There are a lot of assumptions and generalizations made about the LGBTQI community – and not just from the outside.
There are so many clichés – that gay men can’t be monogamous, that an older person with a younger partner is a sugar daddy (or momma), that pansexual or bisexual or gender fluid people just haven’t accepted they’re gay, the list goes on and on. We’ve heard them all. Many of us, whether we like to admit it or not, have said them, too – or at least thought them.
It’s something that seems to spring from a human need to categorize things, to organize the world into recognizable patterns that make it easier to comprehend – and though that instinct enables us to negotiate our lives in a complex and often confusing world, when it comes to our ability to understand and relate to other people, it’s more of a hindrance than a help. It creates our tendency to assign labels to each other (and to ourselves) that superficially define who we are – and make it easy to separate ourselves from those who wear a different label than our own.
In the new documentary “Between the Shades,” director Jill Salvino undertakes an examination of the effect of labels – both negative and positive – and the way that they intersect among LGBTQI people, stripping away preconceived ideas about labels and the people behind them and revealing the ways that labels can be as empowering as they are divisive. This discussion serves as a springboard into a detailed portrait of the community itself, deep-diving into an exploration of the things that make the individuals within it who they are.
The director has said that her intention was to make a film “which explores the various degrees of ‘gay‘ that exist in our society and frames up a conversation about the spectrum of LGBTQI and the strands of acceptance that bind us all.” To that end, she has enlisted the aid of as many points on that spectrum as possible.
For nearly 90 minutes, Salvino fills the screen with the faces and voices of a widely diverse cross-section of the community. The participants include young and old, male and female, white and people of color. They are gay, bisexual, pansexual, transgender (MTF and FTM), intersex, gender fluid, gender queer, and yes, even straight allies. Some are coupled, some in search of love, some proudly single. Throughout the film, in a loose but logical progression of themes, they discuss a variety of topics – how they identify, growing up and coming out, family, relationships, love. What emerges eventually shapes itself not into a conversation, but into a sort of monologue that, in expressing the vast differences in experience between each of the speakers, tells a universal story of the things that make them the same.
One might expect an entire film of “talking heads”, without additional footage interspersed between them, to grow stale after a while. That’s not the case with Salvino’s movie. Save for the insertion of one relatively brief video clip (of a flash mob proposal that led to the marriage of two of the participants, actor Yuval David and Mark McDermott), she includes no “real world” scenes to break up the visual monotony of her interwoven interviews, and it doesn’t matter at all. The speakers are engaged, passionate, proud of who they are and the journeys they have made – and the honesty of their truth-telling, coupled with the director’s skilled shaping of their group narrative, keeps our interest riveted throughout.
In addition to David (probably most familiar from his recurring role on “Madam Secretary”), there are some other relatively famous faces among the crowd of contributors. Perhaps the best known among them belongs to actress Kathy Najimy, but the group also includes Beth Malone (one of the stars of Broadway’s “Fun Home”) and Democratic National Committee treasurer Andrew Tobias. In addition, Los Angeles locals might recognize Madonna Cacciatore (director of special events for the LGBT Center and newly-named executive director of Christopher Street West) and her now-wife, Robin McWilliams.
All of these “celebrities” get a lot of screen time – but so do most of the others, and no one voice seems to emerge as more significant than anyone else’s. It’s a truly egalitarian – and inclusive – representation of diverse individual expression within a shared community identity.
The press release for “Between the Shades” expresses the film’s intention “to put faces to the letters that make up LGBTQI and how those letters have evolved and expanded over time.” In addition, it makes the claim that “the film examines the immense power of labels and the transcendence of love.” For many movies, statements like this run the risk of being hyperbolic – but in this case, they are not an overstatement.
Salvino’s film will have its LA premiere screening on Monday, June 11 at 5 p.m, as part of the Dances With Films festival at the TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood. This heartwarming documentary about the LGBTQI community is a perfect way to wrap up your Pride weekend, so buy your tickets now here.