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On Oscar weekend, Spirit Awards reflect diversity with inclusive noms, female directors, and GMCLA

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Lulu Wang‘s “The Farewell,” a film snubbed by the Academy Awards, won Best Feature at the Film Independent Spirit Awards (Image courtesy A24)

The Oscars may be the big movie news this weekend, but fans of Indie cinema might be more interested in the winners announced by another awards body on Saturday.

The 35th Annual Film Independent Spirit Awards, which took place in Santa Monica on February 8, honored the cream of the 2019 crop from the film industry’s independent creators, with a slate of nominees that was notably more diverse than the one heading into Sunday night’s Oscars, and a lineup of talent that included host Aubrey Plaza and the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles.

The night’s biggest prize, for Best Feature, went to Lulu Wang’s “The Farewell,” with Olivia Wilde’s “Booksmart” taking home the award for Best First Feature. However, “Uncut Gems” from the Safdie brothers won the most trophies for the evening, taking home Best Director, Best Editing, and Best Actor for star Adam Sandler. All three were notably snubbed by the Academy, especially Sandler, who had been a surprise omission from the list of Oscar nominees.

Noah Baumach’s “Marriage Story” was the recipient of this year’s Robert Altman Ensemble Award, which was awarded to the entire cast of the film, which stars Adam Driver, Scarlett Johansson, Laura Dern, and Alan Alda, among others. Because the film had been previously announced as the winner in this special category, its cast members were ineligible for the competitive acting categories.

While this year’s Academy nominations had been slammed for a disappointing lack of diversity, the Indie Spirit Awards featured a far more inclusive roster. While the Oscars failed to recognize any female directors in the Best Director category, two women, Alma Har’el (“Honey Boy”) and Lorene Scafaria (“Hustlers”) were nominated for the equivalent prize at Saturday’s Spirit ceremony – with additional irony arising from the wins for female-directed films in both of the Best Feature categories. Further, while the Academy’s acting nominees included only one person of color (Cynthia Erivo, “Harriet”), the Spirit Awards included nods for Hong Chau (“Driveways”) and Alfre Woodard (“Clemency”) as Best Actress, Kelvin Harrison Jr. (“Luce”) for Best Actor, and Taylor Russell (“Waves”), Jennifer Lopez (“Hustlers”), and Octavia Spencer (“Luce”) for Best Supporting Actress.

In addition, while the Academy’s choices featured little recognition for LGBTQ-themed films or their performers, the Spirit nominations included “Booksmart,” which features a lesbian lead character, and “Hustlers,” the sex-worker dramedy that includes trans actress Trace Lysette among its ensemble cast.

The ceremony also paid tribute to the year’s “gayest moments you didn’t know were gay,” with a hilarious video compilation accompanied by members of the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles, which highlighted ally Laura Dern’s performance in “Marriage Story.” Dern, in the audience, was moved to laughter, and later posted on Twitter,  “Did this…really happen? Thank you @GMCLA @filmindependent and @JTfirstman for making me realize how much I need a choir to go everywhere with me!”

The performance has since gone viral on social media, with a worldwide aggregate of 5 million views and counting across various platforms.

For a full list of Spirit Award winners, visit the Film Independent website.

Movies

Belgian Oscar contender strikes ‘Close’ to home

Exploring gender expectations we force upon our children

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Eden Dambrine and Gustav De Waele in ‘Close.’ (Photo courtesy of A24)

When queer Belgian director Lukas Dhont debuted his first feature film “Girl” at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival, it made quite an impression. As winner of the Caméra d’Or prize for Best First Feature, as well as the Queer Palm Award and a Jury Award for Best Performance for its star Victor Polster, it was quickly acquired by Netflix and catapulted Dhont onto the international cinema scene. He was even named on the Forbes “Europe 30 Under 30” list of business and industry professionals to watch.

Not all the attention heaped on his movie was positive, however. The tale of a teen trans girl seeking a career as a ballet dancer, it raised sharp objections from some queer and trans commentators for what they perceived as a sensationalized approach to gender dysphoria and self-harm, not to mention for the casting of cisgender actor Polster in the leading role; though other queer and trans voices – including real-life trans ballerina Nora Monsecour, who inspired the story and consulted with Dhont and co-screenwriter Angelo Tijssens during the writing process – were quick to defend the movie, the controversy nevertheless created a blemish on its reputation, and that of its filmmaker, too.

Now, Dhont is back with his second full-length film, and while it certainly marks an escalation of his success, it’s not without its own detractors. “Close,” based on experiences from his own childhood and again co-written by Tijssens, also took Cannes by storm, winning the Grand Prix Award this time, and has gone on to accumulate accolades from other festivals and awards bodies around the world; yet its subject matter, perhaps inevitably, has opened the filmmaker up to another round of criticism from queer observers who are uncomfortable with the story he has chosen to tell – or at least with the way he has chosen to tell it.

It centers on two young teen boys, Léo (Eden Dambrine) and Rémi (Gustav De Waele), tightly bonded best friends who start their first year of secondary school after a summer spent together in innocent but intimate companionship working on Léo’s parents’ farm. When new schoolmates begin to make comments about the closeness of their relationship, Léo begins to distance himself from Rémi, becoming involved with hockey and pursuing a camaraderie with the rougher, more athletic boys on his team instead; first confused, then devastated by his abandonment, the heartbroken Rémi is moved to a public schoolyard confrontation with his former friend, further driving a wedge between them and setting the stage for an unthinkable turn of events.

The film’s provocative title is partly a nod to psychologist Niobe Way’s book, “Deep Secrets: Boys’ Friendships and the Crisis of Connection,” which documents a study of intimacy among teenage boys – frequently using the term “close friendship” to describe their relationships – and was one of Dhont’s inspirations for making the film. More than that, however, it’s an important clue to what his movie is all about. Though the director revealed before making “Close” that it would be about a “queer character,” there is no suggestion, either explicit or implicit, that its two teen friends have a sexual relationship with each other, or even that such a thing has ever crossed their minds; they are simply two boys, comfortable with each other in that tender and trusting way that only boys at their age can be. Likewise, there’s no bullying, no aggressive or even “microaggressive” shaming; it’s only their schoolmates’ perceptions that introduce the suggestion this friendship might be something more – but that’s more than enough to sour the sweetness between them, forcing us to question why some ways of being “close” are only OK for boys until they start to become men.

More to the point, perhaps, it begs the question of how this kind of low-key homophobia, so culturally ingrained that it is perpetuated without a flicker of awareness, remains persistent in a community that should know better. We don’t see a lot of the adult world in “Close,” but what we do see leads us to an impression that most of the grown-ups around Léo and Rémi are intelligent, educated, compassionate, and sensitive; their parents are unconditionally loving, and more than welcoming of the close companionship between their respective offspring. Yet throughout the film, throughout the boys’ conflict and beyond, there is no adult figure in their lives who seems willing or able to broach the subject of sexuality, or to show by example that there’s nothing about being queer – or even being perceived as queer – to be ashamed of.

These things, of course, are part of the criticism that has been leveled at the movie. Without positive messaging to counter its bleak narrative, some have seen “Close” as perpetuating a bevy of toxic tropes. Though we try to avoid spoilers, it’s hard to discuss a movie like this without revealing that something tragic happens, and many have expressed disappointment that Dhont’s film “punishes” its gay characters – even if we’re never sure they’re really gay. Further, in the absence of any affirmation of queerness (or even non-traditional masculinity), some have been troubled by an assumed reinforcement of a homophobic status quo within its narrative.

We can’t – and won’t – argue with any of those points. “Close” is a challenging film in the same way as “Tár,” another controversial title among this year’s awards contenders, in the sense that it presents a problem and doesn’t offer a solution or tell you how to respond to it – yet unlike “Tár,” it encourages us to feel things for its characters, and the consequences here are much more tragic. That might be especially true for queer men, certainly of older generations but still among today’s youth, for whom the film may trigger traumatic memories that hit particularly close to home. That means, when it comes to deciding if you’re up to the substantial challenges of watching it, you’re on your own. (SPOILER ALERT: it’s rough going, emotionally speaking.)

Still, “Close” is a beautiful film on a lot of levels. In the most literal sense, it’s visually stunning, framed with an almost tactile up-close intimacy and brimming with the preternatural light that glows through Frank van den Eeden’s delicate cinematography; in a larger sense, it strikes a resonant chord for anyone who has ever (is there anyone who hasn’t?) experienced the terrible pangs of losing a childhood friendship, an unforgettable hurt it captures with heart-rending authenticity. Though we want our coming-of-age stories to be uplifting, there are some kinds of pain that cannot be erased, and it’s to Dhont’s credit that he doesn’t try. He wants you to feel those feelings, and his movie is delicately crafted to make sure that you do, complete with the remarkable performances he elicits from his two underage stars.

That doesn’t make it easy to watch, of course, but for those who are willing to take it on, it offers plenty of food for thought; and if the observations it makes about the gender expectations we force upon our children make you uncomfortable, then it’s accomplished what it set out to do in the first place.

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Sports

GLAAD re-teams with NFL for ‘A Night of Pride’

Out bi NFL player RK Russell joins music and Hollywood stars in Phoenix Wednesday night, Feb. 8, at the Sheraton Downtown

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R.K. Russell courtesy of GLAAD

NEW YORK – Even if you’re not into “sportsball” or don’t have plans to watch the Super Bowl next Sunday, there’s a super queer party in the works in Phoenix that will put some glitter on the gridiron. 

GLAAD is once again teaming-up with the National Football league for a star-studded event that will spotlight LGBTQ+ inclusion in professional sports. It also highlights the NFL’s commitment to LGBTQ+ NFL players, coaches and league personnel and out LGBTQ+ NFL Legends, like R.K. Russell. 

The former defensive end and free agent came out as bisexual in 2019, and was part of last year’s A Night of Pride with GLAAD and the NFL, ahead of Super Bowl LVI. He’ll be joined by another out football player, Byron Perkins, the Hampton University defensive back and Chicago native who last year became the first player at any of the nation’s 101 HBCUs to come out as gay.

This year’s spectacular takes place Wednesday night, Feb. 8, at the Sheraton Downtown Phoenix, and features a performance by recording artist and LGBTQ+ ally Betty Who

Also on hand: Tempest DuJour and Joey Jay of RuPaul’s Drag Race, Lance Bass, G Flip, Mynx DiMilo, Justine Lindsay, Meredith Marks of The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City and Braunwyn Windham-Burke of The Real Housewives of Orange County, Big Brother Winner Taylor Hale, Shaun T, Justin Sutherland of Top Chef, Paige Mobley, Asher Grodman, Liz Jenkins and content creators Ashley & Malori. 

The invite list also includes State Rep. Daniel Hernandez (D-Ariz.), NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and Tim Ellis, the league’s EVP & CMO as well as GLAAD President & CEO Sarah Kate Ellis, among others. 

In addition to the celebrities, famous names, music and cocktails, GLAAD is promoting the event’s panel discussions on the power of visibility and representation as well as the power and the promise of the next generation of NFL active players. The evening will also feature a panel discussion moderated by Yahoo!’s senior reporter Daniel Artavia about how professional sports can drive LGBTQ+ acceptance forward and help combat discrimination against LGBTQ+ people, including amateur and student athletes.

The red carpet rolls out at 6 p.m. MST, followed by panels and performances at 7 p.m. 
The league has made big strides toward greater acceptance since Michael Sam made headlines when he came out as gay before the NFL Draft nine years ago this month, in Feb. 2014.

More than a dozen retired NFL players have come out as LGBTQ+, including Ryan O’Callahan, who took part in last year’s GLAAD/NFL event. But it wasn’t until June 2021 that an active NFL player, Carl Nassib, came out as gay, and found almost universal acceptance and support. Nassib was with the Raiders at that time and had a one-year contract to play for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. His future in the NFL is unknown.

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Books

New bio illuminates Liz Taylor’s decades of support for queer community

‘Without homosexuals there would be no culture’

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(Book cover image courtesy of Harper)

‘Elizabeth Taylor: The Grit & Glamour of an Icon’
By Kate Andersen Brower
c.2022, Harper
$33/513 pages

In the mid-1980s, actor Roddy McDowell threw a dinner in honor of Bette Davis’s birthday. Davis, a queer icon, thought it was “vulgar” when Elizabeth Taylor and actress Pia Zadora, tried on each other’s diamond rings. “Oh, get over it, Bette,”  Taylor, an actress, philanthropist and queer icon, told Davis.

One Friday in 1998, Taylor learned that a friend of her assistant had died, alone, with no money for his burial, from AIDS. Taylor wanted her business manager to arrange for the man who had died to be buried. She was outraged when she learned that this couldn’t be done ASAP. “We will not fucking wait until Monday,” Taylor said, “We will do it right now.” 

These are two of the entertaining, moving, and revealing stories told about Taylor in “Elizabeth Taylor: The Grit & Glamour of an Icon” by Kate Andersen Brower.

Many bios written about celebs have the shelf life of a quart of milk. Thankfully, this isn’t the case with Brower’s bio of Taylor.

Taylor, who lived from 1932 to 2011, was, for most of her life, not only a celebrity – but a household name, a worldwide subject of admiration, titillation and gossip.

But Taylor was so much more than catnip for the paparazzi. She was a feminist, an often underrated actress, businesswoman, senator’s wife, addict, mother,  lover of animals, a proponent of gun control, an opponent of anti-Semitism, philanthropist and queer history hero.

Yet, despite the hype, glam and all that’s been written about Taylor, many aren’t aware of the multi-facets of her life.

In “Elizabeth Taylor,” Brower, a CNN contributor, who’s written “The Residence,” “First Women” and “Team of Five, “First in Line,” gives us an informative, lively bio of Taylor.

It is the first authorized biography of Taylor. Usually, this is the kiss of death for a biography. Few want their family members to be revealed as three-dimensional people with not only talent, but flaws.

Thankfully, Brower’s Taylor bio escapes the trap of hagiography. Brower began writing the biography after talking with former Sen. John Warner, who was married to Taylor from 1976 to 1982. (Warner died in 2021.) 

Warner was one of Taylor’s seven husbands. He and Taylor remained friends after they divorced. Warner connected Brower with Taylor’s family who wanted the story of Taylor to be told. Brower was given access to a trove of new source material: to Taylor’s archives – 7,358 letters, diary entries, articles, and personal notes and 10,271 photographs. Brower drew on unpublished interviews with Taylor, and extensively interviewed Taylor’s family and friends.

In her 79 years, Taylor did and lived so much, that telling the story of her life is like trying to put the Atlantic Ocean into one bottle of water. Yet, Brower makes Taylor come alive as an earthy, glam hero with flaws and struggles.

Taylor, who performed with Burton in Shakespeare’s “Taming of the Shrew,” was as proficient at cursing as the Bard was at writing sonnets. “I love four-letter words,” Taylor said, “they’re so terribly descriptive.”

She was renowned for caring for friends and strangers. During Sept. 11, Taylor was in New York. She paid for a toothless woman, who was looking for a job, to get teeth, and comforted firefighters. A firefighter wondered if Taylor was really at his firehouse. “You bet your ass, I am,” Taylor said. 

Taylor loved her children. Yet, her kids were often (due to her work) left with nannies or enrolled in boarding schools.

Due partly to life-long back pain sustained from an injury she sustained while filming “National Velvet” when she was a child, Taylor struggled with a life-long addiction to pills.

In “Elizabeth Taylor,” Brower illuminates Taylor’s decades of support and friendship with the queer community. Early in her career, she formed close friendships with queer actors Rock Hudson, Montgomery Clift and James Dean. “Without homosexuals there would be no culture,” Taylor said.

Decades later, it’s easy to forget how horrible things were during the AIDS crisis in the 1980s and 1990s. Brower vividly brings back the horror and the tireless work Taylor did for AIDS research. At a time when people wouldn’t use a telephone touched by someone with AIDS, Brower reports, Taylor would hug patients with AIDS in hospices. She jumped into bed to hold her friend Rock Hudson when he was dying from AIDS when no one would go near him, Brower writes.

“I’m resilient as all hell,” Taylor said.

There couldn’t be a better time for “Elizabeth Taylor” than today. In our era, when many would like to erase LGBTQ people, Taylor’s legacy is more important than ever. 

The Blade may receive commissions from qualifying purchases made via this post.

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Notables

Autistic poet’s work layered with ‘multiple levels of awareness’

Leslie McIntosh on coming out and learning he is neurodiverse

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Leslie McIntosh (Photo courtesy of McIntosh)

(Editor’s Note: One in four people in America has a disability, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Queer and disabled people have long been a vital part of the LGBTQ community. Take two of the many queer history icons who were disabled: Michelangelo is believed to have been autistic. Marsha P. Johnson, who played a heroic role in the Stonewall Uprising, had physical and psychiatric disabilities. Today, Deaf/Blind fantasy writer Elsa Sjunneson, actor and bilateral amputee Eric Graise and Kathy Martinez, a blind, Latinx lesbian, Assistant Secretary of Labor for Disability Employment Policy for the Obama administration, are only a few of the numerous queer and disabled people in the LGBTQ community. Yet, the stories of this vital segment of the queer community have rarely been told. In its series “Queer, Crip and Here,” the Blade will tell some of these long un-heard stories.)

Before he could even read, Leslie McIntosh knew he wanted to be a writer. “My Dad got me this little desk with a drawer in it,” McIntosh, 38, who is Black, male presenting, male attracted and autistic, said in a telephone interview.  “I was learning the alphabet when I was two.”

McIntosh, who was born in Newark, N.J. and grew up in  Atlantic City, had a precocious ability to decode words. “I would scribble in this notebook until I learned how to write and form words,” he said.

This scribbling – this desire to be a writer – wasn’t just a childhood thing for McIntosh. The writing bug stuck to him. Today, McIntosh is a poet and “fictionist” whose work has received national recognition. He has been awarded residencies and fellowships from Breadloaf, Callaloo, Millay Arts, The Watering Hole, Zoeglossia and other programs.

His poetry has appeared in “Beloit Poetry Journal,” “Foglifter,” “Obsidian,” the forthcoming anthology “In the Tempered Dark: Contemporary Poets Transcending Elegy” and other publications. He is an assistant poetry editor at Newfound.

McIntosh, who earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Montclair State University in 2006 and a Psy.D. from the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine in 2019, is also a psychologist with a private practice. He lives, he wrote in an email to the Blade, “on the stolen land of the Munsee Lenape, currently known as Hudson County, NJ, USA.”

This reporter read with McIntosh (and Avra Wing) last fall at the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival. McIntosh is a vibrant performer with a mesmerizing presence. (The reading was an event held by Zoeglossia, a fellowship program for disabled poets.)

In a wide-ranging conversation, McIntosh talked with the Blade about coming out, learning he was autistic, poetry and Bayard Rustin.

Growing up was complicated for McIntosh. “People would read — understand — that I was queer and on the [autism] spectrum,” he said, “before I even knew what that meant.”

There was a lot of repression in the early part of his life. “A lot of what you think about coming out didn’t happen to me,” McIntosh said.

McIntosh wasn’t diagnosed as autistic until five years ago. But, looking back, he reflected that he was different from neurotypical people.

“I would invent these alternative realities in my brain,” McIntosh said, “I would give these people sexual adventures and things like that.”

McIntosh would compartmentalize. “I wouldn’t attribute what was happening to me,” he said. “It was a lot of world building about what having a boyfriend would look like.”

College was a new start for McIntosh. There, his universe expanded. He met people, who he said, were “separate from the toxicity of high school.”

The characters in the alternative realities in his brain couldn’t keep up with the intensity and speed of the people he was interacting with in real life. “I had to experience things in real time,” McIntosh said, “It had to be me. That’s when my coming out began.”

Being queer in the early 2000s wasn’t easy for McIntosh. He didn’t feel quite at home in Southern New Jersey. “It’s hard being gay anywhere,” he said, “especially, where I come from.”

Even a college campus in the aughts wasn’t perfectly safe for a Black male. How do I frame myself? Who do I tell? When do I tell them, McIntosh wondered.   

McIntosh went into psychology because he wanted to be of service. “Here’s a secret,” he said, “what’s helped me to be successful wasn’t the degrees I’ve earned.”

“What’s helped me clinically and humanly,” McIntosh said, “to relate as one person to another are things I learned outside [of his degrees].”

McIntosh can evaluate and diagnose his patients. “I can quote unquote treat them and bill insurance companies,” he said, “but that isn’t a lot of my practice.”McIntosh works with patients to help them conceptualize their lives and what their needs are. “I feel like a lot of therapists being directive discourages patients from relying on their own wisdom,” he said.

McIntosh was going through his training in psychology when he began to think he might be autistic. He felt a bit shameful about this because of the way the behavior of autistic people is often pathologized.

“They treat the behavior of autistic people – such as stimming – as needing treatment,” McIntosh said, “they create a behavior plan to make them stop doing it.”

Being diagnosed as autistic was freeing for McIntosh. It gave him a feeling of control. “I can advocate for myself,” he said. “I can say I have this condition. This is unfair. We need to have a conversation.”

Race has always been at the intersection of his life as a Black, queer, autistic man, McIntosh said. While he was earning his Psy.D, the one Black faculty member in the program left it. “After that it was all white hetero cisgender people,” he said.

Thankfully, his family has always been supportive of him. “I’ve been out to them forever,” McIntosh said.

McIntosh got into poetry when he was preparing to go away to his first year of college. He became entranced by “Def Poetry Jam.” “I saw myself in it,” he said, “looking at that screen, I knew I was a part of it.”

Poetry makes his neurodivergence livable for McIntosh. “It gives me a place where it isn’t something I have to navigate around or over,” he said, “It gets center stage. Without poetry, it would be a burden.”

Every creative person has a quirk about them, he added.

“Leslie McIntosh’s poems mean a great deal to me because of the original and even visceral way they navigate the personal and the historical,” Sheila Black, a poet and Zoeglossia co-founder, emailed the Blade. “Making abundant use of historical fact and context but always shaping this toward a personal lyrical vision.”

“The world of Leslie’s poems is layered with multiple levels of awareness – the double and even triple consciousness of race, sexuality, disability,” Black added. “His poetry is always animated by an acute sense of human vulnerability and the longing for a better, brighter more just world.”

When he was just out of college, McIntosh learned about Bayard Rustin, the queer, Black civil rights icon. “His existence blew my mind and my heart,” he said. “Here is this unsung civil rights hero – a mentor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Virtually unknown because he was Black and openly gay in the 1950s.”McIntosh wanted to know how this could be. Being a poet, he imagined a story. 

McIntosh wrote poems in the form of letters — “epistles” — from Bayard Rustin. For these poems, he created Imal, an imaginary character. “I didn’t want to be part of the story,” he said. “It was easier to imagine the story without me in it.”

Later, McIntosh thought leaving himself out of the story was due in part to his neurodivergence. “I was using Imal to create a version of myself that deserved to be loved,” he said, “and who cared back.”

“I had rooms of people fight for my coat, letters from Martin Luther King with my name on them,” McIntosh writes in the voice of Bayard Rustin in his poem “Epistle: The Verisimilitude of Ruin,” “But that didn’t matter — I wanted a forgotten alley or a dim phone booth … Make believe you haven’t drowned at the drag of a man’s thinly carpeted thigh, the gravity of the smell.”

McIntosh isn’t interested in reading the poems he might have written if he’d been neurotypical. He’s proud to be neurodiverse. “I like the poet that I am,” he said, “I don’t think any other iteration of myself could have written these poems.”

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Sports

Jacob Caswell is 1st-Ever Nonbinary Runner of the year

The 25-year-old New Yorker finished first in the nonbinary category of last fall’s NYC Marathon & 172nd overall in 24 and a half minutes

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Rob Simmelkjaer, CEO, NYRR (left) Jacob Caswell (center) Ted Metellus, Sr. VP, Events & Race Director of the TCS NYC Marathon (Photo Credit: New York Road Runners)

NEW YORK – The highlight of Thursday’s 42nd annual NYRR Club Night in Midtown Manhattan was another historic first for Jake Caswell and the New York Road Runners. The 25-year-old New Yorker was awarded the first-ever nonbinary Fred Lebow Runner of the Year award for their major accomplishments. 

Caswell won 13 NYRR races in 2022, including the United Airlines NYC Half Marathon, the RBC Brooklyn Half Marathon and the legendary TCS New York City Marathon. 

“It’s great being the first nonbinary athlete of the year,” they told the Los Angeles Blade last night. “Being able to run as our authentic selves truly lets me and other athletes be at the start line and feel comfortable being there. I’m truly proud of my team and all the nonbinary winners tonight to show that we are here and deserve to be recognized for our achievements.”

As the Blade reported last November, Caswell finished first in their category in the 2022 TCS NYC Marathon, earning $5,000, for running the 26.2 mile race in 2:45:12. It was the first time in the history of the six major marathons around the world that organizers of the New York City Marathon awarded cash prizes to the top nonbinary runners. All three of the top nonbinary finishers are a part of Front Runners New York, a group for runners who are LGBTQ+. 

Jake Caswell via Front Runners New York

“Our local-run clubs are the cornerstone of our running community, and our NYRR Club Night was an outstanding way to celebrate their achievements from the past year,” said Rob Simmelkjaer, CEO of NYRR. “Congratulations to Jacob and our entire running community for inspiring us all with another tremendous year on the roads.”

Caswell finished 172nd overall- 24 and a half minutes ahead of the second place nonbinary runner, Zackary Harris of New York City. In 2021, Harris, 27, finished first in the nonbinary category, but at that time there were no cash prizes. Justin Solle, 28, also of New York, finished third of the 45 nonbinary runners. 

While most of that category’s runners hail from the Greater New York metropolitan area, there were also nonbinary runners from Colorado, Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana, Washington State and even from Germany. 

The NYC race was only the second time a World Marathon Major race registered nonbinary competitors. Marathon organizers in Boston, Chicago, London and Berlin followed New York’s lead; Only the Tokyo Marathon has not, according to NBC News.

The New York Times reported the Philadelphia Distance Run became the first organization to offer equal prize money to nonbinary athletes in September 2021.

More than 500 individual runners and local run club members attended the club night held in the Grand Ballroom at Manhattan Center, honoring the best runners and teams in New York City, as well as celebrating the power of running.

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Sports

NY Rangers forgoes Pride jerseys & stick tape for team Pride night

“NYC Pride was not made aware in advance of our participation in last night’s ceremonial puck drop that Pride jerseys would not be worn”

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Out Broadway star and actor Michael James Scott prepares to sing the National Anthem at the opening of the NY Rangers Pride Night 2023. (Photo Credit: The New York Rangers/NHL)

NEW YORK CITY – New York LGBTQ+ Rangers fans were disappointed after the National Hockey League team forwent wearing the team’s special warm-up jerseys and using Pride stick tape during the team’s 7th annual Pride Night Friday.

The Rangers had promoted Friday night’s Madison Square Garden home game against Vegas Golden Knights, saying players “will be showing their support by donning pride-themed warm-up jerseys and tape in solidarity with those who continue to advocate for inclusivity.”  But ultimately the team wore their “Liberty Head” jerseys in warmups instead.

After the game, a 4-1 win over the Vegas Golden Knights, the Rangers released a statement: “Our organization respects the LGBTQ+ community and we are proud to bring attention to important local community organizations as part of another great Pride Night. In keeping with our organization’s core values, we support everyone’s individual right to respectfully express their beliefs.”

In an emailed statement to the Blade Sunday Dan Dimant, Media Director for NYC Pride | Heritage of Pride, Inc. said:

In recent years, numerous National Hockey League (NHL) franchises including the New York Rangers have introduced a series of “Pride Nights” to engage the LGBTQ+ community. NYC Pride has been honored to take part in these celebrations, including as recently as last night at Madison Square Garden.

NYC Pride was not made aware in advance of our participation in last night’s ceremonial puck drop that Pride jerseys and rainbow tape would not be worn as advertised. We understand and appreciate that this has been a major disappointment to the LGBTQ+ community in New York and beyond. We are communicating these concerns with NY Rangers and NHL leadership as we continue to discuss the ways these organizations can work toward inclusion.

NYC Pride has a duty to both support our partners and hold them accountable. We are committed to continuing our relationships with the NY Rangers and the NHL and maintaining substantive dialogue with them about meaningful allyship with the LGBTQ+ community.”

ESPN reported that the team’s annual Pride Night was celebrated throughout the game in other ways. Fans were given a pride-themed fanny pack as a giveaway. The exterior and interior lights at Madison Square Garden were illuminated in rainbow colors. The Rangers also made a charitable donation to the Ali Forney Center on Pride Night, the largest agency dedicated to LGBTQ+ homeless youths in the country.

ESPN noted that Andre Thomas, co-chair of NYC Pride and Heritage of Pride, participated in the ceremonial puck drop.
(Photo Credit: The New York Rangers/NHL)

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.

Provorov, 26, was the only member of the Flyers to not take part in the pre-game exercise on the ice. A video tweeted by the team’s official account shows the rest of the players wore special Pride Night-themed black jerseys with the traditional Flyers logo on the front and rainbow-colored names and numbers on the back; Many of the players practiced using hockey sticks wrapped in rainbow-colored tape known as Pride tape. Both the sticks and the jerseys were auctioned off after the game with the Anaheim Ducks, to raise money for local LGBTQ+ charities. 

The defenseman, who was born in Russia, told reporters after their victory, “I respect everybody and respect everybody’s choices,” adding that he declined to take part in the warmup “to stay true to myself and my religion.” 

After Provorov opted out of participating in the Flyer’s Pride Night charity event the NHL put out a statement that said players can decide which team and league initiatives to support.

“Hockey is for Everyone is the umbrella initiative under which the League encourages Clubs to celebrate the diversity that exists in their respective markets, and to work to achieve more welcoming and inclusive environments for all fans,” the league said. “Clubs decide whom to celebrate, when and how — with League counsel and support. Players are free to decide which initiatives to support, and we continue to encourage their voices and perspectives on social and cultural issues.”

New York Rangers: Sights and Sounds | Jan. 24 2022 Pride Night:

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Movies

Billy Porter tackles new role in ‘80 for Brady’

Fashion icon on the importance of dressing up

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Billy Porter’s new film ‘80 for Brady’ opens Feb. 10. (Image courtesy Paramount Pictures)

Billy Porter — the Tony, Emmy and Grammy winner — needs no introduction, especially to the many fans of his character Pray Tell on Ryan Murphy’s hit TV series “Pose.”

Arriving in theaters on Feb. 10, Porter will star as a Super Bowl half-time show choreographer, opposite Oscar winners Sally Field, Rita Moreno, Jane Fonda, and Tony winner Lily Tomlin, in the feel-good comedy “80 For Brady,” a comic homage to popular quarterback Tom Brady.

Porter rocketed to superstardom when he originated the role of Lola in the Tony-winning Broadway musical “Kinky Boots” just over 10 years ago. But show business was always in his blood.

“I started singing in church at a very young age,” he says. “By fifth grade the bullying had stopped and in middle school I got involved with theater. I dreamed about being on Broadway and becoming the male Whitney Houston.”

Porter knew he was onto something when he won $100,000 on Star Search, in 1992 but he never expected success would come easy. 

“I took all of the necessary steps to prepare myself for a career in show business,” he says. “There have been moments of frustration, but no one is entitled to anything.

“I’ve practiced acting every day for decades. I went to Carnegie Mellon. I went to graduate school at UCLA. To this day, I still take singing lessons. I have the patience of Job. My best advice for anyone who wants to become a professional is to practice – even when no one is looking.”

How did Porter prepare himself for a trajectory in acting and a career in fashion? “I decided at a very young age to dress for the job I wanted, not the job I have,” he explains. 

The “Oscar” dress, which made Porter a viral sensation, wasn’t something that “just happened.” In 2013, while Porter was in Chicago doing previews of “Kinky Boots,” he met with fans at the stage door after every performance. “It was right at the time when social media was taking off, especially Instagram photos, and I was dressing geek chic.

“When I looked at the news the day after the first performance I saw pictures of myself and I looked like a bag lady. From that moment on, I dressed up every day. After every show, before I went out the stage door to go home, I dressed up.” From then on, any candid photos that people did take of Porter were not only flattering but trend setting. “For three years, while I was on Broadway with ‘Kinky Boots,’ I dressed up after every performance, just to go out to the car to go home.”

In 2019, just a year before the pandemic hit, Porter started to gain attention for some of the most fabulous outfits that have ever adorned any human. At the Grammy Awards, he wore an embroidered suit and pink cape. That same year, at the Academy Awards he wore the famous black fitted tuxedo and velvet gown created by Christian Siriano, accompanied by six-inch Rick Owens boots.

The gender-fluid outfits worn by Porter that are now famous the world over were not intended to be labeled. “All of the outfits I have worn aligned with the roles I was playing. The term ‘non-binary’ never occurred to me.”

And now Billy Porter has become an inspiration for celebrities like Harry Styles, who posed on the cover of Vogue last year in a Gucci dress. “You said that, not me,” Porter insists I disclose.   

“I have a calling,” he admits. “It is funneled through artistry. 

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Books

A balanced look at whether to have children

New book, ‘So When are You Having Kids?’ makes no judgments

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(Book cover image courtesy of Macmillan)

‘So When are You Having Kids?’
By Jordan Davidson
c.2022, Sounds True, Macmillan
$28.99/356 pages

Your mother lingers way too long in the children’s department.

She sighs over tiny suits and little sneakers, running her fingers along soft blankets, hugging plush animals. You know what she wants but you’re not ready; she might be sure but you’re not. Maybe baby for you or, with the new book “So When are You Having Kids?” by Jordan Davidson, maybe not.

It’s the thorniest of decisions, “one of the biggest you’ll ever make.” It’s personal, but even strangers want to know; the questions start in your 20s and end when you’ve acquiesced or aged, although having kids is not a given or a thing-by-committee. So how do you quiet the busybodies and make the right decision for yourself?

First, says Davidson, ask yourself if you even want children, and after you’ve looked inward, “it’s worth looking outward” at expectations, culture, and things that “shape our understanding of parenthood.” Ask around, to see why others had children but don’t be surprised if you get cliches. Throw out the idea that children fulfill you or that they’ll take care of you when you’re old. Know that genetics, religion, and your parents’ parenting styles will affect you; and that if you’re queer or Black, there’ll be other factors involved in having and raising a child.

Should you decide to the positive, you may still have reservations.

Don’t give in to the romance of having kids; it’s hard work, and expensive in both money and time. Remember that perceptions of good parenting have “shifted over time” and that having a childhood exactly like yours probably won’t be an option for your kids. If you have a partner, communicate your thoughts, hopes, and divisions of household labor and childcare.

Finally, decide how you’re going to become a parent. Will you give birth, choose IVF, adopt, foster, or kick the decision down the road?

Says Davidson, the mere ability to ask these questions and decide “is in many ways a privilege.”

Chances are that if you hear a screaming baby, you have one of two reactions: you cringe and look for an exit, or you notice and shrug. Either way, “So When are You Having Kids?” is a book for you.

There are many, many parenting books on miles of shelves, and a number of books on being childless, but author Jordan Davidson pulls the two subjects together here with thoughtfulness, candor, inclusiveness, and a refreshing lack of judgment. This is a book that doesn’t promise answers, though: it’s meant to give readers – whether they want kids, don’t, or are ambivalent – an in-one-place, balanced look at myths, truths, pros, cons, and rarely-considered points for an informed decision. It also, perhaps most importantly, offers comforting reminders that there is no right or wrong, no matter what Mom says.

“So When are You Having Kids?” is like having a big sister to bounce ideas with, or a break-out session in your living room. It’s like asking Baby Maybe questions you didn’t know you had. It’s help when you need it in that department.

The Blade may receive commissions from qualifying purchases made via this post.

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Online/Digital Streaming Media

My Unorthodox Life’s Ra’ed Saade dishes up Reality TV spunk

Is America’s Reality TV genre ready for frank discussions on open relationships?

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Netflix’s My Unorthodox Life star Ra’ed Saade (R) (Photo courtesy of Netflix)

HOLLYWOOD – If you are like many who have reacted harshly to Real Friends of WeHo, you may feel a bit hopeless regarding reality television and its representation of gay men. 

For all its misses, the reality TV genre still explodes across broadcast and streaming services. There are endless contests, there are weird matchmaking gimmicks and through it all, you can still find some gay fingerprints. And of course, there is Drag Race.

One of my personal guilty pleasures has been various “Real Housewives” franchises. Each franchise seems to study the behaviors of women who possess big egos, lots of money and are plied with a sloshing amount of alcohol. Sitting back in an armchair, shoveling popcorn and watching, is gay man, and executive producer, the boss and god of the Real Housewives world, Andy Cohen… (and oh yeah, me.)  There is a perverse pleasure observing a hetero world where the Higher Power is gay and watching them all descend into madness.

It is all theatrical and somewhat staged, of course. We are the fourth wall of their world, and situations are played out and exaggerated for our benefit, and from the accounts of the people we are observing, only represent a fraction of their real lives. 

Against this backdrop, Netflix’s My Unorthodox Life plays on this voyeuristic concept but is refreshingly unique and insightful. While it certainly has Real Housewives trappings, it centers around the uber-wealthy and has even had Jill Zahn, an OG New York Real Housewife, drop in to give advice, the core is less about superficial squabbles and more about cultural oppression and the quest for personal empowerment. 

The show centers around Julia Haart. Her life is literally “unorthodox” as her story arc describes her escape from the orthodox lifestyle of the ultra-conservative Haredi Jewish Community in Monsey, New York. In season one, three of her four children follow her and she mentors them into living life in the secular world as they each make personal strides to find their own unique identities. Julia herself becomes a fashion and design mogul, married to an incredibly wealthy husband Silvio Scaglia Haart, and best friend to her gay business partner, Robert Brotherton. Robert and Julia could not be more “Will and Grace” if they tried. Julia ends season one trying to matchmake Robert and find him true love. Apparently, she did not need to bother, as he had already been working on something off camera on his own.

As the sun rises on season two, we see seismic shifts have been made in the relationship statuses of the cast. Julia is now going into a divorce war with Silvio, and her oldest daughter has left her husband and their marriage which had been originally rooted in Haredi orthodox standards. Robert on the other hand, is no longer single, but has a boyfriend, with whom he has had a seven-year relationship.

Enter Ra’ed Saade, the boyfriend. Handsome and positive with a killer smile, he is somehow reminiscent of a male, Lebanese, gay Mary Richards as Lou Grant defined her in the classic sitcom.

Lou: You know what? You’ve got spunk…

Mary: Yeah, well (slight giggle)

Lou: I HATE spunk!

Ra’ed has spunk. In every sense of the word—double entendre intended. Will America “hate” his brand of spunk?

 Mary, in her day, was one of the only single working women representations on network TV. Ra’ed is the first gay Arab man on Netflix reality TV. He is sex positive and allows himself to be a walking commercial for open relationships. On the show, he mixes a deep sense of romance and being the ultimate boyfriend, a superior friend and confidant, with being frequently horny, or as he himself describes it, “a slut.”  

Ok, so maybe Mary Richards never called herself a slut.

While Ra’ed is from Lebanon, he seems to have lived elsewhere most of his life.  This is not unusual, he tells me, “The majority of the population of Lebanon live outside. We have more Lebanese people in Brazil than there are in Lebanon.” Ra’ed was born in Dubai, moved to the Philippines, lived in Holland, and then spent his high school years in Saudi Arabia. He credits those high school years as being the ones that shaped him. “Saudi Arabia is a very conservative, Muslim country. There is when I discovered that I was a homosexual gay man. Surviving three years in Saudi Arabia as a homosexual man and keeping it to myself, acting and putting on… doing all the things you do when you’re acting to cover up. That shaped a lot of things for me in my life. All the trauma of that period made me into this funny guy that knows, if I survived that, I could survive anything… I was considered an abomination and could have gotten up to the death penalty, especially in Saudi Arabia, and especially during the time that I was there. It was very frightening and scary. I didn’t tell a soul other than the people I was sleeping with, of course they knew.”   

When he came to America and Syracuse University, everything changed. He met Robert.  “It was like, opening a cave and letting the puppy come out. I smelled freedom. I felt I saw the rainbow colors in the sky every day. I just obviously fell in love. And here I am. I feel like I’ve arrived.”

It was with that survival instinct that gave him the courage to go for the Middle East edition of The Voice, and to audition for America’s Got Talent. When he hit the AGT stage, the audience loved his personality. His act?  Not so much. He got booed off.

Spunk.

In the second season of My Unorthodox Life, Ra’ed and Robert starred in the first episode describing how they were living together.  While the show misleadingly implied that their relationship was new, it was not only not new, but tried and true.   “Rob and I have been soul mates for 16 years. We know each other through thick and thin, through rich and poor, famous and non-famous and good and bad. All of it. We know each other inside and out,“ Ra’ed told me on a recent Rated LGBT Radio discussion.

Haart’s eldest daughter Batsheva was harsh when Ra’ed revealed that he believed in open relationships. She advocated for the couple to break up immediately. She made her comments right to Ra’ed’s face on camera. 

He has no regrets. “I’m such an open book and it’s sometimes bad for me… I didn’t have any hesitation because I stopped caring what people think and I am shameless, as you’ve seen on many shows. I just know the truth that is the truth,” Ra’ed said to me about his stance.  “The truth of the matter is Rob and I have been together as friends as you know, sexually active or whatever for 16 years, I mean, there is no doubt the loyalties– the love, is there. There’s no doubt that I would jump off a cliff, I would take a bullet for Rob. All of these beautiful things– but when I’m going to Ibiza …Rob and I are going to go and flirt with everybody in the club. A lot of people do that in secret. It is okay to have an open relationship when you are honest and open with your partner and you guys have set the ground rules and you both are saying, yes, we agree, both say yes, we love, we love this idea. There’s no problem with this and it’s a way more fun lifestyle. I mean that’s the truth. When you’re in a relationship, you are together to lift each other up encourage each other and just build a beautiful life. You just don’t own another person, you know.”

Hi answer is direct, unapologetic and almost innocent. Spunk.

Will there be a season three of My Unorthodox Life? Ra’ed hopes so. “The assignment was my unorthodox life.” Even if season two was the final he feels “like I completed the assignment.” If there are more seasons, “There’s a lot of facets and a lot of a lot of dynamics in my life that are unorthodox so I would love to open up more in coming seasons.”

 In the meantime, while Mary Richards famously twirled and threw her hat in the air on a Minneapolis street corner, Ra’ed is tossing his on a New York City Time Square street corner. 

It is from there that he TikTok promotes his February 10thClub Ra’ed” DJ evening of Middle East disco sounds, a one-time event he hosts. He has proven that spunk is alive and well. 

The modern version is just a tad more exciting with a unique Arabic feel and a fun infectious rhythm.

Listen to the complete interview:

****************************************************************************

Rob Watson is the host of the popular Hollywood-based radio/podcast show RATED LGBT RADIO.

He is an established LGBTQ columnist and blogger having written for many top online publications including Parents Magazine, the Huffington Post, LGBTQ Nation, Gay Star News, the New Civil Rights Movement, and more.

He served as Executive Editor for The Good Man Project, has appeared on MSNBC and been quoted in Business Week and Forbes Magazine.

He is CEO of Watson Writes, a marketing communications agency, and can be reached at [email protected] .

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Out & About

“Fully Lit” plays LA’s The Wiltern Thursday

“This is my first time, touring, in a major way since the pandemic,” she noted. “Now, honey, it’s ready to set the nation on fire”

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Photo by Davide Laffe

NEW YORK – Who needs to “Hark” when you can “Halleloo”? Heralding its impending arrival in the City of Angels with the righteous reassurance of a “fierce, fabulous, and fiery” experience that flat screens and social distancing simply cannot supply, the Fully Lit Tour is a live stage show starring actor, performer, drag entertainer (and, yes, dancer) D.J. “Shangela” Pierce.

“It’s gonna be high-energy. It’s gonna be fun. It’s gonna be on-stage performances and never-before-heard, behind-the-scenes stories, many of them about celebrities, as well as custom mixes, death drops, and more, baby,” said Shangela, of what to expect when the tour plays LA’s the Wiltern on Thursday, January 26.

The three-season “RuPaul’s Drag Race” contestant—still basking in the dewy glow of cinematic cred earned from her screen time with Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper in 2018’s “A Star is Born”—saw that upward trajectory continue, as one of three peripatetic drag ambassadors in the three-season HBO series “We’re Here.” Alongside Bob the Drag Queen and Eureka O’Hara, the trio travels from town to town, coaching and coaxing budding drag kids out of their shells, while angling to win heartland hearts and pry open closed minds (more on that later).

For the longest time up until now, having the “We’re Here” crew arrive unannounced at your humdrum day job was the only way to score same-room time with Shangla. This tour, she assures, changes all of that. 

But why “Fully Lit”? It’s so named, said Shangela, “because I’ve always had a spark for entertaining. But when I first started drag, that spark was lit even more in me. And now, through all of these fun, amazing milestones I’ve experienced in drag, I like to consider myself Fully Lit. So I’m gonna be sharing a lot of what’s led me to this moment,” she says, of a show that was conceived, written, and executed as a statement “about connecting people. Since the pandemic, we had to be so distant from each other—and now I’m really excited to come with a show that’s going to bring us all back together.”

But beyond the longtime fans for which Fully Lit functions as a mother and child reunion, Shangela says newbie fans will not emerge disappointed if they came to see the first drag entertainer to compete on “Dancing with the Stars” (and come in fourth, no less). Mentions of that recent gig, which launched her into the household name stratosphere, are liberally peppered throughout our interview.  

Savvy Shangela, always able to cut a rug but never known as a top-tier hoofer, won’t be passing on the opportunity to parlay her DWTS notoriety into live performance gold. “My four dancers and I have been working nonstop,” she told the Blade, while steeped in rehearsal two days before the tour opened in Boston on January 19. “This is my first time, touring, in a major way since the pandemic,” she noted. “Now, honey, it’s ready to set the nation on fire… In this 90-minute show, I wanna give fans everything they have come to expect from Shangela. And I’m going to be bringing a lot of my learning and excitement and energy from “Dancing with the Stars” into this project.”

That’s all well and good, we noted, but what will she be wearing? “Well, I mean, it’s Shangla,” she shot back. “I’m not coming on stage with a pair of socks, honey.”  

On the topic of naked displays and raw emotions, talk turned back to her work on “We’re Here”—which co-producer Shangela notes is not an elimination series where manufactured conflict often guides the narrative. “It’s a real-life docu-series,” she says, of the show. “I stress the words ‘real life’ because that’s exactly what we’re experiencing and that’s what I believe comes through when people watch the show.” But don’t confuse “real” with “professionally qualified.” Shangela credits the “We’re Here” track record of successfully nurturing aspiring drag performers to the fact that she’s “gone through a lot of the experiences” happening to “the daughters and drag kids I mentor. I’m not a trained therapist or licensed mentor or a coach in any way. I’m just a real person. So I try to put myself in their shoes and listen to them, but also listen to people who are not familiar with who we are and have opposition to us—and hopefully, bring them to a space where they are more open.”

Asked what she’s open to, we pointed out a rare case of box-not-checked from the pre-tour press material, which notes that as a drag performer, Shangela’s dug her heels into the good earth on six of our planet’s continents—which begged the question: Why hasn’t she parlayed this year’s career-high notoriety into a docu-series shadowing Shangela and other queens as they take up residency in the best (only?) club in Antarctica?

Oh baby, I don’t need to take anyone with me,” she insisted. “I’m Shangela. I’m ready to do a show right on the continent. It will happen. It will happen. Hopefully by the next time we talk, I’ll be able to say, “And now I’ve done all seven, thank you, Baby. Thank you so much!”

The Blade will continue to follow this important story as it presumably develops. In the meantime, Shangela’s Fully Lit Tour comes to LA at the Wiltern (3790 Wilshire Blvd.) on Thursday, January 26, For tickets: https://shangela.com/pages/tour.

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