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Must-see queer content for fall

TV, film merge on our home screens during COVID

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Jim Parsons and Matt Bomer star in ‘Boys in the Band.’ (Photo courtesy of Netflix)

In any normal year, fall would be the time for us to look ahead and get a rundown on all the LGBTQ+ content coming our way on television and in the movies during the coming months. This, of course, is 2020, which means normalcy is temporarily (we hope) on hold.

The impact of COVID, among other things, means that the line between TV and film – already growing very thin – has been all but erased, for the duration; for most of us, whichever of these two media we choose to experience will be showing up on exactly the same screen, and that means distinguishing between them is an exercise in splitting hairs. Another consequence of the current pandemic is that the usual certainty about what new and returning content is showing up – not to mention when it’s likely to get here – is a lot less certain.

The good news is that, in this age of streaming entertainment, there are plenty of options for LGBTQ+ viewers to turn to as they continue the longest couch-sitting marathon in recent memory, with a vast library of queer content available on all the major streaming platforms. Yes, a lot of it has been around for a while, but odds are good there’s still more to explore – and even if productions have been slowed or stopped for a lot of the industry, there’s also still a lot of new stuff coming our way. That’s especially true on Netflix, which continues to lead the charge for queer inclusion in its programming (despite the streaming giant’s recent and controversial cancellation of three popular shows with lesbian leads due to “COVID-related circumstances”).

With all that in mind, here’s the Blade’s short list of movies and shows to be on the lookout for as the temperature begins to drop on our annual journey toward winter – and the 2021 awards season.

“Antebellum”

This high-profile, sci-fi-ish thriller isn’t specifically LGBTQ+ in its focus – instead it’s a thinly disguised, time-hopping exploration of racism in America – but its directors, Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz, and two of its stars, Janelle Monáe and Kiersey Clemons, are all out and proud. Even without that connection, though, this tense-looking drama would deserve inclusion here for the timely relevance of its story about a successful author (Monáe) who finds herself trapped in a horrifying reality – in which she is forced to confront the past, present, and future before it’s too late. The directors (who brand themselves as Bush / Renz), known for their advertising work in the fight for social justice, make their feature film debut with what looks like a smart social allegory, fueled by a fierce spirit of activism; that makes it a must-see when it drops for premium On Demand streaming on Sept. 18.

“The Fight”

It’s not technically new, having officially been given a theatrical release in July, but it’s unlikely many have yet had the chance to see this Kerry Washington-produced documentary about the legal challenges taken up by the ACLU during the Trump era – and it feels like essential viewing. Following a scrappy team of heroic lawyers as they battle for abortion rights, immigrant rights, LGBTQ rights and voting rights in this defining moment of American history, it currently holds a 100% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and it streams on Hulu starting Sept. 18.

“The Boys in the Band”

The Big Gay News onscreen this fall, of course, is the much-anticipated filmed adaptation of 2018’s Broadway production of this queer classic, which reunites the revival’s cast and director for a fresh take on Mart Crowley’s acerbic portrait of gay friends gathering at a birthday party in 1968 New York. Joe Mantello guides an ensemble of talented out actors headed by Zachary Quinto, Matt Bomer, Jim Parsons, and Andrew Rannells (among other familiar faces), bringing contemporary perspective to a play that was criticized for presenting a dated and negative image of gay life before being reassessed and embraced as a slice-of-life snapshot from an era when being gay was something safer kept behind closed doors. By all reports its bitter and acerbic wit was tempered in the Tony-winning remount by humanity and insight – along with some strategic editing – that will presumably translate onto the screen when this must-see cultural touchstone hits Netflix on Sept. 30.

“Grand Army”

A gritty new young adult drama from playwright Katie Cappiello, this nine-episode series follows five students at the largest public high school in Brooklyn as they take on our chaotic world in a fight to “succeed, survive, wild out, break free and seize the future.” Featuring a diverse cast of youthful stars and at least one gay storyline, it’s an intriguing new entry on the ever-growing list of shows offering hope for a fresh new era, with publicity materials describing it as a show that “tunnels into a generation that’s raging and rising.” It drops on Netflix Oct. 16.

“Monsoon”

Written and directed by Cambodian-born British filmmaker Hong Khaou, this queer romantic drama features “Crazy Rich Asians” heartthrob Henry Golding as a young man who returns to Ho Chi Minh City for the first time since fleeing with his family in the aftermath of the Vietnam-American war. Now a stranger in his own country, he returns to scatter his parents’ ashes and reconnect with his estranged family; he also connects with – and falls for – Lewis (Parker Sawyers, “Southside With You”), an American whose father had fought in the war. Diversity and a strong Indy pedigree make this one a safe bet when it opens in theaters, virtual cinemas, and On Demand premium video platforms on Nov. 13.

“Ammonite”

Another weighty contender is this new film from another British filmmaker, Francis Lee, whose “God’s Own Country” was a favorite of queer critics and audiences alike in 2017. Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan star in a fictional story about real-life pioneering paleontologist Mary Annon, whose bleak life selling fossils by the seashore in 1840s England is unexpectedly brightened when she makes an arrangement with a tourist to care for his young wife as she recovers from a personal tragedy. According to the official synopsis, that’s “the beginning of a passionate and all-consuming love affair that will defy all social bounds and alter the course of both lives irrevocably.” Sounds like just something we could all use, at this point. Slated for theatrical release on Nov. 13.

“Uncle Frank”

Amazon gets into the race with this Alan Ball-directed coming out story set in 1973. Sophia Lillis stars as a rural southern teenager studying at NYU, where she soon discovers that her beloved Uncle Frank (Paul Bettany), a respected professor there, has been secretly living with a longtime male partner (Peter Macdissi) for years. A sudden death in the family necessitates a return home for both uncle and niece to attend the funeral, forcing Frank to finally face a long-buried trauma from which he has been running away for his entire adult life. Also starring Steve Zahn, Judy Greer and the magnificent Margo Martindale, this 2020 Sundance contender is slated for release to Amazon Prime on Nov. 26.

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Belinda Carlisle brings a heavenly Christmas Bash December 16th

Her work evolves beyond the demands of the pop market while never losing its hooks and whimsy. it reflects Belinda’s evolving life

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Courtesy of Belinda Carlise

HOLLYWOOD – On December 16th, 7pm, the city of West Hollywood transforms into a piece of “Heaven on Earth.” An angelic supernatural deity from the sky won’t be delivering this gift, but rather an angel from iconic pop paradise.

That night, Belinda Carlisle makes a grand entrance and gives an eager audience the presence of a queen of pop, the most recent inductee to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame along with her group, The Go-Gos.

It will be on that night that Belinda Carlisle hosts THE party event of the season with co-host, drag superstar, Trixie Mattel. One sings, one throws comedic shade, and a packed room at the Abbey will be losing their collective minds.  Not that the party itself isn’t all the reason you would need to get it on your calendar, the evening benefits a fantastic charity, The Animal People Alliance (APA), that intertwines the love for animals with the salve to human suffering.

Courtesy of Trixie Mattel

APA’s charter reads: “To provide high quality and compassionate care, of the highest standards, to neglected street animals in India and Thailand. We train and employ vulnerable people from the community, and pay living wages that help them improve their standard of living.”   The organization, by employing people who would otherwise be stateless and/or in poverty, has treated over 16000 street animals since 2014. Their programs for animals include rabies vaccinations, sterilizations and other emergency health aid.

Belinda sat down with me this week on the podcast RATED LGBT RADIO to talk about her life, her amazing career, her party and the strength she has achieved in standing up to both inner and outer demons.

She survives. She fearlessly opens herself up, and if anyone scrutinizes her past… she will lead the way.  She happily tells of being a member of the most successful all-women pop bands in history.  They sang and wrote their own songs, they played their own instruments. They did it on their terms. No men were needed or required. She candidly shares about her struggles with eating disorders and drug addiction. 

Belinda shows profound compassion for those struggling with addiction and darkness, “Addiction is a sickness…it is a disease of perception, you can’t see your effect on other people… It is a trap you feel you can’t get out of. Every addict has a heart and a humanity that is obscured by addiction. It is a horrible, horrible thing for anyone to go through. It is hard to remember that there is a heart under all that, there is something divine under all that darkness.”

Her interest focuses more on what came after she embarked on recovery  “My life is much more exciting since sobriety, even more exciting than the hey day with the Go-Gos. For anyone out there who is worried about aging, or life being over at a certain point—it’s not. Life is just the most amazing miracle and privilege.”

Her significance for the LGBTQ community, impacts many of the most vulnerable.  She is the mom of a gay man, activist and writer, James Duke Mason. His birth made her examine the trajectory of fame, drugs, and rock & roll in which she was on, careening threateningly close to disaster and death.

She had settled comfortably into maternal nurturement when Duke came out to her at the age of 14. Belinda had been impressed with Duke’s ability to explain the situation to her. She found out that he had been online with PFLAG for weeks learning about how to present his news to her, information to give and educated about key talking points. 

Appreciating their real life help of a young person in need, Belinda vehemently supported PFLAG, the Trevor Project and others ever since. “I am so glad I have a gay son, I can’t even tell you,” she says.

Artistically, she also continues to thrive.  The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame finally inducted the Go-Gos this year.  It was an honor 15 years in the making.  It should have been an obvious choice to put them there.

As the first all-female group making it big, they sang, wrote every note and played every instruments. The Go-Go’s, a 2020 American/Irish/Canadian documentary film directed and produced by Alison Ellwood, cast attention on the Hall of Fame oversight, and essentially made the case for how special the group actually was.

Belinda also recently released a new single Get Together a cover of the 1967 Youngbloods hit. The Youngbloods sang it at Woodstock in 1969 to make a statement about the divisions of the Viet Nam era in America.

Belinda sings it now, her voice pure, mature and as an anthem making a plea, if not a motherly order, to reconsider the divisions we are experiencing today.  She says, “We live in this age of outrage.  This song is ‘ok people, CHILL OUT’. All this divisiveness is not going to get us anywhere. It’s timely.”

Beyond Get Together, Belinda works on more new music including singles and a new album.  She continues to produce with the top song creators of the industry including award winning song writer Diane Warren and Go-Gos dates at the end of the year.

Her work evolves beyond the demands of the pop market while never losing its hooks and whimsy. it reflects the channeling of Belinda’s evolving life.  When she lived in France, she released a French collection.

As she delved into spirituality and the culture of Thailand, she released the powerful Wilder Shores, which blended a spiritual mantra into pop hooks. “Chanting is a science, it has a super power. It is not airy fairy,” she states.

The fact is, Belinda Carlisle continues arriving and thrilling.  She does not need to prove herself to anyone.  She has defined the next thirty years of her life as philanthropy.  

“I just wing it as I go along. I learned what it is like to work from the heart. Work in a way where you don’t care about any kind of outcome. That is how I am working now. I am just having fun, and doing just what I want. I am really lucky that way,” she declares.

Her party on December 16th at the Abbey appears right on track to bear that out.

Love, humanity, care of animals and a major splash of fabulousness enveloping an enthused audience.

In other words, pure Belinda.

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Listen to the full interview:

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Rob Watson is the host of RATED LGBT RADIO, a national podcast and he’s one of the founders of the evolequals.com.

A gay dad, business man, community activist and a blogger/writer, Watson is a contributor to the Los Angeles Blade covering entertainment, film, television, and culture with occasional politics tossed in.

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Andy Grammer partners with Trans Chorus of Los Angeles

Celebrating how important it is to live your life, your authenticity, and to feel good about who you are

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Andy Grammer partnered with the Trans Chorus of Los Angeles (Screenshot via YouTube)

LOS ANGELES – In honor of Transgender Awareness Week, Andy Grammer partnered with the Trans Chorus of Los Angeles (America’s first Trans Chorus, embracing all members of the trans, non-binary and intersex communities) for a special live performance of “Damn It Feels Good To Be Me” – celebrating how important it is to live your life, your authenticity, and to feel good about who you are. What a special moment. In conjunction with the partnership a donation has been made by Andy to the TCLA.

A note from TCLA: “The Chorus really enjoyed the song and especially performing it with Andy around the piano. It was upbeat and expressed how important it is to live your life and your authenticity and to feel good about who you are. That is the thrust of our Chorus philosophy of moving from victim to victorious.”

Connect with the Trans Chorus of Los Angeles:https://transchorusla.org/

Andy Grammer – Damn It Feels Good To Be Me (featuring Trans Chorus of Los Angeles)

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Michael Kearns, the Godfather of LGBTQ+ authenticity

Michael’s work has been described as “collisions of sex and death, of eroticism and grief,” but he has truly dug to an even deeper level

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Michael Kearns by Keida Mascaro

HOLLYWOOD – The arc of LGBTQ+ history over the past 50 years has been one of constant upheaval and evolvement. From a period when it was both illegal and insane to be gay, through the achievement of being able to serve openly in the military, to marriage equality and the ability to create families to today’s fight against the tyranny against Trans people, the movement has not stopped to take a breath.

Michael Kearns, the first recognized “out” actor on the Hollywood landscape, has been a visible presence through it all. More importantly, he has always” been visible on the gay scene. In the seventies he epitomized the free love and erotic freedom that many gay men lived. He was featured in classic gay porn movies and did a PR stint as the face of the “happy hustler.”  

“That was my introduction to a lot of people,” Michael told me when we sat down for a chat on Rated LGBT Radio. “I kind of captured the zeitgeist of the times, the freewheeling seventies. We forget that there was that period of time when sexuality was joyful and exciting and thrilling.”

In the eighties he was visible in mainstream media as a gay man playing gay men characters. In 1983, Michael was cast in a minor role on the Cheers Emmy winning episode “the Boys in the Bar.”  He was instantly recognized for his gay sexual iconic status by LGBTQ audiences, even though the population at large did not know who he was. The casting director who fought for his casting was Stephen Kolzak, who would himself become a prominent AIDS activist before he died at 37 in 1990. Stephen casted Michael to make a statement. He wanted to signal to the LGBTQ community that Cheers had our backs. “He was one of the only ones that had the guts,” Michael remembers.

“There were a lot of stereotypes in television regarding gay portrayals. I was pegged and cast in some of those roles. I did play the stereotype, but rather than a straight guy playing those roles, I brought authenticity. I was real. Straight guys playing gay would always spoof the role. They were always ‘winking’ and signaling to the camera ‘I am not really that way.’  So, the performances are by in large horrible, even with some academy award winners. The actors were constantly saying that it was not who they were—if they weren’t making that clear on the talk shows, they were doing it in the performance itself.’ Michael says.

Michael soon morphed into an HIV positive man playing HIV positive characters, while off camera becoming a visible and vocal AIDS activist. “It was a new kind of cliché. They had to always make me look horrible. The ghastlier the better. They could not have an HIV character who looked normal—as I did when I arrived at the set. Finally, I had enough and refused to do that anymore.” Michael then immersed himself in theater where he found greater character honesty and truth.

 As gay men captured their identities in the 90s as husbands and fathers, Michael was there too—becoming one of the first gay men to adopt a child.  It is that role, as a father, that Michael has said is his greatest.

Today, Michael has been a driving force behind QueerWise, a multigenerational writing collective and performance group. Through QueerWise, Michael gives poetic voice to talent that would otherwise be voiceless. Its members include published poets, writers of fiction and non-fiction, playwrights, singers, musicians, social activists, dancers, actors artists and teachers. 

This weekend, on Sunday October 17th, QueerWise launches its latest work, The Ache for Home. 

“The Ache for Home is a video presentation of heartfelt stories from formerly homeless/unhoused individuals in and around West Hollywood. It was developed through a mentorship program facilitated by QueerWise members. The production represents citizens-turned-writers who share their inspirational stories from those glamorous streets and sidewalks, ranging from soaring self-acceptance to narratives of truth-telling defeats,” states Michael. The production can be seen on QueerWise’s YouTube Channel starting 5pm October 17.

The Ache for Home features a young cis male with a passion for music and art, who finds joy “when I can put a smile on someone’s face and give back”, a retired mixed race bisexual government worker who is a voracious reader and literacy advocate, two trans males share their experiences of living on the street, and a former resident playwright who was homeless for 44 days and nights in the city. “I am thrilled at our inclusion of transmen in this work,” Michael says. “It is a poorly represented community within a poorly represented community.”

On current controversies with media and transgender targeting, particularly the Dave Chappelle issue, Michael remarks, “I am glad it is generating passion. It is bringing up conversation on the plights of black trans women who are victimized at an alarming rate, we should not say victimized… we should say murdered. I am glad we are shedding light on that.”

Michael’s work has been described as “collisions of sex and death, of eroticism and grief,” but he has truly dug to an even deeper level. The Ache for Home takes its inspiration from the Maya Angelou quote, “The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.” Michael Kearns work has always encouraged us to go, and live, “as we are.” He is the amalgamation of eroticism, grief, healing, and appreciating the richness of life itself.

He is the godfather of LGBT+ authenticity. In earlier days, he may have represented sex, he may have walked us through a period of darkness and death into the arms of the creation of the new family. He has now brought us home, and when we look at him, we see a new quality.

Wisdom.

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Rob Watson is the host of RATED LGBT RADIO, a national podcast and he’s one of the founders of the evolequals.com.

A gay dad, business man, community activist and a blogger/writer, Watson is a contributor to the Los Angeles Blade covering entertainment, film, television, and culture with occasional politics tossed in.

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Listen to the show here:

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