For the past couple weeks, I’ve been schlepping around New York City for the Tribeca Film Festival trying to catch as many queer and queer-adjacent films as possible. During that time, I’ve watched entirely too many movies to count, each having varying levels of success, talent, and interest. As the fest wraps up, here is a quick roundup of reviews of some of the projects that have stuck with me — the good, the bad, and the why-did-y’all-waste-my-time.
I left The Apollo proud AF to be Black. The doc, by Oscar-winning Roger Ross Williams, about the legacy of the famed entertainment venue in Harlem, forces you to bear witness to a storied history of Black creative excellence.
For those unaware, the Apollo Theater is an 85-year-old, 1,506-seat historical center of Black culture, not only for New York or this country, but the world. Every legendary Black performer has graced its stage, either in a headlining performances or during one of its infamous, weekly Amateur Night competitions. Those competitions became the television show Showtime at the Apollo (on which Lauryn Hill infamously got booed).
The doc flashes between historical reflections and storytelling, and the present as a cast rehearses for a 2018 performance of a stage version of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me. It’s inclusion represents the ways Black folk are still using our art to come together and speak truth to power, though I must admit, I found the inclusion of the reading unnecessary — I just wanted to bask more in our creative brilliance of yesteryear. Still, The Apollo is a necessary chronicling of the history of Black folk and the enduring sociopolitical spirit of our talent, from music to dance to comedy. It will be coming to HBO soon.
As the typical coming-of-age trope goes, Izzy (Isabelle Barbier), Anuka (Deeksha Ketkar), and Fiona (Sadie Scott) are besties on a mission to lose their virginities before freshman year ends. They find the perfect opportunity in the form of a “Crush Party” hosted by the popular girl (Isabelle Kenet), but first, they must get invited. Hijinks ensue.
Emily Cohn’s directorial debut, which she also wrote, is undoubtedly inventive, particularly in the ways it captures the group’s text message convos. And the film’s depiction of female sexuality is beyond refreshing, obviously informed by someone who knows what it’s like to be a woman — something I can’t say of other young adult comedies. But that’s not enough to elevate such a tired premise that could’ve been better executed.
You Don’t Nomi
I was actually very excited for this doc revisiting the iconic, classic, and legendary film that is Showgirls — fight me! After all, it promised to “trace the [1995 picture’s] redemptive journey from notorious flop to cult classic, and maybe even masterpiece” Though it does just that, I was left wanting more. Not to mention, Elizabeth Berkley is only in the film via archival footage — a true travesty if I say so myself.
Watching this short written by and starring Staceyann Chin was perhaps the best 15 minutes of the last couple weeks. Directed by Micaela Birmingham (who co-wrote it with Chin), Motherstruck — which is based on the one-woman play written by Chin, directed by Cynthia Nixon and produced by Rosie O'Donnell — is the true story of a lesbian's (Chin) efforts to become a mother with her closest friends (Gina Yashere, Laura Gomez, Janine Brito) by her side. Hilarious isn’t even the best word to describe it. The chemistry between the leading ladies could be bottled and sold, evidence that somebody out there needed to put this on television yesterday! And I must shout out a small supporting role by Justin Sams. Hollywood is busy trying to find television's next big thing, and here it is. (But hell, I’d take a feature-length version, too!)
There’s a lot to love about Sam De Jong’s sophomore feature about a street smart, 18-year-old dancer with dreams of making it big while looking after her two sisters with their mom in jail. We follow her on the journey of acquiring a yellow fur coat she thinks will set her apart from the other video girls in an upcoming music video. Model and budding bicon Slick Woods plays the lead in her feature film debut and her signature bald head, gapped smile, and tattoos are perfect for the role. And her effortless ability to waft from endearing vulnerability to ferocious determination is a sign of the potentially long career as an actor ahead of her. And Marsha Stephanie Blake’s (Orange is the New Black, Getting On) performance, though she doesn’t have much screen time, is masterful.
De Jong’s direction and Shawn Peters’ cinematography also deserve a mention. The words “inventive” and “inspired” come to mind, but so does “confused” and “unresolved.” But, to be clear, I’m not sure that is a bad thing. There’s a unique vision at play, from the very first frame of the film, and I wanted to see it to its end. Goldie is bold and loud yet subtle and soft. It’s a story of survival, with the heart and energy necessary to inspire audiences to keep on keepin’ on.
Gay Chorus Deep South
As someone in Gay Chorus Deep South said, when asked their thoughts on the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus’ tour of the South aimed at spreading “a message of music, love, and acceptance to communities often on the frontlines against intolerance,” I too thought this idea to be “white, paternalistic, and condescending.” After all, what exactly can a single performance do for those who live in the cities where “faith-based,” anti-LGBTQ+ laws are spreading like wildfire. But David Charles Rodrigues’ doc is actually about way more than its logline. In fact, the film is truly one man’s journey — conductor Tim Seelig — back to a religious community that once ruined his life. Sure, throughout that trek are other storylines with glimmers of interest and relevance, but it’s his that takes center stage and draws the most from the audience.
With that in mind, Gay Chorus Deep South doesn’t reinvent the wheel. It’s structure is fairly conventional, allowing the intersecting stories of its subjects to push the narrative forward. But I couldn’t help but feel like we weren’t following the right choir. The real story, for me, lies within Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir, which joined SFGMC on the tour. That’s the doc I wanted to see.