Arts & Entertainment
Nicki Minaj pulls out of Saudi Arabia festival to support LGBTQ rights, women’s rights
Liam Payne is still scheduled to perform
Nicki Minaj has canceled her appearance at Jeddah World Fest in Saudi Arabia because she says she wants to show her support for LGBTQ rights, freedom of expression and women’s rights.
“After careful reflection I have decided to no longer move forward with my scheduled concert at Jeddah World Fest,” Minaj said in a statement to the Associated Press.“While I want nothing more than to bring my show to fans in Saudi Arabia, after better educating myself on the issues, I believe it is important for me to make clear my support for the rights of women, the LGBTQ community and freedom of expression.”
The alcohol and drug-free festival, which takes place on July 18 at the King Abdullah Sports Stadium in the Red Sea city, also includes Liam Payne and Steve Aoki in the lineup.
The Human Rights Foundation urged Minaj, who recently participated in World Pride in New York City, and Payne to drop out of the festival.
“The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) considers the Saudi regime to be one of the world’s worst human rights violators and has contacted Minaj, urging her to cancel her performance, refuse the regime’s money, and instead use her global influence to issue a statement demanding the release of the Saudi women activists who are currently in prison. Minaj, who took part in World Pride festivities in her hometown of New York City last month to celebrate LGBTQ rights, will be performing in a country where homosexuality is punishable by imprisonment or death. In April of this year, at least five men were executed by the Saudi regime for admitting to sexual relations with other men after enduring months of torture,” the statement reads.
President of the Human Rights Foundation Thor Halvorssen praised Minaj for choosing not to perform.
“This is what leadership looks like. We are grateful to Nicki Minaj for her inspiring and thoughtful decision to reject the Saudi regime’s transparent attempt at using her for a public relations stunt,”Halvorssen said in a statement. “The July 18 festival in Saudi Arabia still shows Liam Payne as a performer. We hope that he follows Nicki Minaj’s lead. Minaj’s moral stance differs from celebrity performers like J-Lo and Mariah Carey, who in the past have chosen to line their pockets with millions of dollars and stand with dictatorial governments as opposed to with oppressed communities and imprisoned human rights activists.”
Payne is still scheduled to perform.
New LA production finds the trans heart of iconic ‘Spider Woman’
There are still discount tickets available through LA Theatre Week. “Kiss of the Spider Woman” performs at A Noise Within
LOS ANGELES – Most of us are probably aware of “Kiss of the Spider Woman” either as an acclaimed 1993 stage musical by “Cabaret” and “Chicago” composers John Kander and Fred Ebb and queer playwright Terrence McNally, or as an acclaimed 1985 film starring Raul Julia and William Hurt – the latter of whom became the first actor to win an Oscar for playing a queer character (and also the first of 8 straight-identifying actors to win for playing queer, but that’s another story).
Many of us also know that before any of that, it was a 1976 novel by Argentinian author Manuel Puig, who wrote it while living as an exile in Greenwich Village after a military coup d’etat placed his native country under the rule of a brutal and repressive military dictatorship.
What most of us DON’T know, perhaps, is that before the mainstream success of the novel’s now-classic film and stage adaptations, there was another version of the story, adapted into a 1983 play by Puig himself and translated into English by Allan Baker for a 1985 London premiere starring Simon Callow and Mark Rylance.
It’s that adaptation of the work which is now onstage at LA’s A Noise Within theatre company, and its timing couldn’t be better – because while the book’s more famous adaptations, each a product of their time and limited by a lack of existing language in their efforts to fully explore its complex themes about sexuality and gender, might feel a little dated to many of us 2023, a fresh take from a more informed perspective is all that’s needed to do justice to the material and reveal the authentic queer voice that has been inside it all along.
For those who need a refresher, “Spider Woman” is an intimate, two-character drama set in a Buenos Aires prison cell, where Valentin – a macho political prisoner whose commitment to the Marxist cause takes precedence over everything else – is thrown together with Molina – a queer, movie loving dreamer who escapes the harsh reality of prison life by retelling the stories of his favorite film noir classics and drawing inspiration from their glamorous leading ladies. The two cellmates are mismatched, to say the least, but they somehow manage to form an unlikely relationship.
In his press notes for the new production, Michael Michetti sees the dynamic between these two diametrically opposed characters – who, stuck together in an oppressive environment, grow to understand, even to love each other – as a crux which “takes on new relevance in today’s polarized climate.” He also points to the surprising amount of humor and playfulness contained in the story, as well as the importance of language in driving it.
Language is particularly crucial for a version that tells the story without the help of the kind of elaborate conceptual conceits and visual storytelling aids available to a big-budget film or Broadway musical – and that means the burden of using it effectively falls on the two actors playing Valentin and Molina: Ed F. Martin and Adrián González, respectively.
The Blade spoke with both of them about the challenges they faced in tackling two roles already made famous in the public imagination by the novel’s high-profile previous iterations, and their answers underscore all the reasons why “Kiss of the Spider Woman” is still, perhaps more than ever, an essential touchstone for queer culture.
For Molina, it was all about finding the right understanding of Molina.
“Previous versions did not affect me, or at least I didn’t borrow from them. I saw the film way back when, and I was even in a production of the musical — playing the Warden of all things. But I just kind of came in as myself – and a little bit of my mother – and dove into the rehearsals with whatever Adrian and Michael brought to the table. And the deeper we went, the more I fell in love with Molina as a person.”
“I come into this as a Latino gay man,” he explains. “I thought of Molina as a gay man, but in reading the novel and breaking down the play, I came to recognize that Molina could be a transgender woman – it’s hard to say definitively, today being so different from 1975, but I think Molina thinks of herself as a woman, and she emulates the glamorous women of the 40s and 50s from the films she loves so much.”
As for González, he tells us he wasn’t familiar with either the musical or the film.
“I’ll admit that when I was auditioning for the role and doing some research, I watched a few scenes from the film. I didn’t find anything special to hold on to – I love Raul Julia, but we are different people, and honestly I think the story the film is telling is different from the story we are telling. For me, Valentin is a man who is passionate in his beliefs and would do anything to help change the world for the better. That was the thing that struck a chord with me.”
Elaborating, he explains, “Our approach for the characters – particularly Molina – is what makes our story special and very relevant today. We treat her as a trans woman, in a time and world where there was no language or acceptance of her – and she ends up finding it in an unlikely person like Valentín, which is what makes this story truly special.”
Martin agrees. “These two people are polar opposites in their views, but in an enclosed space they are forced to get to know each other, to hear a different point of view, to learn from each other and, finally, to find common ground or a connection. Looking at where we are today as a country – politically, socially, culturally – the play might teach us a thing or two about how to treat each other with respect as we go back and forth expressing ourselves and our opposing values, or philosophies, or whatever we call them. The thing that really makes it relevant is the need for listening.”
González concurs, chiming in, “We can’t seem to agree on issues that truly are basic human rights, and a willingness to have conversations and listen to each other is completely off the table, there’s just a lack of empathy for one another. And meanwhile, the rights of people within the LGBTQ+ community are being attacked.”
The story’s potential as a catalyst for change even extends to the actors themselves. As Martin tells us, “I have loved getting to know and figure out Molina, letting that character be who they are without labels regarding sexual orientation, or gender identity, or anything. There are many reactions Molina has in the story that I have myself in real life – for good and for bad – and, interestingly enough, it made me wonder about myself. As I said, I identify as a gay man – but thanks to this role, I am wondering now if I even need that label?”
González, summing up, expresses his hope that audiences find their hearts and their minds equally opened by experiencing “Spider Woman” with them.
“I believe that theatre, and stories like this one, help shape the world we live in. Whether we agree or not on certain issue, if we’re able to face each other with empathy and an open heart, we can help change the world together.”
“Kiss of the Spider Woman” performs at A Noise Within, 3352 E Foothill Blvd, Pasadena, from April 1 – 23.
Tickets and more information are available at the theatre’s website.
GLAAD Media Awards
GLAAD honors the Los Angeles Blade at annual LA media awards
Publisher and founder of the Los Angeles Blade Troy Masters accepted the award on behalf of the newspaper and its staff
BEVERLY HILLS – Those adorned in glitter and gowns and engaged in gay banter on the GLAAD Media Awards red carpet Thursday evening catapulted into an even more festive mood when word spread of the indictment of former President Donald Trump.
“Somebody literally just told me that,” said Austin, Texas drag performer Brigitte Bandit told the Los Angeles Blade. “I’m still taking it in right now. I feel great!”
“I am trying really hard not to gloat, but as you can see, I am salivating! I am actually salivating!” Abbott Elementary actor Lisa Ann Walter said to the throng of reporters on the red carpet.
“I grew up in the D.C. area, and all my friends are intensely political. I have been my whole life. I’m an activist now. I’ve been following it every single day. Every single day, since I was 16, no, my whole life! When I was 8-years old and I’d stuff envelopes,” Walter said. “This was a really important day for the rule of law. It’s not about revenge. It’s a little bit about karma. But it’s mostly about the American way. And the beauty of this country that justice is blind. And you can’t be an outright, freakin’ criminal for the majority of your adult life and expect to get away with it. At some point, you have to say, ‘Enough is enough.’ And I’m happy that today is that day!”
“Abbott Elementary” actor Lisa Ann Walter reacts to the news of Donald Trump’s indictment:
“We’ve been celebrating,” Kristen Ellis-Henderson, said wife of GLAAD CEO Sarah Kate Ellis. “Yes! Can you believe it? And we’re already dressed up and at a party!”
Following the red carpet, the 34th annual GLAAD Media Awards kicked-off with host Margaret Cho, who got the crowd cheering when she announced Trump’s indictment from the stage at the Beverly Hilton.
“I’m celebrating along with everyone else. I think it’s wonderful,” said Los Angeles Blade diversity reporter Simha Haddad. Haddad and others when asked what they would tell Trump if they were to find themselves seated next to the indicted former president at the awards show. “I have so much to say. Firstly, why? How dare you? And please leave,” said Haddad.
“I’m going to say, ‘Enjoy your last meal, honey. Enjoy your last meal before prison. I hear they don’t serve very good food in New York state lockup,’” said dancer and YouTube personality Frankie Grande, brother of Ariana Grande.
Actors Jennifer Coolidge and her surprise guest Jane Lynch shared the spotlight for a Best in Show reunion. “I believe we all have the right to be who we are, love who we love, tell our stories, and celebrate that in every way we can,” Coolidge told attendees of the sold-out show.
The TV series A League Of Their Own, What We Do In The Shadows and the film Bros were among the 15 winners announced in a total of 33 categories.
Jillian Mercado, star of The L Word: Generation Q, introduced the awards for outstanding journalism with out trans director and Emmy-nominated producer Geena Rocero, including a very special honor for the Los Angeles Blade:
“In the room tonight, a winner of GLAAD’s Barbara Gittings Award for Excellence in LGBTQ Media, the Los Angeles Blade,” said Mercado. “LGBTQ media like the Blade are lifelines. They need our support! Advertisers, I’m looking at you!”
Publisher and founder of the Los Angeles Blade Troy Masters accepted the award on behalf of the newspaper and its staff.
Club Q shooting survivor Michael Anderson took to the stage to honor the five people murdered in Colorado Springs last November. Anderson said it was Christina Aguilera “who has inspired generations to fight for acceptance” as he presented her with this year’s Advocate for Change Award.
Anderson was accompanied to the awards by fellow survivors James Slaugh and Jancarlos Del Valle, who told the Blade the shooting at Club Q have not discouraged them from clubbing. “It made me more resolved to be my authentic self,” Del Valle said. “I will not back down from someone with a gun because love is always going to be stronger than bullets, 100% of the time.”
Slaugh told the Blade: “I was already repressed for 30 years before I came out, so this event didn’t really change anything for me. I’m still going to be who I am.”
Ricky Martin presented Bad Bunny with the Vanguard Award, and Gabrielle Union presented Jeremy Pope with the Stephen F. Kolzak Award.
The award for Outstanding Documentary went to cast of Framing Agnes, announced by Vanessa Williams and Michelle Visage. Despite laryngitis, Williams spoke out against the wave of anti-LGBTQ legislation being proposed and enacted nationwide. “I stand here tonight in allyship with the LGBTQ community,” she said. “Over the years, I’ve watched my LGBTQ friends shift from silence and fear to confidence, advocacy, and non-stop Pride. And I am not about to let a politician, a so-called “journalist,” or any kind of hater push my friends back in the closet,” Williams said.
Earlier Thursday night, the Blade asked Williams and other stars what their message was for Trans Day of Visibility. The singer, actress and former Miss America said to “keep bashing those doors down.”
“We’ve seen how uncomfortable it makes people that don’t understand and will never understand. So, just know that you have to sit in your truth, and know that you feel good about who you are,” Williams told the Blade. “There will be allies and there will be helpful people no matter where you go. So just trust that.”
One of the red carpet highlights was out trans nonbinary actor Blu del Barrio from the Paramount+ streaming series Star Trek Discovery, who wore a yellow rain coat with the words TRANS JOY painted on its back.
“This week has been really hard,” they said. “And I’ve been really depressed, and I wanted to do something that brought some trans joy. My roommate helped me paint this last night. I added this tiny little umbrella, and then it rained, which is great.”
“To every trans person out there, know that you have a flame within you that cannot be blown out,” said actor, writer and producer Shakina Nayfack, who’s busy working on the next season of NBC’s Quantum Leap. “Let it shine. Let it burn as bright as you want.”
One of the stars Nayfack writes for and has directed is out trans nonbinary actor Mason Alexander Park. “The news cycle, not only this week, but obviously for the last few years, has just been taking quite the toll on all of us. I can’t go a day without thinking about what’s going on in our country and in the world at large.”
Park said they credit NBC with supporting Quantum Leap’s producers decision to feature a positive, creative and brilliant out trans nonbinary character. “Allowing the show to represent the world at large, by including the people that are in the world right now, is groundbreaking. Allowing ‘Ian’ to exist as an important member of the team and of the community of Quantum Leap without it having to be a commentary on their gender or queerness around their experience, unless it’s pertinent to the story. Like that’s all any actor could ever want. And I never thought I’d see something like that in my lifetime, let alone get to be a part of that. So I feel incredibly lucky.”
GLAAD recently released its annual “Where We Are on TV” report, which showed overall LGBTQ representation slightly down from the prior year. Park said they haven’t seen any pushback by the network for them to “tone down” their queerness.
“I’ve never seen a group of more accomplices in my life,” they said. “People behind the scenes on that show are dedicated to making real change and to normalizing our experiences in a way that I can’t say is true of a lot of other studios and networks right now, that are amplifying trans voices but not really doing the work to back it up.”
Television consultant, author and out trans man Thomas Page McBee works with the GLAAD-nominated show The Umbrella Academy starring Elliot Page. His advice for Trans Day of Visibility: “You are stronger than you even know.”
“If you see us on the screen and you feel yourself reflected, use that energy. Call your legislators. Stand up for us. And I think, to trans youth in particular: We’re here,” he said. “And we are not going to be erased. We actually cannot be erased at this point. We are everywhere and we are telling our own stories.”
Out gay actor Wilson Cruz, who will star in the final, fifth season of Star Trek Discovery, had an uplifting message for trans fans and allies:
“Trans Day of Visibility is about trans people being visible, but it’s also about the rest of our community being visible in our support for the trans community, about being loud about it. This is not a time to sit back and watch,” Cruz told the Blade. “This is a time for getting boots on the ground and getting really fucking loud, for our siblings who have always been there for us. So, let’s get to work, kids!”
Hulu, the awards’ official streaming partner, will stream the Los Angeles GLAAD Media Awards on Wednesday, April 12.
“Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992” is a uniquely “LA” play
“Twilight” features a multi-racial ensemble, each of whom endeavors to deliver honest portrayals of a dizzying array of characters
LOS ANGELES – “Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992” is a uniquely “LA” play. That may seem an obvious assertion – after all, it’s right there in the title – but in this case it designates far more than just setting.
Originally conceived, written, and performed by Anna Deavere Smith in 1993, it’s a chronicle of the riots – or the uprising, as it is now known by many – that took place in Los Angeles following the acquittal of four LAPD officers accused of beating Rodney King during his arrest; it was a prolonged eruption of civil unrest that was national news, but for the people of LA it was a deeply traumatic experience that left lingering scars. For that reason alone, a performance of Smith’s piece in Los Angeles feels a little more personal than it might if were taking place anywhere else.
When you factor in the additional significance that comes with the 30th anniversary of that seminal, culture-shaking disruption to our city’s sense of identity, it’s clear to see why the production now onstage at the Mark Taper Forum – the very venue where Smith originally mounted the work – might strike a particularly resonant chord for Angelenos.
Directed by Gregg T. Daniel, the new “Twilight” – adapted by Smith herself in the wake of the George Floyd murder to allow production as an ensemble piece rather than a solo performance – is keenly aware of its home field advantage, which it supplements with a production design featuring imagery of familiar local sites on projection screens which frame and visually dominate the stage. Along with the script’s frequent use of LA-centric street names, lingo, and cultural references, it’s enough to make the experience feel as much like a town hall meeting as it does an evening of theatre.
That’s built into the original material, of course. Created by Smith from transcriptions of approximately 300 interviews she personally conducted, it offers a daunting array of conflicting opinions and opposing perspectives from a wide, multi-ethnic swath of real-life individuals impacted – either directly or indirectly – by the riot, which gives its voice the unmistakable ring of authenticity and roots it inextricably in LA’s shared cultural experience. Three decades later, it also amplifies echoes that have been reverberating louder ever since America watched a Black man being murdered on television in the middle of a pandemic.
Since a videotape – one of the first to capture police brutality against a person of color (POC) and expose it to millions of pairs of American eyes via broadcast television – was the catalyst that sparked the Rodney King riots, too, it’s hard not to be struck by the obvious symmetry.
“The resonance just doesn’t go away, says Daniel, speaking to the Blade about why reviving Smith’s iconic piece feels so chillingly apt in 2023. “You think, doing a play that’s thirty years old, ‘is this a museum piece?’ – but unfortunately, this is a play that can never get old, as long as these atrocities keep happening.”
He went on to explain, “The last few years, thanks to cell phones and the internet, we’ve been exposed to so much violence by law enforcement against Black and brown bodies. There was George Floyd, of course, but also Ahmaud Arbery, Breanna Taylor – the names just keep on coming. Even as we were going into rehearsals, Tyre Nichols was murdered in Memphis.”
It goes without saying that many of today’s audiences are coming to Smith’s work with a renewed sense of – at the risk of inviting pejorative corruption of the word (and the concept) from conservative nay-sayers – “wokeness” and a firmly-held interpretation of the “right” and “wrong” attitudes toward the acknowledgment of systemic racial inequality; but as Daniel points out, one of the defining features of the original piece is its refusal to resort to easy judgments.
“She’s not trying to ‘indict’ one side or the other. She just presents LA as it is; these are verbatim accounts of a time we are still trying to come to grips with, they’re not monologues or things that were composed, they are individual expressions of a real experience. She’s not trying to take up sides, she’s just presenting the way things are. Your relationship with it as a community member, living in America – this is what we have, and we have to deal with it.”
That refusal to fall into an easy perspective is what raises “Twilight” above the level of pure emotional propaganda. It’s not difficult to frame the cultural upheaval over Rodney King or George Floyd in terms of literal Black-and-white simplicity, but to face the myriad underlying complexities that contributed to the way each of these incidents played out in the public consciousness requires a less dogmatic mindset than that.
Without implying the validity of such reactionary counter-points as “ALL lives matter” or other such “what-about-isms” that are often substituted for rational responses in the debate over anti-BIPOC police violence, the material’s measured dispensation of contradictory-yet-equally-authentic viewpoints from a multi-racial and often-diametrically-opposed sampling of LA voices makes a strong case for the argument that the use of excessive violent force against anyone, regardless of ethnic origin, is an issue that goes beyond race.
That’s a key point, as far as Daniel is concerned, when it comes to recognizing the scope of the discussion “Twilight” invites. Yes, it centers on systemic violence against POC, and the complicated racial infighting – particularly between the Korean American and Black communities, pitted against each other by circumstance and economic inequity in the communities they frequently co-habit – that so often obscures the deeper problems that underlie it from our view; but ultimately, in the wider scope, the stigma of “otherness” that infests our social and cultural systems and extends far beyond our untenably divided stance on racial equality and institutional reinvention presents a threat to the well-being of any community – whether defined by race, beliefs, gender, sexual orientation, or any of the other surface differences we use to separate ourselves from one another.
As Daniel puts it, “Bigotry and hatred and violence, once it’s perpetrated against African American bodies, can be perpetrated against any bodies. It’s not a big leap to say that violence perpetrated against Black and BIPOC communities is violence against all communities that they deem as not being ‘American’ – it’s not even a stone’s throw away for them to feel the same way about Asian Americans, or Pacific Islanders, or Jewish people, or LGBTQ+ people. I mean, they’re trying to outlaw drag shows! Really? They think THAT is the problem?”
In a pointed counterpoint to such sentiments, Daniel’s production of “Twilight” features a multi-racial five-person ensemble, each of whom endeavors to deliver honest portrayals of a dizzying array of characters ranging across the wide and diverse blend of ethnicity, gender, sexuality, ideology, and status that makes up the personality of Los Angeles itself. All of them have transcendent moments, in which the play’s emphasis on humanity over tribalistic loyalty shines clearly in the forefront; even so, it can’t be denied that splitting the original’s one-person format into a concept that divides its dozens of roles among multiple players has the undoubtedly unintended effect of diffusing the material’s power; there’s something profound about a single voice giving expression to a multitude of individual experiences, and while the same feeling may be stirred when the number of voices expands, some audiences may find it is inevitably diminished in the process.
Still, the production at the Taper delivers a powerful punch, and it’s no surprise that its single most electrifying and devastating moment comes when the videotape of Rodney King being savagely beaten is played silently for a shocked and palpably moved audience. Perhaps more importantly, it offers a comprehensive crash course on the facts around one of America’s most significant cultural crises (and one of LA’s darkest moments) of the last half-century, and fills in the blanks for those too young to remember the real-life event. Most of all, though, it confronts us with an unpleasant truth, and leaves us less sure of where we stand than when we entered the theatre.
As Daniel frames it, “If we’re going to be a city that lives together, how do we relate to what’s on the stage? Our intention with ‘Twilight’ is not to point fingers, or to chide, but to say, as an LA community member, an Angeleno, what is your relationship to these events?”
That’s more than enough reason to see it – in fact, it’s enough to make it essential for any Angeleno coming to grips with their own relationship to the so-called City of Angels.
“Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992” continues through April 9.
Discounted tickets are available through April 2 as part of LA Theatre Week.
Tickets and more information can be found at the Center Theatre Group website.
March Queerness: Women’s coaches to know and root for
Beyond the baskets, the scoreboard and the sweat that goes into climactic games, are out LGBTQ+ coaches leading outstanding student-athletes
GREENVILLE, S.C. — The NCAA Women’s College Basketball Tournament is moving past the Elite Eight stage to the Final Four, with the No. 1 seed, the defending national champion South Carolina Gamecocks vanquishing the No. 2 Maryland Terrapins, 86 to 75 at the Bon Secours Wellness Arena tonight.
Also Monday night, the No. 1 Virginia Tech Hokies defeated the No. 3 Ohio State Buckeyes at Seattle’s Climate Pledge Arena, 84 to 74. For the first time in the university’s history, the Hokies will go on to the Final Four. On Friday in Dallas, they’ll face the LSU Tigers, who defeated out head coach Katie Meier’s University of Miami Hurricanes on Sunday..
Beyond the baskets, the scoreboard and the sweat that goes into these climactic games, are three other out LGBTQ+ coaches leading these outstanding student-athletes.
Although Maryland fell short, Kaitlynn Fratz has a lot to be proud of as an assistant coach with the Terrapins who is out and proud on Instagram.
Having beaten Maryland, the Gamecocks will also be in Dallas on Friday as South Carolina earned its fifth trip to the Final Four. Following the Hokies vs. Tigers game, they’ll be going head to head with the Iowa Hawkeyes, playing their first Final Four in three decades.
Raina Harmon is an assistant coach with Iowa who shares Instagram posts about her marriage to her wife, including their 2020 honeymoon.
Another assistant coach for Iowa, Jan Jansen, has been with her partner Julie Fitzpatrick since 2009.
The headlines in mainstream sports sites like Sports Illustrated may focus on the fact that this was the first Elite Eight in decades without the traditional teams of UConn, Tennessee or Stanford. But gay, lesbian, bi and transgender sports fans are celebrating that these three women are not alone; They’re among 57 out LGBTQ+ coaches in college basketball, with at least 20 players who also identify as queer, according to the LGBTQ+ sports site Outsports.
We’ll see who survives the Final Four on Friday in Dallas.
Master and student go to war in ‘The Tutor’
An unsatisfying thriller that fails to surprise
There was a time when horror movies weren’t taken nearly as seriously as those falling into the more so-called “legit” genres. Even the now-iconic early masterpieces from the silent and early sound eras were largely dismissed by critics as mere lowbrow entertainment enhanced by big studio production values, offering little but shock value and occasionally a clever script and a memorable performance or two.
Today, of course, there is widespread critical appreciation for the horror genre. In recent years, especially, the horror movie field has taken a sharp step up in terms of ambition and perceived legitimacy, with smart and multi-layered movies from artists like M. Night Shyamalan, Guillermo Del Toro, and Jordan Peele pushing boundaries and daring to let the genre wear its once-coded cultural subtext on its sleeve.
“The Tutor,” from sophomore feature director Jordan Ross and screenwriter Ryan King, clearly aims to be cut from that same cloth. It centers on Ethan (Garrett Hedlund), a professional academic coach whose ability to improve his pupils’ educational standing has placed him highly in demand among the rich and elite; despite his success, Ethan and his girlfriend Annie (Victoria Justice) – who are expecting their first child as they make plans for a future together – are struggling financially, making it impossible for him to refuse a secretive, under-the-table offer from an anonymous one-percenter who wants to hire him at a life-changing daily rate to tutor his teenage son Jackson (Noah Schnapp). However, true to the old adage about things that seem too good to be true, Ethan soon discovers that not all is as he expected; arriving at his new employer’s palatial estate, he finds it mostly deserted – save for a butler, a pair of vaguely insolent houseguests, and Jackson himself. Though his new student turns out to be a promising one, Ethan is disturbed by the teen’s almost obsessive fascination with his private life; despite his efforts to maintain a healthy distance, Jackson’s increasingly inappropriate overtures continue to escalate, and soon the boy’s intrusions threaten to sabotage the tutor’s life and career before he can even make sense of what’s behind them.
At first, Ross’s movie seems rooted in the familiar horror trope of the Damien-esque child of privilege, a creepy rich kid (in this case, a more grown-up version) whose demeanor suggests something evil lurking beneath his scrubbed and pampered exterior. However, as any horror fan knows, the more recognizable a trope may be, the less trustworthy it becomes – because if there’s anything a good horror story likes to do, it’s to pull the rug out from under us by turning our expectations on their ear with a clever, unforeseeable twist.
That makes it difficult to discuss “The Tutor” without giving away too much; though anyone who has watched a lot of films like it will find it easy to spot the sleights of hand Ross and King employ to misdirect their audience’s attention, it’s probably best to avoid the specific details of how the plot eventually unfolds. Instead, we can simply sum things up by calling it a cautionary tale about the dangers of judging a situation – or a person – based on appearance alone.
Citing Alfred Hitchcock and David Fincher as his influences, Ross approaches his movie more as a psychological thriller than as outright horror; there’s little onscreen violence, and the tension is built more on uncertainty than fear. Nevertheless, he leans into the macabre with his brooding visual style, evoking a sense of dread. He also relies on a tight, streamlined narrative, moving with brisk and broad strokes through the preliminaries to get right into the business of unsettling us. In this way, he gets us invested quickly and manages to deliver a solid first half that makes up in creep factor for what it lacks in intricate plotting.
It also uses this not-so-slow build to introduce some intriguing themes. Most obviously, it plays with our cultural biases around money, class, and privilege, emphasizing both the extravagant luxury of Jackson’s home and the smallness of Ethan and Annie’s humble apartment, not to mention the teen’s disregard for boundaries and the thinly veiled, mocking arrogance of his dissolute cousins (Jonny Weston, Ekaterina Baker), who may be more tied up in Ethan’s dilemma than their seeming disinterest in him suggests.
Then there’s the undercurrent of queerness – another familiar horror trope – that manifests in Jackson’s apparent “infatuation” with his new teacher and becomes one more red flag for Ethan to dismiss and ignore if he wants to keep his lucrative gig. The casting of Schnapp – the young “Stranger Things” star who came out as gay in January after previously disclosing that his character in the Netflix hit series is also queer – plays into the expectations we have of these scenes.
On the subject of the casting, Schnapp gives an impressively nuanced performance in a volatile role that is both very different and oddly similar to the one his fans know him for, and manages to keep our sympathies – if not always our trust – even when he’s on his worst behavior; he also sparks a believable chemistry with Hedlund, whose role positions him as a proxy for the audience. The latter succeeds by making Ethan as much an “everyman” figure as possible for a character whose defining feature is his intellectual prowess; still, he keeps a palpable distance from the audience when it comes to his inner landscape, something that works in his favor once the story begins to sow doubt about what’s really going on.
Unfortunately, after “The Tutor” gets all its pieces in place and begins to move toward a climax and a final confrontation, it doesn’t quite deliver on its promise. Instead of delving deeper into the mystery it’s worked to establish, it devolves into a game of cat-and-mouse that sometimes stretches credibility a little too thin in the name of raising the stakes and ends up feeling more like a particularly dark episode of “Scooby Doo” than it does like “Strangers on a Train.” Less forgivable, perhaps, is a tendency to reveal previously withheld and unknowable key information as a device for shifting the plot – and our assumptions – in a different direction. Used once, it feels like a cheat; used repeatedly, it feels like laziness.
Of course, all this is part of the movie’s tactic to “gaslight” us so that we won’t see what’s coming. Yet somehow, we still do.
“The Tutor” does have reasons to recommend it. Besides Schnapp and Hedlund, it offers a striking, dramatic visual aesthetic and a sumptuous location setting. It also offers some food for thought by exploring certain thematic elements about narcissism and toxic masculinity, though to say more about that might constitute a spoiler.
Still, by the time it delivers its final surprise twist, it won’t be much of a surprise to most viewers; and while provocative themes might stimulate some conversation after the final credits roll, they don’t do much for creating a satisfying thriller. Or, for that matter, a scary one.
Reading ‘Blue Hunger’ is like watching a Stanley Kubrick film
Lush, dreamlike, and you won’t be able to stop thinking about it
By Viola Di Grado, translated by Jamie Richards
$27/ 216 pages
You can’t stop thinking about it.
It’s been rolling around in your mind since it happened and you can’t stop. You replay it over and over, how it started, how it progressed, why it ended. You wonder if it’ll happen again and in the new novel “Blue Hunger” by Viola Di Grado, you wonder if you truly want it to.
Shanghai was not her first choice for a place to live. Sometimes, she wasn’t really even sure why she came there, except that it was Ruben’s dream.
For months and months, he spoke of Shanghai, showed her maps, talked of a life as a chef living in a high-rise apartment, and he taught her a little bit of the language. She never fully understood why Ruben loved China and she never thought to ask before her other half, her twin brother, her only sibling died.
She was brushing her teeth when it happened. Now, weeks later, she was in his favorite city, a teacher of Italian languages in a Chinese culture, alone, friendless. Then she met Xu.
It happened at the nightclub called Poxx and she later wondered, with a thrill, if Xu had been stalking her. Xu claimed that she was a student in the Italian class, but though she was usually good with faces, she didn’t remember the slender, “glorious” woman with milk-white skin and luminous eyes.
She did remember the first place she and Xu had sex.
It was a hotel, but Xu liked it outside, too; in public, on sidewalks, in abandoned buildings, and in crowded nightclubs. They took yellow pills together, slept together in Xu’s squalid apartment; she told Xu she loved her but never got a reply except that Xu starting biting.
Xu had used her teeth all along but she started biting harder.
Soon, she was bleeding, bruising from Xu’s bites, and seeing people in the shadows, and she began to understand that Ruben wouldn’t have liked Xu at all.
You know what you want. You’re someone with determination. And you may want this book, but there are a few things you’ll need to know first.
Reading “Blue Hunger” is like watching a Stanley Kubrick movie. It’s surreal, kind of gauzy, and loaded with meanings that are somewhat fuzzy until you’ve read a paragraph several times – and even then, you’re not quite sure about it. Author Viola Di Grado writes of sharp, unfinished mourning with a grief-distracting obsession layered thickly on top, of control and submission, and while the chapters are each brief, they feel too long but not long enough. There are so many questions left dangling within the plot of this story, so many small bits unsaid, but also too much information of the mundane sort. You’ll feel somewhat voyeuristic with this book in your hands, until you notice that the sex scenes here are humidly uber-fiery but not very detailed.
Overall, then, “Blue Hunger” is different but compelling, short enough to read twice, quickly. It’s lush, dreamlike, and once started, you won’t be able to stop thinking about it.
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Out & About
LA Leather Pride 2023 is in full swing through Sunday, March 26
Volunteers are always welcomed and appreciated at LA Leather Pride 2023 events. There are many opportunities to get involved and help out
By Paulo Murillo | LOS ANGELES – LA Leather Pride 2023 kicked off earlier this week on March 19 and will host a series of event through this weekend on Sunday, March 26. So far it’s been a week filled with events, music, and community building.
The kickoff Party event began on March 19 at The Bullet Bar. On March 20, LA Leather Pride 2023 hosted La La Leather IV, a concert of classic and original music performed in gear by members of the Los Angeles Leather Community, at MCC in the Valley. There was also a Contestant Meet & Greet on March 23rd at 910WeHo, where contestants competing for the title of Mr. Los Angeles Leather 2023 met their supporters.
On Friday, March 24, The Assembly will be a formal leather/uniform dress code event starting at 7:30pm at Rough Trade Gear.
Also on Friday, DenLA Presents: Release!, a dance & play party for men at an all new, larger DTLA venue. Ticket includes: Open Bar! Free clothes check! Play spaces throughout.
On Saturday March 25, the Mr Los Angeles Leather Contest will be held at The Catwalk Club, starting at 5pm.
Off Sunset Festival is taking place on Sunday, March 26. This will be a day of fun, food, and entertainment for the entire community. More info OffSunsetFestival.com.
This year’s theme is “Release!”
“We live in a post pandemic world that is fraught with anxiety, worries and fears,” said Gabriel Green, Chairman of LA Leather Pride 2023. “While we are now free to move about the world, there is a cloud of uncertainty that looms over wondering what will tomorrow bring. For these reasons we chose the theme of ‘Release!’ for this year’s Los Angeles Leather Pride. Release has two meanings: to enable to escape confinement and to allow something to move, act or flow freely.”
Volunteers are always welcomed and appreciated at LA Leather Pride 2023 events. There are many opportunities to get involved and help out, including assisting with event setup, serving drinks, and greeting attendees. If you’re interested in volunteering, visit LALeatherPride.com and fill out the volunteer application form.
Get your tickets now for leather pride week at LALeatherPride.com
Paulo Murillo is Editor in Chief and Publisher of WEHO TIMES. He brings over 20 years of experience as a columnist, reporter, and photo journalist.
The preceding article was previously published by WeHo Times and is republished with permission.
Trans women banned from track & field, intersex athletes restricted
World Athletics’s new edict will take effect on Transgender Day of Visibility, March 31 crushing Olympic hopes for NCAA champion CeCé Telfer
MONACO – The organization that makes the rules for track and field meets around the world declared Thursday it will bar transgender women who have experienced male puberty from competing, a move that was anticipated following a similar trans ban issued last year by the governing body for world swimming.
As the Associated Press noted, at this moment there are zero trans women competing at the elite level of track and field. But the edict, which World Athletics announced will take effect on the Transgender Day of Visibility, March 31, is crushing news for one hopeful.
In May 2019, CeCé Telfer won the 400m hurdles at the Division II championships and became the first out trans woman to win an NCAA title. She’s been training ever since for her shot at the Olympics, despite being ruled ineligible for Beijing at the trials in 2021. The Jamaican-American had set a goal of qualifying for Paris in 2024. But the World Athletics ban ends that dream.
Telfer tweeted Thursday, “It feels as though the world stopped moving.”
It feels as though the world stopped moving…— CeCe Telfer (@CeceTelfer) March 23, 2023
Another ruling by the group will likely mean no shot at the Olympics for another Black woman athlete, two-time gold medalist Caster Semenya. The South African track icon is not transgender, but because of her higher than typical testosterone levels, she has been barred from competing in her signature event, the 800m. World Athletics took that from her around the same time Telfer made history, in May 2019.
The group issued an eligibility ruling that prohibits female athletes like Semenya who have Differences in Sexual Development (DSD) from competing in women’s events, from the 400m to one mile (1600m), unless they reduce their testosterone levels. So, Semenya chose to run in longer events than she did previously. She finished 13th in her qualifying heat at 5,000 meters at world championships last year as she worked to adapt to longer distances, in preparation for Paris.
“I’m in the adaptation phase, and my body is starting to fit with it. I’m just enjoying myself at the moment, and things will fall into place at the right time,” the South African runner told the AP.
That time may now never come. On Thursday, World Athletics announced athletes who have DSD will have to undergo hormone-suppressing treatment and maintain a testosterone level of below 2.5nmol/L for 24 months, in order to be eligible to compete in any event in the female category.
Semenya vowed following the 2019 ruling that she would never again take any testosterone suppressing medication, terming the rules discriminatory and unfair.
This new rule could impact not only Semenya but also as many as a dozen other elite runners, World Athletics President Sebastian Coe said. Among them, Olympic 200-meter silver medalist Christine Mboma of Namibia, who won a silver medal in Tokyo two years ago but didn’t compete last year because of an injury. Mboma has not publicly stated whether she would be willing to undergo hormone therapy.
Like Semenya, Olympic 800-meter silver medalist Francine Niyonsaba of Burundi has said she will not undergo hormone suppression.
Even though Niyonsaba, Mboma and Semenya are not transgender like Telfer and former Connecticut high school track athletes Andraya Yearwood and Terry Miller — who have been targeted in federal court by opponents of inclusion — there is one thing all these women have in common: They are all women of color, and all targeted for being too fast because of their natural gifts.
Chicago Blackhawks: No Pride jerseys over Russian concerns
Blackhawks defenseman Nikita Zaitsev is a Moscow native, & there are other players with family in Russia or other connections to the country
CHICAGO – The National Hockey League’s Chicago Blackhawks franchise have opted to not wear the team’s Pride-themed warmup jerseys before Sunday’s Pride Night game against the Vancouver Canucks based on security concerns over the recently expanded Russian law prohibiting mention of LGBTQ+ rights in Russia the Associated Press, (AP) reported.
According to the AP, the decision was made by the NHL organization following discussions with security officials within and outside the franchise, according to a person familiar with the situation who spoke to the AP on Wednesday on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the move.
Blackhawks defenseman Nikita Zaitsev is a Moscow native, and there are other players with family in Russia or other connections to the country the AP noted.
The team has participated in the LGBTQ themed part of the ‘Hockey is for everyone‘ campaign and has in previous years set aside recognition for the LGBTQ+ community in Pride night celebrations.
The Blackhawks will not wear Pride-themed warmup jerseys before Sunday’s Pride Night game against Vancouver because of security concerns. https://t.co/33idpM8BDD— USA TODAY Sports (@usatodaysports) March 23, 2023
While the team will forgo the jerseys, the AP noted that DJs from the LGBTQ community will play before the game and during an intermission, and the Chicago Gay Men’s Chorus also is slated to perform. There also are plans to highlight a couple of area businesses with ties to the LGBTQ community.
The decision by the team has sparked outage including Outsports editor Cyd Zeigler, who noted on Twitter that the NHL has an inclusion problem as the Chicago team joins the New York Rangers, who opted not to wear Pride jerseys or use Pride stick tape as part of their Pride night this past January despite previously advertising that plan. The Rangers’ Pride Night was held 10 days after Ivan Provorov, the alternate captain for the National Hockey League’s Philadelphia Flyers, opted out of participating in the team’s Pride Night charity event before the game Tuesday, claiming a religious exemption based on his Russian Orthodox faith.
San Jose Sharks goalie James Reimer didn’t take part in the Sharks Pride Night wearing Pride-themed jerseys in support of the LGBTQ community, telling multiple media outlets that support of the LGBTQ+ community runs counter to his religious beliefs.
Wow! that's insane. The #Blackhawks had no problem supporting Ukraine – with whom Russia is AT WAR -for a game.— Cyd Zeigler (@CydZeigler) March 23, 2023
But rainbows on Pride Night? "Oh what will Russia think??!?! We better not!"
The @NHL has a very serious LGBT-inclusion problem on its hands.https://t.co/qVAig47zeM https://t.co/QTjZulo8wa
Latino Theater LA: Mexico City’s Organización Secreta Teatro
Latino Theater Company presents Mexico City’s interdisciplinary, experimental ensemble Organización Secreta Teatro in 2 new performance works
LOS ANGELES — Latino Theater Company presents Mexico City’s interdisciplinary, experimental ensemble Organización Secreta Teatro in two new performance works. Each work, Pueblo Espíritu and Las Diosas Subterráneas, will receive five performances during a limited two-week engagement, May 3 through May 14, at the Los Angeles Theatre Center in downtown L.A.
Pueblo Espíritu (“Spirit Town”)explores a post-pandemic dystopian society in which humans renew their faith in the spiritual world as a means of survival. Attempting to escape restrictions imposed by the Covid pandemic, five characters find themselves in a dense forest. Exhausted and thirsty, they are fearful and distrustful of one another. Their terror escalates when the last of their party to arrive is sick. Their only hope for survival is to re-connect with their mystical surroundings.
In Las Diosas Subterráneas (“Subterranean Goddesses”) the Greek myth of Demeter and her daughter Persephone, kidnapped by Hades, god of the underworld, is intertwined with the story of Luz García, a character based on real-life women kidnapped by human traffickers, to tell the story of mothers looking for their missing daughters who find strength in community.
Both pieces were created collectively by ensemble members Beatriz Cabrera, Alejandro Joan Carmarena, Brisei Guerrero, Stefanie Izquierdo, Ernesto Lecuona, Mercedes Olea and Jonathan Ramos from original ideas by Rocío Carrillo, who directs.
Pueblo Espíritu is performed without dialogue. Las Diosas Subterráneas features minimal dialogue by Stefanie Izquierdo, Ernesto Lecuona, Mercedes Olea and Rocío Carrillo and will feature English supertitles.
Pueblo Espíritu will receive five performances, on Wednesday, May 3 at 8 p.m. (opening night); Thursday, May 4 at 8 p.m.; Friday, May 5 at 8 p.m.; Saturday, May 6 at 8 p.m.; and Sunday, May 7 at 4 p.m.
Las Diosas Subterráneas performs the following week, on Wednesday, May 10 at 8 p.m.; Thursday, May 11 at 8 p.m.; Friday, May 12 at 8 p.m.; Saturday, May 13 at 8 p.m.; and Sunday, May 14 at 4 p.m.
Tickets range from $22–$48, except opening night (May 3), which is $58 and includes both pre- and post-show receptions. The Los Angeles Theatre Center is located at 514 S. Spring St., Los Angeles, CA 90013.
Parking is available for $5 with box office validation at Joe’s Parking structure, 530 S. Spring St. (immediately south of the theater).
PUEBLO ESPÍRITU trailer de la puesta en escena presentada en el Foro Polivalente 2022:
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