Pageant Material (2019), dir. Jonothon MitchellRead More
The other day I innocuously quoted the Bible in an Instagram DM to another gay and he was very taken aback. He seemed outright shocked and concerned that I made a biblical reference and may be a Christian, as that would discredit me in most everything I said from then on. And that’s fair, Christians deserve to be discredited, or scrutinized at the very least. The greed, hypocrisy, and uncomfortably strong influence in political discourse is really just a few of the reasons why American Evangelical Christians should sit down and have a long think about the mess we’re in as a country, and their contributions to it.Read More
Originally published in the July issue of Fenuxe magazine.
Drag feels everywhere now, but we still haven’t reached the saturation point. Alongside hip-hop culture, which carries its own wealth of history and struggles for mainstream acceptance, both it and drag tell a narrative through-line that parallels American culture as a whole. In perhaps the most uncertain time in history, it’s stabilizing, motivating even, to see minority communities band together to express themselves in the most authentic way possible. This can only be done through art.
Hip-Hop music and culture have had a stronghold in mainstream media for decades now, but drag particularly has hit a stride in recent years. The rise of the current presidential administration in America alongside RuPaul’s Drag Race’s move made from minor-league channel LOGO to VH1 has created this perfect storm of perhaps hyper-awareness of drag culture in the public eye. Straight people are being exposed to and gobbling up RPDR, and more power to it! There’s no doubting the significance RuPaul has personally had in lifting the artform from metropolitan clubs and live venues to mainstream media but drags sights are set higher than that.
With a deep history leading back to Shakespeare, drag (stemming from DRessing As a Girl) has taken many forms, from being a necessity in theatre to a part-time hobby for gay men to express themselves through the confines of modern society to the hyper-theatrical pop personality competition it’s become.
Through social media, music, and television, drag has extended beyond simply dressing up as a woman and putting on a show. Thanks in no small part to Drag Race, drag has become a competition of vocal performance, dance, fashion design and construction, make-up, improv, and all-around congeniality. Your fav could never.
Honestly, it’s exhausting to see drag stars perform, because the great ones effortlessly perform as a one-woman pop star production, and there’s a stark under-appreciation of the queens who do it well while no one’s noticing. This leads to a drive to stand out in other ways, like in comedy, drama, or mythology.
Drag is reality TV with a sugar rush. It’s astounding simply how much work is left to the queens themselves and the amount of understanding of celebrity, self-awareness, and performance necessary to pull it off. Perhaps one of the greatest criticism of Drag Race is how little the focus is on simply pulling off such feats week-by-week, instead focusing on catty manufactured drama and semi-predictable reality TV beats, often exasperated by RuPaul’s intentionally repetitive brand-awareness.
More importantly, and more noticeably, is the unpacking of personal struggle and adversity every drag queen is faced with, which leads to a weird dynamic between the contestants and mama Ru. Oftentimes, he tasks herself with the role of Ryan Seacrest, Simon Cowell, and Oprah. RuPaul plays host, therapist, and judge oftentimes in the same breath and it leads to a very strange dynamic between him and the contestants. Is Ru a mentor, a fan, or an icon to impress? The contestants are confused, and the constructed nature of reality TV and competition shows clouds all the hats (or in this case, wigs) RuPaul puts on every episode. After 10 seasons, I’m personally hopeful some of these roles are rectified in the near future because there’s so much good that can come from intimately and honestly unpacking some of the adversities in the queen. The themes are universal to all genders, races, and sexualities, but under the guise of congeniality and competition, one has to wonder if the setting is appropriate.
To discuss drag culture in 2018 necessitates such lengthy discussion of RuPaul’s Drag Race, but hopefully, that won’t be the case for long. There are so many, potentially unlimited facets of Drag and gender expression. We haven’t reached a saturation point in the slightest. Locally, there’s an exploration of that saturation point with many bars establishing their own shows, all in competition for THE drag show in Atlanta, but there simply isn’t one yet. And maybe there won’t be just one. Drag is for everyone, and as long as we maintain the themes and purposes of the art and sport, we may be in for the first truly and authentically queer space in mainstream media. All of this begins though when you hand that dollar to the local queen performing their padded ass off.
Tyler Scruggs is a writer and musician living in Atlanta with his partner Mark. When he’s not churning out internet content, he’s paying too much for coffee and buying movie tickets week in advance. Feel free to validate him on Instagram (@Scruggernaut), Twitter (@TylerScruggs), or on Scruff (you’ll know it when you see it).
At the intersection of Atlanta’s booming film industry and the diverse, grassroots creative efforts of its citizens is the Atlanta Film Festival. In its fourth decade, the festival (which is one of only two dozen Academy Awards-qualifying festivals) was stacked this year with nearly 200 films and a cumulative 25,000-member audience throughout the ten day affair.
Aside from some big-name films headlining the festival like Jason Reitman’s Tully and Bo Burnham’s Eighth Grade (my personal favorite from the festival), AFF17 placed a particular spotlight on its inclusive line up, where 70% of the films in the festival were directed by a woman, person of color, a member of the LGBTQ+ community, or all three. In other words, the minorities were the vast majority in the Atlanta Film Festival, and that feels really good.
To highlight their LGBTQ+ stories and characters, they featured them in the #PinkPeach category. Each of these moving, queer films featured accompanying short films, which were also very queer themselves.
Directed by and starring Arshad Khan, Abu is a story as old as time, but told in a quasi-documentary fashion. As the Atlanta Film Festival describes it, “Using home videos and classic Bollywood films, Khan crafts an intimate portrait of his Pakistani-Muslim family grappling with the realities of having a gay son in a modern world. Torn between sexuality and religion, tradition and migration, a gay son and his father test the boundaries of love, home, and the meaning of family.” It also screened with the fifteen minute short film Ablution, another touching story about a disabled Muslim father reconciling the coming out of his son.
How can I see it?
Abu is currently slowing being released in theaters nationwide, but currently only in very select cities.
“Having recently embraced her own identity, Sid, a transgender woman, finds herself tangled in a complex web of expectations and aspirations when she discovers she has a 14-year-old son. With new relationships adding to the struggle of culture, religion, and romance in Sid’s journey to acceptance, everyone’s in for a wild ride. Venus also screened with the short film Umbrella, directed by Rhys Ernst. Against the backdrop of rising anti-trans legislation, Umbrella chronicles the stories of four transgender individuals across America united in their passion to create change.”
How can I see it?
Venus is making the rounds at festivals internationally, but no word yet on public distribution.
“All throughout the United States, there exists a vibrant and mythical subculture dedicated to the existence of real life mermaids. In the exploration of the history and present of this peculiar passion, Mermaids takes us on a journey into the lives of five incredible women who spend their free time, and sometime work hours, donning full-size tails at pools, beaches, and bars. In watching them transform into the sea-creatures of their dreams, we gain beautiful insight into the complicated lives of women who differ in every way but are drawn to the same ideal of unearthly beauty and freedom.The film also screened with the short Pink Dolphin, a story about the one and only Pink Dolphin living in the ocean looking for his companions and trying to survive from the assaults and taunts of other sea creatures.”
How can I see it?
Mermaids is now streaming everywhere movies are sold, and is available on blu-ray and DVD.
Lean on Pete
Although Lean on Pete isn’t particularly queer, you’re likely familiar with director Andrew Haigh’s previous, very gay work such as the classic romance film Weekend and the HBO show Looking, which ran for two seasons and a feature-length finale. Pete is a road trip movie, but with a horse. It tells the story of a young man and an aging racehorse named Lean On Pete in search for a new home. Starring Charlie Plummer and Steve Buscemi, this
How can I see it?
Luckily, Lean on Pete is distributed by A24, and is now playing at Tara 4 Cinemas in Buckhead.
Lastly, it was the Trans* community that stole the whole festival. In fact, Man Made made its premiere at AFF 2018. It made such a big splash, it was awarded Best Documentary. Locally made in Georgia and directed by T Cooper, Man Made is about the world’s only all-transgender bodybuilding competition. What precedes this triumphant moment for four trans male bodybuilders are a set of personal and diverse journeys taken on the path to self-identity and empowerment. Told through the intimate and honest lens of a trans filmmaker, this documentary intertwines the nuances of manhood, the drive for social justice, and the competitive desire to forge our own paths and be our personal best.
How can I see it?
Man Made is making its festival rounds for the next several months, but keep an eye out for a more wide release later this year!
The Atlanta Film Festival is a wonderful experience where your involvement whether as a viewer, volunteer, or filmmaker could make an impact on a person’s life and artistic perspective in some way. If you missed it this year, or didn’t see enough (like me), make it a priority. Celebrating culture, art, and diversity though our strongest storytelling medium will never not be important. You never know, you may get inspired to go out and make something for yourself.
Tyler Scruggs is a writer and musician living in Atlanta with his partner Mark. When he’s not churning out internet content for TylerScruggs.com and other publications, he’s paying too much for coffee and buying movie tickets week in advance. Feel free to validate him on Instagram (@Scruggernaut), Twitter (@TylerScruggs), or on Scruff (you’ll know it when you see it).
Cisgender gay men often take the attitude of finding love in its most heteronormative and traditional sense, and reluctantly use “sex” apps like Grindr and Scruff synonymously with the likes of Tinder, to find love.Read More