Tag Archives: LGBTQ

You’ve Got a Friend in Me

Jack & Yaya

by Brandon Thomas

LGBTQ youth often find themselves at the receiving end of family and friend abandonment. The people who are supposed to support them through the coming out simply walk away. The story at the heart of Jack & Yaya is about what happens when two childhood friends go through the same life-changing events, and how those closest to them stick around to champion their lives.

Jack and Yaya grew up as next-door neighbors in south New Jersey. From early on, they both saw who the other truly was, a girl and a boy, even if the rest of their family and friends did not. 

In her directorial debut, Jennifer Bagley wisely lets the film’s two subjects be front and center. Jack and Yaya share a genuine openness about their lives. Absent is any kind of hubris when the two of them talk about their struggles or their successes. This honest, matter-of-fact nature feels immediately welcoming.

The focus on day-to-day struggles for transgender people is real and evident even in this sunnier-than-normal documentary. Jack struggles with running into discrimination even in a city as large as Boston. Yaya worries about the constant financial stress around obtaining hormones. It’s a needed dash of reality. 

As the colorful cast of characters who revolve around Jack and Yaya are introduced, it’s not hard to see how these two became the people they are. Bagley naturally captures the warmth and love that flows between all of them. Amidst the alcohol and ‘70s rock, Yaya’s uncle Eddie spills to the camera how much love he has for both Yaya and Jack. “All you need is frickin’ love!” bellows Eddie. 

Jack & Yaya works exceptionally well at being a celebration of these two people as they figure out their ever-changing lives. This isn’t a film interested in making a grand social statement. Bagley lets these two tell their story, and show us who they really are through their own words and actions.

Jack & Yaya beautifully shows how good we all can be when we prop each other up. Jack and Yaya’s lives could’ve gone so much differently. But they had each other and a support system that evolved into a deep friendship of genuine acceptance and caring. 

“All you need is frickin’ love!” indeed.

Only One Star

Queen of Lapa

by Rachel Willis

In Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the neighborhood of Lapa is home to Luana Muniz, the focus of directors Theodore Collatos and Carolina Monnerat’s documentary, Queen of Lapa.  

A photoshoot of Muniz opens the film. She is elegant in black lingerie, holding a cigarette; the audience learns that she has been a sex worker since the age of eleven and is now one of the most recognized transgender (Luana prefers the term transvestite) activists in Brazil.

A hostel run by Muniz for over two decades provides a safe haven for transgender sex workers. It is this world that Collatos and Monnerat are privy to. They are given a level of access that allows the audience to experience these women’s lives as they live them.

Muniz is a bit of a mother hen to the women, many of them even call her Mother Luana. She scolds them for not cleaning up after themselves, expresses concern over injuries, and fights to ensure the house remains a place where transgender men and women can live and work safely.

It’s an important concern. Transgender men and women, and sex workers, experience violence at alarming rates. One of the women speaks of having gasoline poured on her before she escapes her attacker. The same woman is beaten and robbed one night, showing her injuries to her Facebook Live audience. Another woman is nearly raped but manages to flee.

However, the film focuses on more than one aspect of these women’s lives. It allows us a chance to spend time with the housemates and get to know them. There is a familial atmosphere as the roommates watch TV, do each other’s nails, eat meals together, and argue.

Some of the conversations are more interesting than others, but the filmmakers play a critical role with their lack of presence. They allow the group to share their own stories, to let their voices be heard at a time when it is essential that those who have been silenced in the past are allowed to speak. 

Muniz says of herself, “the only star here is me,” and in some ways, she is the sun to a community of people who need an advocate like her. One of the women recalls seeing Muniz on TV as a child, never expecting to know her as an adult, but it’s an example of the impact she has had on the community. She teaches the women how to be safe, how to not be ashamed of who they are, and that they are loved.

The world could use more people like Luana Muniz.


Unto Others

For They Know Not What They Do

by Hope Madden

“If a lot of people have just a little bit of courage, then nobody has to be a hero.”

If we can’t see the truth in that statement right now, we are truly lost. It’s a call to action, and an argument that For They Know Not What They Do patiently articulates.

A sequel of sorts to director Daniel G. Karslake’s 2007 doc For the Bible Tells Me So, For They Know Not What They Do revisits the Christian church after more than a decade to gauge its movement on LGBTQ rights.

The film drops you into the lives of four families navigating the complex world of faith and sexual identity.

Elliott is about to leave for his freshman year at Vassar, and he and his parents walk us through what it’s like to trust your adolescent enough to begin the irreversible. Ryan, with the help of his genuinely loving if deeply misdirected parents, commits to praying the gay away. Sarah is as committed to the political career she started as a middle school class president as she is in fully transitioning. Victor survived a tragedy thanks in part to the unflinching support of his Catholic parents.

In and around all of these stories, Karslake examines the political backlash to marriage equality, particularly the way the religious right has targeted the especially vulnerable transgender population and what that has meant in terms of violence.

All of the parents involved display their courageous human frailty, owning their immediate and long-term responses to knowledge of their children’s sexuality or gender identification.

Their continued reliance on faith to help them see where religious dogma had become poisonous is among the loveliest elements of the film. These parents lean on their scripture’s concept of forgiveness (mainly to forgive themselves for having harmed their children), love, and acceptance to help them see beyond their own fear.

It’s a path Karslake takes as well. This is a forgiving documentary. It never turns a blind eye toward the way the religious right uses organized religion as a tool to oppress. But FTKNWTD is more interested in how faith does not have to be tainted by this noxious hate. It’s a bold vision for a documentary on Christianity and LGBTQ suffering.

It is also perhaps the film’s strongest selling point. Karslake doesn’t preach at, condescend to or even vilify the audience most in need of the film’s message.

Seeking Harmony

Gay Chorus Deep South

by Brandon Thomas

On Tuesday, November 8, 2016, Donald Trump was elected president of the United States. Over the next few weeks and months, many Americans responded by organizing and protesting. The San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus’s call to arms was quite different: tour the conservative American South. In the timely documentary Gay Chorus Deep South, director David Charles Rodrigues tackles the decades of discrimination, shame and emotion that led to this tour.

Choir director Tim Seelig has the best of intentions: he hopes to change hearts and minds with a tour of uncharted territory. Many of the choir’s members originally hail from the South, and they vividly remember the rejection and outright hate directed toward them. For these members, the tour is less about changing minds. This tour is about closing a chapter.

At times, Seelig and the choir wade directly into the belly of the beast. They appear on conservative talk radio. They meet with a church that ultimately doesn’t allow them to perform due to a newly-placed homophobic head pastor. Seelig expected these reactions, but it doesn’t soften the sting. 

The pain of past experiences vividly pours off the screen—tales of humiliation at the hands of adults who should’ve been there for protection. Seelig himself was separated from his children and cast out of the church he gave so much to. The film’s strength is in its devotion to these individual stories.

Through the choir members, Rodrigues is able to immerse the film in Southern culture rather than look at it entirely as an outsider. Seelig knows how to shrewdly navigate not only the Southern world but the religious one, too. The discrimination during the tour isn’t blatant as one would expect but is instead wrapped subtly inside the veil of Southern hospitality. This hypocrisy is something Seelig expected and isn’t afraid to constructively call out.

While politics is squarely at the forefront, Gay Chorus Deep South isn’t interested in political proselytizing. The “fish out of water” aspect to the film is political enough without dozens of talking heads telling the audience how to feel. Rodrigues wisely lets the choir members naturally move the story along as they navigate a complex, and at times uncomfortable situation.

While the music and performances are as impressive and moving as you would expect, the real heart of Gay Chorus Deep South is in those personal stories. Song and dance are easy to sell, but building community inside a structure of fear and hate takes conversation and empathy.