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Iconic queer director invites controversy with “The Misandrists”

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Susanne Sachsse (center) stars in Bruce LaBruce’s lesbian feminist satire “The Misandrists.” Photo courtesy M-Appeal.

Angelean fans of noted queer “underground” filmmaker Bruce LaBruce have reason to rejoice this week, with the long-awaited Los Angeles release of his latest work, “The Misandrists.”

A characteristically transgressive piece for the Queercore founder and former pioneer of “New Queer Cinema,” it’s the tale of a cadre of feminist revolutionaries, housed in a school for girls run by “Big Mother” (Susanne Sachsse) – a terrorist who encourages her young charges to be “lovers as well as comrades” as she prepares them to overthrow the patriarchy and create a society without men.  When two of the girls find a male radical wounded in the forest, they secretly bring him home and hide him in the basement to nurse him back to health; their deception leads to mistrust within the group, ultimately bringing down a reckoning under which loyalties must be proven and sacrifices must be made.

Returning to themes explored in “The Raspberry Reich,” a 2004 film which he considers a “companion piece” to this one, LaBruce has created a wicked satire, couched within the format of an exploitative B-movie, which skewers the extremism of radical movements while also challenging binary concepts of gender and sexuality.  The result is often absurd, sometimes hilarious, and occasionally disturbing; the use of pornographic imagery is here somewhat tame (at least in comparison to the director’s earlier work), and more amusing than shocking – but the insertion of real-life scenes of something which – to avoid spoilers – I will only describe as a “surgical procedure” is a moment of visceral cinematic audaciousness that will surely leave some viewers reeling.

It’s meant to do that, of course.  LaBruce and other cinema artists of his ilk are out to challenge their audiences, to push the boundaries of “acceptable” filmmaking and shake viewers out of their comfort zones.  Graphic medical footage notwithstanding, “The Misandrists” does less of that with direct depiction, perhaps, than some of LaBruce’s other efforts – but his choice of subject matter crosses some boundaries that are, within the context of our current cultural climate, a little too far for some.

At a Q&A talkback after the opening night screening of his film at the Nuart Theatre, LaBruce discussed some of the blowback he has received over the film.

“I never expected it to see the light of day in the U.S.A., frankly, because no film festival would play it.  It was turned down by Frameline, in San Francsico – I’ve heard behind the scenes it was because they wouldn’t show a lesbian film that was made by a gay man – and they wouldn’t show it at Outfest, which has normally supported me.  They wouldn’t show it in Toronto, which is where I’m from, at the Inside Out Festival.  So I thought, ‘I’ve gone too far, I’ve hit a nerve.’”

LaBruce has a long history of going against political correctness within the LGBTQ movement, and he doesn’t see a reason to stop now.

“There’s always been a division, for me, between mainstream ‘gay’ and ‘queer.’  When I was part of the Queercore movement, back in the 80s, we were all about intersectionality and inclusion – race, class, solidarity between fags, dykes, and transgender people.  It’s encouraging that [awareness of inclusivity] is happening again now, but the mainstream “gay movement” – the way it’s represented in popular culture – is still very much a white middle-class movement.”

The criticism has not just revolved around the idea of a cis-gendered male assuming ownership of a lesbian narrative.  There have also been concerns about the message LaBruce’s film might be sending about the feminist movement.

“I showed it in Poland, and a woman got up in the Q&A.  Her question was, ‘Do you honestly believe that a film that shows every conceivable cliché about lesbians could be considered a feminist film?’  And I said, ‘Yes!’”

He went on to explain, “It’s a critique of feminism – of certain stripes of second-wave feminism.  I always was very opposed to anti-sex, anti-porn feminism from the eighties.  There are pitfalls in any kind of extreme radical movement, where the oppressed starts to become the oppressor – or the original goals of the revolution start to be compromised to the point where you are actually betraying the ideals that you originally had.  This applies to the radical left as much as to the radical right, and this is what a lot of my work is about.”

Another accusation stems from the fact that one of the movie’s subplots explores the role of gender identity within feminist ideology.  There has been some perception of “The Misandrists” as being transphobic – which surprises LaBruce, who cast newcomer trans actress Kita Updike in a pivotal central role as a girl who keeps her trans status secret from her fellow revolutionaries.  “She’s the heart of the movie.”

He also said that he tried to keep the energy on the set very female-centric.  “It’s a mostly female cast, and I tried to hire as many female crew members as I could.  Everyone bonded like crazy, the women especially.  Viva and Kembra [Ruiz and Pfahler, respectively, both LaBruce cast alumni and legendary figures within “underground” queer culture] were mentoring these young girls – many of them were 18 or 20, and they were kind of seeking guidance from these women – and there was this whole parallel narrative going on during the production that I wasn’t privy to, a whole lot of bonding going on that my straight cinematographer and I didn’t even know was happening until later.”

Even so, within the ongoing atmosphere of #MeToo, a film poking fun at women who are rising up against subjugation and oppression seems like a risky endeavor.  LaBruce, who has never shied away from swimming against the stream, feels the message is important enough to take that risk – even if it rubs some people the wrong way.

“We have to be careful, on the left, of what I call neo-Stalinism, of policing language and desire – of not listening to conservative voices and just trying to shut them down.”

Despite LaBruce’s well-considered explanations, some viewers might still question the timing of “The Misandrists,” given the resurgence of anti-feminist and anti-LGBTQ sentiments within the current political environment.  At least one audience member, as the crowd left the theatre following the screening, was heard to express concern that criticism of feminist concerns, even in satirical form, might be “dangerous” at a time when conservative extremists already feel emboldened.

Sadly, it’s a valid point.

 

Fans who want to decide for themselves which side of these controversies they align themselves with will have that opportunity for the rest of this week, as “The Misandrists” continues its run at the Landmark Nuart Theatre, 11272 Santa Monica Boulevard.  Showtimes and tickets are available here.

 

 

 

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Notables

Equality Florida’s Nadine Smith named to Time’s Top 100 list for 2022

“In the fight for equality in Florida, there has perhaps been no greater advocate for LGBTQ people than Nadine Smith”

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Courtesy of Equality Florida

ST. PETERSBURG, FL. – Time magazine released its annual 100 most influential people list and this year one of the honorees was Equality Florida Executive Director Nadine Smith. In the biographical sketch accompanying Smith’s listing, Time writer Kristen Arnett noted “in the fight for equality in Florida, there has perhaps been no greater advocate for LGBTQ people than Nadine Smith.”

“I am deeply honored to be included in the TIME100,” said Smith, a Black, queer woman. “This recognizes decades of work not only by me, but by the dedicated team of volunteers, staff and supporters I’ve had the privilege to work with at Equality Florida.  Our work is far from done as Florida, once again, stands at the center of the fight against extremism and hate.  We are bearing the brunt of a governor willing to sacrifice the safety of children and destroy our most basic liberties in his desperate bid to be President. But this is not simply Florida’s fight. The wave of anti-LGBTQ, racist, freedom-destroying bills sweeping the country calls each of us to fight for our rights and, indeed, our democracy.”

The list, now in its nineteenth year, recognizes the impact, innovation and achievement of the world’s most influential individuals. 

Smith comes from a long line of activists and barrier breakers. Her grandparents helped form the Southern Tenant Farmers Union to fight for the rights of sharecroppers. While in college, Smith co-founded IGLYO, the world’s largest LGBTQ youth and student organization. She co-chaired the 1993 March on Washington that drew a million marchers and she was part of the first Oval Office meeting between a sitting President and LGBTQ leaders. In the aftermath of the Pulse Nightclub shooting, Smith and her team coordinated a national response including raising millions in direct resources for survivors and families of the 49 killed. 

Smith’s recognition comes as Florida has taken center stage in the right wing, anti-freedom agenda aimed at erasing LGBTQ people from classrooms, propagandizing curriculum, censoring history, banning books, and putting politicians in control of personal medical decisions.

“Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ presidential ambitions have fueled bills like Don’t Say Gay, the Stop WOKE Act, a 15-week abortion ban, and dangerous national rhetoric that seeks to dehumanize LGBTQ people in service to the most extreme segment of his base,” Equality Florida stated in a press release Monday.

The 2022 TIME100, and its annual list of the 100 most influential people in the world, with related tributes appear in the June 6/June 13 double issue of TIME, available on newsstands on Friday, May 27, and online now at time.com/time100.

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Outfest

Blow your mind with today’s hottest Queer TV- 2nd annual OutFronts

Queer television is here, and it is just getting started to shine.  Buckle your rainbow belts, this unicorn is ready to fly

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WEST HOLLYWOOD – Back in the day, getting a whisp of any queer media, whether it was a short “gay” movie or a quick queer themed storyline, was hard to come by. Sure, there was OutFest started in 1982 by some UCLA students. Roseanne kissing a girl, a lesbian wedding on Friends, and Ellen’s bursting media’s mind before it crashed and burned her.

Not anymore. OutFest has made that clear with its second annual OutFronts, a four-day hybrid festival. Queer television is here, and it is just getting started to shine.  Buckle your rainbow belts, this unicorn is ready to fly.

The festival combines free-to-view virtual panel discussions with ticketed in-person events as part of the Los Angeles area’s Pride season. The festival kicks off on Friday June 3rd and extends through Monday, June 6th. It features episodic premieres, advanced screenings, and both in-person and virtual discussions with the talent from some of the most exciting LGBTQIA+ programs available on television today.    

The in-person festival events include:

  • QUEER AS FOLK presented by Peacock  This is the world premiere screening of the new Peacock series, a vibrant reimagining of the groundbreaking British series exploring a diverse group of friends in New Orleans.  The program includes a panel talkback with cast and creative team.
  • “Love, Victor” presented by HULU and DISNEY+  It is the show’s third and final season, and OutFronts is proud to show the premier episode of the season!  The program includes  “Love, Victor’s” showrunner and young cast present to discuss the impact of the show’s run, what we might expect from season 3, and bid a farewell to the groundbreaking series.  
  • QUEER FIREFIGHTERS ONSCREEN AND IRL Queer firefighters on TV sit down with their real-life counterparts to discuss being queer and saving lives. The in-person discussion will include Ronen Rubenstein (9-1-1: Lone Star), Brian Michael Smith (9-1-1: Lone Star), Traci Thoms (Station 19), others.
  • LEGENDARY   LEGENDARY is the groundbreaking competition series now in season 3 on HBO Max.   The OutFronts program includes LEGENDARY host and MC Dashaun Wesley will conduct a talk-show style look back at some of the most earth-shattering moments from the show’s history, and a candid talk about all the unfolding drama of the current season.

The virtual events include:

Topic panels  

  • Presented as virtual panels, these panels cover hot queer television topics. These include exploring social media influencers who have used their clout to cross over into the acting world – with Gigi Gorgeous, Kalen Allen, and Boman Martinez-Reid. Another panel looks at “TV’s Queer Pioneers”, with actors who were among the first to regularly appear as three-dimensional queer characters on television, including Wilson Cruz, Amber Benson, and Jane Sibbett. A panel looking to create the next icons spotlights actors who have created some of the most impactful queer characters of recent years, including Harvey Guillen (WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS), Javicia Leslie (BATWOMAN), Brandon Scott Jones (GHOSTS), and Vico Ortiz (OUR FLAG MEANS DEATH).

Series panels  

  • Presented as virtual panels, these programs feature discussions of hot shows and their new season offerings:  a talk on SyFy and USA Network’s CHUCKY moderated by Hannibal creator Bryan Fuller, with CHILD’S PLAY franchise creator Don Mancini and cast members Jennifer Tilly, Brad Dourif, Fiona Dourif, Zackary Arthur, and Bjorgvin Anarson; a one-on-one career-spanning conversation with comedy legend Paula Pell upon the release of GIRLS5EVA season two on Peacock; a discussion with the cast and creators of Freeform’s MOTHERLAND: FORT SALEM in advance of the series’ final season; a talk with GENTLEMAN JACK creator Sally Wainwright and actor Lydia Leonard; a focused conversation with the queer talent and characters from Showtime’s smash-hit YELLOWJACKETS; as well as panels featuring talent from HBOMax’s SORT OF and THE SEX LIVES OF COLLEGE GIRLS, VH1’s RuPaul’s DRAG RACE, Prime Video’s HARLEM and THE WILDS, The CW’s TOM SWIFT and THE 4400, and HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL: THE MUSICAL – THE SERIES from Disney Plus and Disney Branded Television.

The inaugural year of OutFronts saw nearly 70,000 participants from across the globe. This year should see even more. “It’s inspiring to know that one festival couldn’t possibly cover all the wonderful LGBTQIA+ stories being told on television today,” said Outfest’s Director of Festival Programming, Mike Dougherty. “The OutFronts by no means represents an exhaustive account of all that is queer in TV, but they do gather a multitude of brilliantly talented queer artists and allies whose diversity of perspective and experience are on full display in these funny, entertaining, and emotional conversations. I can’t wait to share them with the world.”

It’s time to join the Queer Television Fandom community, whether you want your seat to be in a happening LA theater, or in your own living room, your piece of the rainbow awaits! See you at OutFronts 2022!

All panel discussions will be free of charge to view online and via Outfest’s OutMuseum platform. The OutFronts are presented by IMDb and media sponsors are The Los Angeles Blade, ABC7 Los Angeles, Clear Channel Outdoor, Edge Media, KCET/PBS SoCal, Pride Media, Queerty, Rainbow Media, Autostraddle, and Variety. RSVP and view the full calendar of The OutFronts programming at theoutfronts.com

**********************

Rob Watson is the host of the popular Hollywood-based radio/podcast show RATED LGBT RADIO.

He is an established LGBTQ columnist and blogger having written for many top online publications including Parents Magazine, the Huffington Post, LGBTQ Nation, Gay Star News, the New Civil Rights Movement, and more. He served as Executive Editor for The Good Man Project, has appeared on MSNBC and been quoted in Business Week and Forbes Magazine. He is CEO of Watson Writes, a marketing communications agency, and can be reached at [email protected] .

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Movies

Join Joel Kim Booster on ‘Fire Island’ this summer

Gay rom com features queer Asian cast

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Joel Kim Booster stars in ‘Fire Island.’ (Image courtesy of Searchlight Pictures)

It would be an understandable mistake to see Joel Kim Booster on one of the two “Out Traveler” magazine covers he’s gracing this month and assume he was just another sexy fashion model, but the 34-year-old Korean-American comedian is not having a moment in the blazing sun of queer pop culture just because of his undeniable talent for rocking a Speedo. 

He is actually in the middle of the publicity push for the upcoming film “Fire Island,” which he wrote and in which he co-stars with (among others) close friend Bowen Yang and comedy legend Margaret Cho, and which begins screening exclusively on the Hulu streaming service just in time for Pride month.

Directed by Andrew Ahn (“Spa Night”), it’s a movie that’s generating a lot of buzz, partly because it’s the first predominantly queer film to be backed by a major movie studio (Disney, through its Searchlight Pictures division). We’ve been burned too many times not to be skeptical about such a project, but anyone already familiar with Booster’s work will undoubtedly tell you it’s not likely to be another watered-down, safe-for-the-mainstream offering designed to check off boxes on the diversity agenda. Since he first made a splash with an appearance on “Conan” in 2016, he has gained a following among queer and straight audiences alike with his unapologetically gay, unabashedly sex-positive comedy, leading to what some might call a meteoric rise to the brink of superstardom through an acclaimed stand-up career, his roles on TV in shows like the short-lived sitcom “Sunnyside” (on which he was a regular), “Shrill,” and “The Week Of” (as well as his writing for shows like “Billy on the Street” and “The Other Two”), and his popular podcasts (“Urgent Care with Joel Kim Booster + Mitra Jouhari” and “The Joy Fuck Club”).

Now he’s poised to become a movie star with “Fire Island,” a gay romantic comedy set in the titular vacation retreat that dares not only to feature a cast made up entirely of queer characters, but doubles down by putting the focus on queer characters who also happen to be Asian. To top it all off, it gives Booster a chance to show off his literate side with a story – which concerns a group of gay best friends out for sexual adventure, and possibly even romance, on what might be their last trip to the iconic gay getaway – adapted from no less esteemed a literary source than Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice.”

The Blade was fortunate enough to chat with Booster in the middle of this very high-pressure month before his feature film debut, and our conversation was informed by the kind of erudite and compassionate intelligence that has marked the young comedian’s career from the start.

BLADE: In your comedy, you’ve drawn a lot of inspiration from being raised as a Korean adoptee by white American parents in a deeply Christian midwestern community. Does that experience figure into the movie, too?

BOOSTER: Of course! As a transnational adoptee, my entire life I’ve been fighting against this nagging feeling of not quite fitting in – and that’s whether I’m around white people, or Asian people, or even some gay people. It’s tough, and it’s been such a paramount part of my life to find people who make me feel seen and accepted and to keep them close, so it felt really important for the theme of chosen family to stay in the forefront when I was making this movie. As much as it’s a “rom com,” it’s also about friendship – about relationships with people who, like I say in the movie, “fill in the gaps.”

BLADE: How did you hit on using Jane Austen as a source?

BOOSTER: It was really a lucky accident. I brought “Pride and Prejudice” with me on the first trip Bowen and I ever took to Fire Island. I would be lying there on the beach reading it and thinking, “It’s amazing how the things she was writing about are so relevant to what we’re experiencing on this island right now.” It was kinda wild, and it started out as threat, a joke – I would keep saying, ‘I can’t wait to write an all-gay adaptation of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ set on Fire Island,’ and people would boo and throw things at me. But after that I would always bring an Austen book with me to read on the island, because it felt special to me. There was just something so prescient about what she wrote, and about her observations on class, especially reading it in this place where we had sort of created our own class system, as gay men.

BLADE: When did it stop being a joke?

BOOSTER: Actually, my agent suggested that I should write it, because I was in between projects. I just had a pilot that was passed on by Comedy Central, I was depressed, I had nothing to do – so I ended up writing it as a half-hour pilot script. But nobody wanted it until Quibi [the short-form entertainment platform that launched and folded in 2020 after failing to meet projected subscription levels]. Say what you will about them, but they really invested a lot of money and time into new and young voices, and they took a lot of chances. They took a chance on me, and when they folded I had this script that I could point to which I had written and developed with them. This movie was a tough pitch to sell on just a log line, but I had this finished project, this complicated piece of work to show people, that was much more intricate than I think “Gay ‘Pride and Prejudice’” would maybe lead people to believe.

BLADE: Your movie is just one of several big queer titles on deck for 2022, including Billy Eichner’s rom com, “Bros.” How do you feel about that?

BOOSTER: Honestly, it really takes some of the pressure off. When we get, like, one gay movie a year, a lot of attention and scrutiny gets put on that movie and it’s expected to be everything to everyone in our community. And our community is huge, and it’s diverse, and there are so many stories that aren’t being told. I’m so glad Billy’s movie is coming out as well, he was my first comedy boss, and I’m really happy that people in our community are going to have two big gay rom coms to choose from.

BLADE: We haven’t seen “Bros” yet, but we’ve seen “Fire Island.” There’s a review embargo [until May 23], but I think it’s safe to say nobody is going to boo or throw things at you. Do you feel any sense of competition about it?

BOOSTER: My hope is that people love both, but it’s nice that if somebody goes to see my movie and says, ‘That’s not for me, I don’t see myself there,’ then a couple months later they’ll see Billy’s and they’ll have another shot at it. And I hope both of our movies are successful enough that they create a million clones. I hope it’s just the beginning.

“Fire Island,” which also stars Conrad Ricamora (“How to Get Away With Murder”) and a host of other familiar queer performers, premieres on Hulu on June 3. 

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