When Bronx teenager Ulysses (Luka Kain, pictured above), the main character in Saturday Church, is overcome with emotion, queer writer-director Damon Cardasis drops him into fantastical musical numbers, allowing him to escape locker-room bullies or revel in first love. Like a shy angel with half-sprouted wings, bisexual newcomer Kain floats through the sequences with both terror and vigor, whether surrounded by dancing jocks or falling rose petals.
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A major arc of the movie, which was a hit at last year’s Tribeca Film Festival, shows Ulysses becoming less dependent on these dreamscapes, and more accepting of his gender identity. He finds his chosen family in the drama’s titular queer youth program. “I hope the film opens the minds of people who might normally have them closed,” says Cardasis. “And I really hope people who’ve been underrepresented feel that it tells part of their story.”
Cardasis, who was once involved with a similar LGBTQ support center in New York, helped ensure this representation by casting trans actors — and genuine standouts — like MJ Rodriguez, Alexia Garcia, and Indya Moore, many of whom play part-time escorts who foster Ulysses’s self-discovery. “I want to demonstrate that trans people can take up just as much space as anyone else,” says Moore, “and unapologetically so.” Indeed, an unapologetic celebration of the self is what ushers Church to its joyful finale, which unfurls like the evolved cousin of Glee, all scuffed heels, flashy mascara, and soaring high notes.