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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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Celebrity News

“Sex and The City” star Willie Garson has died at age 57

Garson found professional success on shows including “Sex and the City” but his favorite job happened when the cameras stopped rolling

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Willie Garson image via Titus Welliver Twitter

NEW YORK – In a tweet on Tuesday, actor Titus Welliver broke the news of the death from pancreatic cancer of his friend and fellow actor Willie Garson. Garson’s 20 year-old son Nathan, a student at The College of Wooster, a private liberal arts college in Wooster, Ohio, added his own heartbreaking tribute to his father in an Instagram post.

The actor was in New York City reprising his role of Stanford Blatch in HBO’s Sex and the City‘s revival series,  And Just Like That.

According to an exclusive interview by Page Six in 2020, the actor’s favorite role however was that of ‘Dad.’

Willie Garson found professional success on shows including “Sex and the City” and “White Collar,” but his favorite job happened when the cameras stopped rolling. […] “He’s an adult and soon to be taking care of me which is really why I got him to be honest,” Garson said at the time. “He’s lovely and a really special guy. He’s wonderful and he’s in college in Ohio.”

The New Jersey-born actor also told us that he “always wanted to have a child,” so he decided to pursue adoption as a single parent.

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Online Culture

Video: A straight & a gay guy react to “That’s what I want” by Lil Nas X

StanChris is a 20-something vlogger from the Northeastern U.S. who chronicles his life as a young everyday average gay guy

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StanChris (Screenshot via YouTube)

LOS ANGELES – The twenty-something StanChris, the Out YouTuber who has been building his audience on his channel by vlogging about the ordinary everyday experiences of his life as a young gay guy, is back with his straight friend and together they react to the brand new Lil Nas X’s new music video THATS WHAT I WANT which was released on September 16, 2021.

WATCH:

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Out & About

Audra McDonald and Chita Rivera come to Gay Days Disneyland

During Gay Days thousands of LGBTQ+ Disney fans celebrate in Disneyland and Disney California Adventure in Anaheim

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Photo courtesy of Disney Parks, Experiences and Products, Inc.

ANAHEIM- Broadway is back, and it’s come to Anaheim. The legendary Audra McDonald and Chita Rivera, two absolute Titans of musical theatre, stopped by Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel Friday night for two intimate back to back engagements for the crowds at the annual Gay Days Anaheim, or as it is more popularly known: Disneyland Gay Days. 

During Gay Days thousands of LGBTQ+ Disney fans celebrate in Disneyland and Disney California Adventure, with a weekend filled with scavenger hunts, meetups and parties. The park and the hotels almost feel like West Hollywood on a Friday night. The energy this year is especially lively, as Covid prevented last year’s celebration. 

Gay Days began in 1998, attracting a crowd of 2,500 visitors. The weekend now pulls in over ten times that, with 30,000 visitors joining in on the magic in 2019. In a massive group photo outside Sleeping Beauty’s castle, the entire group is decked out in the signature Gay Days red t-shirts – the 2019 edition featured a fabulous Star Wars Storm Trooper with the text “May the Fierce Be With You.”

While the event is not officially sanctioned by Disney, it is supported by it. Disney Pride, as well as several other branches of the Disney empire, have joined in as sponsors for the weekend. It’s also a favorite weekend for the Disneyland cast and staff. 

Photo courtesy of Disney Parks, Experiences and Products, Inc.

The schedule is simple: Friday is arrival day, Saturday is about Disneyland and Sunday is about  California Adventure and the pool party. But Gay Days has got so much more than just a park visit: it now has Hollywood Bowl level-talent coming in for concerts. Kicking off the return to Disneyland this year is Audra McDonald and Chita Rivera. 

The two stars headlined Broadway Night at the 23rd annual Gay Days, kicking off the weekend-long celebration which ran from September 17–19. Drag Race fan favorites Nina West, Jackie Cox and Jan Sport joined in the weekend’s entertainments, with shows on Saturday and Sunday.

Friday night is buzzing. In the hotel lobby, Gay Days visitors are striking up conversations, getting to know each other, sharing stories about Gwen Verdon, Bob Fosse and that time they worked with Debbie Reynolds. Gay Days is definitely a great way to meet your Prince Charming. 

Three-time Tony Award winner Chita Rivera began the evening with An Intimate Conversation With Chita Rivera featuring the Broadway legend in conversation with theatre historian Eddie Shapiro. She’s a decorated performer with a score of firsts. She was the original Velma Kelly in Chicago, she was the original Anita in West Side Story, and she’s the first Latino American to receive a Kennedy Center Honor. 

When Rivera was called out on the stage she kicked her leg out high from behind the curtain, and then strutted her way to her chair. She’s 88 years old, but has the bright energy, wit and sparkle of someone decades younger. With charm and humor she tells a captivated audience about that time she won the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Barack Obama, dancing with Dick Van Dyke and why she loves gay audiences – “they get it.”

She looks back on her storied career with humble gratitude, unexpected for someone who has an award named after themselves (The Chita Rivera Awards for Dance and Choreography). When asked about a star studded concert she appeared in recognizing entertainment’s greats she simply said “it’s God’s way of saying you’re doing something right.” Chita Rivera left the Disney audience spellbound. 

An hour later, Audra McDonald walked out on the same stage for a piano concert – with Chita Rivera in the front row! Audra is a record-breaking icon. She’s a 6-time Tony winner, and has won at least one Tony in all four acting categories. But, like Chita, she is down to Earth, well-spoken and incredibly gracious. Between songs she peppers in stories about her daughter, playing Mother Superior in Sound of Music Live and Chita Rivera’s influence. 

Audra McDonald sings with a flawlessly smooth, often operatic quality. Standouts from her set include her cover of “Children will Listen” from Sondheim’s Into the Woods and an eerie reimagining of the title track from “Cabaret”, which she performed at The Met Gala by Anna Wintour’s request. She also included a moving performance of the song “I’ll be Here” from the lesser known musical Ordinary Days. The narrative of the song centers on a woman’s relationship with her husband who dies in 9/11. In the capable hands of McDonald, the audience is moved to tears.

The evening is a shining example of the exceptional programming Gay Days has added to an already incredible weekend. The two live performances are signs that a pre-Covid world is slowly returning.

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