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Monday
Apr202015

A Pop Quiz on Queer Cinema Matters 

(l-r): Tom Hanks as Andrew Beckett and Denzel Washington as Joe Miller in the drama film "Philadelphia."Several years ago, I attended the screening of a short film called Making Arrangements. It’s a funny movie that I enjoyed watching at one of the film festivals in town. The plot of this film also involves lesbian movie characters – something I’d rarely seen on the big screen.

Actually, Johnathan Demme’s  drama film Philadelphia -- about a lawyer dying from AIDS who sues his employer for wrongful termination – is among my earliest recollections of seeing a same-sex couple in a movie. Although Dee Rees' teenage drama Pariah is currently the last film I watched that has a diverse portrayal of modern-day relationship dynamics, I find it troubling that this isn’t as common an occurrence at the multiplex as there are films solely featuring straight characters.

If given $1 to name as many movie couples as you could in 15 minutes, do you think you’d be able to clear $100 with no sweat? Chances are the average person who owns a television, or has been to a motion picture theater, has a Netflix subscription and/or possesses a sizeable DVD collection, could complete this task easily. The same, however, cannot be said if we narrowed it down to films with same-sex couples. Just out of curiosity, I tried to recall any movies I’ve seen that have a clear queer presence.

(l-r): Samantha MacLachlan as Ursula and Queen Latifah as Cleo in the film "SET IT OFF."The exercise brought forth an unfortunate realization that of all the films I’ve ever watched, to date, those that I remember featuring same-sex couples clock in only somewhere around no more than ten or so; including the aforementioned Making Arrangements, Philadelphia and Pariah.

The List

  • F. Gary Gray’s action drama Set It Off starring Queen Latifah, Vivica A. Fox, Jada Pinkett-Smith and Kimberly Elise, about a group of friends who start moonlighting as bank robbers.
  • Dennis Dugan’s comedy Big Daddy starring Adam Sandler, the Sprouse brothers, and Joey Lauren Adams, about a law school grad who adopts a child to impress his girlfriend.
  • John Cameron Mitchell’s romantic comedy drama Shortbus starring Sook-Yin Lee and Justin Bond about a therapist whose clients introduce her to an underground mixer where attendees partake in swinging, erotic fetishism and other activities. (*Sidebar: My review on this movie can be read at Writercize)
  • Neil Drumming’s hip-hop music drama Big Words starring Dorian Missick, Gbenga Akinnagbe and Zachary Booth, about a disillusioned IT worker who reunites with his friends on the night of the 2008 Presidential election.

Other movies with a queer element to them such as Boys Don’t Cry are worth a mention but I’m not exactly sure if this particular film would count, given that it appears the main character was in a transitional period. Same goes for The Crying Game. Although the dark ballerina flick Black Swan starring Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis has some lesbian action in it, I doubt that this movie qualifies either in terms of adequate representation for same-sex couples; because its main female characters do not appear to consider themselves to be romantically attracted to women.

(l-r): Gbenga Akinnagbe as James and Zachary Booth as Benn on the film set of "BIG WORDS."Seems like films in the mainstream culture and even indie films that get buzz on the festival circuit are deliberately gay, and understandably so, in cases where it lends to the overall story. However, it would be nice if more movie characters were normalized like in Big Daddy, Set It Off and Big Words. The characters in these movies just happen to have a significant other who is of the same gender.

Who they are dating or married to has no significant bearing on the turn of events in these particular flicks. To include these character types seems like no big deal, which is an important factor to recognize because that’s a better -- and ideal -- representation of how things should be, rather than portraying the LGBT community as some kind of anomaly from outer space or a type of thing that must be the central focus of the entire narrative.

Q is for QueerPOP QUIZ: Which of the following actors was threatened to be fired from their off-screen day job, for playing a controversial role in one of these queer-friendly films?

A)     Queen Latifah

B)     Sook-Yin Lee

C)     Gbenga Akinnagbe

D)     Hilary Swank

Also, how many movies have YOU seen featuring same-sex couples?

Saturday
Apr182015

The Price we pay for Switching Paths: A Moviemaker’s Perspective 

“The good news is you came a long way. The bad news is you went the wrong way” – J. Cole in Love Yourz

The Album Cover for "2014 Forest Hills Drive" by J. ColeA lot of the dissatisfaction I’ve had with my pursuit of a career in film directing is what makes the lyrics in rapper J. Cole’s song “Love Yourz” (from his album 2014 Forest Hills Drive) oh so relatable. Every quest has its challenges but I cannot say whether I would’ve still chosen this path if I had to do it all over again.

Just when I think I’m making headway, something brings me back into the reality that I’m not only nowhere near where I thought I’d be, there is also no telling whether I’ll ever get there.

Sometimes it feels like I need to just put in more work to master the craft, as the saying goes. Other times it feels like I need to network with the right people or chuck directing altogether, in favor of another area within the entertainment field, such as screenwriting or casting or storyboarding or something. This is one of the reasons why I started considering television as a serious alternative. Producing community TV programs might provide more bang for my buck in terms of better results, faster turnaround and the opportunity to make a difference in the world.

More often than not, however, I’ve wondered if I wasted years, relationships, resources and money going after the wrong dream – one that I probably had no business pursuing in the first place, given that I did more writing and drawing in my youth than anything else. Perhaps I would have been better staying on the path of fine arts, for if I kept at it, I imagine I’d be a lot better at it today than my present sketchbook shows.

On the set of a short film production.Even if I did switch careers, there is a steep price for doing so, according to author Steve Pavlina who points out that “most art forms are too crowded and too competitive to make a living from unless one commits to becoming outstanding. Dabbling in fields every few years or so will prevent you from reaping the rewards of building a financially sustainable practice that comes from long-term mastery.”

This is an understandable factor to consider, given that leaving film for something else would likely involve me starting from the bottom – once again. On the flipside, he also suggests that we get out of any project, relationship or career, etc. as soon as possible if we would not have embarked on it knowing what we know now. So what the hell is Steve Pavlina smoking?! I mean, it sounds like his advice rests on two sides of the fence. One minute he’s suggesting you spend a decade or so honing your skills and then the next minute he’s warning readers that there is no “honor in dedicating your life to the pursuit of a goal which no longer inspires you.”

In almost every step of my tv/film projects, I find myself bouncing back and forth between delight and frustration, asking myself if I should continue riding this rollercoaster of uncertainty any longer. This question is a no-brainer for Grant Peele, a husband and father who did the complete opposite, leaving a thriving career in Real Estate to achieve his life-long dream of becoming a filmmaker. The early days of his journey, along with those of other men and women who switched career paths, are chronicled in the documentary I’m Fine, Thanks, a film about complacency and whether the paths we ultimately choose to follow are connected to who we are or someone else’s American Dream.

Grant Peele preparing for the Midwest Premiere of his documentary film "I'm Fine, Thanks."One woman in the film describes what it's like to climb a corporate ladder and then reach the top, only to realize she had it leaned up against the wrong wall. Having not yet reached the middle of this current journey I’m on, I think I’d rather just take her word for it as opposed to finding that same thing out for myself when it’s too late.

I used to fantasize about how exciting it would be to win an Oscar and attend Cannes or get hired to work on some huge Hollywood production starring heavyweights like Denzel Washington, Jonny Depp or Meryl Streep -- accomplishments of which would be equivalent to the top of a ladder. Today, I rarely think about milestones like these and find myself feeling indifferent to them, when they do cross my mind. That’s an uneasy sign that something isn’t quite right. Although I have yet to figure out what that something is, I’ll be trucking along on this yellow brick road of motion pictures until I do.

P is for Perspective

 

When YOU were a child, what kind of career did YOU want to have?

How do YOU know when to hold onto the cards YOU’RE playing, and when to fold them?

Friday
Apr172015

Who are your Operatives? My Jason Bourne Theory...

As a Co-Host of the Blogging from A-to-Z Challenge, I get to select my own minions; men and women who assist me in checking blogs on the signup list, to make sure participants are following the guidelines for our April blog hop. The “minion” term that we generally use when referring to all helpers was obviously inspired by the hilarious animated film Despicable Me.

Each Co-Host also uses a particular name or title when identifying his or her team of assistants/helpers within the overall pool. I like the idea of having a taskforce of people who are on the lookout for any funny business during the challenge -- similar to a law enforcement agency. So the action thriller movie titled The Bourne Identity and its many sequels were the basis for what has become my “Mighty Minion Bureau (MMB).”

 Those who join the MBB are considered assets who carry out a single, yet huge, mission which is to keep our April challenge vibrant and running smoothly for the enjoyment of its 1,700+ participating blogs. The MMB team roster has changed every year with the exception of one mainstay – author Sydney Aaliyah Michelle. This year she is joined by Vidya Sury and Melanie Shulz, which complete the set of operatives who are helping me meet various A-to-Z goals within the 60-day period between March and April when the challenge kicks into high gear.

The computer I use to perform most of my blogging duties such as typing in word documents is slower than the phone I use to watch YouTube videos. Yeah, read that last sentence again if you haven’t fully grasped the fact that something is DEFINITELY wrong with this picture. Yet just like all of my fellow Co-Hosts, I’m expected to keep track of a few hundred blogs or so while troubleshooting A-to-Z Challenge issues and fielding questions from random bloggers about all sorts of matters, in addition to doing the A-to-Z Challenge on my own blog -- here at The Madlab Post. So I’d really be in a major jam and stressed to the nines if it were not for the ladies in my Mighty Minion Bureau who have agreed to take on some of this load by checking portions of the A-Z signup list.

Matt Damon as Jason Bourne and Julia Stiles as Nicky ParsonsWhen it comes to reaching your goals, there are proven techniques to get results in as little as 90 days….if you spend enough time working on them every week, according to Psychology Today. Given that it takes me several hours to blog on a typical day, I wouldn’t get anything else done in my everyday life if I spent more time online or dealing with A-to-Z Challenge matters.

Plus I’d be walking around like a zombie, which would cause the quality of my output to drop in various areas of existence. So while I understand and agree with Psychology Today’s logic on reaching goals, I also know that in some cases that’s not enough; you need more than time – you need help!

Even a great soldier like Jason Bourne, played by Matt Damon, wouldn’t have gotten to the truth about all the crimes committed in his past life; nor would he have made it through some of the most high risk situations, if it were not for those who helped him along the way including Nicky Parsons and Pamela Landy. Played by actress Julia Stiles, Nicky Parsons is an operative who handled logistics for the same agency that employed Bourne. Despite being interrogated by him early on in the series, she ends up helping him uncover classified information and also aids in protecting him from being assassinated on more than one occasion.

Played by actress Joan Allen, Pamela Landy is a task chief officer out to capture Jason Bourne at first and then ends up using her position to help him avoid the shady higher-ups, when she suspects that he was a pawn in a dangerous game that her colleagues want to make disappear. So yes we could all benefit from having (or making) more time to complete the tasks that stand before us. However, whatever these responsibilities may be, an extra set of hands from those near and far are what also make it possible for us to get things done much faster and with less hassle.

O is for Operatives

 

Who are the operatives that help YOU complete time-consuming tasks on a daily, weekly or monthly schedule?

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