass being symbolic of the dying relationship. Despite the tense relationships between the family members it is clear that it pains them to cut each other off even when they feel they have no choice.
Jenny and Kitty are adorable and Heigl and Bledel have good chemistry.
The film does a good job at showing the homophobia and the difficulties that come with realizing how much you might have to give up to be yourself. The ending is positive although still easily within the realm of realism.
I appreciated the ‘realness’ of the story, but some people might be uncomfortable with how much it reflects their own life.
Netflix considers this film a comedy and there are some funny moments, but a lot more definitely not funny ones.
Chapter 12: Breaking Free
This essay reviews the documentary "Breaking Free" about LGBTQ rights in India between 2007 and 2014.
This documentary was a seven year project (2007-2014) about human rights abuses against people who are LGBTQ in India.
Homosexuality was criminalized under Colonialism and, unfortunately, the end of official colonialism did not mean the end of criminalizing homosexuality. Unlike in Britain where relationships between two women were not outlawed due to fears that passing such a law would cause women to become aware of the fact that two women could have a relationship, wlw in India faced the same threats as mlm.
The documentary covers the whole cost of anti-LBTQ laws from discrimination in healthcare to forced marriages to blackmail.
The documentary includes video footage and interviews with hundreds of people. Some of them show their faces. Others are only shown in shadow for their protection.
Unlike “Freedom to Marry” Breaking Free does not have a happy ending. As has happened in other places sometimes the government takes steps backwards and takes away people’s rights. As is true in many countries the courts are supposed to be above politics, but in reality changes in attitudes across society are often necessary for the courts to act in favor of a minority's rights. Despite the sadness and anger inducing ending this documentary is worth seeing. There is a hint of hope in the end due to the fact that the LGBTQ community across India is becoming organized and the filmmaker talks about a two part next step: working towards legal steps and changing people’s views in society. It can take time to change enough people's minds for a culture to change, but these two goals have worked in other countries.
I sometimes see well-meaning (at least I hope they are well-meaning) people telling other people they should just be out and will be happier. I don’t think some people really understand the steep costs of being out in many places and situations.
The film does not explicitly talk about the differences in cultures across India beyond the divide between urban and rural communities, but there are numerous recognized subcultures across India. I am guessing it was assumed that anyone watching the documentary would be aware of the different cultures within India.
Breaking Free is available on Netflix at least in some countries.
Chapter 13: Velvet Goldmine
This chapter reviews the 1998 film "Velvet Goldmine".
“Velvet Goldmine” which is written and directed by Todd Haynes (Far from Heaven, Carol) and produced by Christine Vachon (sometimes referred to as the grandmother of Queer Cinema) takes place during the Glam Rock Era. Brian Slade is a David Bowie like singer who faked his own assassination when his character Maxwell Demon became too much for him to handle. In 1984 Arthur Stuart, a New York journalist from England who had his own experiences in the Glam Rock scene, is asked to write an article about what happened to Brian Slade.
The film has an element of fantasy starting with a piece of jewelry that appears to have come from a extra-terrestrial spaceship and ends up in the hands of a young Oscar Wilde. While the film comes down to earth in many ways there remains a dreamlike element that works well with the presentation element of Glam Rock.
The music is good. The set design and costumes are excellent. The performances by Jonathan Rhys-Meyers (Brian Slade), Curt Wild (Ewan McGregor), Arthur Stuart (Christian Bale), Toni Collette (Mandy Slade), Eddie Izzard (Jerry Devine) are top-notch and the actors embraced their characters.
Jack Fairy (Micko Westmoreland) is in many ways the inspiration in the film for Glam Rock, but is quickly eclipsed by Brian Slade’s and Jerry Devine’s (Slade’s manager) marketing. Brian Slade wants to collaborate with Curt Wild, an American singer. There is a great scene in which Slade looks at Wild with hearts flashing over his eyes and Devine’s eyes are flashing dollar signs. Brian Slade is already married to Mandy Slade, but he and Wild have an intense affair. Instead of being hidden the affair is used for publicity (“a Tracy and Hepurn for the 70’s”). The presentation element of Glam Rock merges with the presentation element of rock stars. The film invites one see that the artifice in the Glam Rock presentation mirrors the artifice in celebrity culture.
There are many elements that break the fourth wall and resonate so much it is painful. Arthur and his parents listen to a Brian Slade press conference in which Slade talks about bisexuality. Arthur imagines himself pointing at the telly and yelling, “That’s me!” although I got the impression from the overall film that Arthur is gay rather than bisexual. Arthur gets thrown out of his home for being attracted to men and ends up finding a new community- if not the healthiest- in the Glam Rock scene. Within the film fans are part of the story rather than outside of it.
The film does answer the question of what happened to Brian Slade, but not in the way one might expect. The Glam Rock era is treated as magical by the characters in contrast to their current lives in the 1984. The contrast is not just the existence of AIDS and the homophobic and biphobic backlash, but the state of music and the state of both Britain and the United States. Some of the contrast is also that they are older.
This film includes a brief non-con scene and a woman being pressured to have sex by her boss scene. It also touches briefly on the electric shock treatment that was used against mlm.
The film was released in 1998. I saw it a few years later on DVD at a time when LGBTQ representation was much less than it is now. At the time it felt like a breath of fresh air to have a story with gay and bisexual characters that did not include AIDS (because the bulk of it takes place before AIDS) and the main characters were alive at the end. In reviewing it against the film options that are available today and it doesn’t stack up as well as it did then, but I still recommend it. Although “Velvet Goldmine” is mainly about men it doesn’t have the same hostile attitude towards women as many older films focusing on gay and bisexual men. Mandy Slade has a combination of strengths and weaknesses allowing her to be a realistic person. There is also a very brief wlw scene. As for behind the scenes consideration when Todd Haynes, an openly gay filmmaker, learned that women and teenage girls liked the film, Haynes was thrilled to hear it instead of being insulting to female fans as is sadly common with many male filmmakers regardless of sexuality.
As you can tell many of the names have obvious LGBTQ related references. The 1984 scenes have a dark and oppressive feel to them so it is likely that the choice of 1984 is not coincidental and is a reference to George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984.
A few quotes:
“Just because you see two naked people in bed together does not prove sex was involved. It does, however, make for a very strong case.”
“He was elegance, walking arm in arm with a lie.”
“You live in terror of not being misunderstood.”
Chapter 14: Decoding Alan Turing
This essay reviews the short film "Decoding Alan Turing" about the British mathematician, computer scientist, cryptanalyst whose work on helping break the German Enigma code during World War II. He hypothesized a machine that became known as a Turing machine which is the basis for computers and created "The Turing Test" for determining artificial intelligence. He was gay and one of the many victims of the horrific Labouchere Amendment.
I will be posting reviews of other Alan Turing related films including probably the best known one, "The Imitation Game".
This 16 minute documentary on Alan Turing is a good short introduction of Alan Turing that covers his genius, accomplishments, and life as a gay man at a time when homosexuality was illegal in Britain. In contrast to most other documentaries it is made by a gay man and has an extra resonance. The first half focuses on his mathematical and technical genius. The descriptions are understandable by a general audience and does not require a background in mathematics, computers, and artificial intelligence.
The second half is focused on Alan Turing as a gay man. It makes the excellent point that the simple stereotype of gay men does not fit well with the usual image of a scientist. There is a brief discussion about how inspiring Turing is for gay and bisexual men who have an interest in mathematics, computers, and AI.
The documentary features some short clips from “Breaking the Code” staring Darek Jacobi as Alan Turing.
The documentary features the statue of Turing at Manchester University that shows him holding an apple. When the statue was unveiled the artist had apples with a sticker showing a skull and cross-bone surrounding the statue which were given out to those present as a symbol that they were talking Alan Turing’s story with them. The documentary features a gay computer science student talking about how inspiring he finds Alan Turing.
It is available on Amazon video and is free if you have Amazon prime.
Chapter 15: Codebreaker
This essay reviews Codebreaker (2011) a deservedly award-winning film about Alan Turing.
Codebreaker is a combination of interviews and dramatically reenacted scenes in Turing’s life that are based on his own writings, those who knew him, and historical facts. The majority of the documentary takes focuses on his mathematical brilliance, importance in ushering in the computer age, and insight into artificial intelligence. Although he is frequently referred to as a war hero a surprisingly small portion of the documentary is focused on the actual breaking of Enigma. Turing did not work alone, but the cryptanalysts work affected he length and possibly the outcome of World War II and he was probably the most important cryptanalyst.
Alan Turing’s intelligence, insight, and ability to explain his insights in a manner that is understandable to others, admittedly more understandable to those with a mathematical and technological background is a central part of his character and the reason he is rightfully considered a war hero. Revealing interviews those who knew him include the daughters of the psychiatrist he saw Franz Goodman, his own nephew Dermont Turing, and the nephew of his childhood best friend Christopher Morcom who is also named Christopher Morcom, Professor Ian Stewart who collaborated with Jack Cohen and Terry Pratchett to write The Science of Discworld series, Apple Co-founder Steve Wozniak, and Alan Turning’s Biographer David Leavitt all provide insights into Turing’s work and life.
Codebreaker does a good job of balancing Turing’s genius with other biographical elements of his life. Due attention is given to his friendship with Christopher Morcom including reading a letter he wrote to Morcom’s mother and how Morcom’s death drove Turing throughout his life. Codebreaker’s take on the friendship is that it was a strong and healthy one.
Alan Turing was separated from his parents at a young age as his father was with the Imperial Indian Civil Service and stayed during school breaks with an retired Army couple. He was well-liked and athletic, but his favored sport was running- a solitary sport- and he was a bit of a loner.
Codebreaker talks about Turing’s eccentricities without making him seem cartoonish. There are also references to and examples of Turing’s sense of humour. In talking about AI Turing wrote that you couldn’t even eliminate sonnets although it might be unfair as a sonnet written by a machine would be most appreciated by another machine.
Codebreak does a good job of discussing Joan Clarke, Turing’s friend and brilliant fellow mathematician and cryptanalyst. The two had a friendship, connection, and respect for each other. Like many gay men at the time (and in later times) he made an attempt to live a heterosexual life and proposed to her. She was reportedly unfazed by the fact that he was attracted to men, but in the end Turing realized it was a bad idea. He knew it would hurt her, but less than it would hurt her if he had gone through with the marriage.
The documentary talks in depth about his trips abroad. Like many mlm in post-World War II Britain the continent was a safer place as homosexual acts were not illegal.
One of the things that comes through in Codebreakers is the focus on Turing’s honesty and in some ways naïveté. He did not have to hide his homosexuality during the war as winning the war was what mattered to people. After the war he maintained a in Britain that would be betrayed. He assumed that the tacit acceptance of his homosexuality would continue after the war. He also assumed that telling the police was the right thing to do. Britain in the 1950’s was a time of reassuring conservative so-called moral values. Anyone who was not straight was considered a security threat and considered at risk for going rogue. (One could reasonably argue that if you want someone to remain loyal to you don’t criminalize their existence.)
Ed Stoppard who plays Alan Turing gives an excellent performance during the dramatic scenes. At first the dramatic scenes annoyed me as dramatic scenes added to documentary style film are a mixed bag, but it worked in this case. His performance is very different from Benedict Cumberbatch’s in “The Imitation Game” although strangely some of his gestures and the way he used his hands reminded me of Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes.
For most of the film Codebreakers takes a standard documentary more distant view of Alan Turing. His homosexuality is discussed, but in a less emotional manner. This changes near the end of the film which is much more emotional including a moment in the dramatically acted portion in which a parallel is drawn between the castration of Jews by the Nazis (Goodman was Jewish and from Germany) and the chemical castration that the British legal system forced Turing to undergo.
Codebreaker is available for free on Amazon prime video (at least in some countries).
Chapter 16: On the Other Hand, Death
This essay reviews the movie "On the Other Hand, Death". The movie is part of the Donald Strachey mysteries movies series based on the book by Richard Stevenson.
“On the Other Hand, Death” is part of the Donald Strachey mystery TV movies series based on the books by Richard Stevenson. Donald Strachey (Chad Allen) is private investigator who comes home at the end of his cases to his husband Timothy Callahan (Sebastian Spence), a legislative aid to a New York Senator, although his husband has a tendency to end up helping him with his cases. An excellent addition to the films is Strachey’s very enthusiastic young assistant Kenny Kwon (Nelson Wong).
The film opens with Strachey tracking a woman he has been told is an unfaithful wife. It turns out she is a cop who is working on an undercover investigation. As she and Detective Bailey questio Strachey it is clear that he does not have a huge amount of confidence in the police department’s abilities.
Upon returning to his office he gets a call from Timothy reminding him that they have agreed to support Timothy’s ex-boyfriend Andrew’s close friend, a lesbian guidance counselor Dorothy ‘Dot’ Fisher who has been put on paid leave by homophobic parents after she came out. Strachey and Callahan are introduced to her and her partner Edith Strong. Strachey comments on the homophobic graffiti that has been sprayed on their wall. As they are talking after dinner a brick is thrown through the window. Strachey gives chase, but the perpetrator gets away and the license plate has mud on it.
Strachey who is none to pleased at having been lied to by his previous client is pleased to discover that Kenny has the email address of their client. Unlike his snail mail address and phone number the email appears to be legit. He ignores the police detective’s order to turn over any information he finds out about his client and asks Kenny to investigate further while he heads to Hollis to see Dorothy and Edith. Dorothy is convinced that the brick was thrown by a homophobic student Joey Deems. However, things turn more serious when Dorothy’s and Edith’s barn is burned and a dead body is found inside.
There is also a subplot about Dorothy trying to help a gay student Derek who she fears will commit suicide. His arc is wonderful. The film deals with homophobia as Dorothy and Edith live in a small rural community and things it can make people do.
To tell more would be to spoil the story and I do not wish to do so as I think it is a film well-worth watching. The chemistry, flirting, and teasing between Donald and Timothy is very natural and sweet. They are in many ways an “old married couple”, but one that has not lost the magic in their marriage. Timothy is in many ways the long suffering husband who wishes his husband was less likely to do dangerous things while pursuing a case.
Both Donald and Timothy and Dorothy and Edith have strong loving and supportive relationships. Dorothy and Edith argue, but you can see the deep love between them. They are each other’s soulmates. The same is true for Donald and Timothy. This film is largely about gay men and lesbians. Straight people take a back seat. Love and specifically gay love as healthy and healing is very much a theme of the film.
Kwon can be a bit snarky and is not above needling Strachey. Kwon has a habit of sleeping with the men who have information he needs. In “On the Other Hand, Death” Kwon is taking a class to earn his own P.I. license. He provides much of the humor in the films.
The film is very much about the case and it is an interesting and complicated one. Strachey gets a wonderful line when he realizes what is going on. There are moments when Allen is not acting and that is not a bad thing. He clearly remembers what it was like to be a closeted teenager. I am not saying that a straight actor can’t play a gay character convincingly. Sebastian Spence who according to behind the scenes information is straight is completely convincing as are a number of other straight actors who have played gay characters.
Unlike many mysteries there is nothing of the Holmes and Watson dynamic between Strachey and Kwon. To the extent it exists in the story it is between Donald and Timothy.
“On the Other Hand, Death” was nominated for the GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding TV Movie or Limited Series.
I have the DVD. There is a nice BTS feature in which the people involved, particularly the ones who are gay themselves, talk about the importance of representation and how important it was to them to get it right and show healthy gay relationships. Unfortunately, the movie does not appear to be on Amazon or Netflix Streaming.
There are four TV movies in the series. I have also seen “Shock to the System”, but not the other two movies. I have heard very mixed reviews about the books.
Chapter 17: Yves Saint Laurent
This essay reviews the French film "Yves Saint Laurent". The film is in French. If you watch it on Netflix there are English subtitles available.
Yves Saint Laurent is a beautiful film. The cinematography is incredible. The music is perfect. The production values are exceptional. The acting is excellent. The majority of the dialogue is a mourning Pierre Berge (Guillaume Gallienne) telling the story of Yves Saint Laurent (Pierre Niney) and their life together. Yves Saint Laurent was was one of the most successful fashion designers. As an artist it makes sense to tell his story in a beautiful artistic manner. On the other hand the story of his life as a bipolar (what was called Manic Depressive) man with drug and alcohol addictions gives parts of the film an unpleasantness that feels at odds with the beautiful storytelling.
Yves Saint Laurent began his career working under Christian Dior. At age 21 he became the head designer at Dior after Christian Dior's sudden death from a heart attack. In 1958 he meant Pierre Berge and they fell in love. His first collection succeeded, but later collections were not as popular and in 1960 he was conscripted into the army during the Algerian War of Independence. He did not last long in the army and ended up in a military hospital where he given high doses of sedatives, psychoactive drugs, and underwent electroshock therapy. He was eventually released, but Dior had fired him. He successfully sued for breach of contract and won. He and Berge began work on creating their own fashion house.
The film alternates between the personal story of Saint Laurent and Berge and their professional work as they worked side by side as both personal and business partners. The film does not shy away from showing his mental health and addiction problems nor from how they negatively affected his relationship, but it also shows his genius. Nor does it shy away from their sexuality. It is a fundamental element of the film. The relationship between Saint Laurent and Berge was never easy. The film tends to side with Berge as he is the narrator. The main portion of the film ends in 1976. There are brief scenes at the beginning and end of the film that occur shortly after Saint Laurent’s death. Pierre Berge died in 2017.
My knowledge of Saint Laurent going into the film was limited both in terms of his personal and his fashion influence although I knew he was a major designer. His glory days were before I was born. I looked up some information on him and it looked to me like overall the film did a good job particularly with the narration throughout the film. As to how close private conversations came to reality there is no way to know.
The film does not dwell on it, but not surprisingly the film takes France’s side in the Algerian War. On a more positive note Saint Laurent was the first major designer to use Black models and a number of the models shown are women of color (WOC). Also, the film is almost entirely free from homophobia which is rare for an LGBTQ film.
I think this film is worth watching for its beauty, but it does cover some unpleasant subjects.
The film is in French. I watched it with English subtitles as my French is limited. It cannot vouch for the exact accuracy of the subtitles, but they made sense and seemed to fit with what was being shown on screen. The film is rated R.
Chapter 18: The Trans List
This chapter reviews "The Trans List".
“The Trans List” (2016) is an HBO documentary that is in the same style as “The Out List” which I previously reviewed. The documentary features a eleven trans men and women sharing their stories. Some of the better known trans people featured are Janet Mock, Laverne Cox, and Caitlyn Jenner.
One of the strengths of these “list” documentaries is that they feature people in different professions including both “celebrities” and lesser known people and different ethnicities. One of the trans men is Native American and grew up partly on a Reservation. It is rare to see Native Americans featured in any media.
The documentary smashes a number of stereotypes including the one that everyone in the military is anti-LGBTQ. He argues that what matters in the military is can you do your job more than what gender is listed on your birth certificate.
Nicole Maines, a young trans woman who won a discrimination lawsuit against her school district for being forced to use the boy’s bathroom. The case took 6 years to reach the Supreme Court. It took her father a while to accept that he had a daughter and son instead of two sons, but he came around. Also featured is Kylar Broadus who was the first transgender person to testify before the US Congress in support of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act in 2012.
One shining example of how utterly ridiculous it is to insist that someone’s gender on their birth certificate defines them and that everyone can tell someone assigned at birth gender is Caroline Cossey, an international model who also appeared in the Bond film “For Your Eyes Only”. The general public only became aware that she was trans after she was outed by a British tabloid in 1981.
I know Caitlyn Jenner is controversial, but I did appreciate her emphasizing that she can tell her story, but does claim that she is telling every trans woman’s story because everyone has a different story. The fact that not everyone in the same demographic has the same story is something that a lot of people seem to forget.
“The Trans List” is less uplifting than “The Out List” as people who are transgendered have fewer rights and are even more likely to be assaulted than people who are LGB. There are some uplifting stories, but even the less uplifting ones come with the promise that life will get better.
Depending on where you live it might be available on HBO On-Demand and/or Netflix with the rest of “The List…” series.
Chapter 19: Last Call at Maud's
This chapter reviews the historical documentary "Last Call at Maud's" (1993) which is a tribute to what was the longest running lesbian bar in the United States.
“Last Call at Maud’s” is a historical documentary about what was the longest running lesbian bar in the United States and stories of the regular patrons over the years.
The documentary starts in the 1940’s and talks about the raids on LGBTQ clubs. (Obviously, the term LGBTQ was not used in the 1940’s.) Everyone in the bar would be arrested and the newspaper would print the names of the people who had been arrested. Sometimes the police would also call the people’s employers to let them know. San Francisco, California might be known for being relatively LGBTQ friendly now, but it was much less so historically. Technically being homoerotically inclined was not illegal and only certain acts were illegal, but the police tended not to care about the legal technicalities.
On another sad note the documentary also covers the reactions of patrons during the height of the AIDS crisis. One of the women interviewed talks about how there was a feeling among many lesbians that they had no right to be sad or angry because they were not the ones dying, but many of the patrons felt that both AIDS and the government’s lack of caring about it was an assault on the entire community and spoke up. The first hand stories really show the sadness of the period that does not fully come through in documentaries that take a more clinical and distanced view.
On a more positive note there are the personal stories of women finding a community where they could be themselves and where being a wlw was the norm rather than something that had to be hidden. Women along the spectrum from femme to butch (and those who are fluid in between) are shown. One femme woman says she was often mistaken for a straight woman because she is very femme. Much of the documentary has the feel of a small town community talking about the local pub or bar that they have stopped by for decades. There is a comfortable feel of familiarity.
I had not known that it used to be illegal for women to be bartenders. In the early days of the bar men had to be the ones tending the bar.
Depending on where you live the documentary might be free to watch through Amazon prime video.
Chapter 20: Out Late
This documentary features LGBTQ people who did not come out until they were over 55 years old.
The documentary “Out Late” tells the story of several LGBTQ people who came out after they were 55 years old. The people featured are from Canada and the United States. I sometimes see people in their twenties questioning whether they are too old to come out either to themselves or to the people around them. This documentary is an excellent reminder that it is never too late to realize your sexuality or to come out.
The documentary is uplifting in many ways, but it does not shy away from the challenges older people who are LGBTQ face. Not only is there the worry about how people will react to finding out they are LGBTQ, but there is the fact that many of them lied either directly or in lies of omission. Many of the people featured had previously been in straight marriages. There is also the fact than on average older adults are less likely they are to be accepting and embracing of people who are LGBTQ. Most of the people featured had family members who rejected them and some have never come out to family members even as they are telling their story in the documentary.
Several of the people interviewed talk about the difficulty in finding a partner. Sadly, the LGBTQ community tends to be very ageist. This is one area where mlm probably have it harder wlw.
Despite the challenges all the people telling their stories are glad to be out and are happier being themselves than they were being in the closet. There are happy couples. In contrast to many similar documentaries there is a brief interview with the neighbors of one of the lesbian couples. The husband seems to be accepting, but the wife is far less accepting.
I am guessing that the assumed demographic for this documentary is LGBTQ people over 55 years old, but I am decades younger and think it is important viewing. The LGBTQ community needs to be better about not treating people over 40 (and sometimes even people over 30) as people to be ignored and discarded. It is also a good reminder for those of us who get frustrated with how slow progress has been to remember that there has been progress.
Depending on where you live the documentary might be included with Amazon prime video.
Chapter 21: Wanda Sykes: Me (Stand-Up Comedy)
This chapter reviews comedian Wanda Sykes' show "Me".
Sometimes you just need to laugh. Wanda Sykes’ “Me” has serious messages about being a black woman and being gay, but does so in a way that allows you to sit back and laugh. After watching more serious LGBTQ stories this one felt like a relief. Sometimes laughter is what gets us through the hard times.
In one of the funniest, but also most poignant bits she does a routine about what it would be like if she had to come out to her family as black with her family responding with the usual anti-LGBTQ arguments. (It must be because you hang around with black people so you now think you are black. I should never have let you watch Soul Train. etc)
This being said the stories she tells are personal ones. They are about the costs of racism and anti-LGBTQ attitudes and how they affect individuals. Sometimes these are the stories that really change people’s minds although I doubt too many racists and homophobes would watch her show.
There is a long segment on weight and specifically gaining weight as one gets older. There is also a good one on drug companies constantly advertising medications that are designed to make the viewer feel insecure.
There is a bittersweet quality to it as the first portion is about her excitement at having a black man, Barack Obama, as President. There is also a bittersweet quality in the routine as she lives in California. Not only was Barack Obama elected President in November 2008, but in California Proposition 8 passed stripping many gay couples of the legal recognition of their marriages and preventing other gay couples from getting married. Gay marriage would not be legal again in California until June 26, 2013, the Friday of Pride Weekend in some California cities.
Chapter 22: Do You Take This Man
This chapter reviews the film "Do You Take This Man", a drama/comedy starring Anthony Rapp (Daniel), Jonathan Bennett (Christopher), and Alyson Hannigan about the day before Daniel and Christopher get married.
The summary makes it sound like it is going to be a standard formula of “what last minute problems can come up just before a couple gets married”. I would have scrolled past it if I hadn’t seen Anthony Rapp and Alyson Hannigan names on the cast list. I am glad I decided to check it out as it turned out to be a great film.
The film has a freshness and truth to it. There is a real examination of relationships; the couple getting married, one of the groom’s parents’ seemingly effortless happy marriage, a couple divorcing because they think it is too late and too much has happened to fix things, and two people who may be about to begin a relationship.
Daniel (Anthony Rapp) is a type A personality who wants his wedding his long-term boyfriend Christopher (Jonathan Bennett) to be perfect. He has not hired a wedding planner and is refusing any help preferring to do everything himself. He refuses to go to brunch with Christopher and his friends Bradley (Thomas Dekker) and Summer (Hutchi Hancock). His hands are covered with flour when his best friend Jacob (Mackenzie Astin) stops by with some food and tries to calm him down. It is clear that Daniel and Jacob are close. Jacob asks what Daniel has gotten Christopher for a wedding present. Daniel shows Jacob an expensive pen. Jacob is unimpressed until Daniel explains how it relates to their first date, but then Daniel starts questioning whether it is a stupid gift.
Meanwhile at brunch Summer and Bradley give Christopher his wedding gift. They have tracked down his childhood best friend Emma. Christopher is overjoyed to see her. Emma starts asking questions and it is clear that Summer and to a lesser extent Bradley are unenthusiastic about Christopher marrying Daniel. Summer finds the seven year ago difference a negative along with Daniel’s type A personality. They come back to the house and when it is announced that there needs to be another seat for Emma, an over-stressed Daniel reacts badly, but quickly apologizes. As the day goes on Daniel’s parents and sister Rachel (Alyson Hannigan) arrive.
As different combinations of people talk to each other it is clear that although Daniel and Christopher clearly love each other they could work on their communication skills. This is particularly true when Christopher keeps an important secret from Daniel. Things get tenser and tenser, but this does fall into the drama/comedy genre and there are certain rules of the genre. Or in the immortal words of “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”: Don’t panic.
There is a lovely discussion about what it means to have the possibility of a legally recognized marriage be available when you previously thought it could never be a reality. There is also a reminder that for all the progress in LGBTQ rights young LGBTQ people do not necessarily have it easy.
The film does a wonderful job of showing that relationships take work, compromises, honesty, and displaying vulnerability. When a relationship hits a bump the couple must make a choice whether the work is worth it. Love can deepen by facing these bumps together.
To see a healthy if not perfect relationship between two men is rare. To see one that actually discusses the challenges that any relationship faces, but particularly a mlm or wlw relationship is even more rare. It is a low-budget film, but a well-done one. The acting from the leads is excellent with Anthony Rapp, Alyson Hannigan, Jonathan Bennett, Mackenzie Astin, and Thomas Dekker being especially good. Rapp and Bennett did not have OMG sexy type chemistry, but there was a sweetness and comfort between them despite the communication problems. Four years into a relationship this felt realistic. Alyson Hannigan did not have many chances to show her brilliant comedic skills, but she really brought Rachel to life.
Depending on where you live "Do You Take This Man" may be available on Amazon Prime Video.
Chapter 23: Suited
This chapter reviews the HBO documentary "Suited", about a company that tailor makes suits to fit customers' gender identities.
Suited is a documentary that follows several clients of “Bindle and Keep”, a custom suit company dedicated to helping customers find a suit that looks good and allows them to express their gender identity. Featured customers include a trans man looking for the perfect suit for his wedding, a black trans man at a Georgia law school in Georgia who needs a suit because he is not being hired despite his qualifications, a woman who is undecided about transitioning but prefers the company of men and male clothing, a trans woman lawyer who will be delivering oral arguments in a transgender rights case in front of U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, and a twelve year old trans boy who needs a suit for his Bar Mitzvah.
The company came into existence due to Rae Tutera’s the first time she bought a custom suit. Tutera is now a partner of “Bindle and Keep”. The company asks detailed questions on their “schedule a fitting” contact form on their website and then meets with the client to have a long talk about exactly what they need and more information about their personality. Their measurements are taken. When the suit is ready there is a second fitting and sometimes adjustments are made.
This is an uplifting documentary. The clients happiness at their well-fitting suits is shown. In some cases their reason for purchasing the suit is show.
Depending on your location it may be available on HBO on-demand and/or Netflix.
Chapter 24: Paris is Burning
This chapter reviews the award-winning documentary "Paris is Burning" about the Harlem drag scene during the 1980's.
The documentary Paris is Burning is one of the classic LGBTQ films. The documentary is about the ball scene in Harlem during the 1980’s. The bulk of the documentary takes place in the mid-1980’s with a short “where they are now” segment in 1989 at the end. Harlem is and was predominately African-American.
The bulk of the documentary is focused on explaining the ball scene and it’s terminology. It describes how the scene changed in the 1980’s with there being an increasing number of categories so that more people could find a way to be themselves in it. There is a large section about the houses, their structure, and how they provide support for those in them. In the earlier parts of the documentary there are brief references to their lives outside of the ball scene. As the documentary progresses it increasingly focuses on the intersection between the ball scene and their lives in the outside world. They face discrimination outside of the ball scene and most do not have family support so there are frank discussions about stealing and how they are able to participate despite not having the money to pay for the clothes that fit their presentation in the ball scene. There are reminders of the violence they face for being LGBTQ and particularly being POC and LGBTQ.
Near the end there is a good discussion showing the differentiation between being a drag queen and being trans. I am guessing that most people reading this know the difference, but I suspect that at the time the documentary was made some members of the expected audience would not know the difference.
It was an award winning documentary, but I can’t evaluate whether it accurately captured the feel of the ball scene as my knowledge of it is largely from this documentary and references in other LGBTQ documentaries and books. I do know that it does a good job of both giving factual information and telling people’s stories. Despite the fact it has been “upgraded” to HD quality the technical quality of the film is not as good as in more recent films.
I firmly believe that history is important. If you want to know why the LGBTQ community is the way it is today you need to learn its history. Historically drag queens and trans men and women played a huge part (and paid a huge cost) in fighting for LGBTQ rights. I think their stories should be told and those of us who came later and enjoy more rights should listen to their stories.
Depending on where you live Paris is Burning may be available on Netflix.
Chapter 25: The Normal Heart
This chapter reviews the film "The Normal Heart" based on the play by Larry Kramer.
Based on the semi-autobiographical play by Larry Kramer, the movie “The Normal Heart” focuses on a gay rights activist Ned Weeks (Mark Ruffalo) at the beginning of the AIDS crisis. The film opens with Ned traveling to Long Island to celebrate his friend Craig Donner’s (Jonathan Groff) birthday. Craig is young, healthy looking, and handsome, but during a walk on the beach gets dizzy and collapses. Later he experiences a coughing fit after blowing out the candles on his birthday cake.
On the way back to his home in New York City Ned reads a New York Times article about 41 homosexual men being diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. The cancer only occurs in people with a compromised immune system. Back in New York City he visits Dr. Emma Brookner’s (Julia Roberts) to see if he has the disease. Dr Brookner is in a wheelchair having been paralyzed by polio, another dangerous virus, as a child. He does not show the symptoms, but Dr. Brookner asks him to help raise awareness about the disease within the gay community. (I use the word gay rather than LGBTQ because it is the term used in the movie.)
The film then cuts to Craig’s quick, but painful death. Over the course of the film the number of deaths rises as we see a snapshot of an epidemic that most straight people pretended did not exist. Ned organizes a meeting at his home with Dr. Brookner as the speaker to try to start spreading the word throughout the gay community. Dr. Brookner does not have conclusive evidence, but based on what she has seen she thinks that the disease is sexually transmitted and that men should stop having sex with men to avoid it.
Not surprisingly there is strong opposition to her suggestion. Even beyond the power of the human sex drive, telling mlm who had found so hard for the right to have sex with men to not have sex with men and particularly to be told by a woman in a wheelchair who they probably assume can’t have sex comes across to them as just another excuse to stop them from being mlm. Although we now know that AIDS (then called GRID- Gay Related Immune Deficiency) can be sexually transmitted, the men’s suspicion, especially before conclusive evidence existed, is not surprising.
Ned starts a small group including his friends Bruce (Taylor Kitsch), Mickey (Joe Montello), and Tommy Boatwright (Jim Parsons) dedicated to spreading information about the disease. When Ned and Dr. Brookner visit a local hospital we see another another side of Dr. Brookner. Unlike the rest of the people who work in the wing she refuses to wear the mask.
Determined to get the information out about the disease and undeterred by how many people he irritates, Ned contacts a gay New York Times reporter, Felix Turner (Matt Bomer). The two had previously met at the baths and quickly become a couple.
Ned’s single-minded focus on spreading information about the disease and getting funding is objectively a good thing, but his way of doing things alienates people that he needs to accomplish his goals. Presentation can matter when you are asking people to do something they do not want to do.
The film does not shy away from deaths from AIDS and the decimation of much of a generation of gay men. The constant reminder of death can be seen in Tommy’s ritual of removing the card with a man’s name and contact information from his Rolodex and wrapping them in a rubber band when the man dies. Periodically we see him adding another card to the rubber banded stacks. The deteriorating physical condition of the men are showing including sours, weakness, and thinness. This film never forgets why Ned is fighting so hard and how horrific it was that the majority of the population turned their backs on the thousands of people dying because to them the lives of mlm meant nothing.
Most of the anger is directed at the medical establishment and New York City Government, but there are scathing facts at the end about former President Ronald Reagan’s administration negligence and active homophobia. At one point Dr. Brookner points out that there are reports from doctors in Africa of women getting AIDS from having sex with men, but he arguments fall on deaf ears. The refusal of the government and the mainstream straight society to make a real effort to fight AIDS was not just based on homophobia, but also on racism. Had AIDS been causing the havoc in Europe that it did in African the US government and local governments would have taken more action.
The acting is excellent. Mark Ruffalo captured Ned’s determined heroism and tendency to behave like a tank going down a small road. Matt Bomer gave a heartbreaking performance as strong man being absolutely destroyed by a horrifying disease. Jim Parson, who had also played Tommy Boatwright in a limited run Broadway Production in 2011, gave an exceptional performance despite having a relatively small part. From what I have seen of him in “A Normal Heart” and “Hidden Figures” I really need to check out more of his films.
The Film won Critics’ Choice Television Awards for Best Movie, Best Supporting Actor in a Movie/Miniseries for Matt Bomer, the Prime Time Emmy for Outstanding Television Movie, a Golden Globe Best Supporting Actor Award for Matt Bomer, the Stanley Kramer Award from Producers Guide of America Awards, and Mark Ruffalo won a the SAG Award for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Miniseries or Television Movie. It was nominated for numerous other awards. The film has a 94% on Rotten Tomatoes.
Chapter 26: Passing
This chapter reviews the documentary "Passing" about three black trans men.
Passing is an award winning 22 minute documentary about three African-American trans men. The documentary deals as much with race, culture, and racism as it does with being a trans man.
One of the men talks about the challenge of suddenly being faced with the way US society treats African-American men as opposed to cis African-American men who grew up with it. He talks about the frustration of people assuming that he is stupid and uneducated.
One of the men points out the challenge of learning to react to men who don’t know he is trans and say horrible things to him about girls and women.
One man has a girlfriend and he talks about the challenges of behaving in the way she expects him to behave including not being intimidated or hesitating when meeting her parents. There are many things most cis people consciously associate with being masculine or feminine, but there are also many things where people do not realize how differently boys and girls are socialized.
One of the men talks about his prior knowledge of being transgendered was through media that virtually always treated it as a bad thing. This has only made him more determined to get more positive portrayals in the media.
There is also brief mention of racism within LGBTQ communities. This is a problem that needs to be fixed. It does seem to be getting better with each generation, but it is still a problem. There are too many people who are LGBTQ, but do not feel safe in LGBTQ communities because they are POC.
The intersection between being LGBTQ and POC is one that deserves more attention not only for people who are LGBTQ and POC, but by everyone else. There are cultural differences in gender roles and how LGBTQ identities are viewed. African-American trans men and drag queens (they aren’t the same thing) played a large role in early fights for LGBTQ equality.
Depending on where you live it might be available for free with Amazon prime.
Chapter 27: A Luv Tale
This chapter reviews the film "A Luv Tale"
A Luv Tale (1999) is a heartwarming award-winning short film about a romance between an photographer for a fashion magazine (Gina Rivera) and an editor at the same magazine (Michele Lamar Richards). The photographer is an outgoing lesbian who has been dating a model who treats her like garbage. Candice is in an introvert in a long-term relationship with a man, but there is increasing physical and emotional distance between them.
The attraction between them is immediate, but Candice tries to fight it and clings to her relationship with her boyfriend. Although the film is only 45 minutes it is enough time to allow their feelings to develop and make choices about what type of life they want to live.
Both women are black. Good quality wlw films are rare and it is even harder to find ones with a POC cast. There is a significant age difference between them, but both are adults who have been out in the working world for years and it is the younger woman who is the one pushing for the relationship. Age differences often make me uncomfortable, but this one does not feel like there is an imbalance of power.
The negative is that it was a low-budget film in 1999 so the technical quality of the film is uneven when watching on a high-def screen. Despite this weakness I think it is well-worth watching. It won awards at festivals including the Atlantic Film and Video Festival, Tampra Intl Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, Black Film Marker’s Hall of Fame, and Hollywood Black Film Festival.
Depending on where you live it may be available for free with Amazon Prime.
Chapter 28: And the Band Played On
This chapter reviews and analyzes the film "And the Band Played On".
And the Band Played On is based on the novel by Randy Shilts about the early days of the AIDS crisis. The film focuses on the US government’s lack of interest in a disease that was killing mlm and infighting within the scientific community that was charged with studying AIDS.
The film opens with Dr. Don Francis (Matthew Modine) in Central Africa during an Ebola epidemic. A dying woman grasps his hand and he pulls away. He is challenged by residents as to why he, a doctor, can’t save the people dying of Ebola. Those memories will continue to haunt him throughout the film.
The film starts with the medical community knowing nothing about what is causing mlm to die of unusual illnesses that only affect people with a compromised immune system. Is it a virus or bacteria? Is it a combination of factors? How is it transmitted? How can you test, treat, or cure something that is a complete mystery.
The film is very factually based, but yet there are enough personal stories to make it an emotional film. Also, the facts speak for themselves. People were dying and the general population and government was more interested in building up the military than saving American lives. Unlike “The Normal Heart” film which I reviewed earlier there is not a passionate anger in the film. Instead there is a quiet anger and most of all frustration at the lack of resources being allotted for fighting HIV/AIDS.
For the majority of the film the characters do not even known that HIV is a retrovirus. There are constant reminders that they have hypotheses and theories, but not the concrete evidence for forging a path forward.
Several meeting are shown in which members of the mlm community react badly to the suggestion of closing down the bathhouses or even the increasing evidence that HIV is an STD (which is not to say that is the only way to acquire it).
The film also deals with those who acquired AIDS via transfusions and children who were born with it because their mothers were infected.
The film includes old news clips, marches, candle lit vigils, and political speeches. At the end there is a very emotional montage featuring well-known people including children who died of AIDS.
The film had a star studded cast including Matthew Modine, Alan Alda, Ian McKellen, Anjelica Huston, Steve Martin, Lily Tomlin, and Richard Gere. (It is possible there were other famous actors that I don’t know were famous because I was a kid when it came out.) The acting is exceptional. I watched M*A*S*H reruns when I was growing up and although I know perfectly well that actors are not their characters and I am usually good about not thinking of an actor in another role while I am watching a film it felt strange to see Alan Alda as a doctor who was more interested in awards and fame than saving lives.
The clips are from the 1980s so the quality looks terrible on HD, but it is enough to remind you that this story is based on history. The film’s technical quality suffers a bit for having been made for lower-res screens, but it does not impact the story. The film accomplishes its goal. There is also something about the fact that the film was released in 1993 and made people people who most likely knew at least a few people who were HIV positive that gives it an extra resonance.
The version I saw had some additional facts listed at the end that included information from the late 1990s.
The film won an Emmy for Outstanding Made for Television Movie, Outstanding Casting for a Miniseries or Special, and Outstanding Editing or a Miniseries or Special- Single-Camera Production, Ian McKellen won a Best Supporting Actor in a Movie or Miniseries in the CableACE Awards, and the film won the Humanitas Prize, GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding TV Movie, Montreal World Film Festival Special Grand Prize of the Jury, Casting Society of American Artios Award for Best Casting for a TV Movie Movie of the Week, and an American Cinema Editors Eddie Award for Best Edited Motuon Picture for Non-Commercial Television.
Chapter 29: Reggie Yates Extreme UK: Gay and Under Attack
This chapter analyzes the episode "Gay and Under Attack" that is part of the documentary series "Extreme UK".
The episode could more accurately be called “LGBTQ and Under Attack” as one of the featured people is a trans woman and the scenes at clubs include anyone who is LGBTQ rather than only people who identify as gay.
The episode focuses almost exclusively on blacks and “Asians” except the only Asians included are Muslim. This is both a good and bad thing. It is a good thing in that the LGBTQ people who are featured are POC and they talk about intersectionality and their experiences within their own community. Yates also speaks almost exclusively to people who are POC. The drawback is in focusing solely on POC communities and Yates’ comments it gives the impression that all whites are supportive of people who are LGBTQ and it is only POC communities that are anti-LGBTQ. Despite this major drawback I still recommend the episode because as long as you understand that there are also white people in Britain who are anti-LGBTQ the episode really goes out of its way to show the complexities of intersectionality and the variations within ethnic groups in the attitudes towards people who are LGBTQ.
Reggie Yates is black, but is not afraid to criticize people within the black community who are LGBTQ. He discusses views on being LGBTQ at a barber shop and later at a church with a predominantly black congregation. One of the ministers at the church is a charismatic man who is seemingly free of fire and brimstone style attitudes, but turns out to be incredibly homophobic. On a more positive note the father of the trans woman featured who Yates expects to be homophobic turns out to be very supportive of his daughter.
There is a brief very explicit discussion of sexual realignment surgery. I mention this because I know some people reading this have young kids and you probably want them out of the room. Although Yates comes across as LGBTQ accepting for most of the episode he reacts negatively to the details.
The documentary also features a Muslim raised gay man whose mother said she could accept him if he murdered someone, but not accept him being gay. The LGBTQ community in Britain is very white and he was worried about fitting in at LGBTQ events. The other Muslims who spoke on-camera were anti-LGBTQ. It is, of course, possible that some would be less hostile if they were not on-camera. This is the segment that goes most in-depth into intersectionality.
There is a brief sequence in a club that caters to the POC LGBTQ community. Few people were willing to speak on-camera and the documentary blurred some faces.
Reggie Yates also has an episode about being gay and under attack in Russia which I plan to watch and review.
Chapter 30: Professor Marston and the Wonder Women
This chapter analyzes the film "Professor Marston and the Wonder Women".
There is a definite irony in the fact that the inventors of the systolic blood pressure test which is a component of the lie detector test spent years lying about their lives to the outside world.
Professor Marston and the Wonder Women is an emotional intimate love story. Usually I watch movies that I have an amount of confidence I will like or I watch them with my partner, friend(s), or family. This is one of the few films where I went in with low expectations, but was impressed by the film.
I think I have become desensitized to the fact that so many love stories and sexually charged scenes are meant for the ‘male gaze’ and women are shown in a way that will turn men on. Even films with wlw sometimes fall into this trap. Like Patty Jenkin’s “Wonder Woman”, “Professor Marston and the Wonder Women” is not filmed for the standard ‘male gaze’. The overwhelming style is one of intimacy and with more being implied than actually shown. It is clear to anyone old enough to watch an R rated film what is going on, but it also leaves some things to the viewers imagination.
The acting, directing, writing, and cinematography are the heart of the film. It has a quality independent style that is not afraid to let the viewer or actors breathe. It is telling a personal story. The frequent close-ups emphasize the intimacy as the viewer feels they are right there with the characters.
The film is framed around Professor Marston being interrogated about the content of “Wonder Woman”. These scenes are darker (as in low lighting) than the rest of the film. It is the reality of an outside world in which far too many were not ready for “Wonder Woman”, a woman who combines strength and vulnerability. Nor are they ready for comics written by a man who respected strong capable women and thought that they would do a better job than men at running the world.
Although Professor Marston’s name comes first in the title it is more a story about Elizabeth Marston and Olive Byrne than about him. It is a love story between the three of them, but it is Elizabeth’s and Olive’s conflicts and love for each other than provides the driving force for the film. Elizabeth Marston is the most dominant of the three. Professor Marston is an idealist. Elizabeth and Olive are more practical and aware of the consequences of their three way relationship.
Professor Marston’s wife Elizabeth should based on her abilities and work ethic have had a Ph.D. in psychology, but that option was not open to her. She spends a large portion of the film working as a secretary.
During the scenes that take place in the outside world there is often a secretary in the background sitting silently taking notes and often out-of-focus representing the way the outside world wanted to view secretaries- silent, in the background, and hanging onto a man’s or men’s every word.
The film makes the point to show that the sexual scenes are consensual including having characters ask multiple times for verbal confirmation.
During one of the interrogation scenes Marston argues that it is important for young boys to read the comics and understand them so that they will respect strong capable women. It is important for people who rarely see themselves represented in media to see themselves represented, but it is also important for the people who frequently see themselves to read and watch these stories. If boys only read and watch stories in which boys and men have the leading and interesting roles that reinforces their view in their superiority and importance in comparison to women and girls. If people who are straight only read and watch stories about people who are straight that reinforces the idea that they are the normal ones and people who are LGBTQ are the outsiders.
Luke Evans gives an understated, contained performance that is perfect for Professor Marston, but sadly the type that tends to be overlooked by critics, viewers, and people giving out awards. Rebecca Hall is wonderful as the brilliant, strong, feminist, scientist Elizabeth Marston. You can feel her frustration at being professionally held back because she is a woman and her determination to maintain her own autonomy in her marriage contrasted against her struggles with how own emotions and desires. Bella Heathcote nails Olive Byrne’s innocence and wish to conform to society’s standards contrasted against her bravery and love for the Marstons.
The most noticeable weakness in the film is the music which is occasionally distracting.
Considering the popularity of “Wonder Woman” (2017) I was surprised to see so little about the film in feminist and LGBTQ circles online.
Director and writer Angela Robinson is not the first "Wonder Woman" scholar to suggest that Elizabeth Marston and Olive Byrne had a sexual relationship and there is evidence to support that conclusion. Elizabeth Marston's granddaughter Christie Marston has contested that conclusion. Considering people don't always reveal their true sexuality to their family, it is probably unknowable whether they were really in a relationship. Poetic license was used liberally with other elements of the film so this film should definitely not be treated as a documentary.
The film has 87% on Rotten Tomatoes.
Chapter 31: American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace
This chapter analyzes the nine part mini-series "American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace".
The content of this chapter contains only vague references to violence, but the miniseries itself contains graphic violence and disturbing material.
I watched the first episode of “The Assassination of Gianni Versace” with trepidation as I have heard very mixed reviews of Ryan Murphy’s shows. I think he did an excellent job with “The Normal Heart”, but that was a one-off and he didn’t write it. Ryan Murphy served as Executive Producer and directed the first episode “The Man Who Would be Vogue”, but does not have any writing credits although it is probable that he had some input. The bulk of the writing is by Tom Rob Smith.
The show was better than I expected and I watched the whole show except for parts of “House by the Lake” which was too disturbing for my tastes. Of all the films and episodes I have covered in this LGBTQ films series this is by far the most violent, creepy, and disturbing. It has a TV MA (Mature Audience) rating. A story about a serial killer is always going to be upsetting, but the story is told in a manner that really brings home the horror of Cunanan’s actions.
American Crime Story seasons are based on real life crimes in American society shares in the guilt of the crime. The first season was “The People v. O.J. Simpson” about a trial that was often referred to as “The trial of the [20th] century”. Racism played a huge role in the trial. “The Assassination of Gianni Versace” is not surprisingly about the assassination of Gianni Versace. He was assassinated by Andrew Cunanan, a serial killer who was gay and had previously killed several gay men. Despite having plenty of evidence it was the largest failed man hunt in FBI history. The guilt American society shares in is homophobia and not carrying that gay men were being murdered. Cunanan was half Filipino and there are also elements of racism. Gianni Versace was murdered in 1997 and numerous scenes are flashbacks.
The show successfully navigates the difficult balance of explaining why Cunanan committed the murders without defending his actions nor hiding the pain of those he killed and their family and friends. It does not shy away from the fact that he could be charming and that his lies were told without the usual tells that someone was lying. Nor does it shy away from the negative influence of his father and the homophobia that was prevalent at the time. It is well-known that US society as a whole did not care as mlm died of AIDS. It is less well-known that most of US society was fine with mlm being murdered. The US judicial system accepted the “gay panic defense” in which a man could be excused for killing a mlm if the murderer became temporarily insane because of an unwanted homosexual advance. (In 2018 the “gay panic defense” allowed in 48 states. It is now banned in California and Illinois.) It should be noted that the US judicial system has not been so willing to accept a woman killing a man to avoid sexual assault.
Most of the episodes are dedicated to one of the people he killed. When I read the Wikipedia entry for the first season it stated there were complaints that the show had only shown one of the victims as a corpse. This season definitely corrected that problem. It is clear that no amount of showing Cunanan’s reasons makes what he is doing acceptable. The victims are shown as people with their own dreams. As Cunanan supported himself by making arrangements with older closeted gay men the age range of his victims varies for two young men his age to older gentlemen.
Cunanan gaslights (makes them doubt their own perceptions) his victims particularly David Madson and Jeff Trail. He also humiliates several of them. He exposes several of his victims’ homosexuality. In short he psychologically tortures his victims as well as killing them. There are often misused S/M elements in some of his sexual encounters.
Cunanan is an expert mimic, a skill that is shown in the first episode. He can freely switch between a seemingly normal, charming guy and someone who is clearly mentally unhinged.
Homophobia lurks in all scenes even the ones that are not specifically about it. Virtually all of the characters except for Donatella and Cunanan’s parents are gay. Except for Versace and to a lesser extent D’Amico they all are very well aware of how hated they are by society in general. The FBI should have caught him before he had the chance to murder Versace. They did not take the investigation as seriously as they should have done and they did not do basic things (like putting up as many flyers as were needed) because they did not care. Only one member of the FBI is shown to actually really care.
There is Catholic iconography throughout the series as Cunanan, his family, and several of his victims are Catholic. For once in American television it used realistically rather than gothically. Having been raised Catholic there is one scene with Cunanan that made complete sense to me, but I wonder if it will be confusing for those who are not or were not raised Catholic as it doesn’t fit headlines Catholicism. I am guessing this was Ryan Murphy’s influence (and Darren Criss was raised Catholic), but it is possible it also came from other directors and the crew.
The acting is exceptional especially from Darren Criss (Andrew Cunanan), Penelope Cruz (Donatella Versace), and Ricky Martin (Antonio D’Amico). The cinematography, music, set design, and other technical elements was appropriate although at the beginning the technicolor look was distracting. Darren Criss looks so much like Andrew Cunanan that it is unnerving. Matt Bomer’s episode was particularly well directed.
The miniseries is based on the book “Vulgar Favors: Andrew Cunanan, Gianni Versace, and the Largest Failed Manhunt in U.S. History” by Maureen Orth. Versace’s family has contested the accuracy of the story most notably Versace having AIDS. The series adds a suicide that did not happen in real life which I found a distasteful addition. Donatella Versace was happy that her friend Penelope Cruz played her in the series. Cruz asked Donatella Versace's permission before accepting the award. Very little is known about “the real Cunanan” as he assumed many identities so the miniseries using an amount of artistic license.
Chapter 32: Kevyn Aucorn Beauty & The Beast in Me
This chapter reviews the documentary Kevyn Aucorn Beauty & The Beast in Me.
This documentary is focused on make-up artist Kevyn Aucorn. The documentary is a combination of videos he took and interviews with the people who know him. He took hundreds of hours of videos.
Kevyn Aucorn did the make-up for numerous models, actresses, musicians, and other celebrities including Cher, Gwenyth Paltrow, Cindy Crawford, Tina Turner, Naomi Campbell, and Whitney Houston. He was well-liked and became friends with several of his famous clients.
All the interviewees talk about how he knew how to make a woman look beautiful even if she did not see her own beauty. They also talked about how safe he made them feel. It is clear that they all respected and liked him and were saddened that his life was cut short.
Kevyn Aucorn was gay and had a difficult childhood growing up in Louisiana.
He was adopted and struggled with feelings of having been unwanted. Sadly, meeting his birth mother made things even worse.
In contrast to many make-up artists and people who work with celebrities he would talk about himself with them. The interviewees all knew about his feelings of abandonment.
A couple of his ex-boyfriends are interviewed. He would go from one relationship to another with few breaks.
He developed a painful disease which led to him taking higher and higher doses of pain killers. Sadly, this would end up being the cause of his early death.
His parents founded the first chapter of P-FLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) in Lafayette, Louisiana.
Despite some of the video footage being subpar quality due to its age this documentary is worth seeing.
Chapter 33: Far From Heaven
This chapter reviews Todd Haynes' film "Far From Heaven" (2002).
In some ways “Far From Heaven” seems like a prequel to Todd Haynes’ later film “Carol”. Like Carol, “Far From Heaven” takes place during the 1950’s and deals with homophobia. It also deals with racism and is a sadder film although it is at times a beautiful film.
The film opens with Cathy Whitaker (Julianna Moore) living a seemingly 1950’s view idealized life as the wife of a successful salesman. She is featured in society magazines. People constantly compliment her on how ability to host parties. She and her husband are seen as a perfect couple. She gets a shocking call that her husband has been arrested in what is explained away as a mix-up. The cinematography is vintage to the extreme as it is throughout the film at times when the film is so over-the-top that even people like me who were born decades later can tell is more parody than reality.
The film then shows her husband Frank Whitaker (Dennis Quaid) at work in a similar stereotypical environment. He is clearly well-liked and respected. Everything seems perfect “1950’s normal” until he enters a gay bar.
Frank covers up his visits to the gay bar and encounters with men by claiming to be working late. One night Cathy discovers him with a man. Her reaction is horror and she begs him to see a doctor to “cure” him. He goes to the appointments, but needless to say the “cure” does not work.
The Whitetaker’s gardener died and his son Raymond (Dennis Haysbert) takes over the job. She has a conversation with him and it is clear that the two get along and are attracted to each other. Cathy is naive about her even talking to a black man is going to turn to nasty gossip in their vary white Connecticut town.
The Whitetaker’s housekeeper Sybil (Viola Davis) is in a lot of scenes, but rarely speaks. She tries to educate Cathy about racism and her relationship with Raymond, but although Cathy is “nice” to her, she does not really listen to her.
Her best friend Eleanor Fine (Patricia Clarkson) is an interesting character. Cathy and Eleanor have some very emotional scenes. Her scene with Cathy after Frank and Cathy fight is real, raw, and one that we need to see more of between women in film in which they really do care for each other.
Movies have been referred to as “motion pictures” and Todd Haynes’ style is very artistic. The cinematography, acting, music, and other technical elements are excellent.
The film is harder to watch than “Carol”, but is still a good film. One caveat is it includes a couple brief, but upsetting violent scenes.
Chapter 34: Two Spirit
This chapter reviews the documentary "Two Spirit".
"Two Spirit" is a 22 minute documentary that follows Joey Criddle, a Two Spirit man, and his work to help other Two Spirit” Native Americans reclaim their place of honor. He serves as a co-director for the Two Spirit Society of Denver. Two Spirit is a pan-Native American and First Nations term to describe people who are a third-gender (or other gender variant). It is not exactly the same as LGBTQ as it should be viewed within the context of Native American cultures. Families were considered blessed to have one or more Two Spirit members.
Joey Criddle’s family was Pentecostal. He was married to a woman and had a son. The documentary also includes him attending his son’s wedding. His son struggles with Joey’s identity as a Two Spirit man. When he is briefly shown in the documentary his face is blurred. It is clear that his son’s lack of acceptance hurts Criddle, but he is also determined to support his son.
This documentary is highly recommended. It gives a good overview of what it means to be Two Spirit both in terms of the identity and how it is integrated into everyday life.
“Two Spirit” is available on YouTube via Frameline Voices.
Chapter 35: To Be Takei
This chapter reviews the excellent documentary "To Be Takei".
To Be Takei is a surprisingly candid documentary about George Takei. It covers his career, but primarily focuses on his life as a Japanese-American man who spent part of his childhood in internment camps and as a gay man who spent most of his life hiding his sexuality (and for decades his partner Brad). The documentary features brief interviews with Leonard Nimoy, Walter Koenig, Nichelle Nichols, William Shatner, and politicians such as Norman Mineta. It also includes some comments that may be of interest to TOS fans.
During the segment about his life in the internment camps the documentary switches between him giving speeches, him testifying before Congress, clips of other Japanese-Americans speaking about the camps, and pictures of the camps and the racist signs that greeted Japanese-Americans after the camps were finally closed. Having known several people who were in the camps this was not news to me, but if you are not familiar with them, and especially if you are American or Canadian, I strongly encourage you to learn more about them as it is a reminder that the Nazis were not the only ones who behaved badly during WWII.
The documentary shows the beginning of the San Diego run of his musical "Allegiance" which is influenced by his time in the camps. After the documentary was finished the play would later run in New York.
During his discussion of his early career Takei talks about his Japanese-American agent encouraging him and him agreeing to play racial stereotyped roles in order to be better known. The documentary then moves onto his years doing Star Trek. The subject of Kirk/Spock slash comes up. There is an interesting quote by Nimoy (maybe TOS fans already know) in which he says that why Kirk’s and Spock’s relationship was intended to be platonic he sees how some fans saw things differently.
Much documentary deals with him coming out and his life with his husband Brad Takei. Their interactions show a lot about the strength of their relationship and how well they compliment each other. It is clear that they both give the other one things they need to balance out their own personalities.
Their wedding is shown as is them sprinkling Brad Takei’s mother’s ashes. George Takei is Buddhist and although it never directly states it, it is clear that Brad Takei has adopted at least some of George Takei’s beliefs.
One nice story is when Brad Takei told his mother that he was gay his mother replied that she was also gay. His “aunt” was actually his mother’s girlfriend.
I highly recommend this documentary. Despite the struggles and prejudices George Takei has faced it is a very uplifting documentary.
Chapter 36: Billy Elliot
This chapter examines the 2000 film Billy Elliot.
Over the years I have seen Billy Elliot included on LGBTQ films lists. For a long time I questioned its inclusion. Billy’s best friend is gay, but he is a relatively minor characters and seems to exist largely to prove that Billy isn’t attracted to boys. I rewatched the film recently and still find question including it if it is because of Billy’s best friend.
During my rewatch I realized a more understandable reason to include it with LGBTQ films. The biggest theme of the film isn’t about dancing. A lot of scenes shouldn’t be included if that was intent. The biggest theme is a critic of traditional strict gender roles particularly the “uber macho” role that is forced on men. On that level its inclusion in LGBTQ films lists makes more sense. The film came out in 2000 and as with all films reflects both the time it came out and the Yorkshire Coal Miners strike in 1984-1985 when the story takes place. Within the film it is an environment where gender nonconformity in any form was seen as queer and suspect.
Billy Elliot (Jamie Bell) is an 11 year old who misses his dead mother, doesn’t do well at sports, and takes care of his grandmother who has dementia. After his boxing class goes badly he goes to give the ballet teacher who uses the same facilities a key and ends up participating in the class. The ballet instructor (Julie Waters) assumes he is there for the class and immediately notices his talent.
Stuck in a world where men box, work in the coal mines, don’t cry, punch people, and the only acceptable emotion is anger, Billy Elliot finds himself enjoying ballet, but scared of people finding out. His older brother, an acceptable “macho” man, ends up deciding that violence is necessary as the strike drags on. His father frequently explodes in anger and at times punches both Billy and his brother. His father, who is clearly still hurting from his wife’s death, treats his mother-in-law extremely badly.
The film follows much of the standard pattern of kid following their dreams despite adults opposition with a heavy dose of politics. However, Billy’s experiences have a lot in common with many LGBTQ children in conservative environments. The secrets he keeps, the lies he tells, his tense relationship relationship with his father, and his feeling of being an outside are very much within the experience of many LGBTQ children.
I suspect the story would have been different if it came out now at a time when when gender identity is more openly discussed.
The soundtrack is particularly good although the songs such as “London Calling” are ones that tend to get stuck in your head and refuse to get unstuck. The soundtrack includes some dialogue and the exchange “The Sun will come out tomorrow… fat chance” always makes me laugh.
Chapter 37: Save Me
This chapter reviews the 2007 film "Save Me".
Mark (Chad Allen) is young gay man who is addicted to drugs. His brother tries to “save” him by checking him into a Christian retreat intended to “cure” him of being gay. This film is in some ways quieter and less angry than many films about forced gay conversion centers, but in some ways it makes the psychological abuse these young men are going through even more horrifying.
The retreat center, Genesis House, is run by a woman Gayle (Judith Light) who started the center after learning that her teenage son, who she had thrown out of the house for being gay, had died. In order to “save” other gay young men she thought the solution was to use (or rather misuse) Christianity to “cure” gay men. She does not use electric shock treatment on the men. She does not starve or beat them. She does not inflict the physical horrors that some gay conversion centers use and in her own bigoted narrow-minded way she seems to care about the men. Her methods include making bird houses to sell- an irony considering the center is in many ways a cage-, sports, prayer, reading the Bible, and “counseling sessions” that involve the men talking about their lives. The sad reality is that these men do crave and need someone to listen to them to about their lives.
From the moment she sees him Mark reminds her of her son and she takes particular interest in saving him. Mark is angry, outspoken, swears, and does not want to be there. He doesn’t seem to have as much of the homophobic self-loathing as the other gay men at the center. She thinks that by “saving” Mark she can have the son she lost back. The sad truth is that although her love and attention comes with horrifying conditions she shows him more attention and love than he has experienced in his life. This ends up causing to a really twisted relationship. Much as I disliked her character, Light portrayed her brilliantly and realistically.
Mark’s roommate is Lester (Robert Baker). Unlike some of the others Lester’s self-loathing is contrasted against the fact he still has some hope. He looks up to Mark.
The man who has the most impact on Mark is Scott (Robert Gant). They quickly become friends and it is clear that they are also strongly attracted to each other. Gayle immediately sees Scott as a threat even though many of the interaction she sees is well within the realm of platonic male friendships. They are also in many ways the least stereotypically gay except for line Scott’s line about Mark’s bird house being the best and that line is intended to be flirtatious.
Some of their interactions are definitely not platonic. Both Allen and Gant do a great job of showing their attraction and longing for each other. At times one of them fights against the attraction. At other times the let themselves feel and enjoy it. Both Mark and Scott are challenging roles and both actors nailed their parts.
Gayle’s husband Ted (Stephen Lang) is one of the more interesting characters in that you are never quite sure how he is going to react. He loves Gayle and feels she saved him from his addiction, but he is not convinced in gay conversion therapy. He sees that Gayle uses is using Mark as a substitute for her son and tries to stop her as he knows she is harming both herself and Mark in her obsession with curing him of his gayness. Gayle’s conversion therapy is focused on making the men more “manly” and yet Ted isn't a stereotypical "manly man" and she is definitely the dominant one in the marriage.
Both Chad Allen and Robert Gant were openly gay when they made the film. (Allen was outed by a tabloid.) When I first saw the film years ago I remembering seeing that Judith Light was a strong supporter of LGBTQ rights. I don’t want to spoil the ending, but I can’t image they would have been in a film that supported gay conversion centers. Nor would I recommend a film in which characters were “saved” by these horrible centers. The title is apt, but the saving is not what Gayle intended. However, the film tries to be realistic and there is a bittersweetness to it.
I liked the choice to only give most of the characters first names. It adds to intimacy of the film.
I recommend this film, but with conditions as despite the fact that on the surface it can feel less horrifying than many stories about gay conversion centers, it has some upsetting scenes.
In terms of realism the characters seem to be Evangelical (maybe Pentecostal?) Christians which is not my background and most of what I know about it comes from reading and watching the news so I can’t fully judge how accurately it is portrayed. I do know that they don't use rosaries and one of the DVD covers has Mark holding a crucifix to his head like a gun. I had thought Evangelical Christians thought crucifixes were too Catholic. I haven’t been to the southern United States were it takes place and thankfully I have never had a personal experience with gay conversion centers. If anyone who is familiar with any of these elements of the film and has some insight on how realistically they are portrayed in the film I would love to hear your thoughts.
Chapter 38: Fair Haven
This chapter reviews the 2016 film "Fair Haven".
Having recently reviewed “Save Me”, another film that features gay conversion centers I would have scrolled past “Fair Haven” if I didn’t vaguely remember hearing that it was a good film. It is a good film, but it is one that you have to not give up on in order to appreciate it.
The film opens with James (Michael Grant) returning home to his family’s farm after having been at a Christian gay conversion center. During his stay at the conversation center his mother was in the hospital and died. The bills for her hospital stay and funeral mean that he no longer has the money to attend the music school at the University of California, Berkeley. His father (Tom Wopat) says if he is paying for James community college education James needs to study either agriculture or business.
During the earlier parts of the film there are flashbacks to James’ conversations at gay conversion center as the staff tries to figure out what in his background made him gay and how to set him on the “right” path to being straight. Being an occasional smart aleck I couldn’t help noticing that the staff’s clothes clearly mixed fibers in violation of Leviticus. James insists that he is “cured” and more than anything he wants to find a woman and raise a family. His dream is no longer becoming a concert pianist.
Some “yuppies” have been going around the town trying to buy a farm and turn it into an organic one. James’ father is determined not sell and not to go organic insisting that organic is just a phase.
When James delivers apples to the supplier he is startled to see his ex-boyfriend Charlie (Josh Green) and reacts hostilely to the point of mild violence. His father chastises him for not getting a receipt so he is forced to go back. It is clear that he has fallen for the lie that he has been “cured” of being gay.
He is encouraged to ask Suzy (Lily Anne Harrison) for help filling out college applications. It is clear that it is intended to be an excuse for him to ask her out. He is awkward around her and although he does go out with her it is clear that it is not going to work. He also attends classes at the church that are an extension of the gay conversion center.
After he sees Charlie with a broken arm and bruised eye he insists on giving Charlie a ride home from work each day. It is clear that he still has feelings for Charlie even as he tries desperately to run from those feelings. Charlie’s feelings for him have never wavered.
James was accepted into Berkeley and already deferred for a year so it is probable he is 19. Certainly he would have to be at least 18 years old. Charlie’s age isn’t outright stated, but it is clear that he is also an adult.
The cinematography is great. The pacing is generally slow interrupted by short bursts of energy, but in a way that works for the environment and atmosphere. Neither the town nor James’ father move quickly. The acting is good and often understated. The little touches such as the bottles of various alcoholic drinks near his father show rather than tell how the characters are coping and not coping.
James is a very contained person in an environment in which boys and men are not supposed to show emotion in healthy ways. Both James and his father are in a world where men are not encouraged to show their feelings in healthy ways. This presents as acting challenge as they need to find subtle ways to show the feelings they cannot voice. Both actors, particularly Grant, succeeded.
Even as James’ situation looks bleak you can see the way the film is heading. There is always an element of hope that life will get better and that love has not been completely destroyed. The film does not play coy nor does it shy away from the realities of being gay in a small town- both the times of pain and the moments of joy. Nor does it pull punches with the realities of families and generation gaps.
Chapter 39: More Than T
This chapter reviews the documentary 2017 "More Than T" that features the stories of six transgendered people who have found different ways to work towards equal rights.
More Than T is a personal documentary about six people’s experiences being transgender. Although all of them fight for transgender rights they do so in different ways from acting, to working as lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union to being a minister.
Transgender documentaries are better at showcasing racial diversity than documentaries about the rest of the LGBTQ community and this one is no exception. These individuals experiences are as influenced by their race and ethnicities as much as being transgender.
This first story told is that of a Japanese-American transwoman Mia Yamamoto. She spent World War II in an internment camp along with the rest of the Japanese-American community. When she got out of the camp finding work was difficult and one of the few places that would hire her was the ACLU. She worried that transitioning would negatively impact people’s perception of her enough to harm her clients, but her clients supported her decision to transition.
Another one of the stand-out stories is a black transman Reverend Louis Mitchell who is a minister for a Church of Christ parish. He lived through the hardest years of the AIDS crisis before the so-called miracle medications. I know a number of people who are LGBTQ who are also religious and most feel they are never really accepted either in their religious community (even if the community officially supports people who are LGBTQ) or in the LGBTQ community. His parish is mostly white, cis, and over 75 years old, but he says he has found more acceptance among them than in his life before becoming a minister.
The most specifically activist story is a Latina transwoman Joanna Cifredo who has dedicated her life to advocating for transgendered people. Her story was personal, but her descriptions were a more factual and less emotional in some ways than the other stories featured. They were also more polished in some ways as she is more used to telling her story.
The documentary originally aired on Showtime.
Chapter 40: The Wedding Banquet
This chapter reviews the 1993 film "The Wedding Banquet".
The Wedding Banquet is a 1993 romantic comedy about a gay couple and the drama that ensures when one of them Simon (Mitchell Lichtenstein) suggests that Wai-Tung (Winston Chao) can get his mother Mrs. Gao (Gua Ahleh) off his back about finding a woman and settling down with her and help one of their tenants Wei-Wei (May Chin) get a Green Card (basically be allowed to stay in the US legally) by marrying her. Before Wai-Tung’s parents arrive Simon explains everything she needs to know about Simon and three of them take down everything that would reveal that Wai-Tung is gay. They decided that Simon will be introduced as Wai-Tung’s landlord.
The plan appears to go off with only minor hassles. Unfortunately, the place they choose to have the wedding dinner turns out to be owned by a Wai-Tung's father Mr. Gao (Sihung Lung) driver during his military career who insists on hosting a traditional wedding banquet. Things quickly begin to go wrong and as the lies build up and Wai-Tung’s parents stay drags their lives start to unravel.
Although the film is classified as a comedy, it sometimes veers into drama. There are parts where I don’t see any viewers laughing.
I first saw the film years ago (although years after it was made) and wondered how it would hold up at a time when films such as “Love, Simon” are available. It was released only five years after “Maurice” and films with gay characters that were not unrelentingly depressing were rare. Sadly, it is not as dated as I expected. There are moments that show the time period. The cordless phones are huge. There are Silence = Death posters. However, many of the events could conceivably happen to people today.
The film is almost as much about ethnicity as it is about a gay couple. The film assumes the viewer has a certain amount of familiarity with Chinese and Taiwanese culture particularly in regards to family. If these are cultures you are not familiar with you may find yourself feeling lost at points. I should not that the “liberating you” comment is a political joke about Chinese and Taiwanese politics and not about sexuality.
The acting is strong and the cast have the appropriate chemistry with each other. The production values are good although due to the film's age it does not look as crisp as newer films on an HD screen.
The film has a 96% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and was nominated for both an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film (although the bulk of the film is in English) and Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Language Film. It won the Golden Bear at the 43rd Berlin International Film Festival.
Chapter 41: God's Own Country
This chapter reviews the excellent 2017 film "God's Own Country".
“God’s Own Country” has been referred to as “the British Brokeback Mountain”. Certainly, it has the strengths of “Brokeback Mountain” particularly the brilliant acting with very little dialogue and beautiful cinematography. It also has a lot of other strengths. The style is very British and a style filmmakers seemed to avoid for several years. I am glad to see it return.
There is a realism to the film that at times makes you feel as if you are watching a documentary. The scenery and “props” are largely provided by nature. The colors are often muted. Everyone and everything has dirt on them. Often you only hear the sounds of nature and the music is rare and unobtrusive. I have heard comments from people who are more used to the slick Hollywood style say it looks amateurish, but it is that very look that tells the story. There is nothing clean and slick about the environment. It is a place of hard work and low pay. The people’s jobs involve nature. Usually I would talk about the characters and plot before the setting and soundtrack, but the setting and soundtrack function as two major characters in the film.
If you want to take an analytical academic view you could argue that setting a gay love story in such a setting implies that homosexuality is just as natural as heterosexuality, but I doubt that entered the minds of the filmmakers. Their motivation is simply to tell a love story about two quiet men whose actions speak louder than their words.
The film opens in Yorkshire with a young man, Johnny (Josh O'Connor), who lives with his father (Ian Hart) and grandmother (Gemma Jones). Since his father’s stroke Johnny has been doing most of the work to keep the farm running. We can immediately see that Johnny is a lonely emotionally shut down man and spends his time getting drunk and having anonymous sex with men. We can hear his father’s frustration in both Johnny and his own physical limitations when he blames Johnny for the death of a calf.
Johnny is sent to pick up Gheorghe (Alec Secareanu), a Romanian migrant work, to help with the lambing season. During the drive Johnny uses the offensive term “gypsy”. Johnny and Gheorghe are sent to camp near the sheep. It is clear that Gheorghe is the more responsible and more capable of the two men. When Johnny uses the g-slur again Gheorghe tackles him and threatens him if he ever uses the term again. It is clear to the audience that Johnny is taking out his frustrations with his life on Gheorghe. It is also clear that the two men are attracted to each other.
After a fight takes a different turn, Johnny initially tries to pretend it never happened, but as the day wears on it is clear that they have fallen for each other. Johnny asks Gheorghe to stay in the house with him, but Gheorghe chooses to remain in the caravan the family rented for him. It is clear that a relationship between them is not going to be easy. The first time I saw the film I wasn’t sure how some things would play out
O'Connor and Secareanu have perfect chemistry that varies as the character's relationships changes throughout the film. There was more tenderness than I expected considering the men, their responsibilities, and their environment. There was also more sex and nudity than I expected considering how often LGBTQ films that aren’t mainly about sex swing the other way and include almost no sex and no nudity. The film is very much a love story. Romance films are a dime a dozen, but the film has a fresh feel to it that is not simply that it is between two men.
It may seem odd to compliment the script when the actors have so few lines compared to most films, but sometimes the best thing a script can do is stay out of the actors way.
“God’s Own Country” is a quality, loving, tender, painful, beautiful, coming of age, gay love story. It earned the 99% approval rating it has on Rotten Tomatoes along with its numerous awards nominations and wins. It isn’t a fluffy movie, but it is a great one. I have reviewed over 40 LGBTQ films for this series and this is one of the best.
Depending on where you live, “God’s Own Country" might be available on Netflix.
Chapter 42: Beyond the Opposite Sex
This chapter reviews the 2018 documentary "Beyond the Opposite Sex". The documentary follows the journey of a transman and a transwoman.
This documentary features a transman Rene and transwoman Jaime 13 years after having sexual realignment surgery. As with all documentaries featuring trans people it shows the transphobia they face, but unlike some documentaries it also features the good times.
Both of them are in happy relationships. Rene is in a long-term relation with woman. He was treated horribly by his family. At the beginning of the documentary he is at a meeting of a transgender group and afterwards sounds angry and resentful of the people at the meeting whose families support them. He has reasons to be angry, but the way he lashes out at his ex-wife might be hard to watch for viewers who have been abused. His current wife adores him and there are really sweet scenes with them.
The Jaime is also in a fulfilling relationship. She has faced transphobia, but is less angry than the Rene. Often the transwomen shown in documentaries and news clips are exceptionally feminine, but she has several attributes that are associated with “butch” women.
One of the hardest parts to watch during her segment was when she had a discussion with a TERF (Trans-exclusionary radical feminist). The TERF attitude reminded me a bit of Professor Umbridge in the Harry Potter films- sweet sounding while saying horrible things.
One of her ex-boyfriends appears in the documentary. She had kept the fact that she was trans a secret from him during the earlier parts of their relationship because she wanted to make sure that she could trust him.
The documentary includes a frank and clinical discussion about sex when one of the people is transgendered and the limits of what current medical science can do for Rene and other transmen.
There is also discussion about Christianity and being transgendered. There are churches that accept and embrace people who are transgender, but my understanding is that they are hard to find in the American south (1).
The documentary is one of the rare ones that I would consider uplifting. Along with the challenges faced by people who are transgendered, it has some heartwarming moments. People that were assumed to be transphobic turn out to not only be accepting, but to actively embrace Rene and Jaime. There are a number of really sweet moments between both Rene and Jaime and their partners.
1. For those who are not familiar with how people in the US divide cultural regions “the south” does not refer to all southern states, but ones from the Atlantic Ocean to Texas. The southwest excluding southern California is viewed as its own region although my impression is that it also relatively anti-LGBTQ.
Chapter 43: The Secret Diaries of Anne Lister
This chapter reviews the BBC Two film "The Secret Diaries of Anne Lister".
“The Secret Diaries of Anne Lister” is a dramatized film based on the diaries of the real Anne Lister. Anne Lister was a Yorkshire wealthy landowner, diarist, and traveler. The film focuses on her romantic relationships with women, but also briefly features her industrial activities and work improving Shibden Hall.
The film opens with Anne (Maxine Peake) sneaking away with her girlfriend Mariana Belcombe. They appear to be a happy couple, but Anne and the audience soon learn that Mariana is to be married to a much older man Charles Lawton (Michael Culkin). Anne is heartbroken by Marianna’s betrayal and unmoved by Marianna’s desire to be socially acceptable. Anne does not feel the need to make an effort to hide that she is attracted to women and not men. Her a heartbreak that gets more intense when Anne does not hear from Mariana for over a year after the marriage.
Anne lives with her aunt (Gemma Jones) and uncle (Alan David). Both of them have let Anne live her life without pressuring her to find a suitor. Anne deals with her heartbreak by focusing on her studies. Her diaries were written in code, a wise decision considering her extensive writing on her lesbian relationship. They would not be translated for 150 years.
Mariana finally writes back and says if Anne would meet her she would arrive unaccompanied. Unfortunately, when Anne arrives Mariana’s husband is with her. Nevertheless, Anne and Mariana are able to resume their relationship. The film is neither coy nor exploitative in showing the sexual elements of the relationship. Mariana says that her husband is in ill-health and once he is dead they can be together. They buy rings and wear them around their necks planning to wear them on their fingers once they can live together.
With Mariana unavailable Anne pursues other women along with her financial goals. There aren’t any men for most of the scenes. This is very much a film about women in a patriarchal society.
The actresses have the appropriate chemistry. The production values are sufficient although within the usual realm of a BBC Two film. The pacing isn’t too bad if you are used to the British period pieces, but if you are used to blockbusters it might feel too slow.
The film’s focus on relationships means that the rest of her life is only briefly explored or ignored. As a biographical film one can argue this does a disservice to the real Anne Lister. There are also scenes where Anne comes across as overly aggressive in her pursuits. This isn’t a bad thing in abstract, but I wasn’t entirely surprised to read that The Telegraph gave it a better review than The Guardian.
I disagree with the criticism that the film had too much sex- plenty of mainstream straight films have more-, but I do wish that other elements of her life were given more screentime.
Despite the weakness the film is worth watching with the caveat that if you want a more complete understanding of the real Anne Lister you should read the diaries rather than rely solely on this film.
Depending on where you live it might be available on Amazon Prime.
Chapter 44: Pride (2014)
This chapter reviews the 2014 film "Pride" about a London based LGBTQ group that supported the miners during the coal miner's strike in 1984/
Pride is based on a true story about a group of LGBTQ activists in London who supported the coal miner’s strike in 1984. Anyone who is familiar with British politics during the 1980’s knows how the strike will go so that part will not come as a surprise, but this story isn’t just about the coal strike.
The group (Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners) was started by Mark Ashton, a gay rights activist, who saw the similarity between how the government and police treated the LGBTQ community and the coal miners. Ironically, the LGBTQ community benefited from the strike initially as it gave the police a different target to harass.
Despite the fact that the National Union of Mineworkers is desperate for money and support, there are hesitant to accept the help fearing that people’s negative views of people who are LGBTQ will cause PR problems. The LGSM decides to focus on one Welsh village. Initially the LGBTQ community is hesitant to support the miners. The first person they talk to Dai Donovan assumed that L stood for London, but knows that they need allies to succeed. One of their first supporters within the village is Sian James. Unfortunately, it is harder to win over the support of many of the people in the village. Most of the overt prejudice shown is on the side of the miners.
There are a number of subplots. Joe, the photographer of the group, has been living with his homophobic parents. The film also notes the fact that gay sex has a higher age of consent than straight sex. Some of the worst days of the AIDS crisis and its impact on the community. Sian James, one of the villagers, becoming more comfortable being politically active.
The film is a roller-coaster of joy, sadness, hate, love, support, and everything in between. Ultimately, it is a film about unity and hope. It is a film about when we help others we sometimes end up helping ourselves. It is a film that shows that it is better to be part of a community and build bridges than to segregate ourselves and fight alone.
The acting is exceptional and the characters really come to life. Ben Schnetzer as Mark Ashton shows the strengths and weaknesses of being a passionate activist. Imelda Stanton nearly steals the show. Jessica Gunning is fantastic as a woman realizing her own potential. Dominic West is excellent both in his serious and light-hearted scenes including a fantastic dance number. Andrew Scott is great as always. There is some overlap with his character in “Handsome Devil”, but it is a distinct role and there are some really touching moments. Bill Nighly is his usual perfectly cast self.
The crew also did an excellent job. The small details of the sets really serve the story. The dirt and dull colors fitting the harder moments and bright colors emphasizing the happy ones.
The credits give you updates on several of the real people. Some of the notes are happy. Some are sad.
This is one I had been meaning to write-up a review of for a long time. After I have posted reviews of 50 films I plan to post a best films on the list and this one will be near the top. It is a film that can be even more enjoyable on re-watch. I know a lot of you have already seen the film. I may write some spoiler comments and analysis in a separate post.
If anyone needed to be reminded about how terrible Thatcher was this film should do it.
Chapter 45: Pride Divide
The chapter reviews the 1997 documentary "Pride Divide".
“Pride Divide” is a 1997 documentary than examines the history of how gay and bisexual men and lesbians and bisexual women united in some cases to fight for their rights despite some members of each group often having a negative view of the each other. The documentary and discussion of events are old enough that I cannot personally judge exactly how well it represents the history of the LGBTQ community. I have heard about the divide before although not usually as extreme as it is presented in the documentary. The documentary is Americancentric.
The bulk of the documentary’s focuses on the LGBTQ community prior to the AIDS crisis. The documentary is a collection of segments by various members in a variety of professions. I debated including it in this series because of its largely binary and stereotypical views on gender. Lesbians are largely presented as being good at relationships, caretakers, and focus on analyzing problems. Gay men are all about sex and action. Although it is true especially traditionally that gay and bisexual men often glorify machoism there have always been men who were comfortable rejecting that role. I know from talking to lesbians and bisexual women who lived through the period of time the documentary focuses on and do not embrace all elements of traditional femininity. Not everyone shown in the documentary is white, but the cultural norms shown are largely of white America. Despite this narrow view on gender I am including it because the attitude still exists in the LGBTQ community especially among older members.
The documentary argues that equality between men and women within the community improved due to the tragedy that during the AIDS crisis. The documentary presents it as it largely being women who cared for the sick and dying. Many of these men were completely abandoned by their biological families. The death toll among gay and bisexual men was also high enough that numerically there were fewer men, particularly the generation of young men in the 1980’s and early 1990’s to be leaders. Lesbians, bisexual, pansexual, and queer women took their places.
Although I disagree with the attitude taken during much of the documentary, it is an attitude that exists. It is an attitude that shaped the community. It explains although certainly doesn’t justify the negative attitude of parts of the community towards “feminine men” and anyone who is transgender or even bends traditional gender roles.
I am sure this documentary would have been very different if it was made in 2018. Not only has the mainstream community become more open-minded, but so has the LGBTQ community.
Chapter 46: Intersexion
"Intersexion" (2012) is a documentary about people who are born intersex. Someone is considered intersex if medical professions do not consider them obviously biologically male or female.
Intersexion is a documentary about people who are intersex. One in 2,000 babies is intersex. A person who is intersex is born with genitalia that is considered ambiguous.
In some cases the baby is “assigned” a gender by the doctor and given surgery and/or hormones. This assignment may involve surgery and/or hormones. There have been numerous cases where the parents did not consent or even didn’t know. In many cases this has proven disastrous for the person as their assigned gender is wrong.
Some of the challenges faced by people who are intersex are the same as those faced by people who are transgender and as societies slowly (far too slowly) become more comfortable with realizing that gender is not always binary things will hopefully become easier for people who are intersex. The documentary did not hide the challenges faced by these individuals, but it was more positive and uplifting than I expected.
Sadly, despite it being relatively common it isn’t often talked about even in LGBTQ+ circles and ignorance tends to lead to fear and disapproval.
Despite its ultimately positive view there are some horror stories including a 14 year old boy being told that he would never be a happy and fulfilled man and should be a girl. At the time of the interview he was an adult man who is happy and comfortable with his body.
Some of the people featured did not know they were intersex until they discovered it themselves rather than being told by their parents.
This documentary includes clinical descriptions and diagrams of anatomy, thus, it would probably be rated R.
Depending on where you live it might be available on Amazon Prime Video.
Chapter 47: God's Own Country: SPOILER Thoughts
If you have not already seen the film "God's Own Country" skip this chapter as it contains major spoilers.
The details really make the film.
MAJOR SPOILERS BELOW
Gheorghe’s caretaking tendencies are not only shown with Johnny, but with the sheep. There is a real difference between how he cares for the sheep and how Johnny cares for the sheep. You can see Johnny changing to be more like Gheorghe as the film goes on. It is ironic that after their break-up he ends up on a potato farm. I don’t know how you care for a potato.
Having Johnny lay his head on Gheorghe’s shoulder on the way home was a wonderful touch. It showed how far Johnny had come on his emotional journey and that it was him rather than Gheorghe initiating the touch.
On first viewing I noticed that the scene where Johnny is holding Gheorghe’s jumper mirrored a sadder jumper (or sweater since it is an American film) scene in “Brokeback Mountain”, but it was only one my second viewing that I noticed there were a few similar shots. I doubt that was a coincidence.
One first viewing I thought Deidre Saxby started crying while ironing because of having found the condom due to her reaction when Johnny walks in, but when I rewatched it I think it could easily be her pain over Martin’s condition.
The scene where Gheorghe tackles Johnny is one of the most important scenes for understanding Gheorghe. It shows Gheorghe has temper. Gheorghe is more competent, but he is in a vulnerable position. At that point in the film he needs the job more than they need him. We know from the later scene in the pub- and he no doubt knows- that he is in an area where he is hated not because of anything he has done personally, but because he is Romanian. He is risking a lot by tackling Johnny and yet he does so anyway. He stands up for himself even when it might be safer to just keep his head down. It comes up again when he pushes Johnny after Johnny asks him why he is leaving.
During the first sex scene I could see Gheorghe stopping Johnny both because he has no intention of being used as if he was an object (the way Johnny does with most of the men he has sex with) and/or because he has no intention of having unsafe sex. Considering what we see of Johnny’s history that is a very smart decision as I am not sure Johnny is responsible enough to always wear a condom.
I love when they are by the fire and Gheorghe has the lamb inside his jacket to keep it warm.
During the scene where Johnny is kissing Gheorghe’s neck in the house you can see that Gheorghe is gently stroking Johnny’s arm.
The film actually doesn’t have more sex than a lot of other films, but it does have more intimacy. Josh O’Connor, the actor who plays Johnny, mentioned in interviews that the audience is the third person in the relationship. There were moments when it almost feels like as an audience we are intruding in something private, but I prefer it the standard ‘turn on straight men in the audience’ exploitative style of film sex scenes. The sex scenes are part of the story and fading to black would have been weird. A story about a man learning about intimacy needs to show intimacy.
As someone who was raised to always wash their hands before eating I was cringing at Gheorghe eating with filthy hands. That really didn’t look sanitary.
It is clear that Gheorghe has fallen for Johnny and that moving onto another job is going to be painful for him. His decision is based on trying to be responsible even if it hurts both of him. In some ways it would have hurt him almost as much to leave on good terms.
You could see the progression of their relationship during the bike rides. The first time Gheorghe is keeping as much space as possible between them. Then he is cautiously touching Johnny. Finally, Gheorghe is really holding onto him as they have become completely physically comfortable with each other.
I assume there must be a break between when they are on the coach and the caravan is taken away. It is too much of a coincidence if they arrive home just as it leaves.
Depending on where you live "God's Own Country" might be available on Netflix.
Chapter 48: The Gymnast
This chapter reviews the 2006 film "The Gymnast".
It is hard to find good wlw (women who are bisexual, lesbians, queer, or otherwise attracted to women) films. There are fewer of them than there are mlm films and many are made not with wlw in mind, but with straight men who get off on the idea.
Ten years earlier Jane Hawkins’ (Dreya Weber) career as a gymnast ended with a devastating injury. She kept herself in shape and at the beginning of the film she goes to a gym for the first time in 10 years. She becomes so emotional as she watches a gymnastics student practice that she goes to leave, but is stopped by the teacher Nicole (Mam Smith) who suggests she join her adult classes. The adult class turns out to be her and one other student Serena (Addie Yungmee). Serena is graceful, but lacks Jane’s strength. Jane has the strength, but lacks Serena’s grace. Nicole suggests the two can learn from each other and they start practicing an aerial act hoping to take it to Vegas.
Nicole suggests sexing up the routine. Jane who is Not Gay (TM) is fine with embracing it, but Serena who is gay isn’t as comfortable ‘playing gay as not being real’. A family emergency causes Nicole to be gone for an extended period of time during which time Jane and Serena grow closer.
Jane has been working as a masseuse. As her training continues one of her clients complains that her hands are too rough. She is married to a man David (David De Simone) who treats her terribly. His behavior towards her gets worse as the film goes on going from dismissive to actively manipulative. Parts of it can be hard to watch, but it is a crucial part of the story and something that happens in real life. Yet she stays with him due to her desire to have a baby and as protection against her growing feelings for Serena. (Sadly, the credits include In Memory of David De Simone.)
The one person she can really confide in is a former gymnast friend Denise (Allison Mackie). Their friendship is realistic and well-played.
The film was made in 2006 on a relatively low-budget, but the lack of polish suites the film. The acting is good and the actors have appropriate chemistry. This is not only true between Jane and Serena, but between Jane and Denise. Sadly, realistic female friendships can be hard to find. The cinematography of the routine is partly good and really exemplifies why films have been called motion pictures.
It is not only wlw that can be hard to find in films, but realistic Asian characters and films that treats Asian cultures with respect. Serena was raised by a Jewish adopted family. This isn’t a problem. It isn’t unrealistic. The problematic element is the near erasure of her Korean heritage and reliance on racial stereotypes combined with the uncomfortable way it makes a joke about a racial slur that was far from a joke when people were put in relocation camps in the US and Canada gave the impression that the writer and director Ned Farr was completely clueless about Asian cultures. Jane has a binary view of sexuality, but the film critics it. It does not critic the racial issues. (This is in contrast to another film I reviewed recently in which a character uses a racial slur and it clear that the film condemns it.) This is particularly frustrating as racism, particularly the more clueless rather than actively hateful kind, is common in both film and many parts of the LGBTQ community in western countries.
“The Gymnast” won the Grand Jury Award for Outstanding American Narrative Feature and Audience Award for Outstanding First Narrative Feature at the 2006 Los Angeles Outfest. AfterEllen.com and Variety gave it good reviews. On the other hand, academic Katharina Lindner also noticed the racial issue (via Wikipedia).
Pretend it is a Marvel film and stay for the credits.
Chapter 49: Queens & Cowboys: A Straight Year on the Gay Rodeo
This chapter reviews the documentary "Queens & Cowboys: A Straight Year on the Gay Rodeo".
Queens and Cowboys follows the gay rodeo circuit in the United States and Canada for a year. The documentary shows both the triumphs and the heartbreaks both during the rodeos and in organizing them. Along with cowboys the film features a female cowgirl Char.
Non-gay rodeos have a conservative homophobic culture. One of the challenges faced by the organizers is finding venues that are willing to host them. The documentary includes a brief section with sound clips of homophobes objecting to the idea of a gay cowboy. Despite this section the documentary is surprisingly hopeful.
The documentary does not hide from the physical danger of the sport. Char has broken numerous bones and the men talk about their injuries.
The section on the San Francisco chapter starts by noting that the chapter had $400US at the time they started trying to book a venue. The documentary notes that despite numerous fundraisers they were not able to raise enough money for their original choice of venue. San Francisco has a large LGBTQ community, but it is very possible that because rodeos are associated with conservatives it doesn’t get a lot of attention in San Francisco. It reminded me of in the based on a true story film “Pride” which I recently reviewed in which the LGBTQ community in London was initially hesitant to support the coal miners.
The production values were better than many of the LGBTQ documentaries I have reviewed. It does a good job of keeping the focus on the rodeo while still being personal enough for the audience to care about people.
My knowledge of rodeos is pretty limited. I would love to hear from people who are more familiar with them.
Chapter 50: I Do (2012)
This chapter reviews the 2012 film "I Do".
Reviewing LGBTQ films and posting the reviews has encouraged me to be more adventuresome and watch films that look potentially interesting based on their description rather than going largely by recommendations. “I Do” is a hidden gem.
At a time when US immigration policy is so horrible that thousands of children have been literally put in cages, I wondered if a film that addresses US immigration problems might be too close to life to be enjoyable. Fortunately, I was wrong.
Jack Edwards (David W. Ross) has been living in the United States, specifically New York, for 17 years when his visa renewal request is denied. The woman handling his case suggests closes the door and tells him if he has a girlfriend now would be a good time to marry her.
Jack is gay, but feeling that he has no other choice he asks his best friend Ali (Jamie-Lynn Sigler), a lesbian, to marry him so he can stay in the country. He is single and marrying a man would not be enough to keep him in the US. The film was released in 2012 when New York had marriage equality, but immigration falls under Federal (US) law and the United States government would not recognize his marriage.
Jack is also helping his friend Mya (Alicia Witt), a single mom, raise her daughter. He goes from being the “gay uncle” to being functionally her father. He is doing a better job as a father than many biological fathers. The scenes of him with his “daughter” are adorable.
Ali Edwards agrees to marry Jack, but says they should do so quickly before she changes her mind. Ali has just broken up with her girlfriend and been asked to move out. Marrying Jack and moving in with him not only keeps him in the US, but solves her “where to live and have her stuff” situation.
The marriage starts off well, but starts having problems especially after Jack starts falling in love with Mano (Maurice Compte) who is from Spain, but is an American citizen because his mother was an American citizen.
Another standout character is Sam, an older gay man who serves as a mentor and almost surrogate father to Jack. It is rare to find older LGBTQ characters treated so well.
The script only tells half the story. The rest is told by the acting, the cinematography, the sets, the costumes, and the soundtrack. We learn about the characters as much by their reactions as by their words. The actors have the appropriate chemistry and we can sympathize with them even when we wish they would make different choices.
The story has unexpected twists and turns, but it plays fair. The characters feel like real people.
I wish there were more LGBTQ films like “I Do”. It is a film that could only be about LGBTQ characters, but it has many of the appealing elements of heterosexual romance films. This is one I will end up rewatching.
Chapter 51: A Very English Scandal
This chapter reviews the 2018 miniseries "A Very English Scandal" based on the Jeremy Thorpe Scandal.
“A Very English Scandal” is aptly titled as elements of the scandal are incredibly English. The humour is also English and might not translate well if you are not familiar with it and the English ability to show humour in tragedy. The three part miniseries is based on the book of the same name by John Preston. The script was written by Russell T. Davies (Queer as Folk, Doctor Who, Torchwood).
The show opens with Jeremy Thorpe (Hugh Grant) having lunch with Peter Bessell (Alex Jennings) in the members dining room. The two men, somewhat surprisingly given the location, mutually confess to sometimes being “on the spear side” (aka having relations with men).
Thorpe is on holiday when he meets a young man who works at the stables, Norman Josiffe (later Norman Scott- the name I will use for the rest of the chapter- played by Ben Whishaw). Thorpe subtly flirts with him. Josiffe is clearly pleased, but also shy. Thorpe gives him his card.
A year later Scott visits Thorpe at work. He has in his possession some compromising postcards that Thorpe sent to the owner. He gives Thorpe the letters before crying because since he took them and left he does not have his National Insurance Card. Scott’s lack of a National Insurance Card will be a driving force in the miniseries.
Thorpe decides it would be fun to bring Scott to his mother’s house. During Scott’s visit, Thorpe propositions Scott. Scott starts crying so Thorpe slows down, but it is clear that he is the one initiating sex. The two continue their relationship with Thorpe providing rent money for Scott to have his own flat. The “happy times” in their relationship are only shown briefly although it is later commented on that the relationship continued for years. Thorpe’s ambition and Scott’s mental health and medication issues combined with him not enjoying being a “kept man” lead to them breaking up.
Neither man seems to be able to really move on leading to events that become increasingly over-the-top and bizarre including a horribly botched conspiracy against Scott led by Thorpe. The miniseries revels in the absurdity of many of the situations.
The miniseries does a good job of giving the viewer insight into why the characters (who are, as stated above, based on real people) did what they did. The miniseries does not shy away from the homophobia that influenced all of their actions. Nor does it shy from showing all the characters’ flaws.
Thorpe was apologetically pro-immigration and in favour of the European Economic Community. Both the script and Grant revel in it relishing the chance to strike back against Brexit.
The acting is excellent. Hugh Grant’s Thorpe is far from likable, but at the same time painfully human. His weakness is his ambition. Grant absolutely nailed a wonderful scene near the end of the movie in which Thorpe hesitantly tries to explain himself. Ben Whishaw is his usual excellent self. He juggles insecurity, naïveté, confidence, anger, fear, and resilience. His Norman Scott grows into an unapologetic strong man who is comfortable with his sexuality. He also gets a disproportionate number of the best lines. Alex Jennings does an excellent job of portraying Thorpe's best friend who is ambivalent about some of Thorpe's actions. Adrian Scarborough gives humanity to the unlikable George Carman, Q.C.
The miniseries covers decades. The costumes and sets show the passage of time although the make-up changes were less than I expected. I might not have noticed the later if I hadn’t watched “Patrick Melrose” recently.
Russell T. Davis’ script has a familiar flare, but a maturity that was not always seen his earlier works.
1. For those who are not familiar with the Liberal Party at the time it attempted to be a radial centrist non-socialist alternative to the Conservative government. During Thorpe’s time it appealed to some of the middle-class suburban generation and polled at up to 20%. The main left-wing party in the UK is the Labour Party.
2. One of the characters John Le Mesurier has the same name as an actor on a television show that was popular at the time "Dad's Army".
Chapter 52: Women He's Undressed
Despite the suggestive sounding title the documentary is about Orry George Kelly (credited as Orry-Kelly) one of most accomplished costumes designers during the classic days of Hollywood. The documentary covers not only his work, but his life as a gay man at a time when, as one of the interviewees, described it, Hollywood was not only the most homophobic city in the United States.
“Women He’s Undressed” is a documentary about costume designer Orry Kelly who worked on over 280 films. Despite the suggestive sounding title the documentary would probably be rated PG to PG-13 and as he was gay he was dressing them for work.
Even though the Oscar for Costume Design did not exist until 1948, long after Kelly had established himself as a top designer, he won three Oscars. His films include The House of 56th Street, Baby Face, 42 Street, Stars Over Broadway, the Woman in Red, The Widow from Monte Carlo, The Walking Dead, Jezebel, Casablanca, Now Voyager, This is the Army, Arsenic and Old Lace, The Maltese Falcon, An American in Paris, Oklahoma!, Some Like It Hot, and Irma la Douce. His career spanned both the black and white film era and the earlier days of color films. He worked with Hollywood’s biggest stars including Bette Davis, Katharine Hepurn, Ingrid Bergman, Olivia de Havilland, Ava Gardner, Natalie Wood, and Ann Sheridan.
One of his greatest achievements was creating the cross-dressing costumes for Joe (Tony Curtis) and Jerry (Jack Lemmon) in “Some Like It Hot”. The characters were meant to look like realistic women who could fool people into thinking they were women rather than drag queens.
He grew up in Australia, but moved to New York and started designing costumes for theatre before the stock market crash and the Great Depression started at which time he moved to Hollywood. He began his film career at Warner Brothers in 1932 as their chief costume designer. This was the era of the studio system when studios held all (and I do mean ALL) the power over talent including actors, writers, directors, and crew members. The Hays Code which set Hollywood “decency standards” was in affect for much of his career, but he tended to push the envelope.
The documentary is a combination of old pictures and footage, dramatized (ie played by actors) monologues, interviewers including costume designers, people he worked with and in some cases relatives, and film experts. The dramatizations were subpar, but the rest was excellent.
The film not only covers his career, but also Hollywood culture during his career. One of the interviewers refers to it as not only being the most homophobic city in the United States, but in the world. (I disagree with the "in a world" part, but I am guessing he meant the "western world".) Being gay (or even bisexual) was not acceptable unless you kept it secret. Nevertheless, he lived relatively openly as a gay man. The personal elements of the documentary largely focus on his life and relationships as a gay man.
There is an extensive discussion of Cary Grant, which the documentary argues largely lived an openly gay life in his earlier years before giving into the studio system requirements and marrying women. One of the interviewers argues that his attempted suicide after his first marriage was the result, or at least partly the result of this closeting. This is hardly the only source to argue that Cary Grant had relationship(s) with men most notably Randophl Scott, but other sources contest that they were simply ‘just friends’. Orry-Kelly and Grant had an on-and-off friendship.
He died of cancer in 1964. His pallbearers were Cary Grant, Billy Wilder, Tony Curtis, and George Cuker. His eulogy was by Jack L. Warner, the man who created Warner Brother Studios.
Chapter 53: The Feels
This chapter reviews the 2017 film "The Feels" about the dramas that ensue during bachelorette weekend get-away between a lesbian couple, Andi and Lu.
Andi’s and Lu’s, a lesbian couple, bachelorette weekend get-away quickly starts unraveling as drama involving both them and their their friends. At first it seems like a trailer for standard rom-com wedding films with the only difference being it is a lesbian couple rather than a heterosexual couple. However, that difference along with the film being written and directed by women and the cast being predominantly women gives it a freshness.
The problems start when Lu admits to never having experienced an orgasm causing Andi to feel insecure about her abilities as a lover. Then two of the wedding party (not either of the brides) hook up. Someone hides the fact they have broken up with their partner. The lone man in the group Josh sometimes seems to feel he is out of his depth.
The film is largely composed of small groups of people talking and occasionally yelling. This is a group that is very comfortable going into what some people would consider TMI (too much information) even among friends. Interspersed are video excerpts in “wedding video style” of the brides and guests talking about their first orgasm. I found the film watchable, but suspect it will appeal more to women who have mostly women friends and are used to spending a lot or all of their socializing time in women only groups. As someone who even as an adult tends to be “one of the guys” I couldn’t relate to parts of the film.
The film is low-budget which adds to the realism. It definitely has a “female gaze” both during the conversations and sex scenes. The sex scenes are ones a woman would actually enjoy rather than ones that are designed to turn on a male audience.
It is hard to find good wlw films and particularly ones with an interracial couple. The acting is good particularly from Constance Wu (Andi), Angela Trimbur (Lu), Ever Mainard (Regular Helen), and Josh Fadem (Josh).
Chapter 54: Jewel's Catch One
This chapter reviews the documentary on Jewel Thais- Williams and the club she owned for over 40 years Catch One.
Jewel’s Catch One is a documentary about about a nightclub in Los Angeles run by Jewel Thais- Williams. She opened it in 1973 and left it in 2015. It was open to everyone, but especially aimed at queer POCs.
The documentary is a compilation of clips, photographs, interviews with Jewel and people who knew her, and discussions about LGBTQ history. The film quality of some of the older clips is poor due to their age, but the voiceovers make it understandable.
When it opened in the 70’s it was often targeted by police who frequently harassed the customers. Although the harassment was a legal in California it was common. Jewel saved up enough money to buy the entire building. The building not only housed the nightclub but a health clinic. Jewel did not have any children of her own, but became the surrogate mother to many of her customers.
The section on the 80s covers the AIDS crisis. It is a hard section to watch as many of her customers were HIV-positive. She organized a number of fundraisers for various AIDS organizations. During the 1980s there was also a fire that caused Chatch One to shut down for two years. On a more positive note this section also covers a lot of the celebrities who visited Chatch One Nightclub. The celebrities including Madonna, Harrison Ford, Sharon Stone, Whitney Houston, Janet Jackson, and Whoopi Goldberg.
Catch One was so popular that some celebrities held the opening party for their new albums at the club. It is clear from the documentary that she was well-liked both as the owner of the club and as a friend. Interviews include frequent visitors at the club and those who were involved in the financial running of Catch One.
The documentary is not only about the Chatch One nightclub but about Jewel Thais-Williams. Jewel is an incredibly hard-working person, an excellent business woman, and also a kind heart. Many of the people interviewed commented they were surprised she kept the Chatch One open despite numerous challenges.
Despite some upsetting topics this is a very uplifting documentary. The interviews are insightful and it also gives an overview LGBTQ history during the period the club was open. Not surprisingly the soundtrack is also excellent.
I highly recommend this documentary. Depending on where you live might be available on Netflix.
Chapter 55: Todrick Hall: Behind the Curtain
This chapter covers the documentary "Todrick Hall: Behind the Curtain" set during the tour of his autobiographical show "Straight Out of Oz".
Todrick Hall: Behind the Curtain is a documentary about Todrick Hall during his tour of his autobiographical show “Straight Out of Oz”.
The documentary follows the practicalities of putting together a large musical with a large cast, numerous costumes and costume changes, choreographed dance numbers, and a lot of technical components. If you are already familiar with low-budget theatre some of it may feel familiar, but if you are not it is a good general overview.
The documentary also includes interviews with his friends, his family and members of the cast, and fans. It also includes extensive interview clips with Todrick Hall. Hall is honest about the challenges of putting on the show. The documentary not only covers the show but also talks about his early life.
The Pulse nightclub shooting occurred during the tour. Hall is a gay man and YouTuber so he and his casts were particularly affected by the shooting.
The documentary briefly covers his time on American Idol. This will already be known to his fans but will be helpful for those who have not heard of him.
The documentary covers the intersection between race/ethnicity and being LGBTQ. This is something that is often covered in transgender documentaries, but not in LGBQ focused documentaries. As a YouTuber he is familiar with that abuse directed at people who post their creative works online.
This documentary is polished and professional. Depending on where you live it may be available on Netflix.
Chapter 56: Straight Outta Oz
This chapter analyzes Todrick Hall's semi-autobiographical musical "Straight Outta Oz".
"Straight Outta Oz" is a 71 minute semi-autographical musical by Todrick Hall. The musical is professional quality. The acting, costumes, and production values are excellent. It can be viewed for free on YouTube. It can also be bought on iTunes.
The musical starts with the stories from his childhood. The early numbers mainly focus on his family and the importance of church and how much he enjoyed singing at church. The musical moves on to his first real real relationship. The actors have good chemistry and this number is quite emotional. The bulk of the musical is about his time in Los Angeles.
The musical is a biting inditement of the entertainment industry. One of the numbers is about the things people will do for attention. Another one focuses on how contracts screw over artists. One of the hardest number to watch is about “casting couch” or having to choose whether to perform sexual favours in exchange for help with his career. The musical briefly covers by the Pulse Nightclub shooting and other acts of violence against and people who are POC and/or LGBTQ. As an gay black man he has experiences with both racism and homophobia.
The musical features a number of short appearances by celebrities. The celebrities were a mixed bag. Costumes and make-up for huge component of the production. Drag is heavily featured. Not surprisingly “The Wizard of Oz” is a huge inspiration and the title obviously takes inspiration from “Straight Out of Compton”.
The music is catchy and despite some upsetting topics it is overall an uplifting production. It is nice to be able to recommend something that can be viewed by anyone across the world.
Chapter 57: The Iron Ladies
This chapter reviews the Taiwanese film "The Iron Ladies".
The Iron Ladies is a comedy about Taiwanese volleyball team largely composed of players who are gay or transgendered. I had to rely on the subtitles and, unfortunately, even when subtitles are technically accurate they do not always convey the connotations of words. This is particularly a problem with this film as the subtitles include a lot of slang (including the f slur) and I don’t know whether the Thai word was really the equivalent. I am assuming that the stilted sounding dialogue is largely a translation problem. For this reason I considered not reviewing the film.
The film is classified as a comedy and comedy can be subjective. Anyone who is familiar with sports inspirational films will recognize some of the clichés. I found some scenes laugh out loud funny, but others were more cringe inducing. Comedy is also partly culturally based. If you're used to British and US television and film you might find some of the humour off-putting or even offensive.
The characters can be very stereotypical, but there are also some sweet moments. The film definitely has its heart in the right place. It is also a lot more optimistic than a lot of LGBTQ films.
Even the scenes showing prejudice treated as comedy which is something that was not always handled well in the film. This will rub some people the wrong way and I cringed at times. I suspect that people who are less used to Asian cinema will cringe even more.
The production values are low, but were sufficient for the film.
If anyone understands Thai and has insight on the accuracy of the subtitles I would love to hear your thoughts on the film.
Depending on where you live the film might be available on Netflix.
Chapter 58: How to Win at Checkers (Every Time)
This chapter reviews the Taiwanese film "How to Win at Checkers (Every Time). According to Wikipedia the Thai title is "My Hero".
I watched this film several months ago. I considered whether I wanted to recommend it as it includes a couple of really disturbing scenes, but it is rare to find an LGBTQ film with Asian characters and it is a good film.
The film is told in flashback by the Adult Oat who is remembering how he learned to win and lost his innocence. His older brother Elk has a boyfriend Jai who comes from a higher social class. Elk and Jai are about to be entered into the draft lottery. Oat sees Jai’s parents using a bribe to prevent Jai from being drafted. Oat decides to try to earn enough money so that it can be used as a bribe to keep Elk out of the military.
The film is well-acted, the actors have the right chemistry, and the production values are sufficient and serve the story well. A super-polished production would have detracted from the story. The support the two brothers show towards each other is heartwarming. It is a film in which two of the main characters happen to be gay, but are not solely defined by being gay. It captures the loss of innocence when the reality of the world interferes with good intentions.
There is a dark and disturbing subplot about Oat finding out that Elk earning money as a sex-worker. A couple of these scenes are why I considered not reviewing the film and can’t wholeheartedly recommend it. I decided to review it in part because when I researched the film I did not see any warnings of the material and I wanted to give people a heads-up about the scene.
Depending on where you live the film might be available on Netflix.
Chapter 59: The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson
This chapter reviews the documentary "The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson" about black transgender activist Marsha P. Johnson.
"The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson" is an excellent documentary that celebrates the life of black LGBTQ and specifically transgender activist Marsha P. Johnson without flinching from the difficulties during her life nor the violence of her death.
The documentary begins with her death. The search for the real cause of her death which was initially ruled as a suicide serves as a framing device for the documentary. Trans activist Victoria Cruz from the Anti-Violence Project leads the investigation. Thus, there are frequent time jumps, but most of the jumps are seamless so you can follow the story even if this is the first time you have heard of her.
Although it is clear that most of the people believed she was murdered all possibilities are explored including that it was a suicide or an accident. A significant portion of the documentary is interviews during the investigation with people who knew her. There are also clips of her that bring her strength and personality to life in a way that a short summary or a few pictures cannot adequately show.
The documentary deals bluntly with the prejudices against people who are transgendered within the LGBTQ community. There is a wonderful forceful clip of Johnson on-stage describing how hard she had to fight to get on-stage and how wrong it is to be sidelining people who are transgendered. Several of the documentary participants argue that once marriage equality was achieved some of the LGBQ parts of the community considered the fight for equality largely over.
Silvia Rivera, an activist who fought for the rights of those who were left behind when the LGBTQ rights movement moved into the mainstream, is also featured.
Marsha P. Johnson is one of the most commonly discussed LGBTQ activists on Tumblr so some of you are probably already familiar with her, but I still highly recommend that anyone who is LGBTQ or interested in LGBTQ equality and respect watch the documentary. Much of the early fighting for LGBTQ equality was done by drag queens and people who are transgendered particularly those who are POC and transgendered. The LGBTQ community can be both overtly and subtly racist making it that much more important to watch, read, and listen to the stories of members of the community who are POC.
Chapter 60: Front Cover
This chapter reviews the film "Front Cover" about a complicated relationship between a gay Chinese-American stylist Ryan and a Chinese actor Ning.
“Front Cover” is passion project that remains firmly grounded in reality. The film opens with the main character Ryan, being frazzled as he tries to get his models ready for a photo shoot. It is clear that he is loves his job and it is good at it.
Ryan (Jake Choi) is comfortable with his sexuality as a gay man. He is not comfortable being ethnically Chinese. It is clear that if he could wish himself white he would do so in a second. He is not happy to be assigned a Chinese actor Ning (James Chen) who requested an ethnically Chinese stylist after being disappointed with a white stylist who did not understand Chinese fashion and culture.
Ning is horrified to discover that Ryan hates his Chinese heritage. He is also an aggressive womanizer. Ryan does not want to design for him believing that Ning hates him for being gay, but he is told if he wants to keep his job he will work with Ning.
Ryan tries to reach out to Ning which seems to be an utter failure, but when they are alone Ning makes a move on him. The two grow closer and Ryan his hatred of his heritage lessens. Ning is comfortable in his closet causing additional stress on their relationship. The issue of a closeted celebrity is one that is frequently discussed in many fandom circles, but the film has a gritty realness to it. A person’s closet also depends on their culture. An exploration of a Chinese actor being closeted is different in some ways than an exploration of a British, American, Canadian, or Australian actor being closeted due differences in both the larger culture and entertainment industries.
The film is as much about ethnicity as it is about being LGBTQ. The film was censored in many parts of Asia including Singapore. The film assumes a certain knowledge of Chinese culture and the experience of people who are ethnically Chinese, but live in so-called Western countries. I suspect parts of the film plays very differently for viewers who are less familiar with the cultures.
The writer and director Ray Yeung has ran the Hong Kong Lesbian and Gay Film Festival.
Chapter 61: Angry Indian Goddess
This chapter reviews the film "Angry Indian Goddess".
“Angry Indian Goddess” is an excellent film, but that includes violence and upsetting material. The film is more about being a woman in a sexist society than it is about being LGBTQ. The film is in English and Hindi (with subtitles).
The film opens with a montage of women getting angry at the men who are treating them badly. I suspect that the majority of female viewers have found themselves in similar situations.
The plot is familiar one. A woman who is getting married invites some friends to celebrate with him in preparation for her wedding. The first difference is that the bride refuses to tell them the groom’s identity. The film’s greatest strength is the realistic friendships and tensions between the women. Many of the women are hiding secrets about their lives are not as easy and happy as they pretend. One has a you daughter. Another is having trouble getting pregnant and the family blames her rather than her considering the possibility that her husband might be the reason they are having trouble having a child. One is a struggling actress. One is getting stonewalled by the courts in seeking justice.
There is laughter, music, celebrating, and bonding. There is frustration with the way they are treated by men. During one pivotal scene they are harassed. There are conversations about whether to fight against the sexism and how to do it.
Of course, no film can exist without conflict. To discuss it would be to spoil the film, but it is not what much of the audience will probably expect.
I thought that watching the film after Section 377 (a law criminalizing homosexuality) was no longer an issue, but the film is about the reality of life even more than it is about the letter of the law. Sadly, that times a lot more time to change. Even in countries where homosexuality is not only legal, but so is marriage equality there is a still a long way to go both for women’s equality and LGBTQ equality. The film also addresses the valuing of Indian women with lighter skin over those with darker skin.
Depending on where you live the film might be available on Netflix.
I should note that I am not ethnically Indian nor have I been to India. I have friends who are Indian and have a some knowledge of Indian culture and entertainment, but I would love to hear how accurately people who are ethnically Indian and/or live in India think the film represented reality. I know there are numerous subcultures within India.
Chapter 62: Breakfast on Pluto
This chapter reviews the film "Breakfast on Pluto".
I was surprised at how well “Breakfast on Pluto” has held up over the years. The Neil Jordan film based on the novel by Patrick McCabe takes place in a fictional Irish town near the Northern Ireland border. The film is composed of 36 chapters and the early transitions can be jarring.
A baby given the name Patrick Braden is left on his father’s doorstep, a priest named Father Liam (Liam Neeson), by Patrick’s birth mother Eily Bergin. Father Liam sends him to an unloving foster home. The first chapter is narrated by birds giving the audience a heads up that there will be some fantasy elements in the film.
The film catches up with “Patrick” (Cillian Murphy) who has come out as transgender and now goes by Kitten or occasionally Patricia. Kitten is obsessed with wanting to learn about her birth mother. She tries to ask Father Liam during confession, but Father Liam refuses to answer her questions. Being rejected at school he leaves both home and school to travel with a glam rock band after starting a flirtatious relationship with the band leader Billy Hatchett (Gavin Friday).
As with many of Neil Jordan’s films “The Troubles” in Ireland serve as a forbidding backdrop and a stark contrast to Kitten’s innocence, optimism, and dislike for violence. There are some upsetting scenes, but not as many as I expected considering Neil Jordan’s other films and the state of LGBTQ cinema when I first saw the film.
One of the most beautiful relationships in the film is the friendship that grows closer between Kitten and Charlie (a biological woman rather than a name as some would assume from the name played by Ruth Negga). It was surprising and unexpected that she had friends who supported her and genuinely cared about her.
Chapter 63: Arisan! 2
This chapter reviews the film "Arisan! 2" which is available on Netflix.
Anisan 2 is an Indonesian film available with subtitles. The film involves a group a group of friends- all of whom have their own personal problems- getting together for a film festival. The group includes a woman, Meimei, whose cancer is resisting the chemo she is undergoing whose story provides much of the heart of the film along with a gay couple- Nino and Sakti- who have broken up and are now in relationships with other men. Some of the characters are neither 100% gay nor 100% and it features threesomes.
The stilted dialogue may be due to the subtitles and translation issues. Unfortunately, the over-the-top focus on plastic surgery, make-up, hair, and physical appearance is clearly a major part of the film. Luckily, it lessens and starts to have plot significance as the film goes on. It is one of the rare films that features a character's partner being fine with them having a sexual relationship with someone else.
The silly superficiality of the film gives way to some emotional and touching scenes.
Surprisingly, Arisan! does not appear to be on Netflix at least in some places and only the sequel is available.
Chapter 64: The Feminists: What Were They Thinking
This chapter reviews the documentary "The Feminists: What Were They Thinking".
The Feminists: What they think is a Netflix original documentary focusing on feminists from the 1970’s looking back on their experiences at the time and the situation in the United States under President Trump. I am recommending the film because it is important to know both the history of women’s rights and of wlw rights and experiences. The film features interviews and both non-fiction interview clips and film clips from both past decades the past couple of years.
The majority of the film is focused on white, middle-class, university educated baby boomer generation American women. This limitation does an injustice to the scope of feminism, but there are segments that try to offset this narrow view. I appreciated the fact that it addressed intersection and the fact that in womencentric circles black women are expected not to discuss race, culture, and racism and in circles focused on racial equalty they are often expected not to discuss sexism and issues impacting women. This is true for all WOC, but the documentary focuses on black women specifically.
The film features celebrities, activists, artists, writers, and other people involved in the fight for women’s rights.
Although Netflix classifies it under LGBTQ films many of the women featured are straight cis women. The discussion topics include education and educational opportunities, birth control and abortion, sexism at work, society’s views on “proper” women, and how women are portrayed in the media.
This is a Netflix original documentary. It is new and I am not sure if it is available everywhere yet.
Chapter 65: The Gender Revolution: A Journey with Katie Couric
"The Gender Revolution: A Journey with Katie Couric" is an introduction level documentary focused on western particularly American changing views on gender.
The Gender Revolution: A Journey with Katie Couric is an introductory level examination of changing western and specifically American views on gender. The target audience is older cis people who are confused and/or fear people whose gender identity does not correspond to the gender listed on their birth certificate. I am guessing that many people reading this post do not fit this demographic, but I am conditionally recommending it because it has a heavy focus on scientific facts, an informative section on people who are intersex, and is a documentary readers may wish to recommend to those who need basic information.
The intersex section is the most in-depth and the most well-done. It covers not only information about being intersex, but the fact that most of these people who surgically assigned a gender by doctors shortly after their birth. In some cases this probably fit their actual gender identity, but in many others it made them “the wrong gender”. The sick irony is that in trying to fit everyone into a strict gender roles and identity the doctors in practicality created people who are transgender.
In terms of the nature versus nurture argument on gender the documentary provides some noteworthy facts. Brain scans of people who are transgendered are different than brain scans of people who are cis gendered with the brain scan correlating to their gender identity. Also if one identical twin is transgendered the other one has a 40% chance of being transgender compared to fraternal (non-identical) twins where the chance is small. This strongly suggests there is a genetic component.
There is a brief section on gender views across cultures. This section deserved more time and leaves out several cultures with a third (or six) genders, but it does show that a binary view of gender is not universal among cultures. Cultures featured include Samoan, a subculture in Mexico, and ancient Jewish culture which includes citations from the Talmud. (I have some familiarity with gender views in the first two cultures and those parts seemed to be accurate if brief, but not with the Talmud and gender in historic Jewish culture so I can’t judge its accuracy.)
Couric seemed really clueless at times, but she seemed to be trying to be a stand-in for the assumed audience and I wondered at a couple points if she was playing it up a bit.
This documentary features children, teenagers, and adults. Despite its weaknesses it is a good introductory documentary. It covers a small amount of upsetting material- mainly the suicide rate-, but is less depressing than most documentaries on gender.
Depending on where you live it might be available on Netflix.
Chapter 66: Love, Simon
This chapter reviews the film "Love, Simon".
One of the most impressive things about “Love, Simon” is well the film fits comfortably in the standard teenage romcom genre. A story in which the main character is gay is always going to play differently than one in which the main character is straight- at least until societies become more open-minded-, but the differences flows naturally from the characters rather than feeling as if the film is drawing attention to it.
Romcoms are not my usual preferred genre and even as a teenager I was not a fan of teenage romcoms. I also had heard mixed things about “Love, Simon” so I initially saw it as an obligation to support a major studio releasing an LGBTQ film that could have a real life impact. The film was better than I expected and generally hit the right notes. Representation is important, but so is good filmmaking and this was a well-made film.
The story follows the basic structure of a romcom. The film avoids the temptation that weakens some films that have a representational message to make the main character perfect. Simon Spier (Nick Robinson) has flaws and those flaws are more than standard awkwardness. He makes mistakes. He is scared and ends up hurting people.
I really appreciated how much the film focused on Simon’s friendships. In many ways his friends and his concerns about whether they will still see him the same way if they learn he is gay provides a lot of the heart of the film. Like many teenagers he falls for someone, but falling for someone does not mean he loses interest in spending time with his friends. Two of is friends- Leah Burke (Katherine Langford) and Nick Eisner (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.) have been his friends for 13 years. Abby Suso (Alexandra Shipp) has only been his friend for 6 months, but it is clear that he already values her friendship.
The love story is sweet although I figured out who “Blue” was very quickly. There was a line relatively early on that I felt completely gave it away. I had guessed it was probably him even before, but that clinched it. I wish a little more effort had gone into making it harder to guess Blue’s identity.
Simon knows he is not the only person who is gay at his school. Ethan (Clark Moore) has been out since he was sixteen.
Keiynan Lonsdale had a smaller part than I expected, but he did an excellent job of making sure that his character, Abraham “Bram” Greenfeld, felt well-developed. I loved Lonsdale as Wally West, but in contrast to Wally, Bram required subtle acting as he does not have a lot of dialogue and Lonsdale delivered.
The marketing was focused on it being an LGBTQ film and that is the focus, but it also features interracial couples and potential couples. Interracial couples still face prejudices and it was really nice to see them also get some representation. Traditionally LGBTQ films have been “very white”.
The family elements did not work as well as the friendship elements. It was obvious what I was supported to be seeing from the family, but I did not really feel it in most of their scenes. Probably the best family chemistry was between Simon and his sister Nora Spier (Talitha Bateman).
The principal and his comments were inappropriate to the extreme and creepy. I haven’t read the book so I don’t know who is responsible, but it was unnecessary and gross. Luckily, this only ruins a few minutes of the film. Some of his father’s comments were inappropriate, but sadly are similar to real life stories.
The film does a good job of balancing romance, friendship, acceptance, and comedy. The scene of him imagining people having to come out as straight- which was featured in the trailer- was particularly funny and a great way of making a point.
The film could best be described as comfortable. It isn’t a “best film of the year”, but it is an enjoyable and generally relaxing one. The LGBTQ community could use some romcoms and this is a film that made a difference out in the real world.
Chapter 67: The Untold Tales of Amistead Maupin
This chapter reviews the excellent documentary "The Untold Tales of Amistead Maupin" about writer and activist Amistead Maupin.
“The Untold Tales of Amistead Maupin” is a documentary that celebrates both the main Amistead Maupin and his stories. He is best known for “Tales of the City”. The city in question is San Francisco during the 1970’s. The stories include LGBTQ characters that were often introduced to the reader before it was revealed that they were LGBTQ. Thus, people who would not have normally read stories with LGBTQ characters grew to love the characters before learning about their orientation and gender identity.
The documentary includes clips from the televised production of “Tales of the City” along with extensive interview clips by those involved including Laura Linney. Other well-known interviewees include Sir Ian McKellen, Margaret Cho, Neil Gaiman, Jonathan Groff, Amy Tan, and Almanda Palmer. There is also archival footage of John Kerry (US politician), Rock Hudson, andHarvey Milk (an openly gay mayor of San Francisco who was assassinated).
Maupin’s interactions with fans is also featured and reminded me a lot of Neil Gaiman’s relationship with his fans. The documentary does not hide from the horror of AIDS nor the discrimination faced by the LGBTQ community, but it is an uplifting documentary.
The documentary does not hide from the parts of his life that will offend and/or annoy some members of the LGBTQ community. He enjoyed and was proud of his military service. As a young man he worked for former Senator Jesse Helms, a man known primarily for his extreme racism and anti-LGBTQ attitudes. Nor does the documentary gloss over the fact that he supported outing people in some circumstances.
His personal relationships and views on sex are included, but not in a way that appears tabloidish.
I recommend this documentary to anyone who is interested in LGBTQ history, literature, or media who is old enough to handle some frank sexual discussion. As someone who was born after the events of much of the documentary I appreciated the history. For those who remember it and especially for those who loved his work it is a great opportunity to celebrate a life of a man who made many people feel less alone.
Depending on where you live it might be available on Netflix.
Chapter 68: Bohemian Rhapsody
This chapter examines the 2018 film "Bohemian Rhapsody" about Queen and Freddy Mercury. If you know nothing about him and Queen it has spoilers. If you know the basics I tried to make it is spoiler free as I could while still reviewing it. As stated in the review I completely understand those who prefer to boycott the film due to the accusations against director Bryan Singer.
Bohemian Rhapsody’s greatest strength is the acting particularly the Rami Malek’s performance as Freddy Mercury. Its biggest weakness is the inaccuracies about the people and situations shown in the film. Most of these inaccuracies are cannot be justified as necessary for translating real life into a film including troubling elements in regards to Freddy Mercury’s sexuality and relationships.
Credible sounding accusations that Bryan Singer has a history of assaulting minors are obviously also troubling and I completely understand those who choose not to see the film for this reason. I was able to see it legally for free and I chose to do so due to the glowing reviews of Malek’s performance and because although I found its attitude towards Mercury’s sexuality problematic it was at least acknowledged that he wasn’t straight.
I should also note that Queen rose to fame before I was born and I am too young to have seen the Live Aid performance at the time. I would be interested to hear from people who remember their reaction and other people’s reactions at the time it aired.
The film opens with the lead-up to Queen’s Live Aid performance, a performance that is a highlight of the film.
Looking at Rami Malek as himself I had doubts about him as Mercury, but hair, makeup, and costuming did an excellent job of making him look the part and his performance was a reminder of his immense talent.
The strongest parts of the film are the ones involving queen and Mercury’s relationships with his bandmates. The scenes of them sticking to their guns against a music industry that wants to erase their uniqueness in order to market them are satisfying. (If you want a documentary on how EMI later collapsed I recommend “Artifact”.) It shouldn’t surprise anyone that the soundtrack is great. The production values in general were excellent.
Although Mercury and Mary Austin did have a relationship in real life I took issue with the way it was shown in the film particularly in contrast to his hook-ups and relationships with men. His relationship with Mary is shown as wholesome and supporting and shown in direct contrast to Mercury’s hook-ups, relationship with Paul Prenter, and sidelined later relationship with Jim Hutton. There is disagreement about whether Mercury was gay or bi and either way it is clear that he did care deeply about Mary and considered her a close friend as well as partner then ex-partner.
The problem wasn’t in her character and his relationship with her so much as with his attraction to be men being contrasted negatively against it with it causing him to break up the band (which never happened in real life) and with the mlm = death attitude in regards to him becoming HIV positive. The biggest problem I had in terms of her character is a spoiler for near the end of the film that was simply petty. Sidelining Jim Hutton was inexcusable and unnecessary. It would not have cheapened Mary and would have been more accurate to really show him with his supportive boyfriend.
I have no idea why they decided to have Mercury break up the band and tying it to his sexuality made it even more inexcusable. There was enough real life drama in his life. There is also no justifiable reason for the weird timeline for his AIDS diagnosis. The later was presumably done for dramatic reasons, but the changes it makes in his story are large enough that the drama excuse is insufficient justification.
Chapter 69: Colette (2018)
This chapter reviews the 2018 film "Colette" starring Keira Knightly.
Colette is a brilliantly acted engaging film about the French novelist, actress, and journalist Colette (Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette) who was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1984.
As with most biographical films about interesting people large amounts of their lives had to be left out due to time constraints. The years are shown on-screen to show how much time has passed between events, but the film’s biggest weakness is in a few cases the viewer has to fill in what must of happened between the gaps in order for the characters and story to make sense.
The acting and chemistry between the actors is excellent and the backbone of the story. The film is largely about Colette’s relationships and how they impacted her writing. This isn’t necessarily a bad choice, but some viewers may have wished to see more of the Colette beyond her relationships. Luckily we see more of Colette as an individual as the film progresses.
The fiery personal and professional relationship between Colette and her husband Henry Gauthier-Villars is heavily featured. Her first four novels appeared under his name, a marketing decision that can still influence contemporary publishing as see by examples such of Joanne Rowling being asked to use the pen name “J.K. Rowling” to obscure the fact she is a woman. Despite Henry’s treatment of Colette including blatant unfaithfulness she continues to stay with him for years. Although it is important to view her decision in light of the time period, sadly, the tendency of people to stay in unhealthy relationships after a less than convincing apology or an “I love you” is something that also continues in contemporary times.
Colette’s other major relationship shown and one much healthier than her relationship with her husband is with Missy, a talented dancer and lesbian, who prefers clothes that were considered “men’s clothes”. Their chemistry is excellent and you really see Colette blossom as a person as their relationship develops.
The film used much of the same producing team as another people wlw film, Carol. As with Carol, this is particularly noticeable in the more intimate and emotional wlw scenes. There is far less “male gaze” than in most films (wlw or otherwise).
The film received good reviews with a 87% rating on Rotton Tomatoes. The film received several award nominations including a British Independent Film Awards Best Supporting Actor nomination for Dominic West, Independent Spirit Awards Best Screenplay, and several nominations for best costume design.
In real life Colette said that she never would have become a writer without without Henry Gauthier-Villiars.
My knowledge of the real life Colette is limited. If anyone with greater knowledge of the real life Colette would like to comment about how well they feel the film portrayed the real woman I would love to hear your comments.
Chapter 70: Evening Shadows
This chapter reviews the recommended Indian film "Evening Shadows".
Evening Shadows is in most ways a beautiful film. Kartik visits his parents for the first time in four years to photograph what subtitles called “a religious service”. He had always been close to his mother, but has avoided visiting his family because he does not know how they will react to him being gay and being in a loving relationship with his partner (who he passes off as simply a “roommate”) Aman.
An LGBTQ character fearing his/her/their/other pronoun’s reaction to their sexuality and/or gender identity is a common theme in so-called western LGBTQ films and after watching it I realized it was more “western accessible” than a lot of Indian films due to a combination of the theme being one that transcends cultures (although the details are cultural) and because in a sick twist of irony, the extent of homophobia and transphobia in India is heavily influenced by British imperialism. Sadly, the attitudes have remained even after the official imperialism ended. I should note that since this film was made homosexual acts are no longer illegal in India.
Although the film does not shy away from Kartik being gay or the fact he and his partner are in love (although little actual physical affection is shown), ultimately the heart of the film is about a mother and son who love each other and can be each other’s strongest protector and advocate. Unfortunately, that connection is seriously damaged when Kartik tells her he is gay and in a loving relationship with Aman.
Aman is a wonderfully supportive partner who encourages and supports Kartik’s visiting his family and caring for his mother even though it is clear that Aman misses Kartik greatly and it pains him to be apart from Kartik.
Although Kartik has some stereotypical qualities, the film largely avoids stereotypes except for one brief scene.
The oppression and poor treatment of both women and mlm in Indian society are shown in clear parallel. The film is almost as much a condemnation of sexism as it is about homophobia. One of the most heartbreaking moments is when Kartik’s father says that he and Kartik’s mother are happily married as the audience can see how deeply unhappy (but in denial about her unhappiness) Vasu is in her marriage. Kartik’s seemingly silly and shallow aunt is shown to be a far more complex woman that she initially appears and Kartik’s love and support for both of them is touching.
Kartik’s father is shown in a generally negative light from the moment when he tries to pressure Kartik into an arranged marriage. However, we do see occasional moments of him showing true affection for Vasu.
One beautiful thing about the film is although it in many ways about societal and religious attitudes virtually all the characters shown are part of Kartik’s family… including his partner.
I don’t understand Hindi (although I can occasionally subconsciously understand the occasional phrase) so I had to rely on subtitles. The subtitles appeared to be better than average as it sounded like actual human beings talking to each other. However, the dialogue is often subordinate to the silent acting- the tears in people’s eyes, their smile, their hunched back.
The film had a couple scenes that felt way too coincidental to be believable.
I have seen studies from western countries that over 80% of sexual abuse occurs in families. I don’t know what the percentage is in India and getting accurate stats in any country is hard considering it is one of the least like to be disclosed forms of abuse, but I know it exists. There are several scenes where Kartik has to fend off his gay, but in denial uncle. Sadly the scenes all within in the realm of realistic, but people who have been victims of abuse may find these scenes triggering. There was one particular one that bothered me and I found unnecessary, but even it can fit reality. The intent is clearly to show a gay man (his uncle) married a woman and is still gay, but I think it could have been handled better. (Auntie and Uncle sometimes refer to not-technically family members, but it is his actual uncle.)
The music was particularly good with the lyrics fitting the scenes exceptionally well.
At the end of the film there is a screen credit thanking people around the world for helping to finance the film through crowdfunding. Ten percent of the money raised was used to form a support group for parents of LGBTQ children in India. The film has won 16 festival awards around the world. It screened as the closing film at the KASHISH Mumbai International Queer Film Festival. (via Wikipedia)
Chapter 71: The Third Party
This chapter reviews the 2016 Filipino film "The Third Party".
The film opens with the main character, Andi Medina (Angel Locsin), arguing about the cost of tuition. Her boyfriend, Max Labrador (Sam Milby), comes up and takes care of it saying that he will always be there for her. The film cuts to their graduation during which Max’s mother, assuming she already knows, tells her that he is going to Medical School in San Diego. Convinced that the long distance relationship can’t work she breaks up with him. She turns her attention to her dream of being a fashion designer.
Four years later she is excited to hear that he has returned from his studies and expects them to resume their relationship. When she learns that he has a boyfriend, Christian Pilar (Zanjoe Marudo) she reacts badly not due to generalized homophobia so much as rejection and the seeming death of her fantasy that they will get back together. In time she calms down and accepts both of them, but it is clear that she would love for them to get back together.
The early parts of the film are relatively formulaic with some overly dramatic acting and it is obvious why it is classified as a romantic comedy.
The quality improves- although not the characters’ happiness- when she learns that she is pregnant by an ex-boyfriend. She has always felt a sense of rejection because her mother gave her up for adoption and she knows her life is too messy for her to be a good mother. Even though abortion is illegal in the Philippines she goes to them and asks for one. They turn her down and as it happens Christian is looking into him and Max adopting a child. He suggests that they will take care of her financial, housing, medical, and other needs while she is pregnant and they will adopt the baby after it is born.
Although Andi is the main character much of the film is about Max figuring himself out and accepting himself. He cares deeply for both Andi and Christian, but he is not just choosing between two people as choosing whether to play it safe and do the “acceptable” thing and go back to Andi as a romantic/sexual partner or continue his relationship with Christian, come out to his family, and know that he will face hatred, prejudice, and not be able to legally marry the man he loves.
Christian’s parents are completely accepting of him being gay and in a relationship with a man. Conversely, Max has every reason to be afraid of his parents’ reaction to him having a boyfriend.
Both Milby and Marudo fit the classic “good looking young doctors”. Both have worked as models as well as actors. They have good chemistry.
One of the film’s greatest strengths is it allows the characters to have flaws and make bad choices. They all face challenges and bad situations that are beyond their control, but they have the agency to be more than helpless victims. Christian has many good qualities and an admirable comfort with himself and his sexuality, but he can also be a controlling. Andi isn’t a great judge of people and didn’t really move on from Max when she should have done so. Max hurts those he cares about with his indecisiveness and fears.
If you are only familiar with western films and cultures the film's style may be a bit jarring.
Depending on where you live the film might be available on Netflix. Subtitles are available (ironically, including when dialogue is in English).
Chapter 72: The Happy Prince
This chapter reviews the 2018 film "The Happy Prince" about Oscar Wilde's life after he was released from prison.
There is a human tendency to want to classify people as either good or bad and consider them admirable or contemptible. In real life humans are rarely one of these extremes. I find him interesting not because I think he was perfect, but because he had amazing strengths and at the same time serious weaknesses. Over the years I have seen films about him, films of his stories, attended plays based on his life, read books about him, and had discussions of him. To my disappointment most works about him ignore or try to excuse away his complexities.
The Happy Prince is probably the best work I have seen for showing those complexities. He was a victim of his time and the hatred towards men who were attracted to other men, but he was not without agency. Bosie encouraged him to sue for libel, but ultimately it was his choice to do so. He reveled in an extravagant lifestyle. He spent a fortune paying for sex. The age gap can be difficult to watch. For all his brilliance he failed to appreciate Ross’ support and love instead choosing the more self-centred Bosie. He is not at fault for not being attracted to his wife nor for living in a society that expected that a “respectable gentleman” would marry a woman, but he did treat her badly.
The film focuses on his life after he was released from prison. It was a passion project for Rupert Everett who spent 10 years working on it. I was pleasantly surprised that a man who was such of fan of Wilde was so willing to show not only strengths, but his weaknesses.
No matter what hardships are throne at Wilde and how much he is mocked, he never loses his brilliance nor his wittiness. Even as a man who has been nearly broken his quips are still perfectly timed.
The film spends more time on his wife and the pain the loss of his family causes him than most works about his life. Often we see him alone. Robbie Ross and Reggie Turner are his constant companions. The audience can feel for Ross’ frustration that Wilde chooses Bosie over him. Bosie only appears in the film relatively briefly. Their reunion is surprisingly sweet, but as expected the happiness and sweetness does not last.
The film relies heavily on acting and the actors are all great in their roles. You can see Everett’s commitment to the project in every scene. Edwin Thomas expertly shows the frustration- sometimes subtly and sometimes in outburst- of being unappreciated- while still supporting Wilde without coming across as weak. Colin Morgan gives Bosie a magnetism that allows the audience to understand Wilde’s attraction to him and moments of sweetness, but shows the appropriate snottiness and selfishness when needed to show that Ross would be the better choice for Wilde. Colin Firth embodies Reggie Turner as a friend who remained loyal to Wilde after his imprisonment, but unlike Ross was not in love with Wilde. Emily Watson has less meaty material, but she captures a woman balances pain with self-respect.
The films’ weaknesses is it drags at times and some of the artsy camera work is distracting rather than serving the story. It is a quiet and raw film and the camera work and lighting could have done a better job at reflecting that mood. On the other hand the costuming is terrific and the locations fit the emotions of the story being told.
If you want Oscar Wilde as the completely admirable LGBTQ hero and fighter you should definitely skip this one. If you want Oscar Wilde as the complex man who was wronged by his society and yet not without agency in his downfall this one is definitely worth your time.