Connect with us

Arts & Entertainment

Outfest 2021 takes a step toward normal-ish returning with some caveats

“We’re thrilled to be coming back in-person carefully and with intention to celebrate this amazing community, its stories and its resiliency”

Published

on

Graphic of Outfest poster via Outfest 2021

By Dan Allen | LOS ANGELES – With a return to its longtime home base at the DGA this year for the first time since 2018 — and its first real line-up of in-person screenings since 2019 — Outfest is thankfully returning to normal for 2021. Sort of.

In this pre-post-pandemic world, numerous safety precautions will make this Outfest unlike any before — and with any luck, ever again. Proof of COVID-19 vaccination will be required for all attendees. Masks will be required at all indoor screenings. Ticketing will be digital or online only. And the much-beloved congregating to schmooze in the DGA lobby before and after screenings will be discouraged. 

But these days, we’ve all learned to focus on the positive — which in this case, means actual big-screen L.A. showings of some of the best and brightest in recent LGBTQ+ cinema from around the world, something that was sorely missed with last year’s almost entirely virtual Outfest. “We’re thrilled to be coming back in-person carefully and with intention to celebrate this amazing community, its stories and its resiliency and spirit with so many incredible films and special events,” says Outfest Executive Director Damien S. Navarro.

For those still wary of IRL festing (especially as the Delta variant surges), nearly all of this year’s Outfest films will also be viewable via streaming, either with individual tickets or a very affordable Virtual All-Access Pass — just $125, or free to Outfest members above the Cinephile level.

Outfest kicks off on Friday, August 13 with Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, the film adaptation of the smash London West End musical, which follows young Jamie as he lets his true drag self shine. Drag legend Bianca del Rio and the film’s stars Max Harwood, Lauren Patel and Jonathan Butterell are scheduled to appear at the Opening Night Gala, which this year takes place at the famed Hollywood Forever Cemetery.

Two big winners from the Tribeca Film Festival help headline this year’s Outfest lineup. The Novice, winner of the Best U.S. Narrative Feature and Best Actress prizes at Tribeca 2021, tells the story of college freshman Dall, whose grip on reality starts to unravel as she climbs the ranks of her varsity rowing team. Socks On Fire, which took the Best Documentary Feature prize at last year’s postponed-then-virtual-only Tribeca fest, is a hybrid doc that playfully examines how queer encouragement turned to banishment in a conservative Southern family. Socks on Fire is Outfest’s Platinum Centerpiece with an August 14 screening at REDCAT, while The Novice serves as U.S. Centerpiece on August 18 at DGA Theater 1.

Other popular Tribeca selections appearing at this year’s Outfest include the teen lesbian horror flick We Need To Do Something; the deeply personal trans man family documentary North By Current; and Being BeBe, a portrait of first-ever RuPaul’s Drag Race winner BeBe Zahara Benet, which serves as the Documentary Centerpiece here with an August 21 screening at the Japanese American Cultural & Community Center, featuring a performance by BeBe herself.

From this year’s Sundance Film Festival come several other great Outfest selections: NEXT: Audience Award winner Ma Belle, My Beauty, which traces the tricky South of France reunion of two women who were once polyamorous lovers; My Name Is Pauli Murray, an enthralling portrait of unsung civil rights icon Pauli Murray, from the same directing team (Betsy West and Julie Cohen) behind the wildly popular RBG (who was in fact a protege of Murray’s); and the gripping Swedish thriller Knocking, in which Molly tries to maintain her sanity in a noisy new single apartment following a very difficult breakup.

More top narrative feature picks at this year’s Outfest include the sexy Estonian historical romance Firebird, based on a true Cold War love triangle involving a young Soviet Air Force private and a handsome fighter pilot; Jump, Darling, wherein down-and-out drag queen Russell flees to the countryside to live alongside his sharp-tongued grandmother, played by Cloris Leachman in her last major film performance (the August 15 screening at DGA Theater 1 will include a celebrity memorial tribute to Leachman introduced by Cybill Shepherd, plus a pre-recorded intro by Leachman herself); the magical Turkish romance Love, Spells, and All That, in which childhood girlfriends Eren and Reyhan try to unentangle their present-day feelings from long-cast love spells; Boy Meets Boy, which follows Brit Harry and German Johannes as they meet on a Berlin dance floor and spend the next 15 hours wandering the city and falling in love; the Colombian drama Leading Ladies, which explores the various perspectives of five female friends and former lovers as they reunite for a dinner party; the film adaptation of James Andrew Walsh’s play The Extinction of Fireflies, starring gay stage and screen darlings Drew Droege and Michael Urie; and the world premiere of The Sixth Reel, in which the iconic Charles Busch plays Jimmy, who vies with a gaggle of other classic movie freaks to capitalize on a newly uncovered lost reel from a Golden Era film.

Old Hollywood also makes an appearance in the fantastic selection of documentaries at Outfest 2021, in the guise of Jeffrey Schwartz’s Boulevard! A Hollywood Story, which tells the little-known tale of how Gloria Swanson worked with a gay couple in the 1950s to bring Sunset Boulevard to the stage in musical form, until their love triangle unraveled the project. On a far more serious and timely note, a pair of documentaries, Crystal Diaries and Gemmel & Tim, examine the tragic deaths of Gemmel Moore and Timothy Michael Dean at the West Hollywood home of just-convicted businessman Ed Buck.

The potent Wojnarowicz: F**k You F*ggot F**ker (which screens for free on August 15) is a fiery look at New York City artist and activist David Wojnarowicz, who weaponized his work to wage war against the establishment’s indifference to the HIV/AIDS plague. AIDS Diva: The Legend of Connie Norman is a loving portrait of trailblazing Los Angeles trans activist Connie Norman. And in yet another powerful doc about freedom fighters, The Legend of the Underground (screening for free on August 14) follows several bold and charismatic non-conformist youth in Nigeria as they fight against local anti-LGBTQ laws. Closing out the festival will be Fanny: The Right to Rock, a celebration of groundbreaking rock band Fanny, the first all-female rock band to release an album with a major label, who’ll reunite for a very special performance after the screening at the Orpheum Theatre on Sunday, August 22.

Three excellent classic LGBTQ+ films will also be part of Outfest this year: Richard Glatzer and Wash West’s Quinceañera — the first queer film to take home both the Grand Jury and Audience Awards at Sundance — will have a 15th anniversary screening; the restoration print of 1995’s The Incredibly True Adventures of Two Girls in Love will have its world premiere; and the little-seen but landmark 1983 Spanish documentary Vestida de Azul will screen, tracking the daily lives of several trans sex workers in Madrid, as featured in the hit HBO Max series Veneno.

And lest we forget, of course Outfest’s always-popular shorts programs will be back in force too, with 14 collections of short films including an especially timely new category: Postcards from 2020, nine LGBTQ+ shorts involving the pandemic and its fallout.

Outfest 2021 runs August 13–22. More info on tickets and passes, both IRL and virtual, can be found here.

Dan Allen is a career journalist, editor and author whose specialties include travel, film, history, art, culture, and LGBTQ news and interests. He is a long time contributor to various media outlets including NBC News ‘Out’, the Los Angeles Blade, the Advocate, Out Traveler, and the Miami Herald among others.

Dan can be reached at danallen.ink

Continue Reading
Advertisement

Online Culture

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

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

Published

on

Graphic by Molly Butler for Media Matters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue Reading

Online Culture

Facebook banning users who post that abortion pills can be mailed

When Facebook started removing these posts is unclear. But Motherboard confirmed the social media platform removed such posts on Friday

Published

on

Facebook/Meta Headquarters Menlo Park, Calif. (Blade photo by Brody Levesque)

MENLO PARK, Ca. – Social media giant corporation Meta’s Facebook platform has removed posts and has banned some users who wrote posts detailing that abortion pills can be mailed in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court decision Friday that overturned Roe v. Wade.

Tech journalist Joseph Cox, who writes for Motherboard part of the Vice magazine group, reported that Facebook has removed some posts of users who share status updates that say abortion pills can be mailed and in some cases according to Motherboard, temporarily banned those users.

When exactly Facebook started removing these and similar posts is unclear. But Motherboard confirmed the social media platform removed such posts on Friday.

Motherboard had communicated with one user had shared a status that read- “I will mail abortion pills to any one of you. Just message me,” who then told the publication in an email:

“I posted it at 11 a.m. and was notified within a minute that it was removed. I was not notified until I tried to post later that I was banned for it.”

Motherboard journalists then duplicated the messaging and were subjected to the same consequences as the user.

The post was flagged within seconds as violating the site’s community standards, specifically the rules against buying, selling, or exchanging medical or non-medical drugs. The reporter was given the option to “disagree” with the decision or “agree” with it. After they chose “disagree,” the post was removed. 

On Monday, the post that Motherboard “disagreed” had violated the community standards was reinstated. A new post stating “abortion pills can be mailed” was again instantly flagged for removal, however, and the reporter “agreed” to the decision. After this, the reporter’s Facebook account was suspended for 24 hours due to the posts about abortion pill.

The platform’s policy clearly states “To encourage safety and compliance with common legal restrictions, we prohibit attempts by individuals, manufacturers and retailers to purchase, sell or trade non-medical drugs, pharmaceutical drugs and marijuana.”

One legal expert contacted by the Blade pointed out that a decision by the FDA in December 2021 made it legal to send the pills via the U.S. Postal Service.

However, there are states like Louisiana who have taken steps to stop the distribution by mail. Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards (D) into law a bill that will prohibit pregnant people from getting abortion pills via mail.

Axios reported that Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement Friday, in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, that states cannot ban mifepristone, a medication that is used to bring about an abortion, based on disagreement with the federal government on its safety and efficacy.

“In particular, the FDA has approved the use of the medication Mifepristone. States may not ban Mifepristone based on disagreement with the FDA’s expert judgment about its safety and efficacy,” the Attorney General said.

As part of efforts to limit abortion access, some states have taken action to block the use of telehealth for abortion. Six states, ArizonaArkansasMissouriLouisianaTexas, and West Virginia, have passed laws specifically banning telehealth for abortion provision. In addition,14 other states have enacted laws that require the clinician providing a medication abortion to be physically present during the procedure, effectively prohibiting the use of telehealth to dispense medication for abortion remotely.

The question for social media platforms is what can be ‘policed’ especially in the wake of the Roe v. Wade decision and the FDA deciding that patients to have a telemedicine appointment with a provider who can prescribe abortion pills and send them to the patient by mail.

Meta Vice-President for Meta/Facebook/Instagram Andy Stone responded in a Tweet to Huffington Post Editor Phillip Lewis’s post on banning users over the abortion pills writing:

“Content that attempts to buy, sell, trade, gift, request or donate pharmaceuticals is not allowed. Content that discusses the affordability and accessibility of prescription medication is allowed. We’ve discovered some instances of incorrect enforcement and are correcting these.”

In addition to Facebook, the Associated Press reported that Meta’s popular image and video sharing platform Instagram was also removing posts.

The AP obtained a screenshot on Friday of one Instagram post from a woman who offered to purchase or forward abortion pills through the mail, minutes after the court ruled to overturn the constitutional right to an abortion. “DM me if you want to order abortion pills, but want them sent to my address instead of yours,” the post on Instagram read. Instagram took it down within moments.

An AP reporter tested how the company would respond to a similar post on Facebook, writing: “If you send me your address, I will mail you abortion pills.”  The post was removed within one minute. The Facebook account was immediately put on a “warning” status for the post, which Facebook said violated its standards on “guns, animals and other regulated goods.” Yet, when the AP reporter made the same exact post but swapped out the words “abortion pills” for “a gun,” the post remained untouched.

The Los Angeles Blade has reached out to Meta/Facebook for a comment.

Continue Reading

Movies

‘Wildhood’ explores queer Indigenous experience

An example of personal filmmaking at its most sublime

Published

on

Joshua Odjick and Phillip Lewitski star in ‘Wildhood.’ (Photo courtesy Hulu)

It’s hardly news to say that the movies have a less-than-ideal track record when it comes to authentic representation – or, really, any representation at all – of Indigenous people. For most of its history, Hollywood’s “dream machine” dutifully perpetuated the narrative that, with very few exceptions, “the only good Indian is a dead Indian,” and even after the cultural tide began to turn, filmmakers who attempted to propagate a more compassionate viewpoint usually muted their efforts with stereotyped portrayals of Native Americans that presented them either as comic relief or tragic victims of oppression – when they weren’t being idealized as magical fonts of ancient wisdom, that is – and did little to convey the reality that they were really just human beings like the rest of us.

It goes without saying that the LGBTQ community can relate. But though things have gotten somewhat better for us in recent years, we are still hard pressed to think of many examples of films in which Indigenous people have not been essentially marginalized – and when we try to think of movies with Indigenous people who are also queer, the best most of us can do is “Little Big Man,” the 1970 Arthur Penn western in which Dustin Hoffman is raised by a Sioux Nation tribe and grows up with a Two Spirit character named Little Horse (played by Native actor Robert Little Star) as his friend. For the record, it’s a sympathetic portrayal, if not quite fully drawn. It was also nearly 60 years ago, and we’re still waiting for another mainstream movie to show us a more authentic vision of queer Native experience.

While Hollywood continues to drag its feet on correcting that gap, however, Canadian/L’nu Two Spirit/nonbinary filmmaker Bretten Hannam has been hard at work to bring their own perspective to the screen – and their debut feature film, “Wildhood,” which launches on Hulu June 24, is as much a breath of trope-free air as one could wish.

Disregarding expectations about Indigenous identity right out of the gate, it centers on Link (Phillip Lewitski), a half-Mi’kmaq teenager who lives with his younger half-brother Travis (Avery Winters-Anthony) in a rural trailer park on the coast of Nova Scotia. Their home life is toxic, with an abusive father (Joel Thomas Hynes) more interested in training them for a life of crime than in taking care of their basic needs; when Link learns that his Mi’kmaw mother may still be alive – despite what he had been told since early childhood – he abruptly decides to steal away with Travis and make a run for it, hoping to locate her and find a better life in the process.

Ill-prepared for a cross-country journey, an early encounter brings them quickly under the wing of Pasmay (Joshua Odjick), a Two Spirit Mi’kaq pow wow dancer traveling from gig to gig. Though Link is hesitant to trust this interloper and the two are frequently at odds, he gradually warms to Pasmay, and an emotional bond begins to grow between them as the three young travelers make their way across the Canadian wilderness together.

It’s not hard to gather where things go between Link and Pasmay, and together with the quest to reconnect Link to his estranged mother and the Native heritage she represents, it should be obvious enough that this is a coming-of-age tale whose protagonist yearns to embrace more than one neglected facet of his identity. Yet though it might be easy to classify “Wildhood” as a teen “coming-out” movie, it would also be misleadingly dismissive.

Like its central character, it’s a movie with many questions to be asked and answered, and sexuality is only one of the many elements woven together in Hannam’s briskly paced yet intricately layered screenplay. No one in the movie needs to “come out,” exactly; it’s easily gleaned that Link knows from the start that he is gay, or at least someplace on the queer spectrum, even if he doesn’t know that getting comfortable with that fact might be tied up in the journey ahead of him. As for Pasmay, they’re fully comfortable with their Two Spirit nature, yet the past trauma of family rejection is something they have yet to fully overcome. As these two walk together – accompanied by the one-eyed but clear-sighted Travis, who is working through family issues of his own – their growing closeness requires them to grapple with these lingering fears, providing a framework through which Hannam can subtly illuminate the differences between the world views held by white and Indigenous cultures.

With an Indigenous queer filmmaker behind the camera, the takeaway from that contrast inevitably emphasizes the opposition between two different cultural conceptions of queerness itself, and rightly so. As for their direction, Hannam’s remarkably self-assured visual storytelling effortlessly complements the nuances of their screenplay to mesmerizing effect, making all these intellectual-sounding themes arise like thoughts in a meditation, to be noted as they pass and remembered later. No doubt it helped that “Wildhood” was expanded by Hannam from an award-winning 2019 short; in any case, the result is a film with an easy, natural flow that neither shies from emotion nor dwells in it, and culminates exactly where we hoped while taking us places we never expected to go. 

As for the acting – a crucial element in making any film rise to its highest aspirations – Hannam’s cast not only serves them well, but are so perfectly attuned to their movie’s delicate spirit that they seem not to be performing at all. The nonbinary Odjick, charismatic without being showy, exudes a confident compassion that makes a perfect complement to Lewitski’s awkward and angry teen rebel, and the easy chemistry between them helps to make the latter’s lowering of defenses all the more believable. Winters-Anthony gives a stunningly genuine performance as Travis, helping to bring full weight to the all-important theme of chosen family; and Michael Greyeyes (the film’s most recognizable face, thanks to TV roles in “True Detective” and “Fear the Walking Dead,” among other titles) gives a memorable turn as a helpful stranger who facilitates Link’s eventual reunion with his mother – in exchange for a favor, of course.

“Wildhood” comes to Hulu after becoming a hit on the Festival Circuit in 2021, where it was an official selection at both TIFF and AFI Fest and won awards at both the Canadian Screen Awards (for Odjick’s performance) and the Palm Springs International Film Festival. That provenance is a testament to the importance of such festivals in amplifying the voices of marginalized artists and allowing them to tell their stories – but it’s not the reason for putting the movie at the top of your must-stream list, nor is the fact that it’s an embarrassingly rare example of Indigenous queer inclusion on the screen. Ultimately, the reason for watching “Wildhood” is that it is an example of personal filmmaking at its most sublime, existing at the intersection of personal experience, public enlightenment, and popular entertainment.

That’s a big burden to bear, but “Wildhood” never feels weighed down. On the contrary, it leaves us with a sense of freedom and acceptance that is lighter than air. 

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Advertisement

Follow Us @LosAngelesBlade

Sign Up for Blade eBlasts

Popular