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‘Temblores’ addresses love that hurts in Guatemala

Forced to choose family and status or true love

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Guatemalan filmmaker Jayro Bustamante’s explores the relationship between a closeted man and his lover in ‘Temblores.’ (Photo courtesy of Film Movement)

The reason for the title of Guatemalan filmmaker Jayro Bustamante’s “Temblores” becomes clear within its first few minutes, when the tempestuous anguish of a family conflict is suddenly rendered immaterial for a few brief minutes as the earth begins to shake violently. It’s Guatemala, where earthquakes happen frequently, and they are taken very seriously.

Even before this literal “tremor” strikes, however, the filmmaker’s masterful prologue sequence hints at deeper layers of the movie’s title by pulling us immediately into the situation of Don Pablo, the younger son of a wealthy and influential Guatemala City family, just as his world begins to fall apart. Despite his flawless image as a happily married, devout Christian heterosexual man, he has a male lover – and his secret has come out, even if he hasn’t. As the film opens, he drives through the stormy night into the family estate to face the fallout from the revelation, and even though we don’t know any of that yet, the sense of impending disaster is palpable.

The ensuing confrontation predictably, is histrionic to the point of being comical – or would be, if it weren’t for the ugliness wrapped inside the unanimous recriminations being hurled at him by his wife, parents, and the other members of the extended clan. Despite the temporary reprieve granted by the rumbling threat of natural disaster, his personal life has been turned upside down. No longer welcome at home, he moves in with his boyfriend, Francisco – liberated, out, and completely comfortable with his sexuality – while still attempting to protect himself and his family from “shame” and scandal. At first, he embraces his freedom and the bliss he feels with Francisco; but as his conservative religious family ramps up the pressure and the whispered rumors and secrets cost him his job and his status, he finds himself being pulled inexorably backward. Powerless against the combined force of the evangelical church and the deeply homophobic Guatemalan legal system, he will be forced to make a choice: stay with Francisco in his newfound gay life and lose everything he’s ever had, including his beloved children, or do whatever it takes, even submitting to church-directed “therapy,” to return to his family and give up the only authentic adult love he’s ever known.

For U.S. audiences (at least the ones that are likely to seek out “Temblores”), the subject matter Bustamante tackles here has become familiar enough – so familiar, in fact, that the movie’s raw truth may catch them off guard. Conditioned by American film narrative conventions, viewers here are almost certain to expect that love and reason will ultimately prevail and the movie’s protagonist is sure, after a perfunctory emotional struggle, to come out on the right side of his journey and find a way to make peace between his two worlds – or at least the hope of it.

That expectation is part of what gives this exquisitely crafted drama so much power. Pablo’s world is not a Hollywood fantasy, and the reality it shows us is one that goes against the grain in a culture that is, by comparison, as free-thinking and progressive as the one we are privileged to enjoy in America – or at least in its cosmopolitan areas. This is not the cultural climate we are used to seeing in movies about contemporary LGBTQ life; despite the seeming sophistication of its urban setting, under the surface it more closely resembles the oppressively homophobic atmosphere seen in “Brokeback Mountain,” and however confident we may be of a happy ending, such an outcome seems less and less certain as the film goes on.

As for the romance at its center, we might be conditioned also to cling to the bond between Pablo and Francisco as the shelter that will protect them – and us – from the metaphoric tremors that rumble through their lives. Bustamante has not made a love story, however, no matter how tempted we may be to view it through that lens; the heartfelt authenticity he bestows upon the relationship between his two leading men – aided immeasurably by the beautiful performances of Juan Pablo Olyslager (Pablo) and Mauricio Armas Zebadúa (Francisco) – might give us temporary respite and hope, but it also serves to provide a stark contrast between the two conflicting parts of Pablo’s life.

In fact, it’s contrast that fuels “Temblores.” Not only does the telenovela-level near-absurdity of Pablo’s family turmoil appear in stark relief to the blissful oasis he shares with Francisco, so too does the gap between the ideals projected by the church and the actions and behaviors they inspire. Pablo’s family refer to the damage he is causing, yet we repeatedly watch as their various responses to the situation wreaks havoc on all of their own lives; they refer to his sexuality as an “illness,” yet it’s they who seem to be sick. Watching a roomful of anguished churchgoers, arms flailing feverishly as they raise their voices in a cacophony of desperate prayer, it’s hard not to be reminded of the kind of imagery more typically associated with suffering sinners in hell.

That brings home the point of Bustamante’s film, of course. As the filmmaker himself has put it, “It’s a movie that speaks about conditional love, shameful love, love that hurts, about the divine and celestial love that is needed in a context where the earth trembles and destroys everything. The love that gives us an excuse for our extraordinary mastery of double standards.” It’s a context within which it becomes heartbreakingly understandable how a man like Pablo, well-educated and with access to an equally real world where he is free to be who he truly is for the first time in his life, can be trapped into making a choice that denies him his own happiness in favor of satisfying a code of morality he has already recognized as false.

As disconcerting as that realization might be, it’s even more upsetting to recognize that such a situation is still very much a fact of real life for many LGBTQ people all around the world. It’s a testament to Bustamante’s skills as a writer and a director that he has made a film of such nuance and observational honesty that we can view all those involved, even those who oppress themselves in the name of their own oppressors, with compassion.

“Temblores” has met with acclaim at film festivals internationally, including a win as Best Narrative Feature at New York’s NewFest and a Best Actor prize for Olyslager’s charismatic performance at LA’s Outfest. It opens in Los Angeles on Dec. 6.

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Travel

July 4 travel woes in flight cancellations, record number Americans driving

A record number of Americans are expected to travel by car this upcoming July 4th holiday weekend, per the Triple A auto club

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Photo Credit: County of Los Angeles

LOS ANGELES – As the 4th of July weekend approaches, Americans getting underway to travel are facing heavy delays and cancellations amid staffing strains, weather, among other issues with U.S. air carriers.

On Friday according to tracking website FlightAware.com as of 7PM Pacific there were 27,544 total delays, domestic flight cancellations were 2,975 and international flight cancellations within, into, or out of the United States were 571.

(See the MiseryMap for a live visualization of flight delays.)

CNBC reported that consumer complaints are piling up. In April, the latest available data, the Transportation Department received 3,105 from travelers about U.S. airlines, up nearly 300% from April 2021, and at nearly double the rate during the same period last year.

The unprecedented number of airline cancelations and delays is causing travelers to choose to drive and fly. Delta, American Airlines and United are all trimming their schedules even further to accommodate staffing shortages, despite passenger levels hitting post-pandemic highs.

Airlines and the Federal Aviation Administration have sparred over who’s to blame. Airlines chalk up the disruptions to bad weather, their staffing shortages and staffing problems at the government’s air traffic control.

Yesterday, the FAA’s acting Administrator Billy Nolen and other top agency officials held a call with airline executives to discuss weekend planning, including the agency’s use of overtime to staff its facilities, traffic and routing plans, according to a person familiar with the meeting. The call was in addition to regular planning meetings with airlines.

U. S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg speaks with reporters on Zoom call about flight cancellations and expected delays this July 4th holiday weekend.

U. S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg: “It is time for the airline industry to deliver.”

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg told reporters Friday that, “passengers have high expectations from an industry that we have supported with tens of billions of dollars in taxpayer funding through the pandemic to keep it up and running so that it can serve passengers. Now we need them to deliver.”

Concerned about flight cancellation trends, Buttigieg said he has spoken directly with airlines.

“Something I’ve asked them to do so that if you’re selling a ticket, you know you can back that up, that you have the staffing to do it,” he added.

A record number of Americans are expected to travel by car this upcoming July 4th holiday weekend, per a new report from the Triple A auto club.

Screenshot/NBC News

Just in time for that Fourth of July travel, gas prices are continuing to drop from their record high points of two weeks ago as the Energy Information Administration reports that gasoline stockpiles across the country have increased, according to the Auto Club’s Weekend Gas Watch.

Since Monday, the national average for a gallon of regular gasoline has decreased by four cents to $4.85.

Despite the highest 4th of July gas prices on record, 42 million Americans are driving this holiday.

Travelers Driving This 4th of July Weekend To Avoid Airport Chaos:

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Sports

Welsh Olympic distance swimmer Dan Jervis comes Out

Jervis, who placed 5th in distance swimming at the Olympics in Tokyo said he was inspired by Blackpool FC soccer player Jake Daniels

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Dan Jervis (Screenshot via British Swimming Livestream-archive)

NEATH, Talbot County Borough, Wales – In a recent interview with BBC Radio Cornwall, 26-year-old British Olympian distance swimmer Dan Jervis revealed that he had given considerable thought before announcing to the world that he is gay.

Jervis told the BBC’s LGBT Sport Podcast; “I was adjusting to everything else, just trying to fit in — until I thought, Just be you.”

Jervis, who placed 5th in distance swimming for the British team at the Olympic games in Tokyo, Japan, told the BBC he was inspired by 17-year-old Blackpool FC forward Jake Daniels, the professional soccer player who made history as only the second person in the past 30 years to acknowledge their sexual orientation publicly in that sport in the United Kingdom.

The swimmer also told the BBC it was important to be seen as a role model as he readies to compete in the upcoming Commonwealth Games. Jervis has previously competed winning a 1500m freestyle silver and bronze at the 2014 and 2018 Games in Glasgow, Scotland and Australia’s Gold Coast respectively.

“It took me 24 years to be who I am,” he said and added, “You know, we’re just before the Commonwealth Games and there are going to be kids and adults watching who will know that I’m like them, and that I’m proud of who I am.”

The Olympian reflected on his decision to announce he was gay: “For so long, I hated who I was – and you see it all the time, people who are dying over this. They hate themselves so much that they’re ending their lives.

“So if I can just be that someone people can look at and say, ‘yeah, they’re like me,’ then that’s good.”

Jervis then said he revealed his sexuality to a close friend when he was 24: “At that point, I’d never said the words out loud to myself.”

“I said to her: ‘I think I’m gay.’ I couldn’t even say: ‘I’m gay.’ I was basically punching the words out.

“She was quite shocked but great, and it was exactly the reaction I wanted. I’ve had all good reactions, and the way I’ve described it is I’m not going to change as a person.

“Everyone’s journey is different, but I think I’ve always known.

“It was something in the back of my mind, bugging me. I thought I was bisexual and had girlfriends that I loved – but it came to about three years ago where I knew I had to deal with this.

“It wasn’t affecting my swimming, but me as a human being. It sounds quite drastic, but I wasn’t enjoying my life. Yeah, I was smiling, but there was something missing to make me properly happy.

“I’m still the Dan you’ve always known. You just know something else about me now.”

The Commonwealth Games open in Birmingham, UK on July 28.

Listen: https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/p0chqfhn

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Online Culture

FCC asks Apple & Google to remove TikTok app from their stores

Its pattern of surreptitious data practices that are documented show TikTok is non-compliant with app store policies and practises

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Graphic by Molly Butler for Media Matters

WASHINGTON – In a series of tweets Tuesday, Federal Communications Commissioner Brendan Carr disclosed a letter sent to both Apple and Google’s parent company Alphabet asking the two tech giants to remove TikTok from their app stores over his concerns that user data from the wildly popular social media platform is disclosed and used by bad actors in China.

In his letter dated June 24 to Apple CEO Tim Cook and Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai, Carr noted that because of its pattern of surreptitious data practices documented in reports and other sources, TikTok is non-compliant with the two companies’ app store policies and practises.

“TikTok is not what it appears to be on the surface. It is not just an app for sharing funny videos or meme. That’s the sheep’s clothing,” he said in the letter. “At its core, TikTok functions as a sophisticated surveillance tool that harvests extensive amounts of personal and sensitive data.”

Carr stated that if the companiest do not remove TikTok from their app stores, they should provide statements to him by July 8.

The statements should explain “the basis for your company’s conclusion that the surreptitious access of private and sensitive U.S. user data by persons located in Beijing, coupled with TikTok’s pattern of misleading representations and conduct, does not run afoul of any of your app store policies,” he said.

Carr was appointed by former President Trump in 2018 to a five-year term with the FCC.

In March of this year, California Attorney General Rob Bonta announced a nationwide investigation into TikTok for promoting its social media platform to children and young adults while its use is associated with physical and mental health harms to youth.

The investigation will look into the harms using TikTok can cause to young users and what TikTok knew about those harms. The investigation focuses, among other things, on the techniques utilized by TikTok to boost young user engagement, including strategies or efforts to increase the duration of time spent on the platform and frequency of engagement with the platform.

TikTok’s computer algorithms pushing video content to users can promote eating disorders and even self-harm and suicide to young viewers. Texas opened an investigation into TikTok’s alleged violations of children’s privacy and facilitation of human trafficking last month.

TikTok has said it focuses on age-appropriate experiences, noting that some features, such as direct messaging, are not available to younger users. The company says it has tools in place, such as screen-time management, to help young people and parents moderate how long children spend on the app and what they see, the Associated Press reported.

“We care deeply about building an experience that helps to protect and support the well-being of our community, and appreciate that the state attorneys general are focusing on the safety of younger users,” the company said. “We look forward to providing information on the many safety and privacy protections we have for teens.”

TikTok has also had a problematic relationship with the LGBTQ+ community. Recently The Washington Post confirmed that the ‘Libs of TikTok,’ an influential anti-LGBTQ account regularly targets LGBTQ individuals and their allies for harassment from its more than 640,000 Twitter followers while serving as a veritable wire service for Fox News and the rest of the right-wing media to push anti-LGBTQ smears.

Libs of TikTok regularly targets individual teachers and their workplaces – releasing their personal information that includes school and individual names as well as social media accounts, and leading its audience to harass the schools on social media.

A year ago, an investigation by Media Matters found that TikTok’s “For You” page recommendation algorithm circulated videos promoting hate and violence targeting the LGBTQ community during Pride Month, while the company celebrated the month with its #ForYourPride campaign. 

Numerous LGBTQ+ content creators have shared stories with the Blade about TikTok’s seemingly arbitrary algorithms that target otherwise benign content that is not listed outside of the platform’s polices and removed the content. In many cases restoring the posts after appeals or in the worst case scenarios banning the users.

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