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Netflix delivers charming ‘Alex Strangelove,’ just in time for Pride

A teen’s coming out story gets an edgy, John Hughes-esque twist

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Daniel Doheny and Antonio Marziale in the Netflix rom-com ‘Alex Strangelove.’(Photo courtesy of Netflix)

Coming on the heels of “Love, Simon,” Netflix’s release of “Alex Strangelove” feels like less of a breakthrough than it should – and that’s a shame.

Dropping June 8 as a direct nod to Pride month, the streaming giant’s gay teen rom-com may be cut from the same John Hughes-inspired cloth as its big-screen counterpart from earlier this spring, but it’s spiced with a flavor all its own – edgier, more irreverent, perhaps closer to the confused heart of many real-life teen coming-out stories – and deserves full attention on its own merits.

Written and directed by Craig Johnson, it’s the story of Alex (Daniel Doheny), a high school senior who seems almost too perfect to be true: cute, smart, and funny, he’s popular with cool kids and nerds alike.  He’s also completely devoted to his longtime girlfriend, Claire (Madeline Weinstein) – despite the fact they still haven’t had sex.  They make a special date to consummate their relationship, but still-virgin Alex is nervous about it – a situation that’s compounded when he meets Elliott (Antonio Marziale), an openly gay older boy from across town with whom he feels an immediate connection.

Anybody familiar with the standard formula of teen romances – gay or straight – will likely have a pretty good guess about where things go from there.  It’s not surprising plot twists that give “Alex Strangelove” its freshness; rather, it’s the way it handles the coming-out experience without kid gloves.  Alex is not presented as a “troubled” boy, just a more-or-less typical teen who happens to have a blind spot about his own sexual identity – complicated by the changing attitudes and values surrounding such matters in our modern world.  It’s an approach that keeps the movie from becoming too “precious” and allows us the fun of watching him figure out something we already know.

This doesn’t mean Johnson’s script doesn’t honor its hero’s journey, or that it presents Alex as the butt of a joke.  When the time comes for hard truths to be told and breakthroughs to be made, the movie’s somewhat silly tone shifts to address those moments with appropriate reverence; perhaps even more importantly, the emotional consequences they create are real – both for Alex and for the loyal Claire.  It’s to the movie’s credit that it gives equal weight to the struggles of each.

It’s also to the credit of the actors.  The adorable Doheny is lovable and authentic, skillfully conveying self-assured confidence while showing us the nagging uncertainties that build as he grows closer to confronting his inner truth.  Weinstein is just as adept, equal parts strong and vulnerable, making her a perfect match – and foil – for her leading man.  The unconventionally handsome Marziale makes for a charismatic object of desire, but he also brings enough depth to the role to make him much more.  Deserving special mention is Daniel Zolghadri, as Alex’s goofy sidekick Dell, who manages to steal scenes while turning this would-be stock character into a full-fledged player in the story.

Kudos must also go, of course, to Johnson, whose screenplay and direction deftly walk the fine line between feel-good comedy and heart-tugging drama – though, thankfully, the bulk of the film maintains a bright, light-hearted feel.  Indeed, there are times – particularly in a running subplot that involves a rare psychotropic fog – when it veers into a decidedly zany territory that is less reminiscent of vintage John Hughes than of fellow ‘80s teen-comedy auteur “Savage” Steve Holland, whose “Better Off Dead” and “One Crazy Summer” were wacky counterpoints to the heavier sentiment of “Sixteen Candles” and “Pretty In Pink.”

True to its ‘80s roots, “Alex Strangelove” is not just silly, it’s also raunchy.  These are no squeaky-clean teens; their conversations are peppered with the kind of four-letter language that would likely turn 1986 Molly Ringwald’s ears as red as her hair, and their level of sexual sophistication is likely to be a shock to anyone still foolish enough to believe that teenagers are naïve about such matters.  There are times, in fact, when the movie’s R-rated sensibilities threaten to overwhelm its feel-good sweetness – especially for adults who come in with preconceived ideas about appropriate discourse in youth-oriented films.

Also potentially shocking is the inclusion of some language that might be considered homophobic; slurs and insults are thrown around – mostly by characters too immature to recognize the hurtfulness of their words – that, while certainly realistic within the movie’s high school setting, might raise eyebrows among those concerned about negative behavioral modeling.  Apart from one key sequence that is meant to portray bullying, though, none of the name-calling carries any real sense of threat, and the film’s ultimate embrace of acceptance is genuine enough to compensate for any perceived lack of sensitivity.

All this might seem like over-analysis of the movie’s intentions and methods, and perhaps it is; but whenever a film emerges that is designed to depict the LGBTQ experience within the larger culture – especially when that movie is aimed at young people – it’s necessary to put it to those kinds of tests.  Happily, “Alex Strangelove” passes most of them with flying colors (although, speaking of colors, it could have aimed for a higher score in the area of diversity); and while its lowbrow style keeps it from approaching the level of “important” cinema, its good-natured charm and inspiring message of inclusion give it the potential to change quite a few younger lives for the better – and that’s important enough.

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Events

Pansexual Visibility Day 2022 is May 24

Days like Pansexuality Visibility Day are perfect for educating people about the various ways people experience sexual & romantic attraction

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Graphic via Project MORE

NEW YORK – The Trevor Project is honoring Pansexual and Panromantic Awareness and Visibility Day on May 24, noting that it is a day to celebrate the pansexual and panromantic community and educate others on the community.

As part of creating awareness for the pansexual community, The Trevor Project’s 2022 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health, captured important data related to the experiences of pansexual youth, who made up 20% of the survey sample.

2022 National Survey Data on Pansexual Youth

  • 53% of pansexual youth reported that they seriously considered suicide and 21% reported they attempted suicide in the past year.
  • 66% of pansexual youth reported experiencing symptoms of anxiety and 79% reported experiencing symptoms of depression.
  • 36% of pansexual youth reported that they have been physically threatened or harmed due to their sexual orientation.
  • 69% of pansexual youth reported that they had experienced discrimination based on their sexual orientation.

The Project MORE Foundation, a leading nonprofit service and support provider to the Northern California Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Questioning (LGBTQ+) and Ally community explains what it means to be Pansexual:

One common misconception that even members of the LGBTQ+ community have is that pansexuality and bisexuality are the same. Bisexuality can loosely be defined as attraction to more than one gender, but many define it with the more narrow definition of attraction to both genders, i.e,: men and women.

Pansexuality differs in that it includes sexual attraction inclusive of ALL gender identities, which means that people can also be drawn to those who are gender fluid or genderqueer. It is similar for people who are panromantic. When a person identifies as panromantic, it means that they can feel romantically towards anyone of any gender identity. 

When people come out as pansexual, headlines often emphasize that it’s different than being bi, and while that’s true, somebody who is bi may also identify as pan and vice versa. The bisexuality umbrella term includes those who feel attracted to two or more gender identities. Pansexuality refers to people who feel sexual attraction to any gender identity, but because their preference includes two or more genders, they could also consider themself bi. Being pan doesn’t mean that a person is going to be attracted towards everyone, but simply that gender identity doesn’t play a role in that attraction. 

There are many people who identify as pansexual or panromantic, such as Jazz Jennings, the famous 20-something LGBTQ+ rights advocate who came out as trans as a child. Authors Dana Mele and Caitlin Ricci identify as panromantic. Miley Cyrus, Janelle Monáe, and Brendon Urie are also among famous celebrities who identify as pansexual. 

It is quite common that people who are pansexual go on a journey of self-discovery to figure out their true sexuality. Some, like Bella Thorne, initially identified as bisexual, but then grew to realize that gender plays little to no role in their attraction, so her definition of her sexuality changed to reflect that. 

Miley Cyrus, who came out in 2015 as pansexual, is among one of those who went down the path to self-discovery when it came to her sexuality. In an interview with Variety, she said that an interaction with a non-binary individual helped her understand that she felt attraction towards them regardless of how they expressed their gender. In that moment, she didn’t feel gay, straight, or bi, because she wasn’t.

Because definitions can be held loosely, one of the most important takeaways is that how a person identifies their sexual or romantic attraction can differ from one day to the next, but celebrating and respecting a person for who they are is what matters most. Days like Pansexuality and Panromantic Visibility Day are perfect for educating people about the various ways people experience sexual and romantic attraction.

About the 2022 National Survey

This survey is one of the largest and only surveys of its kind, representing the experiences of nearly 34,000 LGBTQ young people ages 13-24 across the U.S. It’s also one of the most diverse surveys of LGBTQ youth ever conducted – with 45% of respondents being youth of color and 48% being trans or nonbinary.

Lastly, The Trevor Project has a guide, “How to Support Bisexual Youth: Ways to Care for Bisexual, Pansexual, Fluid, and Queer Youth Who are Attracted to More than One Gender” that offers best practices for those looking to support the youth who are attracted to more than one gender in their lives.

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Sports

Mavericks’ Reggie Bullock, finalist for NBA award for LGBTQ+ advocacy

The NBA announced this week the guard-forward is one of the finalists for its 2022 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Social Justice Champion Award

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Reggie Bullock (Dallas Mavericks/YouTube)

DALLAS – While San Francisco is celebrating the Golden State Warriors’ huge Wednesday night Game 1 victory over the Mavericks in the NBA Western Conference Finals, LGBTQ groups in Dallas are cheering on Dallas’s Reggie Bullock for his work off the court. 

The NBA announced this week the guard-forward is one of the finalists for its 2022 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Social Justice Champion Award, which honors players who have made strides in fighting for social justice and advocating for equality.

Other finalists include the Milwaukee Bucks’s Jrue Holiday, the Memphis Grizzlies’s Jaren Jackson Jr., the Minnesota Timberwolves’s Karl-Anthony Towns and the Toronto Raptors’s Fred VanVleet.

The NBA said Bullock’s push for LGBTQ equity stems from the 2014 murder of his sister, Mia Henderson, a transgender woman.

“Bullock has focused on acceptance of all people by working to create truly inclusive communities through neighborhood engagement and national efforts around the LGBTQ movement, including participating in the NYC Pride March, the GLAAD Media Awards, and NBA events for LGBTQ youth and allies,” according to an NBA news release. “Most recently, as part of the Mavs Take ACTION! initiative, Bullock participated in a courageous conversation as part of the HUDDLE series to uplift the trans community, amplify community organizations who are working to support and protect LGBTQ individuals, and create opportunities for allyship.”

Since joining the Mavs a year ago, Bullock, 31, has teamed-up with groups that include Abounding Prosperity, Dallas Southern Pride, House of Rebirth, The Black-Tie Dinner, the Resource Center, as well as the Muhlaysia Booker Foundation. That organization was founded in memory of a trans woman murdered in Dallas.

On this year’s International Day of Trans Visibility, March 31, Bullock joined the founder of the Muhlashia Booker Foundation, Stephanie Houston, and Leslie McMurray, Transgender Education & Advocacy Associate for a session titled, Voices Unheard, Uplifting Trans Perspectives. 

He shared memories of his sister Mia and how her murder motivated him to use his platform as an NBA player to fight for equal rights and visibility for the LGBTQ+ community.

Bullock has also started his own charitable organization, RemarkaBULL, which provides housing and support to members of the LGBTQ+ community in need. Through RemarkaBULL, Bullock wrote an open letter to the NCAA protesting Idaho’s anti-trans student-athlete House Bill 500, which was signed into law by Gov. Brad Little in March of 2020. The law is on hold pending a review by a federal court.

The winner of the Social Justice Award will be announced during the Western Conference Finals, now underway. The winner receives $100,000 donated to the charity of their choice, and the other finalists receive $25,000 donations for their organizations. Bullock’s charity of choice is Kinston Teens, which empowers young people to engage in activism and community development.

In Wednesday night’s Western Conference Final game 1, Bullock scored 12 points, shooting 3/10 3-pt and 3 rebounds in the Mavericks’ 87-112 loss to the Golden State Warriors. Game 2 is set to tip off Friday at 9 p.m. ET, Golden State leads 1-0.

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Television

New trailer gives first glimpse into new ‘Queer as Folk’

The highly-anticipated return looks poised to make some welcome improvements as it reinvents the beloved series for a new era

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Courtesy of PEACOCK

HOLLYWOOD – Depending on who you ask, the soon-to-be-dropped reimagining of “Queer as Folk” could well be the biggest LGBTQ television event – or the biggest mistake – of the year.

The groundbreaking original British version of the series, created and written by Russell T. Davies in 1999 (decades before his recent triumph with “It’s A Sin” introduced him to a new generation of queer viewers), has already had an American adaptation in 2000, and each of these installments has its own legion of fans – many of whom have expressed their qualms (to put it mildly) over the entire idea of a new reboot.

That, however, hasn’t stopped Davies from joining forces with writer/director/creator Stephen Dunn (“Closet Monster”) to executive produce one for Peacock. 

Shade from old-school fans aside, the highly-anticipated return of the franchise looks poised to make some welcome improvements as it reinvents the beloved series for a new era. This time, the story promises to deliver a much more diverse assortment of characters than the group of predominantly white gay men featured by its predecessors, with a story centered on a group of LGBTQ friends in New Orleans as their lives are transformed in the aftermath of a recent tragedy.

The new iteration also scores points by employing queer actors to portray all its queer roles – resulting in an impressive lineup of names on its cast list including Ryan O’Connell (“Special”), Johnny Sibilly (“Pose”), Devin Way (“Grey’s Anatomy’), Jesse James Keitel (“Alex Strangelove”), Fin Argus, Candace Grave, Benito Skinner, and Juliette Lewis, and even Kim Cattrall as a “martini-soaked, high society Southern debutante with trailer park roots.” 

Of his reason for getting on board a new adaptation of his show, Davies says, “I’m very proud of what we achieved in 1999, but in queer years, that was a millennium ago! As a community, we’ve radicalized, explored, opened up, and found new worlds – with new enemies and new allies – and there was so much to be said.

Stephen pitched a brand new version of ‘Queer as Folk’ with so much imagination, insight, and crucially, joy, that I simply couldn’t resist. I thought it was about time the title belonged to a whole new generation. The 2022 show is more diverse, more wild, more free, more angry – everything a queer show should be.”

As for Dunn, he explains, “I wanted to create a new groundbreaking version of this show for this moment. Our new ‘Queer as Folk’ is set in New Orleans — one of the most unique queer communities in North America – and I am immensely proud that the new series is comprised of an electric ensemble of fresh characters that mirror the modern global audience.

If there’s one person who is able to see ‘Queer as Folk’ and feel less alone, or who now feels more supported and seen, our job is done. In the true spirit of the original, our show doesn’t shy away from the harsh realities of our community, but above all else, the series is about people who live vibrant, vital, unapologetically queer lives.” 

Jacklyn Moore, who co-wrote the new series with Dunn and Executive Produced alongside him and Davies, adds, “I believe deeply in the power of storytelling to make people feel seen, but all too often I feel as though queer and trans representation in art is limited to extremes. We are either shown as saintly heroes bravely surviving a bigoted society or two-dimensional queer-coded villains that feel airdropped in from some previous era. With ‘Queer as Folk,’ we aimed to depict queer characters who live in the messy middle. People who are complicated. Who are funny and caring and flawed and sometimes selfish, but still worthy of love. Still worthy of narrative. As a trans woman, I’m excited to take steps to move past telling stories that seem to just be arguing for our basic humanity. My hope is that Queer as Folk is one such step.”

We’re sure we speak for the rest of the eagerly-waiting fans when we say that we all hope that, too. We can all find out together when Peacock begins streaming the new “Queer as Folk” on June 9.

Queer as Folk | Official Trailer | Peacock Original

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