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Former Scissors Sisters frontman Jake Shears on his book, tour, album and gay life in the Big Easy

Glam gender-bender plays two nights at the El Rey Theatre this weekend

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Jake Shears, gay news, Washington Blade

Jake Shears says it took time to find his creative footing after the Scissor Sisters parted ways six years ago. (Photo by Greg Gorman)

Jake Shears needed some time to find his footing.

“After more than a decade as one of pop music’s most cocksure and buoyant frontmen,” his press bio says, “Shears suddenly found himself alone and adrift a few years ago, nursing a broken heart and staring down an uncertain future.”

Since the early 2000s, Shears had anchored Scissor Sisters, the glam-pop band known for hits like “Filthy/Gorgeous,” “I Don’t Feel Like Dancin,’” “Fire with Fire” and “Let’s Have a Kiki.” They went on indefinite hiatus after the 2012 album “Magic Hour” but it took some time for Shears, who found himself single in 2015 after the demise of a decade-plus relationship, to figure out what was next.

After relocating to New Orleans in search of inspiration, he’s come roaring back in 2018 with a January stint as Charlie in “Kinky Boots” on Broadway, the February release of his memoir “Boys Keep Swinging” and his eponymous debut solo album, which came out last month to solid reviews. He wraps his solo tour with two shows at The El Rey Theatre this weekend. 

He spoke to the Blade by phone in early September (just prior to turning 40 in October) from his apartment in New Orleans. His comments have been slightly edited for length.

LOS ANGELES BLADE: Was it hard adjusting to the humidity?

JAKE SHEARS: No, I love it. I’m heading to London tonight and I’m just thinking like, “Oh God, I can’t just walk outside in a tank top and gym shorts 24 hours a day there.” I love it down here so much. It’s a pretty good life.

BLADE: So you live in New Orleans pretty much all the time now when you’re not touring? 

SHEARS: Yeah, I’m walking into my apartment right now. I split my time. I end up all over the place but it’s where I am for long stretches of the year. … I spend about a third of the year here.

BLADE: Do you get recognized much there when you’re just out doing your normal routine? 

SHEARS: Well it’s like a small town here so you kind of get to know everybody anyway and then on weekends, like Decadence was last weekend and there were lots of gays in town so yeah. But other than that, not really. It’s just a really small town here so everybody already kind of knows one another.

BLADE: What’s gay life like in the South? Just with friends, dating, sex — all that.

SHEARS: Well down here you don’t necessarily want to date other locals. … If you do sleep with somebody down here, you’re gonna see them for the rest of your life so you have to really think about whether you want that or not. But it’s just a funny little thing. It’s a sexy place to be. There’s always a huge influx of tourists so there’s always fresh faces and not only that, it’s people who are happy to be here and it’s a good vibe overall. It’s a very romantic city. You don’t have to wear a lot of clothes. It kind of fosters romance and flirtiness.

BLADE: You said in another interview you went there seeking inspiration. How long were you there before that really hit and the songwriting started?

SHEARS: About a week, maybe two weeks. It was pretty early on. I think it was more about the decisions I’d made in my life. I was making some big decisions just for myself that I needed to make. I really needed to change my life and once I made the decision to do that, moving to New Orleans was kind of symbolic and was part of that. And, you know, when that happens, when I’m happy and on the right path, I start writing songs. It didn’t take very long.

BLADE: I read that you recorded the album in live takes straight through and said that was nerve wracking. Now that it’s all done, was it worth it?

SHEARS: Oh my God, yeah. I couldn’t be happier with this thing. It’s been a big project and it’s nerve wracking in a way because just over the whole thing, I put a lot on the line. I hope I get to make a record like this again someday — just making a record exactly the way I want to. As far as the cost/benefit analysis, it cost me a lot. Just financially and time wise and all that stuff, but the benefit on the other side is that I’ve made something I’m just incredibly happy with and proud of.

BLADE: Was it hard to keep it fresh doing take after take in the studio?

SHEARS: No, no, no, no. When you’re recording like that, everybody was so rehearsed. It was really exciting. It never got boring, that’s for sure.

BLADE: When you were writing and/or recording “Creep City,” did you have a hunch it would be the first single or did that come later?

SHEARS: You know, it was really a toss up. I don’t think there was a really obvious first single on this record. I think it could have been a whole bunch of songs. I chose that song because I felt it was really good overall and I felt it really represented the whole album just sonically and I just felt like it was a great liftoff for the record. … I could also visualize a video for it. It’s one of my favorites on the record. It just sort of represented the whole thing in a way.

BLADE: Would you say this is your breakup album? That’s such a thing, were you conscious of wanting to avoid any cliches?

SHEARS: I don’t know if I can answer that. I don’t think it feels like a breakup album. I mean, this isn’t Beck’s “Sea Change.” It’s a pretty fun record. I don’t think it’s really about a breakup, I think it’s more about reassessing myself and sort of rediscovering who I am in this moment in time and I think it has less to do with a breakup necessarily, although that’s in there. Would you say that?

BLADE: Well, listening to it, I felt it was very bombastic and joyous so I was surprised when I read the lyrics and saw how dark some of it is. 

SHEARS: Yeah, I love that and that’s one of my favorite things to do. I have like a real big dark streak in me and I love making happy, really fun music that has heavier themes to it. I just love that juxtaposition. That’s absolutely there, but it was really important to me to make, you know, a fun record with different colors to it. I love making my ballads too. That’s definitely part of what I do.

BLADE: Why did you feel now was the time for a memoir?

SHEARS: I wrote the book at the same time I was making the album and I thought it was really good as I was sort of reassessing where I am and who I am now, I had to go back and reassess where I’ve been and what I’ve done and I think they both kind of informed each other and it was sort of a good way to put certain things to bed in a way and make peace with certain things. It’s kind of a cliche to say it was good therapy but in a way it was good to reevaluate parts of my life while I was making this new thing and it was awesome to get to do both of them together.

BLADE: Would you like to do more Broadway or was “Kinky Boots” a one-off?

SHEARS: No, I do, I do. I love it so much. I mean, theater is a world I love being in. I love writing theater and making musicals. Now I love being in them. I definitely am going to continue. Now that’s part of my DNA and I absolutely would love to be in another show and I’m going to be writing more shows.

BLADE: How vocally taxing was it compared to your regular stuff?

SHEARS: I gotta say, it was really hard. Those Cyndi Lauper songs are no joke. They’re really tough and I worked and worked really hard at it. You know, your voice gets stronger and everything but doing eight shows a week like that, it’s also cumulatively exhausting and so by the end — I did about a hundred performances — I was really having to crank up the engine to get that final high note and the big punch at the end of the song. So it was super challenging, yeah.

BLADE: When you’ve been off the grid for awhile, do you have to get back in shape or do you always stay pretty trim?

SHEARS: Goodness (laughs). I’ve got my moments. I’m a Libra so I have a lot of balance in my life. I work really, really hard and I play really, really hard. I really try to keep a balanced existence. I’m constantly just trying to take care of myself in the midst of the chaos of what I do.

BLADE: But you never just put on 20 pounds when you’re off the road for a year or something like that?

SHEARS: Oh, I’ve had moments of not being as in shape as I wanna be but I’m doing the best to take care of myself when I’m eating well or whether that’s just getting enough sleep and not drinking too much. I just do my best to try to feel as good as I can because otherwise life just isn’t much fun.

BLADE: Where did that cool vintage car in the “Big Bushy Mustache” video come from? 

SHEARS: It’s my neighbor’s, LeRoy. I’m looking out right now at his back yard. He’s in the video too. The videos you see from this album are basically community productions. I made those videos out of my pocket on a shoestring and everybody from the locations to the costumes — everything that you see, people pitched in, everybody got together and it was so much fun. It took over a hundred people to make those videos and that’s one of the things that really warms my heart. It was a whole bunch of people banding together. The “Creep City” video — that’s just a snapshot of the New Orleans community.

BLADE: Has it been hard sequencing in Scissor Sisters material with the new stuff on tour?

SHEARS: No. I’ve just done a bunch of shows in the U.K. and it’s a really good pace I’ve got with the Scissors stuff. I’ve chosen certain songs very strategically and it’s fun mixing them up. I went out of my way to make sure this new stuff is part of the same body of work. I wanted it to feel that way and I wanted to be able to present it all as my body of work. In the show, it definitely goes together.

BLADE: Are you touring with people who played on the album?

SHEARS: Oh yeah. Mr Hudson is on bass, Craig Pfunder is on guitar who does all the music director stuff, he plays guitar on my record. Mr Hudson, I wrote a bunch of songs with. Right now I’ve got Patrick Hallahan from My Morning Jacket on drums and I’ve got this amazing saxophonist, this awesome guy named Stephen J. Gladney on sax. So this is a pretty cracker jack band. It’s a great band.

BLADE: Was it an easier transition to the stage than usual since you recorded these songs live in the studio?

SHEARS: In a way because a lot of these songs were originally written with either guitar or piano. When you start small with a song then make it bigger, it just makes it easier. It was written in a very different way from the way I normally always wrote stuff. It’s been fun to play it from the top. It hasn’t been a huge challenge.

BLADE: I know it’s a much different style of music, but do you feel much kinship with Rufus Wainwright? For so many years, you two were about the gayest thing we had pretty much.

SHEARS: Oh my God, absolutely. I think you can hear, he’s a huge influence on my music and we’ve always been friends and I think he’s amazing, just a one-of-a-kind person. I think he’s brilliant and hilarious and I just love him a lot and I’m proud — if he’s my peer and part of my generation of music or if we’re viewed on any kind of level together, then I’m really proud of that.

BLADE: Lots of male pop singers today are doing the falsetto thing like you. Who has the best male falsetto voice?

SHEARS: You mean right now?

BLADE: Any era.

SHEARS: I would just have to say the Gibbs. You know, I was just listening to “Nights on Broadway” last week and it’s just so good. There are moments where they could do it perfect, then they could also do it ragged and imperfect as well and it just sounded so good. So I mean, I feel like they’re kind of the kings of that.

BLADE: Have you heard Troye Sivan’s new record?

SHEARS: Just the singles. I gotta sit down and listen to the whole thing. I’m really excited about it. What do you think?

BLADE: I like it. It’s so nice to see someone singing about gay life so unabashedly.

SHEARS: Seriously. I’m so happy about it. I love the singles and it seems like people are absolutely loving the album. I’m glad you reminded me of it. I’m gonna give the whole thing a listen today. But yeah, I want to see that really go through the roof. He deserves it and it’s just time. I just think we’ve waited long enough. It’s time for a big, queer just pop star and yeah, I just think it’s time so I’m very excited.

BLADE: Do you have any pet peeves about celebrity culture of the way it’s covered in media?

SHEARS: There’s nothing I hate more than a headline that says somebody is “clapping back” at so and so. Or so and so, “claps back.” Basically just news stories about people fighting on Twitter. That’s a pet peeve of mine. It’s just the snake eating itself.

BLADE: Why do you think the Scissors were bigger in the U.K. than the U.S.? Does the Hot 100 here just reflect more of the hetero, rednecky parts of the country?

SHEARS: Well I think it was just a narrative that took hold and I can pinpoint the top of that narrative. I talk about it in my book. We were over there working for like six months before we broke over there and at that time, album releases were staggered so we released in the U.K. in February and we didn’t come out in the U.S. until July so we broke in the U.K. in June. So when we put out our record, we were just getting started again and the New York Times wrote a little sidebar with the headline that said, “Scissor Sisters hot over there, cool over here” and I credit that one thing in the New York Times, that really snarky little piece to starting that narrative. I think that’s why I still get that question. I don’t think we entirely got a fighting chance over here but over the years, it kind of leveled out. By the time we put our our fourth record, we were at the Palladium two nights, we were at Terminal 5 two nights, so the whole thing leveled out. We had extraordinary success over there, the kind of success that barely anybody has anywhere, so I don’t necessarily — I just think it was an extraordinary moment and I’ve never ever felt we were less successful over here at all. … It doesn’t really bother me. But I think that’s the origins of it, this tale of the Scissor Sisters on both sides of the Atlantic.

BLADE: Did you ever think about doing a solo album when the Scissors were together or was there just not really time? It’s not unheard of.

SHEARS: It never really crossed my mind as something I realy wanted to do. I always thought a solo record would feel really sort of narcissistic. I never really thought of myself as a solo performer. I was always kind of shy about that. Even when I would do appearances without the band, I would always feel very much like, “Why am I here, I don’t really belong here.” I’ve always kind of had that self doubt thing when I was by myself. So no, I don’t really. But it’s been a little bit of a personal — I hate the word journey — but it’s been like a little bit of a road to get to the spot where I can, you know, feel like there’s a reason for me to be singing on my own.

BLADE: You’ve played a lot with genderfuck in photos and magazine shoots. Do you like to wear dresses or paint your nails in your regular life?

SHEARS: Oh, I love wearing big frilly dresses (laughs). Especially in New Orleans. Like for Decadence, I have a naughty nurse uniform. Everybody was in harnesses and I have my little candy striper outfit. So, I don’t know, it’s just that I have a good time wearing a dress sometimes. I don’t even really think about it. I’m just kind of drawn to what feels good.

BLADE: Do you think there will be deluxe reissues of the Scissor Sisters albums eventually? Are there many outtakes from those sessions? B-sides and alternate takes and stuff like that.

SHEARS: My dream for the 10th anniversary of “Night Work” is to do — there’s a whole album that’s attached to that that was scrapped. There’s this whole lost record to that that I would love to put out in 2020. I’m hoping Babydaddy and I can get together to do that. I would love for people to hear that stuff. Just great songs.

BLADE: This is all just sitting on a hard drive somewhere?

SHEARS: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Totally. And there’s a lot of it. There’s hundreds of songs.

BLADE: What was the longest or most arduous video shoot you ever did?

SHEARS: The “Comfortably Numb” video. It was two days in a big water tank in Devon, England and …. it was a very, very, very tough video to shoot. I got very sick afterwards.

BLADE: You’ve talked about enjoying the freedom the solo record has afforded you but it also seemed like you held an enormous amount of influence in Scissors. I know you dug in your heels about the controversial Mapplethorpe butt photo for “Night Work,” for example. So how strong was that itch really?

SHEARS: Well the thing about being a band is you just want everybody, yeah, you’ve got your vision and what not but also you want everybody to be happy and you want everybody to feel like they’re represented. I definitely had my own vision for the band that was implemented in many ways, but at the same time, the thing that’s nice about doing stuff by myself is that I don’t have to worry about making everybody happy. … All I have to worry about is making myself happy and that’s an amazing feeling creatively and it’s made me feel very liberated in a lot of ways.

BLADE: Are you seeing anybody now?

SHEARS: No, I’m not. I wish I could but I’m not physically in the same place enough now to really be able to spend enough time with anybody that it would really make sense. I don’t know if it’s gonna be possible for me for awhile because (of that) which is kind of a bummer. I’d love to be in a relationship. I’m definitely romantic and I get lonely and I would definitely love to have that connection with somebody. But it wouldn’t be fair to somebody else to not be around. 

BLADE: Do you have a type?

SHEARS: I used to think I did but now I’m really only truly attracted to somebody when I spend a lot of time with someone and get to know them. Maybe it’s just a thing about getting older but it’s a lot more about personality to me now and I can get surprised by somebody. I’ll always realize that somebody can be right in front of you and you don’t even know it yet. So my thing is just about getting to know somebody and that’s what I’m into. It could be any kind of type, but it’s just more about who somebody is.

BLADE: Are you and your ex on speaking terms? Were you able to salvage any friendship out of that?

SHEARS: Oh yeah, absolutely. I love him very much and I’m proud of him and he’s an amazing person. He was actually just calling my phone a few minutes ago when we were talking. But yeah, absolutely. And we co-parent a little border terrier so we’re very much still connected.

BLADE: Were there any epiphanies about yourself that surprised you writing the book and album?

SHEARS: I think the main thing that I learned from all of it is I used to kind of think that there was always some kind of a deadline all the time and I think I just really learned, just as far as the work itself, I just want to make good stuff that I love and that’s totally satisfying to me. So whether it takes another five years for me to write another record now, I really don’t care just as long as it’s something that I love and that means something to me. That’s the most important thing about putting stuff out in the world. And by the way, that’s a lesson I keep learning over and over and over again since day one. It’s always something I keep realizing. 

Jake Shears, gay news, Washington Blade

Jake Shears plays two nights at the El Rey Theatre this weekend. (Photo by Raphael Chatelain)

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Daisy Edgar-Jones knows why ‘the Crawdads sing’

Actress on process, perfecting a southern accent, and her queer following

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Daisy Edgar-Jones as Kya Clark. (Photo courtesy Sony/Columbia)

Daisy Edgar-Jones is an actor whose career is blossoming like her namesake. In recent years, she seems to be everywhere. LGBTQ viewers may recognize Edgar-Jones from her role as Delia Rawson in the recently canceled queer HBO series “Gentleman Jack.” She also played memorable parts in a pair of popular Hulu series, “Normal People” and “Under the Banner of Heaven.” Earlier this year, Edgar-Jones was seen as Noa in the black comedy/horror flick “Fresh” alongside Sebastian Stan. 

With her new movie, “Where the Crawdads Sing” (Sony/Columbia), she officially becomes a lead actress. Based on Delia Owens’ popular book club title of the same name, the movie spans a considerable period of time, part murder mystery, part courtroom drama. She was kind enough to answer a few questions for the Blade.

BLADE: Daisy, had you read Delia Owens’s novel “Where the Crawdads Sing” before signing on to play Kya?

DAISY EDGAR-JONES: I read it during my audition process, as I was auditioning for the part. So, the two went hand in hand.

BLADE: What was it about the character of Kya that appealed to you as an actress?

EDGAR-JONES: There was so much about her that appealed to me. I think the fact that she is a very complicated woman. She’s a mixture of things. She’s gentle and she’s curious. She’s strong and she’s resilient. She felt like a real person. I love real character studies and it felt like a character I haven’t had a chance to delve into. It felt different from anyone I’ve played before. Her resilience was one that I really admired. So, I really wanted to spend some time with her.

BLADE: While Kya is in jail, accused of killing the character Chase, she is visited by a cat in her cell. Are you a cat person or do you prefer dogs?

EDGAR-JONES: I like both! I think I like the fact that dogs unconditionally love you. While a cat’s love can feel a bit conditional. I do think both are very cute. Probably, if I had to choose, it would be dogs.

BLADE: I’m a dog person, so I’m glad you said that.

EDGAR-JONES: [Laughs]

BLADE: Kya lives on the marsh and spends a lot of time on and in the water. Are you a swimmer or do you prefer to be on dry land?

EDGAR-JONES: I like swimming, I do. I grew up swimming a lot. If I’m ever on holidays, I like it to be by the sea or by a nice pool.

BLADE: Kya is also a gifted artist, and it is the thing that brings her great joy. Do you draw or paint?

EDGAR-JONES: I always doodle. I’m an avid doodler. I do love to draw and paint. I loved it at school. I wouldn’t say I was anywhere near as skilled as Kya. But I do love drawing if I get the chance to do it.

BLADE: Kya was born and raised in North Carolina. What can you tell me about your process when it comes to doing a southern accent or an American accent in general?

EDGAR-JONES: It’s obviously quite different from mine. I’ve been lucky that I’ve spent a lot of time working on various accents for different parts for a few years now, so I feel like I’m developed an ear for, I guess, the difference in tone and vowel sounds [laughs]. When it came to this, it was really important to get it right, of course. Kya has a very lyrical, gentle voice, which I think that North Carolina kind of sound really helped me to access. I worked with a brilliant accent coach who helped me out and I just listened and listened.

BLADE: While I was watching “Where the Crawdads Sing” I thought about how Kya could easily be a character from the LGBTQ community because she is considered an outsider, is shunned and ridiculed, and experiences physical and emotional harm. Do you also see the parallels?

EDGAR-JONES: I certainly do. I think that aspect of being an outsider is there, and this film does a really good job of showing how important it is to be kind to everyone. I think this film celebrates the goodness you can give to each other if you choose to be kind. Yes, I definitely see the parallels.

BLADE: Do you have an awareness of an LGBTQ following for your acting career?

EDGAR-JONES: I tend to stay off social media and am honestly not really aware of who follows me, but I do really hope the projects I’ve worked on resonate with everyone.

BLADE: Are there any upcoming acting projects that you’d like to mention?

EDGAR-JONES: None that I can talk of quite yet. But there are a few things that are coming up next year, so I’m really excited.

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LA Blade Exclusive: L Morgan Lee, Broadway’s newest icon sings her truth

She is the first ever trans actress to receive a Tony Award Nomination & the first trans performer to be in a work that has won a Pulitzer

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L Morgan Lee exclusively photographed by Andrey Strekoza for the Los Angeles Blade June, 2022

NEW YORK CITY – “I am just a girl,” L Morgan Lee tells me. That simple statement is her self-definition, a girl taking life one step at a time.

To the rest of us, L Morgan Lee is so much more. She is the award-winning actress starring on Broadway in the hit show of the season, A Strange Loop. Her singing talent matches that of any legendary diva, she is creating landmark theatrical projects on womanhood and New York Times articles are being written about her. She is the “girl” in the spotlight now.

She is also, the first ever transgender actor or actress to receive a Tony Award Nomination.

While she is not the first trans performer to be seen on a Broadway stage, she seems to have broken the glass (or some might say, cement) ceiling of being recognized in the upper echelon of talent. She is the first transgender performer to be in a work that has won a Pulitzer. While the Pulitzer recognizes the author, whom she was not, certainly her creative input was weaved into the final book of the play.

L Morgan has journeyed a complex path to self-awareness. “For me, even in terms of being trans, the idea of being anything outside of what I was assigned at birth was just laughable and crazy to me as a child,” she says. “It just, it made no sense. It was not something that I was comfortable saying out loud to anyone or voicing. How would I be looked at by my parents, by anyone else? So, I would sit and dream. The dreaming is, I think, what forms, much of so many queer people’s lives and experiences.   Those dreams become our lifelines. I would dream and dream. I have a memory of when I was maybe six years old, in the middle of the night, looking up at my ceiling in my bedroom. Waking up soaked with tears. Saying, if I could wake up and be a girl, a girl, everything would be okay.” She adds. “That is why I am so excited to have gotten my first opportunity to be on Broadway, excited to have gotten a Tony nomination. Because I know that there is some kid somewhere, who is also looking up at the ceiling saying that same thing.”

L Morgan’s first adventure into performing was as a kid and ironically projected her future identity fluidity: she costumed up and performed “Karma Chameleon” in nursery school. She allowed herself to explore her true identity under the guise of a Halloween costume quite a few years later. She went in fully fashion glammed drag, and it changed her world forever. “The minute I did it, I felt a jolt of energy I had never felt before. I finally felt free in so many ways. It’s as if like it’s as if I finally got to breathe.”

When she started work on A Strange Loop, she had been cast under the assumption that she was a cisgender man playing female parts. As the years of work into the play went on, L Morgan’s transgender journey escalated, and she attempted to resign from the play as she realized she was no longer the person they thought they had hired. Not only were they aware, as many close loved ones can be, of her journey, but they embraced her and assured her that she belonged more than ever.

“The characters I played allowed me to, in some ways hide until I was able to be more public about who I am. And once I did that, it certainly brought another layer of depth to what I was doing. I have been that much more comfortable in my own skin. I’ve grown. Transition has settled in more. So, both my viewpoints about the show, the people I’m playing, and my lens of life in general, has evolved through the process. So, certainly the woman I am today, views the show and the script, and the characters I play in a very different way than I did when I first sat down to do it in 2015.” 

Her growth within the show, and the growth of the show itself are intertwined. Certainly, some of the magic of the show is that it is not “performed” as much as it is lived out of the souls of the actors in it. L Morgan describes, “The experience of A Strange Loop has been beautiful, complex, layered and ever evolving, for me in particular.  Every time I’ve come back to the rehearsal room with this project, my own lens has been slightly evolved or has moved forward in some ways.”

“The piece is as strong as it is because the lens itself, the lens through which the story is told, is very specific and very honest. Inside of that specificity, there are lots of complications and layers and messy stuff. There are things that you don’t ‘talk about out loud’ taboo to discuss. There are things that people see as problematic. There are so many things inside of all of that, but it’s honest and it’s human. It is a 25-year-old, who’s about to turn 26, sort of raging through life, feeling oppressed and unseen and shouting out to find how he fits into the world. It is how he can find his truest voice in a world that doesn’t really allow him to feel like he’s enough. Because it is so specific about those things the show touches so many different people.”

L Morgan demonstrated coming out as a confident transgender actress, with her vulnerabilities unhidden, on the opening night of the play and decisions she made as she stepped into the public spotlight. “I feel a responsibility. It feels like a dream, it feels wonderful. It feels exciting. It’s like everything I’ve ever asked for but the, the most poignant feeling for me is the responsibility. How could I show up for that person that needs to find me.”

“On my opening night on Broadway, we were trying to figure out what I was going to do with dress and hair and all these things. You only get a first time once. You get your debut one time. So how do I make the most of this moment? I felt raw and excited. I needed to show like the most honest and clear-cut version of me I could. I needed to show my shaved head because that’s something that’s important to me. It’s something, I almost never show. I stepped out revealed, exposed and vulnerable on the very public red carpet, speaking to cameras with my buzzed head. Our relationship with hair runs very deep, especially for trans people, and there was something about it, that just felt like, I needed to do it. That kid somewhere under the covers needs to see this trans woman who is in her Broadway debut and she’s in a pretty dress and she has a shaved head, and she seems like she’s comfortable. Then when you hear her talking about it, you hear about her vulnerability and hear that she felt nervous, and you hear that she was dealing with dysphoria and she was dealing with confidence and she was dealing with all these things that we attached to our hair and she reveals those things. Not only because they’re true but because when we reveal Our Truth, our humanness, there is universality there. There is connection inside of our vulnerability.”

While the Tony nomination escalates her Broadway experience, L Morgan does not lose sight of her mortal existence. “On the day that the Tony nominations happened, I fell apart, completely losing it in my bedroom. Then I realized, I still needed to get a couch, and clean up the apartment. I still feel regular. It’s been a wild dream and at the same time, your real life just keeps on going. I am just trying to put one foot in front of the other.”

On the night of the Tonys. L Morgan will be up against some heavy hitters. Not the least of these is Broadway Legend Patty LuPone. L Morgan is ok with that. Her dream has been to see her face in one of the camera boxes on television of the nominee hopefuls.  

“The biggest reason I do, what I do is one because I love storytelling. My experience is black, my experience is trans, but I’m just, I’m just a woman. I am a woman who had a trans experience. That’s my story. I know that somewhere there’s s a kid, as I have said, who is just like I was. It is extremely important for me to make that kid proud and make that kid feel seen and make that kid know that it’s possible.” 

“I want that kid to be able to know that most importantly, they already are who they are dreaming to be. The world is telling you something different, but you know who you are. There’s nothing wrong with you, there is nothing wrong with us. The world has never told us that we were an option.”  

“That kid needs to find my story. They need to know that we exist. It is the reason it took me so long to be public about things and to start speaking, because I wasn’t seeing enough examples. There’s a quote, ‘she needed a hero, so that’s what she became.’ I really live by that.”

She needed to see a transwoman Tony Nominee. So that’s what she became.

When they call the winner on Tony Night, it will be between a Broadway legend and Broadway’s newest icon.

However it goes, another ceiling has been broken forever, and somewhere a trans girl in hiding will realize her dream too can come true.

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For better and for worse, Oscar makes history again

The biggest queer moment of the night was Ariana DeBose’s historic win as the first out woman to win the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress

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Jessica Chastain accepts the Oscar for Lead Actress (Screenshot/ABC)

HOLLYWOOD – By the time you read this, the biggest moment from this year’s Oscars will already be old news – but before we can move on to a discussion of what the wins and losses reveal about the state of LGBTQ+ representation, inclusion, and acceptance in the Hollywood film industry, we have to talk about it anyway.

When Will Smith stepped up onto that stage at the Dolby Theatre to physically assault Chris Rock – a professional comedian, doing the job he was hired to do in good faith that he would be safe from bodily harm while doing it – for making an admittedly cheap and not-very-funny joke, it was a moment of instant Oscar history that overshadowed everything else about the evening.

There’s been enough discussion about the incident that we don’t need to take up space for it here – tempting as it may be – other than to assert a firm belief that violence is never a good way to express one’s disapproval of a joke, especially during a live broadcast that is being seen by literally millions of people.

Smith, whether or not he deserved his win for Best Actor, succeeded only in making sure his achievement – which could have been a triumphant and historic moment for Black representation in Hollywood, not to mention an honorable cap for his own long and inspiring career – will be forever marred, and the palpably insincere non-apology that replaced what could otherwise have been his acceptance speech was only a textbook example of putting out fire with gasoline.

Yet that polarizing display also allows us a springboard into the much-more-important subject of queer visibility in the movies, thanks to another Smith-centered controversy (and there have been so many, really) from the early days of his career that sheds a lot of light on the homophobic attitudes of an industry almost as famous as playing to both sides of the fence as it is for the art it produces. 

Back in 1993, riding his success as a hip-hop artist-turned actor and springboarding from his “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” fame into a movie career, Smith appeared in the film adaptation of John Guare’s critically-acclaimed play “Six Degrees of Separation,” playing a young con artist who preys on a wealthy Manhattan couple (played by Donald Sutherland and Stockard Channing), convincing them to give them money and even move into their home before they eventually discover the truth after coming home to find him in bed with a male hustler.

Unsurprisingly (it was 1993, after all), some of the play’s homosexual content was “softened” for the film version, but Smith was still called upon to perform in a scene depicting a kiss between himself and co-star Anthony Michael Hall. After initially agreeing, he abruptly changed his mind (due to advice from friend-and-mentor Denzel Washington, who warned him that kissing a man onscreen could negatively impact his future career) and refused to do the kiss, necessitating the use of camera trickery to accomplish the scene.

Decades later, Smith expressed regret at the choice, saying it was “immature” and that he should have gone ahead with the kiss – but the story nevertheless provides some insight about the pressure placed on actors in Hollywood to appear heterosexual for their audiences, no matter what.

Despite advancements, that pressure continues today – and Smith, whose unorthodox and publicly rocky marriage already has put him under an arguably unfair microscope, has also been alleged (most notoriously by trans actress Alexis Arquette, who made controversial comments about the couple shortly before her death in 2016) to be participating in a sham marriage in an effort to conceal both his own and his wife’s queer sexuality, may well have been feeling it when he was moved to assert his masculinity at the Academy Awards.

True or not, such rumors still have the potential for ruining careers in Hollywood; and while it may be a facile oversimplification to assume that homophobia was behind Smith’s ill-advised breach of decorum, it’s nevertheless a topic that goes straight to the heart of why the Academy, even in 2022, has such an abysmal track record for rewarding – or even including – openly queer actors on Oscar night.

Granted, things have improved, at least in terms of allowing queerness to be on display at the ceremony. On Sunday night, out Best Actress nominee Kristen Stewart attended with her fiancée, Dylan Miller, with the couple sharing a public kiss on the red carpet as they arrived for the festivities; the trio of female hosts – which included out woman of color Wanda Sikes alongside fellow comedians Amy Schumer and Regina Hall – called out Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill with a defiant joke during their opening presentation.

Jessica Chastain – who won Best Actress for playing unlikely LGBTQ ally and AIDS advocate Tammy Faye Baker in “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” – made an emotional speech decrying anti-LGBTQ legislation and advocating for all people to be “accepted for who we are, accepted for who we love, and to live a life without the fear of violence or terror.”

Numerous participants in the evening, whether male or female, queer or straight, took the opportunity to push gender boundaries with their couture for the evening (thanks for that, Timothée Chalamet). Elliot Page, joining Jennifer Garner and JK Simmons for a “Juno” reunion, became the first trans man to be a presenter at the Academy Awards. Finally, two beloved queer icons shared the stage for the evening’s finale, as Lady Gaga was joined by wheelchair-bound Liza Minnelli, frail but full of obvious joy at being there, to present the award for Best Picture.

The biggest queer moment of the night, of course, was also one of the first: Ariana DeBose’s historic win as the first out woman to win the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. Accepting the award (for which she was considered by far the front-runner), De Bose proudly highlighted her queerness alongside her other intersecting identities, saying “You see an openly queer woman of color, an Afro-Latina, who found her strength and life through art. And that is, I think, what we’re here to celebrate.”

The evening’s other queer nominees did not fare so well. “Flee,” the Danish documentary about a gay Afghan refugee’s escape from his homeland as a teen, made history by scoring triple nominations as Best Documentary Feature, Best International Feature, and Best Animated Feature, but it went home empty-handed. Stewart – the only other openly queer acting nominee – lost to Chastain for Best Actress, and the divisive but queer-themed “Power of the Dog” lost its bid for Best Picture to “CODA,” as well as all of its multiple acting nominations – though its director, Jane Campion, already the first woman to be nominated twice for the Best Director Prize, became the third woman to actually win it.

Of course, the Oscar, like any other award, should be bestowed upon the most deserving nominee regardless of sexuality, gender, or any other “identity” status, and it seems unreasonable to expect all the queer nominees to win – though some might feel a little reparative favoritism wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing when it comes to balancing the scales. Even so, nobody has a chance to win if they’re not even nominated, and that’s where Oscar has repeatedly and persistently fallen short.

According to a recent report from Professor Russell Robinson, Faculty Director of Berkeley Law’s Center on Race, Sexuality & Culture, analysis of more than half a century of Academy Award acting nominations reveals that out of 68 nominations (and 14 wins) for performers playing LGBTQ roles, only two nominees – neither of whom went on to win – were LGBTQ-identified in real life.

While actors like Tom Hanks (“Philadelphia”), Sean Penn (“Milk”), Penélope Cruz (“Parallel Mothers” and “Vicky Cristina Barcelona”), and the late William Hurt (“Kiss of the Spider Woman”) garnered career-boosting acclaim along with their Oscars for playing queer characters, there are no equivalent success stories for queer actors playing straight roles – indeed, only eight openly queer performers have gotten a nomination for ANY role, queer or otherwise, in the entire history of the Oscars, and no transgender performers have ever received one at all.

While one might believe statistics like this are at least beginning to change, bear in mind that both of Benedict Cumberbatch’s two Oscar nods so far were for playing gay men, including this year’s “Power of the Dog” (the first was for playing real-life queer hero Alan Turing in “The Imitation Game”).

The topic of whether straight actors playing queer characters is appropriate at all is of course a hotly-debated one, with reasonable arguments – and queer voices in support of them – on both sides. We won’t attempt an in-depth examination of that issue here, but what is obvious even without the above statistics is that the Academy – or rather, looking at it from a wider scope, Hollywood itself – has a deeply-ingrained prejudice against queerness, regardless of how loudly it proclaims itself to be an ally.

Yes, progress has undeniably been achieved, especially within the last few years; the strong showing of films like “Moonlight,” “Call Me By Your Name,” “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and other LGBTQ-oriented titles on recent Oscar nights has gone neither unnoticed nor unappreciated.

Yet the Academy – as well as the industry it represents – has a pattern of responding to criticism over its inclusiveness in half-measures. It takes more than a hashtag to end sexual harassment of women in the workplace, no matter how many times it’s flashed on the screen during an awards show, and it takes more than a token nomination every few years to give an underrepresented population a fair place at the table, too.

This year’s ceremony was not without its missteps. The choice to bump awards from the broadcast for time while simultaneously devoting minutes to a James Bond tribute or a performance of a song (“We Don’t Talk About Bruno” from Disney’s “Encanto”) that wasn’t even nominated; accompanying the annual “In Memoriam” tribute to the year’s dearly departed with a choreographed dance and vocal performance; the insensitivity of rushing some winners (like “Drive My Car” director Ryusuke Hamaguchi, accepting when his film won for Best International Feature) to finish their speeches while letting others continue uninterrupted; these and other ill-considered decisions had already blemished the show before “the slap heard ‘round the world” ever happened.

Nevertheless, this Oscar show felt more authentic than many in recent memory. There was a raw, unpredictable quality to it, perhaps rooted in the Academy’s controversial choice to relegate several “lesser” awards to a pre-show presentation, that manifested itself in the uncomfortable response of the audience to the often sharp humor of hostesses Sikes, Schuman, and Hall – who mercilessly skewered Hollywood’s say-one-thing-do-another approach to sexism, racism, homophobia and more throughout the show, often with visible apprehension over how their jokes might land.

Nervousness notwithstanding, their presence and their comedic calling-out of industry hypocrisy, along with the willingness of the celebrities in the house to laugh about it, was an element that lifted the proceedings enough to make them not only bearable, but sometimes even enjoyable.

That doesn’t mean the Academy can rest on its laurels. While it’s become common for their awards show – and all the others, for that matter – to serve as a kind of celebrity roast, where jokes are made and laughed at about the industry’s hot-button issue of the day, the persistent problems in Hollywood can’t be corrected just by allowing its workers to blow off steam by making fun of them once a year.

The film industry thinks that by going along with self-mocking humor about its own misogyny, racism, and homophobia, it gets a pass to continue ignoring the growing demand from the public to eliminate those same toxic ingredients from its standard recipe.

Perhaps the Smith incident, based as it seems to have been in a show of masculine dominance, will prompt some soul-searching within the entertainment community over its own rampant hypocrisy. Let’s hope so, because if the Academy Awards are ever to be truly inclusive in their representation of every segment of our society, no matter who they are or who they love, that’s something that has to happen first in the movies their prizes are meant to honor.

We’ve come a long way, to be sure, but we’re not there yet.

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Jessica Chastain Accepts the Oscar for Lead Actress:

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