Homophobia in the Bahamas had its most public display when Rosie O’Donnell’s R Family Cruise was met by loud, hateful protesters. But the story of the islands’ hostility is hardly limited to that event. Writer/ Director Kareem J. Mortimer, who first explored the subject with his short film, Float, gives us a deeper understanding of the cultural elements at play in his lush and tender feature version of the short, Children of God. The story focuses on Jonny (Johnny Ferro), a gay, harassed, art student who can’t tap into his passion. But when he meets Romeo (Stephen Tyrone Williams), a closeted island native who himself can’t seem to take ownership of his true self, he is both awakened and liberated. Romeo, too, finds himself, in the relationship, if not quite his liberation. Meanwhile Lena (Margaret Laurena Kemp), the wife of the preacher at the helm of the gay protests, has her own awakening, leaving her somewhat stuck between her faith and her inherent goodness.
Mortimer gives in to too many clichés (must every disgusting homophobe be in the closet?) but that doesn’t lessen the overall impact of his storytelling. And his characters truly resonate thanks to some fantastic casting. Ferro, Kemp and Williams are all extraordinary, offering subtle, layered performances. Ian Bloom’s sumptuous photography is the co-star, showing the islands at their most gorgeous, in direct contrast to the ugliness so deeply rooted in many of their inhabitants.
Children of God screens on Friday, July 16 at Outfest. Call 213-480-7065 or visit Outfest.org for tickets. And be sure to check out the amazing silent auction items at outfest.org/auction.
-- EDDIE SHAPRIO
Previously > An Outfest selection: Sasha