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FROM THE VAULTS: Taking the plunge

Movies you might have missed with a water theme

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queer movies, gay news, Washington Blade

Antonio Banderas won the top Cannes Film Festival acting prize for his work in ‘Pain and Glory.’ (Photo by Manolo Pavon; courtesy Sony Pictures Classics)

As temperatures soar all over the country, it’s time for a refreshing and revitalizing dive into the water. Here’s a collection of recent queer movies where characters take the plunge, both literally and metaphorically.

“Stranger by the Lake.” This award-winning French film was billed as an erotic gay thriller and it lived up to that description. The action unfolds on the banks of a lake where men meet for sex, which is shown in graphic detail. The thriller starts when the seemingly innocent Franck watches Michel swim out into a lake with a man and swim back to shore alone. Director Alain Guiraudie skillfully captures the mundane yet thrilling rituals of cruising and the inscrutable passion that arises between Franck and Michel. (In French with English subtitles).

“End of the Century.” Ocho, an Argentinian poet, is visiting Barcelona. He goes to the beach and sees Javi. As Ocho wanders the city, he keeps noticing Javi. When the two finally meet, they realize they have met each other before, and that they may have a future together. To say any more would spoil the intriguing twists and turns that out Argentinian director Lucio Castro magically weaves into his debut feature film. Castro writes and directs with the confident flair of a master filmmaker, making bold and innovative choices that gently support the cinematic magic realism of his epic love story. (In Spanish with English subtitles).

“Portrait of a Lady on Fire.” This sumptuous French period drama tells the story of a young female artist who falls in love with her subject. The movie is largely set on an isolated wind-swept island in Brittany at the end of the 18th century. Marianne (Noémie Merlant) is a struggling young artist who is hired by La Comtesse (Valeria Golino) to paint a wedding portrait of her daughter Heloise (Adèle Haenel). There’s only one catch: Heloise must not know that Marianne is painting her.

The richly sensuous and thoughtful exploration of art and romance won the Queer Palm at Cannes where lesbian filmmaker Céline Sciamma also won the screenwriting award. (In French with English subtitles).

“Pain and Glory (Dolor y Gloria),” the latest movie from queer auteur Pedro Almodóvar, starts with an amazing (and somewhat disturbing) shot of Antonio Banderas sitting at the bottom of a pool. In this deeply moving story based very loosely on the filmmaker’s own life, the long-time Almodóvar collaborator plays gay filmmaker Salvador Mallo whose physical and psychological ailments have kept him away from the camera. Banderas won the Best Actor prize at Cannes; Almodóvar veterans Penelope Cruz and Julieta Serrano and a great supporting cast turn in richly nuanced performances. (In Spanish with English subtitles).

“Rocketman.” When you end up at the bottom of your swimming pool during a glamorous pool party, you may have reached the end of your yellow brick road. Using the pop superstar and gay icon’s own music, director Dexter Fletcher leads audiences on a fantastic journey through Elton John’s early life, including his childhood, his rise to international stardom, his coming out, his addictions and his decision to enter rehab. Taron Egerton is fantastic as Elton and the costumes by Julian Day are, of course, fabulous.

Finally, the power of water (both literal and metaphorical) is at the center of “The Shape of Water,” a visionary queer retelling of Cold War-era paranoid monster movies like “The Creature from the Black Lagoon.” The film centers on a cleaning woman who discovers that a gentle creature is being tortured at a government research lab. She falls in love with “Amphibian Man” and with the help of her friends, she develops a plot to free him.

The movie won several Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director (Guillermo del Toro), Best Production Design and Best Original Score (Alexandre Desplat). Academy Award nominee Sally Hawkins stars as Elisa Esposito; the outstanding supporting cast includes Octavia Spencer, Michael Shannon, Michael Shuhlbarg, Doug Jones and Richard Jenkins as Giles, Elisa’s gay best friend.

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More Queer women in film but no trans, limited screen time says GLAAD

This year’s report found a decrease in bisexual representation, and an increase in lesbian representation but no trans again for 4th year.

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Los Angeles Blade Graphic

NEW YORK – GLAAD, the world’s largest LGBTQ media advocacy organization, has released its ninth annual Studio Responsibility Index (SRI), a study that maps the quantity, quality, and diversity of LGBTQ characters in films released by the eight major film studios.

Due to the unique disruption to theatrical releases in the U.S. in 2020 caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, GLAAD chose to center its analysis on the eight film studios that had the highest theatrical grosses from films released in 2019 as the last standard full year, as reported by the box office database Box Office Mojo.

These studios were Lionsgate, Paramount Pictures, Sony Pictures, STX Films, United Artists Releasing, Universal Pictures, The Walt Disney Studios, and Warner Bros.

GLAAD found that of the 44 films released from major studios in 2020, ten (22.7 percent) contained LGBTQ characters including Like a Boss, The Broken Hearts Gallery, Fantasy Island, Valley Girl, Freaky, The New Mutants, and Birds of Prey. This is an increase of 4.1 percent, but a decrease of 12 films from last year’s 18.6 percent (22 out of 118 films). The limited number of films released theatrically in 2020 is a direct result and consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic, which shut down several theaters in the U.S. and globally for large portions of the year.

GLAAD counted 20 LGBTQ characters among all major studio theatrical releases in 2020, a decrease from 50 characters in last year’s report. This decrease is once again largely due to the much-reduced sample size of films released in 2020. Of the 20 LGBTQ characters, 11 are women and 9 are men, making this the first time in the SRI’s history that queer women characters outnumber the men. 

For the fourth year in a row, there were zero transgender and/or non-binary characters counted in the major studio films released. GLAAD’s call for increased transgender and non-binary representation and storytelling, especially in a political climate with anti-transgender legislation moving forward at a record pace, remains.

The racial diversity of LGBTQ characters saw a welcome increase in this year’s findings. Of the 20 LGBTQ characters counted, 40 percent (or 8 characters) were characters of color, an increase of six percent from 2019, though a decrease of nine characters. This is still 17 percent lower than the record high of 57 percent characters of color in 2017. Of the 20 LGBTQ characters, eleven (55 percent) were white, three (15 percent) were Asian-Pacific Islander, two (10 percent) were Black, two (10 percent) were Latinx, and one (5 percent) was Indigenous. One character (5 percent) was a non-human appearing alien in Onward.

There was a significant increase in the screen time of LGBTQ characters found in major studio releases in 2020. Half of LGBTQ characters (10 out of 20) registered ten minutes or more of screen time. Six of the 20 characters (or 30 percent) logged under one minute. While some films like The New Mutants, Freaky, Fantasy Island, and The Broken Hearts Gallery used that expanded screen time to tell more developed or nuanced queer stories, often with more than one queer character, more time did not equate to quality across the board. For example, The Gentleman and Buddy Games both registered more than ten minutes but with characters that were stereotypical and which elicited negative reactions from many LGBTQ viewers. There remains a huge opportunity for meaningful LGBTQ storytelling and for unambiguously marketing and promotion.

This year’s report found a decrease in bisexual representation, and an increase in lesbian representation. Of the ten LGBTQ-inclusive films released in 2020, five films (50 percent) contained a lesbian character, up from last year’s 36 percent, but still a decrease from the 55 percent of films with lesbian characters in 2018. Representation of gay men decreased from 68 percent to 60 percent (six films) this year, while bisexual characters decreased from 14 percent to 10 percent (only one film contained a bi+ character).

Of the 20 LGBTQ characters in this report, GLAAD found zero characters living with HIV and also zero LGBTQ characters with a disability. GLAAD began counting LGBTQ characters with disabilities in its 2020 Studio Responsibility Index, and only tallied one character in a 2019 film.

Based on the quality, quantity, and diversity of LGBTQ representation in the studios’ slate, GLAAD has previously assigned a grade to each major studio: Excellent, Good, Insufficient, Poor, or Failing. However, due to the unique and unforeseeable halt of theater operations for a majority of 2020, GLAAD suspended assigning each studio a grade in this year’s report due to circumstances outside of their control. GLAAD plans to resume its grading scale in the next study.

“This is a critical time of transformation for Hollywood – challenged to redefine business lines and practices during a global pandemic, driven by an increased demand from consumers hungry for new content, and rocked by the rightful reckoning and pressure for these studios to create more meaningful substantive change in representing and investing in marginalized communities,” said GLAAD President & CEO Sarah Kate Ellis. “This transformation represents a great opportunity to swiftly accelerate acceptance of LGBTQ stories, break new ground, and invest in queer and trans talent and stories that audiences are eager to watch. Hollywood and the business of storytelling must be more nimble, more creative, more open than ever before.”

In the past year, GLAAD challenged the TV industry to introduce new regular and recurring LGBTQ characters living with HIV in order to combat stigma. Now, GLAAD is similarly challenging Hollywood studios. GLAAD is calling on the distributors tracked in this report to urgently prioritize active development and theatrical release in coming years of stories featuring LGBTQ characters living with HIV. In 2020, GLAAD’s The State of HIV Stigma survey found that nearly nine in ten Americans believe “there is still stigma around HIV,” which is keeping progress back. Approximately 1.2 million Americans and about 38 million people globally are living with HIV. 

Three years ago, GLAAD issued a challenge to the film industry that 20 percent of annual major studios releases must include LGBTQ characters by the end of 2021, and that 50 percent include LGBTQ characters by the end of 2024. In GLAAD’s 2019-20 Where We Are on TV study, GLAAD challenged the TV industry to ensure that within the next two years, half of LGBTQ characters tracked are also people of color. At that time, only broadcast scripted primetime series had achieved that goal. In a single year, cable met and surpassed that challenge and broadcast continued to exceed this benchmark for the third year in a row GLAAD found in its most recent Where We Are on TV study. Last year, GLAAD extended that challenge to the film industry as well.

“We know that LGBTQ audiences are a powerful and invested audience – and a quickly growing one – as we see more and more people empowered to live their authentic lives. The power, passion, and growth of LGBTQ audiences proves that if studios wish to be successful in retaining and expanding fans, they must tell meaningful queer and trans stories,” said Megan Townsend, GLAAD’s Director of Entertainment Research & Analysis. “Nielsen reports that LGBTQ audiences are key box office drivers, heavy streaming users, and set the social conversation. As the industry looks towards a changing future, it is clear that LGBTQ characters need to be part of stories across all platforms of distribution, and prioritizing offering fan engagement experiences provides even greater opportunity for representation and inclusion. Sincerely engaging LGBTQ audiences can only benefit the studio’s bottom lines.”

GLAAD’s Studio Responsibility Index assesses films based on GLAAD’s “Vito Russo Test,” a set of criteria analyzing how LGBTQ characters are situated in a narrative. Named after GLAAD co-founder and celebrated film historian Vito Russo, and partly inspired by the “Bechdel Test,” these criteria represent an expectation and standard, providing a roadmap for a greater number of mainstream Hollywood films to reach and surpass. However, as several films tracked prove, passing this test does not guarantee that a film is free of problems, offensive in its portrayals or tropes in films where an LGBTQ character may be tied to the film’s plot, but whose stories were objectionable. Passing the Vito Russo Test is a first step, rather than the finish line.

For a film to pass the Vito Russo Test, the following must be true:

  1. The film contains a character that is identifiably lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer (LGBTQ).
  2. That character must not be solely or predominantly defined by their sexual orientation or gender identity (i.e. the character is comprised of the same sort of unique character traits commonly used to differentiate straight or non-transgender characters from one another).
  3. The LGBTQ character must be tied into the plot in such a way that their removal would have a significant effect. Meaning they are not there to simply provide colorful commentary, paint urban authenticity, or (perhaps most commonly) set up a punchline. The character should matter.

GLAAD’s 2021 Studio Responsibility Index found that 90 percent of LGBTQ-inclusive films (9 of 10) released in 2020 passed the Vito Russo Test, which is the highest percentage recorded in the report’s history, or 20 percent of 44 total films. However, this finding again must be understood in the context of a much-reduced sample size of films released theatrically in the U.S. in 2020.

For the full report, visit: www.glaad.org/sri.

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Legendary activist gets his due in ‘Hating Peter Tatchell’

‘Peter’s journey over the past half-century highlights the advances in the gay liberation movement. That gives me hope for the future.’

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Peter Tatchell being arrested in Moscow. (Image courtesy of Wildbear Entertainment)

LONDON – Looking at the fight for LGBTQ equality from inside the bubble of the United States, it’s easy to get the impression that the movement essentially started at Stonewall, and that most of our progress is the result of work from our own homegrown activists. That’s obviously not the case; though there have been plenty of American heroes that have done more than their fair share in the effort, the contributions of others who join the fight on the international front deserve recognition, too.  

“Hating Peter Tatchell,” available now on Netflix, is a great introduction to one of them.

It’s a documentary from director Christopher Amos that chronicles the life and work of a tireless champion for LGBTQ rights – and human rights in general – whose six decades of campaigning have made him simultaneously one of the most lauded and loathed men in the world. He has shaken up the British establishment with his radical acts of civil disobedience, aggressively pushed for change in global attitudes about homosexuality, and stood up against tyrannical world leaders – and he’s done it all from the front lines.

Amos’ brisk but informative film takes us on a tour of Tatchell’s career, bolstered by plenty of archival footage (much of which only exists because Tatchell saved the VHS tapes himself) and given perspective through evocative interviews with the likes of activist Angela Mason, actor Stephen Fry, and Tatchell himself, who also engages in an ongoing conversation with actor and fellow LGBTQ activist Ian McKellen about what motivates his lifelong fight for equality. Along the way, we get insights into Tatchell’s personal life, in particular his relationship with his deeply religious mother. The film culminates with his riskiest crusade yet, the disruption of 2018’s FIFA World Cup in Moscow to draw attention to the persecution of LGBTQ+ people in Russia and Chechnya.

Tatchell, we’re happy to say, survived that journey, and is still fighting tirelessly through the Peter Tatchell Foundation, a small London-based human rights organization that also supports democracy, LGBTQ+ and human rights movements in countries like Russia, Uganda, Iran and Pakistan. But busy as he is, he took time to join director Christopher Amos for a conversation with the Blade about the film.

BLADE: Peter, a lot of hard-working activists often struggle with burnout. How do you find a balance between your activism and your day-to-day life?

PETER TATCHELL: My life has been tough. I’ve campaigned 12+ hours a day for 54 years, been violently assaulted over 300 times and still receive masses of hate mail and death threats, mostly from homophobes and far right extremists. I’m perpetually tired. It’s made relationships difficult to sustain. But I love the human rights work that I do. What motivates and sustains me is my many successes and the positive feedback from the 20,000+ individuals and campaigners that I’ve helped over the last five decades.  

BLADE: Your activism even extends into your relationship with your mom.

TATCHELL: I’ve seen my mother’s regressive views as a challenge and never ceased engaging with her. As a result, she’s been on a journey of growing understanding and acceptance. Although homosexuality is against her Christian beliefs, she doesn’t see it as a major sin. Moreover, she mostly supports my LGBTQ+ work, says LGBTQ people should be treated with respect and has accepted my partner. It shows that patience and perseverance can change hearts and minds.

BLADE: On that subject, the movie features a lot of footage from an era when a lot of people were opposed to your confrontational methods. Some of that persists even in the contemporary interviews. Christopher, was that an intentional choice?

CHRISTOPHER AMOS: As much as I support Peter’s work, achievements, and sensibilities, I knew it was important to also present opposing opinions. It’s important, for progress, to listen to opinions that are different from our own, even when we disagree. And it’s important that we don’t hide history, we can learn from it. When I was watching the hundreds of hours of archives, I was shocked by some of the views which made it onto television talk shows at the time. Hindsight is a powerful way of highlighting just how much progress has been made.

BLADE: In this case, it certainly highlights that some of Peter’s more “radical” positions have been vindicated over the years, in spite of the naysayers. 

AMOS: Peter was ahead of his time. He has a natural instinct for what is fair and equal in society.

BLADE: Is that what drew you to him as a subject for a film?

AMOS: Peter’s activism inspires me, and perhaps identifying with the journey of an Aussie moving to London made his story especially significant to me. We first met in 2000, when I was editor of Bent magazine, and Peter regularly contributed articles. I was always surprised by how many of the LGBTQ community derided his work, despite the huge contribution he was making to advancing our rights. This struck me as an interesting premise for a story about his life, something which adds a layer to the biographical account of his life. I wanted to highlight his achievements but also explore his motivations.

BLADE: What do you want audiences to take away from his story?

AMOS: Peter’s journey over the past half-century highlights the advances in the gay liberation movement. That gives me hope for the future and I hope will give others hope too. But it can also inspire us to take action, to use our voice. I want viewers to be moved, but also feel motivated to carry on this fight for equality. Many people often ask what they can do, but Peter doesn’t wonder, he just does something.

BLADE: Peter, is there an action you’ve taken that you are particularly proud of? 

TATCHELL: I don’t spend much time relishing my successes. Once a victory has been secured, I focus my mind on the next challenge. But I’m pleased that I ambushed Mike Tyson and got him to express his opposition to homophobic discrimination, and that I staged the first LGBT+ protest in a communist country (East Germany, 1973). And also, I twice attempted a citizen’s arrest of the Zimbabwean dictator and homophobe, Robert Mugabe.

BLADE: What do you think is currently the most crucial fight or fights for the future of queer rights?

TATCHELL: In the West, the biggest battles are to ban conversion therapy, defend the trans community and support other progressive movements, like Black Lives Matter and #MeToo. Globally, the main challenge is to decriminalize homosexuality in the 70 countries that still outlaw it, and then to secure legislation against anti-LGBT+ discrimination and hate crimes.

BLADE: What would you say to people who want to become more involved but don’t know where or how to start?

TATCHELL: Join a LGBT+ organization. There is strength in numbers. All our gains are the result of our collective efforts. Don’t accept the world as it is. Dream of what the world could be — and then join with others to help make it happen.

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Arts & Entertainment

Summer film and TV preview

The LGBTQ productions that will take you to the ‘Heights’

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Summer is coming, once again, and this time it feels like a pretty big deal. For the first time in more than a year, we can look forward (fingers crossed) to a return to semi-normalcy, and it’s reasonable to make plans for enjoying at least some of our time outside the socially distanced safety of our living rooms.

That said, the waning of COVID also means that the television and film industry has an embarrassment of accumulated riches ready to offer us – and even if we have binge-watched our way through the past 14 months, we say, “Bring it on!”

There’s so much queer-flavored entertainment on deck in the coming few weeks that it can be a bewildering task to keep track of it all. Fortunately, the Blade is here to help, with our list of the movies and shows that seem likely to represent the cream of the crop.

First, the television:

PRIDE (May 14, FX)

Summer LGBTQ film
A scene from ‘PRIDE.’ (Screen capture via YouTube)

This six-part documentary series from VICE studios may have already started, but it’s a great kick off to Pride Season – and thanks to “FX on Hulu,” it’s easy to catch up at your leisure. Chronicling the struggle for LGBTQ+ civil rights in America from the 1950s through the 2000s, seven renowned LGBTQ+ directors explore stories of queer experience, from the FBI surveillance of homosexuals during the 1950s “Lavender Scare” to the “Culture Wars” of the 1990s and beyond, exploring the queer legacy of the Civil Rights movement and the battle over marriage equality. Offering profiles of familiar heroes like Bayard Rustin and Christine Jorgensen, as well as of lesser-known figures like Madeleine Tress and Nelson Sullivan, the show charts the evolution of LGBTQ+ rights and identities through interviews and archival footage to provide a valuable perspective on queer history, just in time for Pride month.

SPECIAL (May 20, Netflix)

Max Jenkins and Ryan O’Connell in ‘Special.’ (Photo courtesy Netflix)

Freshly dropped is the second and final season of this surprise hit series from Ryan O’Connell, a semi-autobiographical comedy about a writer with cerebral palsy (played by O’Connell himself) trying to navigate life in the Los Angeles “scene” as a gay man with a disability. The abbreviated (only four episodes) final arc follows Ryan as he tries to “get his shit together” after the disastrous events of season one – including a fight with his mother Karen (Jessica Hecht) that has left them estranged ever since – that have left him with a nasty case of writer’s block. New relationships are also on the horizon for both Ryan and BFF Kim (Punam Patel), and the journey toward self-discovery and self-actualization takes center stage as this disarmingly charming and refreshingly unsentimental comedy – currently the only show on television to feature a disabled LGBTQ person as its main character – comes to a close. Max Jenkins, Charlie Barnett, Ana Ortiz, Utkarsh Ambudkar, Lauren Weedman, and Leslie Jordan are among those joining the show for season two, alongside returning cast members Marla Mindelle, Gina Hughes, and Patrick Fabian.

MASTER OF NONE (May 23, Netflix)

Naomi Ackie and Lena Waithe in ‘Master of None.’ (Photo courtesy Netflix)

Returning for a much-anticipated season 3 is this acclaimed series, co-created by Aziz Ansari and Emmy-winner Alan Yang. Always strongly “queer-adjacent” thanks largely to the involvement of Lena Waithe, who played the lesbian character of Denise throughout the first two seasons and became the first Black woman to win a writing Emmy for the episode “Thanksgiving,” based partly on her own experience coming out to her mother. In its third installment, the show takes a radical departure from following Ansari’s lead character (struggling actor Dev Shah) and instead focuses all of its five-episode run on the relationship between Denise and partner Alicia (played by BAFTA-winner Naomi Ackie).

Directed by Ansari, who also co-wrote with Waithe, this new season touts itself as “a modern love story that intimately illustrates the ups and downs of marriage, struggles with fertility, and personal growth both together and apart.” Judging from its past excellence, this new installment is likely to be one of the summer’s best bets.

BALLERINA BOYS (June 4, PBS)

“American Masters” presents a portrait of Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo (“The Trocks”), an all-male ballet company that has captivated audiences for over 45 years with their signature style – classical ballet en pointe and in drag, delivered with a blend of rigorous technique and satire that challenges the rigid gender norms of the art form – while also delivering a message of equality, inclusion and social justice. This profile from director Chana Gazit follows the legendary troupe as they tour the Carolinas, and culminates with their 2019 performance at the Stonewall 50th anniversary concert in NYC. The hour-long doc broadcasts on June 4 (check your local listings), but it will also be available via the PBS video app in honor of Pride Month.

LOVE, VICTOR (June 11, Hulu)

George Sear and Michael Cimino in ‘Love, Victor.’ (Photo courtesy of Hulu)

The popular teen dramedy, inspired by the hit LGBTQ teen romance “Love, Simon,” returns for season two as the newly out Victor (Michael Cimino) enters his junior year at Creekwood High. As his story continues, Victor faces challenges such as a family struggling with his revelation, his heartbroken ex-girlfriend Mia (Rachel Hilson), and the difficulties of being an openly gay star athlete – all while navigating the excitement of his relationship with new boyfriend Benji (George Sear). Odds are good that this continuation will deliver more of the same blend of heart, humor, and diversity that helped the first season become one of last summer’s must-see highlights. Anthony Turpel, Bebe Wood, Mason Gooding, Isabella Ferreira, Mateo Fernandez, James Martinez, and Ana Ortiz also star.

REUNION ROAD TRIP: QUEER EYE FOR THE STRAIGHT GUY (June 17, E! Entertainment)

As part of the network’s special event series, “Reunion Road Trip,” the original “Fab Five” – Thom Filicia, Ted Allen, Kyan Douglas, Carson Kressley and Jai Rodriguez – reassemble in Los Angeles to do a makeover for Jai on his 40th birthday. As the group works their magic, they think back to their most heartfelt, meaningful makeovers and the impact on the LGBTQ community then and now, delivering a satisfying (and long overdue) trip down memory lane for fans of one of the most important and influential queer shows in television history. Airs at 9pm PT/ET.

Now for the movies:

PINK – ALL I KNOW SO FAR (May 21, Amazon Prime)
Amazon Studios launches its summer with this intimate documentary about award-winning performer and musician Pink as she embarks on her record-breaking 2019 “Beautiful Trauma” world tour and welcomes audiences to join her chosen family while trying to balance being a mom, a wife, a boss, and a performer. Directed by Michael Gracey (“The Greatest Showman”), this look into the private and public sides of a trailblazing artist – who is also a fierce and vocal advocate for the LGBTQ community, where she has long been a fan favorite – mixes footage from the road with behind-the-scenes interviews and personal material, giving audiences a glimpse behind the curtain of “the circus that she calls life.”

THE SOUND OF IDENTITY (June 1, VOD)

Lucia Lucas in ‘The Sound of Identity.’ (Screen capture via YouTube)

This award-winning documentary from director James Kicklighter profiles international opera star Lucia Lucas as she becomes the first known transgender woman in opera history to perform a principal role. Capturing Lucas on the cusp of international stardom as she prepares for her historic performance at the Tulsa Opera, it showcases the collaborative process between Lucas and her mentor (renowned composer Tobias Picker), as they bring Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” to life – with Lucas, a world-renowned baritone, taking the spotlight and all the pressures that come with it. Along the way, Lucas provides fresh insights into her transition, the professional risk she is taking, and what it means for those who follow. A must-see exploration of the role played by identity in our personal and professional lives, as well as a portrait of an artist at the height of her career.

JULIA SCOTTI: FUNNY THAT WAY (June 1, VOD)

Another documentary profile of a pioneering trans artist, this Susan Sandler-directed film takes audiences on an entertaining but emotional roller coaster as it follows the comeback of Julia Scotti – formerly Rick Scotti, who appeared on bills with Jerry Seinfeld and Chris Rock – after her transition during “a time when the words gender dysphoria and gender reassignment surgery were rarely heard.” Shot over a period of five years, this inspirational doc tracks Julia’s triumphant comeback, the rough life on the road, and the complex process of reuniting with her children, as her comedy becomes a shared language of identity, healing, and joy.

SUBLET (June 11, VOD)

John Benjamin Hickey in ‘Sublet.’ (Screen capture via YouTube)

Fans of steamy international LGBTQ cinema can look forward to this film from Israeli director Eytan Fox, whose haunting gay military romance “Yossi & Jagger” broke ground in expanding support for LGBTQ movies in Israel when it was released in 2002. In his latest offering, 50-something American writer Michael (John Benjamin Hickey) travels to Tel Aviv on assignment, where he sublets an apartment from local student – and sexual free spirit – Tomer (Niv Nissim). The young man quickly becomes his tour guide, and as the two spend time together, they soon find themselves exploring more than just the city – despite the clash of generational attitudes between them. Slated to debut at the cancelled-due-to-COVID 2020 Tribeca Film Festival, it’s getting the release it deserves, as a reminder that Pride stretches across all borders.

RITA MORENO: JUST A GIRL WHO DECIDED TO GO FOR IT (June 18, in Theaters)

Directed by Mariem Pérez Riera, this documentary profiles its EGOT-winning subject with a look at her 70+ year career, following the beloved performer from her poverty-stricken youth in Puerto Rico, through her time as an all-purpose “ethnic stock player” in Hollywood (even after the triumph of becoming the first Latina actress to win an Oscar for her role in “West Side Story”), and her eventual rise to the iconic status she enjoys today. It also chronicles not only Hollywood’s not-so-hidden history of racism, sexism, and abuse, but Moreno’s personal struggles – including a toxic relationship with Marlon Brando and her own bout with serious depression – before her talent and resilience allowed her to triumph over adversity, break barriers, and forge a path for new generations of artists to come. The film features extensive interviews with Moreno, as well as George Chakiris, Héctor Elizondo, Gloria Estefan, Tom Fontana, Morgan Freeman, Mitzi Gaynor, Whoopi Goldberg, Norman Lear, Eva Longoria, Justina Machado, Terrence McNally, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Karen Olivo.

IN THE HEIGHTS (June 18, HBO Max and in Theaters)

Anthony Ramos and Melissa Barrera in ‘In the Heights.’ (Photo courtesy Warner Brothers Pictures)

Make no mistake, the long-awaited film adaptation of the 2005 Broadway musical by Lin-Manuel “Hamilton” Miranda and Quiara Alegria Hughes is sure to be the big-ticket movie of the summer. With charismatic bodega-owner Usnavi (Anthony Ramos) at its center, this sweeping musical portrait of Manhattan’s Washington Heights – a neighborhood mostly populated by immigrant people of color and their families – showcases a remarkable and diverse cast that also includes Corey Hawkins, Leslie Grace, Melissa Barrera, Daphne Rubin-Vega, Stephanie Beatriz, Gregory Diaz IV, Dascha Polanco, Jimmy Smits, Marc Anthony, and Olga Merediz reprising her Broadway role.

The show was a Tony-winning smash onstage for its infectious celebration of community, as well as its uplifting message of following your dreams in the face of adversity. On film, as helmed by “Crazy Rich Asians” director Jon M. Chu, it’s a return to triumphant form for the Hollywood musical, executed with breathtaking cinematic vision and a healthy dose of “magical realism” that does nothing to undercut its streetwise swagger – and it’s probably something you should plan to see on the big screen.

After so many months of isolation, you deserve a special treat.

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