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QFest, Spectrum South Present ‘1985’

Now rounding off it’s 22nd year of queer film festivals, QFest will screen ‘1985’, it’s closing film, on Monday, July 30th, presented by Spectrum South.

35972440_696511357407043_4569042924527943680_o QFest, Spectrum South Present '1985'
Spectrum South’s Kelsey Gledhill & Megan Smith

(HOUSTON) – Houston’s premiere LGBTQ motion picture nonprofit, QFest, started screening films for the 22nd year in a row this past Thursday and will be closing up their annual film festival until next year on Monday, July 30th. The nonprofit cites their mission to be showcasing Houston’s LGBTQ community through cinema and related events not just during QFest, but throughout the year. But year-by-year, QFest has struggled to maintain the same numbers in their audiences that they have in years past. Drawing the newest generation of queer Houstonians into the festival has proven difficult. However, our other favorite queer Houston magazine, Spectrum South, has partnered up with QFest to help change that for the better. By co-hosting QFest’s Closing Night, Spectrum South and QFest are hopeful about introducing this incredible nonprofit to the attention of LGBTQ youngsters.

Friend of About Magazine and Spectrum South editor-in-chief Megan Smith had this to say about their newfound partnership with QFest:

“We are so excited to partner with QFest Houston to present the Closing Night of their 2018 festival. This year marks QFest’s 22nd year and we are delighted to help bring this longstanding queer cultural staple to the next generation of LGBTQ Houstonians […] We also encourage everyone to stick around after the [movie] screening for a reception of free drinks, mixing and mingling with fellow queer film enthusiasts, and a DJ set by Bradley David Entertainment.”

A movie and free drinks? You can count us in.

Additionally, this year QFest is sponsored in-part by Bradley David Entertainment, the Catastrophic Theatre, the Houston Film Commission, Mystiq, Julie Mabry’s Pearl Bar Houston, Stages Repertory Theatre, the Orchard, and About Magazine’s own Morena Roas.

1985_still QFest, Spectrum South Present '1985'
Cory Michael Smith in ‘1985’.

Yen Tan’s 1985 opened this year at SXSW in Austin, TX to outstanding reviews. IndieWire gave the film a B and concluded, “As such, “1985” has the distinct feel of being a fine piece of cinematic craftsmanship by two artists with a shared vision. It is a haunting elegy for a generation of gay men.” The Hollywood Reporter said of the film, “Even when dealing with loaded themes such as stigmatization, bullying, death, denial and the shattering possibility of final farewells, the director’s gentle touch adds resonance.” Said SS‘s Smith:

“The evening’s film, Yen Tan’s ‘1985,’ is a powerful southern portrayal of the height of the AIDS crisis. For some folks, it will be a reminder of their lived experiences and, for others, it will serve as a wakeup call to the realities of what can happen when those in power oppress marginalized groups. Either way, its message is important and relevant to our current circumstances, and we look forward to sharing it with audiences.”

The festival’s awards ceremony begins promptly at 7:00 PM at Rice University’s Rice Cinema with the screening of Yen Tan’s 1985 beginning at 7:30 with a reception to follow at 9:00. For tickets to QFest, you can click here. You can also RSVP to the Facebook event here.

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Bewitching Minds: How Witches in Pop Culture Inspire Us

Witchcraft Witches Magic Women History
Witches Going To Their Sabbath (1878) Luis Ricardo.

A brief overview of how historical Witchcraft from countless cultures have inspired media icon witches with their magic and strength.

Throughout time, witches have been a prevalent part of history and pop culture. Women depicted with supernatural powers and knowledge have been integral to inspiring generations to be strong, mystical, and dynamic.

stevie Bewitching Minds: How Witches in Pop Culture Inspire Us
What kind of gay would I be if I didn’t include Stevie Nicks? Stevie has never confirmed whether she is a witch, but her lyricism, imagery, and portrayal of the White Witch on American Horror Story: Coven and Apocalypse are very telling.

Here’s the cold, hard truth, sweetie: witches in one form or another have existed in every culture on every continent for thousands of years. Any culture you could possibly name has a deep rooted history of Shamanism, Paganism, Druidism, and, if you didn’t hear me the first time, I’ll say it again: Witchcraft. But before witchcraft was collectively banned by most major religions, it was an earth-based practice that involved relying on energy, intention, and the resources available on the planet to create magic for medicinal, healing, and personal affairs. What was once considered evil has now become more of a positive and inspiring message in many different facets of pop culture. ‘Witchcraft’ is such a broad, umbrella term that many different practices fall beneath; but for the sake of keeping your attention, I’ll skip a lot of the historical details.

hypatia Bewitching Minds: How Witches in Pop Culture Inspire Us
Hypatia depicted viewing the night sky. Renowned astronomer, philosopher, mathematician, scholar, teacher, pagan and neoplatonist.

One famous witch who is considered to be a feminist hero is Hypatia. Hypatia was an Ancient Greek philosopher, teacher, mathematician, astronomer, and one of the last librarians at the Library of Alexandria (what a QUEEN! Slay me). Hypatia was also a Pagan and a huge opponent of Christianity. Well, pull up a chair and just guess what the Christians did when they found out there was a powerful female witch who was not only a genius, but also woke? You guessed it! Some monks flipped her chariot, dragged her to the Cathedral in Alexandria where they flayed her alive with broken pottery, then burned her at the stake. She is now revered as a martyr and a patron saint.

Charmed_4_sisters_season_1 Bewitching Minds: How Witches in Pop Culture Inspire Us
Piper, Paige, Prue, and Phoebe from the original 1998 television show, Charmed, portrayed by Holly Marie Combs, Rose McGowan, Shannen Doherty, and Alyssa Milano. Charmed focused on the importance of sisterhood and vanquishing your inner demons, as well as vanquishing actual demons.

For centuries, men leading many different religious faiths have been terrified of smart, powerful, ambitious women and will do anything to silence them. Luckily, our modern era has almost reached a point of putting women on the pedestals that they deserve to be seated upon (emphasis on almost). We exist in a time where we celebrate and embrace witches in pop culture. From television, to music, to film, there are several prominent figures that people look up to as beacons of empowerment. The very concept of a witch has become synonymous with “a badass who has no time for your bullshit.”

Angela-Bassett-as-Marie-Laveaux-in-American-Horror-Story-Coven-and-portrait-of-Marie-Laveau Bewitching Minds: How Witches in Pop Culture Inspire Us
Marie Laveau depicted by Angela Bassett on American Horror Story: Coven. The Voodoo Queen was a 19th Century Louisiana Priestess who may or may not have been evil. Her role in AHS displayed her ruthlessness and commitment to her tribe. Her character developed from being vengeful and heartless into a forgiving and sympathetic woman.

People look up to famous witches because the very image and idea of a witch represents strength, individualism, anarchy, and intelligence. Witches are a personification of inspiration, they give people hope that they can be seen as powerful as the witches they admire.

The-girls-stalk-the-halls-in-The-Craft Bewitching Minds: How Witches in Pop Culture Inspire Us
Bonnie, Sarah, Nancy, and Rochelle in The Craft played by Neve Campbell, Robin Tunney, Fairuza Balk, and Rachel True. Unified, albeit selfish and spiteful, the four witches learn the repercussions of using their powers for personal gain. A timeless, iconic film that you need to watch ASAP (ignore Rotten Tomatoes homophobic score).

Many Pagans, Shamans, Wiccans, etc. still exist today, however not all people who are inspired by the strength of witches are looking to join these faiths. Witches are no longer seen as propaganda to peel people from their current sect of religion, but they help people become the best versions of themselves by instilling the lessons of intention, healing, honesty, and power into their lives.

PracticalMagic-thumb-700x471-187543 Bewitching Minds: How Witches in Pop Culture Inspire Us
Sally and Gillian Owens played by Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman in Practical Magic, adapted from the novel of the same name by Alice Hoffman. The film tells the story of two sisters who learn how to turn their trauma and pain into strength and positivity through unity, honesty, acceptance, and love.

The power of magic on the screen and in music heals people and brings us together. Famous witches are staples for women, for the queer community, and for anyone who is disenfranchised looking to take back their power and lift themselves up. Seeing both the strengths and weaknesses of witches in pop culture humanizes them and we are able to see parts of ourselves in them. Even if you don’t practice the Craft in real life, you can still embrace the inner witch within you (I might call you a poser though [I’m totally JK. I swear]). What I mean to say is, you can see the powerful being within you, bring that being to the forefront of your person, and show the world that you are a badass who has no time for anyone’s bullshit.

Scenes from the Queer Side: Shame, Desire, and the Imaginary

Blue is the Warmest Color Pariah Queer Black Woman Film

Perspectives on Blue Is the Warmest Color and Pariah and how it molded my stages of queerness from a queer, Black woman.

Have you ever sat in a room with Shame? Listened to her suck her teeth and watch her shake her head? Felt the growing fear that she’ll whisper your deepest secrets and fears into the ears of those around you?

I often sat with Shame, coming from a Black Southern Baptist background; but it was one particular night that she felt strongest. She slammed my laptop shut as the loud moans, heavy breathing, and slapping blasted through my headphones. She giggled as I glanced around the pitch black room for something or someone. She convinced me to open my door, creep into my living room, and hold my breath, listening for the voices or breathing of someone in the suite, although I knew that my suitemate had gone for the night and that I was totally alone. She convinced me someone could hear the sounds from my headphones–that they would point and yell, “She looking at that gay shit, y’all!” But I didn’t let Shame have her way. Once I was confident that the suite was empty, I quieted her down, opened my screen, and continued watching with her looking over my shoulder.

Blue-Warmest-Color Scenes from the Queer Side: Shame, Desire, and the ImaginaryI had been watching the film Blue Is the Warmest Color, which stars Lea Seydoux and Adele Exarchopoulos and is directed by Abdellatif Kechiche. Three hours of an intense love between two young french girls, Adele and Emma, unfolding. Blue Is the Warmest Color–originally a graphic novel I read and loved while working at a bookstore–was adapted into a film by a problematic director. Think-pieces and critiques journaled the violence,inappropriate behaviors, and methods that Kechiche employed throughout the film, specifically the sex scenes. Viewers watch as Adéle, characterized by her messiness and insatiable hunger, struggles to find fulfillment in her desires until the moment she meets Emma, a blue-haired artist. The two fall in love, live together, and ultimately break up after Adéle cheats on Emma. The film ends with the two reconnecting and parting at Emma’s art show as adults.

The film is filled with scenes where viewers are forced to come face to face with Kechiche’s misguided image of womanhood and women’s sexuality in Blue Is the Warmest Color. One moment, in particular, is a scene where a queer male character talks over lesbian characters about female sexuality and expressions of desire. This character speculates about women’s desires and bodies while simultaneously assuming authority over the subject. This moment, not included in the graphic novel and constructed by Kechiche, could have been a space where the women’s politics of desire were addressed, especially in a lesbian space, instead their voices are hidden. It is not until I watch again that I am able to listen to the words of the women, enjoy and understand the looks they share, and the intimate ways desire manifests as they “listen” to the words of the queer male character. This scene, although problematic, proves to be important because it attempts to use desire in dialogue. How is desire constructed and manifested in the lives of these characters. Adéle, who struggles and explores her politics of desire throughout the film also happens to be absent from the conversation. Nevertheless, this scene manages to connect, for me, a construction of desire and experiences of shame.  

2893947-women-adele-exarchopoulos-blue-is-the-warmest-color-water___people-wallpapers Scenes from the Queer Side: Shame, Desire, and the Imaginary

Moments that I find myself drawn to, both the first time I watched and during my most recent experience watching the film, include scenes such as a queer male character talking over some of the lesbian characters about female orgasms. Here we can get a glimpse of the thoughts and opinions of Kechiche. The scene, at first confusing and intriguing, becomes annoying and unnecessary. Why? Because it presents a male character speculating women’s desires and bodies while simultaneously assuming authority over the subject. It’s easy for me to skip the scene altogether.

Later in the film, there’s a pivotal moment when Adéle’s friends confront her about her sexuality when they watch as she walks off with Emma, who they believe to be queer. There is a violent desire and demand for Adéle to explain herself and her relationship with the mysterious woman. We see Adéle react aggressively to the accusations of her lesbian identity. I was, once again, forced to come to face-to-face with shame in all of its manifestations. What during my first viewing seemed to be a shame solely resting on my shoulders as the viewer, erased the shame that manifested for the characters in the film, specifically Adele. The shame Adele feels having her friends confront aggressively and publicly shaming her, as well as the shame she feels for having these feelings of desire and curiosity that Emma brings to life in her.

Nevertheless, Blue Is the Warmest Color offers viewers a chance to watch young lesbian love in seemingly pure and honest ways. There are moments of tenderness and warmth, such as when the two share their first kiss in a park and Adéle leans back to smile. Then there’s a scene when they are at a Pride event, dancing and kissing and loving one another. The most notable is when the two are seated on a bench in the park kissing, touching, and giggling with each other. These are the moments where they just exist in young love. There is no shame.

After my first time watching it, I was eager to share it with my friends. I watched Blue twice more with my straight friends who had read the articles and think-pieces about the film. Our feminist studies background urged us to dissect the male gaze and the violent need for men to insert themselves in queer relationships. But I didn’t really want that to dissect the film or approach it academically. I would have rather spoken about how it sat in and on my body; how it followed me for weeks and tugged at the politics of desire I had long ago buried — or so I had thought. So the conversation, for me, felt unfulfilling. Only one of my friends, my closest friend since high school, allowed me the space to talk about how important the moment of watching the film was for me. No critiques, no dissections, just my reflections and emotions as I finally had access to something else: for me to share my feelings of curiosity and discomfort. This friend was the only person who also managed to see a small moment of freedom for me–a freedom she commended while she sat with it with me. . That moment managed to disrupt the shame that had haunted me.

maxresdefault-1 Scenes from the Queer Side: Shame, Desire, and the ImaginaryFor months afterwards I poured into lesbian films and television shows on Netflix, albeit annoyed by all of the white women.There is undoubtedly an erasure of queer and lesbian black women and women of color in television and film. However, I was pleasantly surprised to see Pariah as a recommendation. Pariah follows a young, black, “closeted” lesbian, Alike, who lives in the Bronx with her parents and her younger sister. We watch Alike attend school, write poetry, and attend church with her family during the day. During her off time–those moments when she is not forced to present as straight and can explore her lesbian identity–she travels and explores the city’s lesbian scene with her best friend who dresses her up in masculine clothing and pushes her to talk with other girls. Pariah looks and feels different. There are friendships, homophobic parents, creativity, and heartbreak. There is blackness and confusion.

Notable moments and scenes from this film include a moment where Alike’s best friend, a masculine lesbian, purchases her a strap-on for her “image”. Alike is uncomfortable and angry at the small white dildo attached to her body and begs her friend to return it.  Her friend urges her to wear it out that night and we see Alike awkwardly move in it and fumble with it moments before ignoring the girl her friend attempts to set her up with. I love the scenes where Alike seems her most vulnerable — standing in the mirror with her closest friend, tugging and shifting a symbol of masculinity, highlighting how foreign it is to her. It also highlighted the intimacy between the two friends. Other scenes include an unnamed masculine lesbian buying beer only to be harassed by a black man who seems to be disgusted, but also threatened, by the woman’s masculinity and sexuality. Pariah felt like a different film because it did not follow the love and relationship of two lesbian women, but rather chronicled the experiences of a black teenager exploring her lesbian identity and masculinity alongside the relationships around her. Balancing life where her sexuality is hidden or suppressed alongside a life full of moments where she feels celebrated and nurtured, which seem rare throughout the film. There is shame and discomfort. Unlike Blue, I did not share this film with others. Pariah was a film just for me.

pariah Scenes from the Queer Side: Shame, Desire, and the ImaginaryYears later, I rewatch it and realize there are moments and habits from Alike–early moments of queerness–that I understand and to which I can relate. Her excitement for the possibility of love and intimacy alongside the fear of actually having love and intimacy. Her feelings of not being masculine enough or queer enough are made visible throughout the film’s entirety. Shame stalks Alike in similar fashion to the ways Shame stalked me. Pulling away from the kiss her friend shares with her and the feeling of being rejected. I understand why, years ago, the film sat with me and why–unlike Blue–it still sits with me to this day. I can still identify the shame, although now it does not haunt me. Because for me, queerness felt like something I was near but could not quite touch. It was with me but it was not in me. Today, I recognize that feeling as a part of the shame I felt and its many faces. Out and at another phase in my life and queerness, the films look and feel different to me. Blue is no longer important to me.; instead, watching it feels exhausting and drawn out, but I see moments, such as Emma’s fight with her friends, as a moment of gasping for breath and holding on to “normalcy”. While watching I can make phone calls, send e-mails, and watch videos as it plays in the background; but that fight brings me back. The moans, and breathing and slapping mean nothing anymore, and I don’t turn it down or search nervously around the room.

I watch both Blue Is the Warmest Color and Pariah as though I’m watching through new eyes. I’m also noticing the difference between watching something in shame and watching something with shame in it. Watching something in shame feels alienating and lonely. Watching something with shame in it feels like looking in a mirror. I am not isolated, rather I am forced to contend with a familiar feeling. I notice that watching something with shame in it (Pariah) sits with me because it feels so close to home.

I imagine my life consists of several phases in queerness; and queer films influenced these phases. There are the early days, your Before Queer (BQ) days. These were the days before I recognized my queerness, much less claimed that queerness. It was hard to imagine queerness or feel what it was like. But queer films provided the space for freedom and creativity that weren’t allowed in the BQ days, and allow you to imagine a queer future. Queerness was there and it was in me, but I did not see it nor did I live it. Then there were my Lost Queer (LQ) days–those days where I saw the queerness and recognized it, but was unable to claim it. It was where I could slowly imagine a queer future and a queer sense of being. Lastly came the Hella Queer (HQ) phase. It is where I am now. Where I have claimed queerness, where I can only imagine queerness, feel that queerness, and share it with those around me.  

That happened because, before watching those films, I had worked hard to suppress my queer imaginary as an act of protection. But watching those films allowed me to give my suppression a rest and exist in a queer world. As a young queer woman coming into queerness and coming out to those around me–as well as to myself–these films were monumental. I watched both films for the first time in my earliest days as a young queer, Black woman, attending my college campus queer organization as an “ally”. These films allowed me to step from behind the façade and sit in the in-between–the in between of my identity, and the in-between of fear and freedom, a vast space where confusion rests. My own in-between.

This is a hello to the queer imaginary as it forms, grows, and struggles to manifest in my day-to-day life and experiences of fighting it, loving it, hiding it, and letting it in. I jokingly refer to both of the films as The Films That Made Me Gay. What they really are, however, are the films that helped me come into queerness on my own terms. This is my first written piece as an out queer writer, creating content that brings to life those worlds and spaces that manifest in my queer imaginary. 

Film Review: Yen Tan’s “1985”

Yen Tan’s 1985 is a quiet, well-written, and fabulously performed picture that quietly blows a kiss toward a generation of LGBTQ fighters.

Last Monday, LGBTQ film nonprofit, QFest, and queer Houston magazine, Spectrum South, presented the final night of QFest’s annual queer film festival at Rice University’s Rice Cinema, screening the new film, 1985. Starring Corey Michael Smith of Gotham fame, 1985 was written and directed by filmmaker Yen Tan and is set in the titular year surrounding the loss of life to the HIV/AIDS crisis.

QFest-Header Film Review: Yen Tan's "1985"The film sported a wonderful screenplay, and found a way to depict HIV/AIDS in the ’80s in a way that will not only make a person’s eyes well up with tears, but plays on the idiosyncrasies that help LGBTQ people laugh throughout tragedy without playing on stereotypes and cliches. The film revels in the fact that the LGBTQ community has come a long way since the earliest days of the HIV/AIDS virus, but still has a long way to go when dealing it is perceived by those on the outside. This film was a real tear jerker through its entire length. Smith plays Adrian, a man who makes viewers feel for all people who are dealing and suffering from this, past and present. His emotional scenes of tearful breakdowns are just as moving and convincing as his off-the-cuff one-liners to his childhood friend, Carly (played by the incomparable Jamie Chung), and his little brother, Andrew (played by young actor Aidan Langford).

vmadsen Film Review: Yen Tan's "1985"
Virginia Madsen, who stars as Eileen

The film’s supporting cast, however, receives equal acclaim to that of its star billing. Witches of East End and Designated Survivor star, Virginia Madsen, stars as Adrian’s mother, Eileen, who — in spite of her seemingly conservative ways — continually drops nuggets of affection for her son to let him know of her open-mindedness and liberalism (even revealing she voted for Mondale over Reagan in the 1985 election). Though often subdued and timid — likely a product of her role as a housewife during the time — Madsen’s performs brims with the honest love of a mother looking to connect with her child on a level transcendent of sexual orientation. Even Michael Chiklis’s performance (the The Shield star who portrays Adrian’s male fragility-epitomizing father) cracks the egg shell of 1980s homophobia and ignorance by letting his son know — near tearfully — that he can always count on his father for anything, even after learning Adrian’s seemingly well-kept secret. The film would also be nothing without the aforementioned Chung, who breathes something unexpected into this story that viewers might not go in expecting from a film about a gay white male — the power of feminism and liberation for women of color. Chung’s Carly is an old girlfriend and longtime friend of Adrian’s who is doing her best to grapple with why he can’t love her. But upon understanding the truth, the character wastes no time in carrying the Adrian on her shoulders, putting aside her own insecurities and hurt feelings for the man dealing with his impending death. That role — however small in the scope of the story as a whole — could not have been played by an actress other than Chung. As she jokes about her Korean upbringing while doing stand-up, she exerts the sort of strength that comes only from years of torment and inner-demons not easily translated to an authentic seeming character.

langford Film Review: Yen Tan's "1985"
Aidan Langford, who plays Andrew in the film.

But the real star of this film is reserved for none of the adults. Instead, the unsung hero of Adrian’s story and of the film as a production, is young actor Aidan Langford, whose character also is struggling with his identity and possibly his sexuality. No lines are delivered in this film with more conviction or honesty than those of Langford, nor are the scenes that really bear the soul to its audience. Langford’s childlike innocence, coupled with his innocuous upset with his brother he feels abandoned by are just as heart-wrenching as scenes dealing with the greater issues of HIV/AIDS. In fact, the part of the film that touched my heart most was when Aidan left his brother Andrew a recorded message on an eight-track because he knew that his brother one day would may go through the very same scrutiny of being judged because of his sexual orientation. And while the performances of all the actors in this montage are powerful, none are quite as visceral or real as Langford’s.

LGBTQ people have had many challenges, but still have so many more ahead such as the perception of AIDS to straight and cisgender people, equal rights, and fighting back the stereotypes of gender norms. I give this movie four stars and would recommend all to see this film. This film makes you think twice about how you treat people, simply because tomorrow is not something that is promised.

Were-About-It-1 Film Review: Yen Tan's "1985"