Tré Ventour looks at the Q-Film Festival at the Errol Flynn Cinema…
Starting on the evening of October 20 with drinks and snacks at the Q-Film Launch at Foodie Rocks, I met a number of attendees of the festival aiming to showcase LGBTQ cinema.
Amongst the throng, I met Royal & Derngate, Corby Cube and Errol Flynn Filmhouse CEO Martin Sutherland who happened to know about my blog (northamptonfandom.co.uk).
That was a surprise! I also met Labour Councillor Danielle Stone and Labour PPC for Northampton South Kevin McKeever and liaised with Royal & Derngate operations director Richard Clinton.
Film is an act of protest, free speech and freedom of expression; it’s at these events that creativity meets politics and a number of other industries. And it’s these functions that truly show that Northampton is a small town.
I am a straight, black male and I have been at the mercy of racial discrimination many times. I am constantly under the gaze of racial profiling and I understand what it means to be attacked for being other.
I have a soft spot in my heart for oppressed peoples (and typically, film). There was once a time when black people would only be in films and television series as the comedic relief or the walk-on part or simply as the token black.
Things are getting better: Black-ish, Dear White People, Selma, Fences, Hidden Figures, Power and Viola Davis in anything. We’ve had black-centric superhero shows like Luke Cage and we’ve got Marvel’s Black Panther in 2018. John Boyega is in Star Wars! Sonequa Martin is the lead in Netflix’s new SciFi series Star Trek Discovery.
In Britain, we’re still struggling on that front. Back in the 1980s, black people joked about Lenny Henry being the only black guy on British television – one in one out – that’s what they said. There can only be one. Things are more progressive now but there’s still a lot of work to be done. However, as time goes by, Britain doesn’t look after its black stars which is why you find many of them killing it in America.
Watching Tangerine on the Sunday showed me how underrepresented the LGBTQ community are, and more often than not, trans roles are played by cistgendered¹ actors or actress. Why aren’t trans roles played by trans people? It’s the equivalent of whitewashing roles that should be played by people of colour. You wouldn’t see Matt Damon playing Malcolm X.
Taking nothing away from Jared Leto’s Oscar-winning performance in Dallas Buyers Club, there’s no reason why that role couldn’t have been played by someone who is trans. With the exception of Wachowski sisters (Sense8, The Matrix), I really couldn’t name any transsexual personalities behind the camera: writers, producers, directors etc. So to improve that, you go out and look for them. And only by doing this can change be instigated, and thus normalisation… in the same way that heterosexuality has been hypernormalised.
With 2018 on the horizon, the 2010s will be seen as a vital time for LGBTQ rights, and the media’s eye is fixed on those communities; both in Europe and in the States, these issues dominate news headlines, with reports of discriminatory attacks happening in Russia and other places due to homophobic and xenophobic ideologies.
More people are “coming out” as well; I’d like to live in a society where people didn’t need to come out. I’d like to live in a world where there wasn’t a “gay scene” but just places where anyone and everyone could cohabitate in peace whether you were in a same sex relationship or not – a place where you are judged on the content of your character and not which sex you find attractive – a place where your worth as a person is not subject to your sexuality.
Being at the Errol Flynn over the weekend showed me whilst there have been efforts for LGBTQ representation on film, society is still dated. And the current wave of LGBTQ-related news stories has had little impact on mainstream films (very LGBTQ-free). There are good recent films with LGBTQ characters, dealing with gender identity – Tangerine (2015) comes to mind, the story of a transsexual sex worker (the actress is transsexual) looking for the pimp who broke her heart.
There’s also the French film Blue is the Warmest Colour. These films are often low-key and independent, not seen by the mainstream and frequently go under the radar. They are also the type of films which are pushed to a limited release. When it comes to pictures made in Hollywood under the big studio system, LGBTQ representation runs stale as it is Hollywood that dictates what culture is and what the mainstream should watch.
Set in a time where it was still a crime to be a homosexual, Victim (1961) follows a case into the death of young man who is later revealed as gay. And a blackmail plot against a number of other gay men ensues. I also managed to see Stephen Frears’ Prick Up Your Ears (1987), a biopic about the famous playwright Joe Orton and his partner (or assistant) Kenneth Halliwell and the things they had to go through to assert their sexual identity in an intolerant society.
I also managed to see Centre of My World and The Wound. The Wound is a South African film that everyone should see but won’t due to what I predict will be another limited release. It’s about a lonely factory worker who travels to the mountains with the men of his community to initiate a number of teenage boys into manhood. What got me is its stance on repressed sexuality in black men.
This was also shown in Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight and how men in general are never ever “supposed” to overtly show their feelings. It’s all rather Victorian / Edwardian to be honest. I remember Daphne Milne (Margot Robbie) in Goodbye Christopher Robin telling her eight-year old son that there’s “no blubbering in this house” and it’s sentiments like that which really show how dated twenty-first century society is when it comes to discussions on gender and sexuality.
What many of these films at the Q-Film Weekender had in common is that emotionlessness is not an innate trait. It’s something we learn. It’s something I found is drilled into men of colour and those from working-class backgrounds from a young age – more than those from affluent families.
From childhood, men get told by their teachers, parents, peers and even television that “you must be a big boy… be a real man… man up… stop crying… don’t be a girl… toughen up… don’t be a pussy… walk it off, etc”. Nobody cares about male problems. A common line is “quit being a little bitch”. So what do you do when you’re born into a family where your father is a “man’s man” and you’re gay and / or effeminate like Joe Orton (Gary Oldman in Prick Up Your Ears) or Klein (Centre of My World)?
Who I thought was going to be the main character in Victim hangs himself in his cell. That was a common thing to happen in the 1960s (and earlier), where being attracted to the same sex was illegal. How do you fight something like that? Well, the first step would be to not enforce gender roles. Popular culture is a big enforcer. So is society. So are our parents and families and most of the time they don’t even notice.
Lisa Gornick’s Book of Gabrielle shows the female perspective, the lesbian perspective. She gave a great live drawing session beforehand too. Girls on Film 2: Before Dawn was a series of feminist lesbian shorts. They showed the female point of view – females through the female gaze rather than women through the Male Gaze.
I very much enjoyed Silly Girl which was co-written by Ellie Kendrick (Game of Thrones) and No Matter Who. The latter is about a summer camp of young girls and how two of them find their spark of desire, a sexual need at loggerheads with the group’s morality and principles. The former is about the first time someone notices you for who you are and not what you are, and the character-defining nature of that moment.
I’d very much like the Q-Film Weekender to be an annual event at The Errol Flynn and it’d be good to have more festivals like this in the future. Perhaps, next October, there could be a Black film festival celebrating Black History Month.
I’m also very much an advocate of Old Hollywood and a weekend dedicated to that would be great as well. More so because younger people don’t really watch films made before the 1980s or even the 1970s. Advertising the classics may get the millennials interested in something that isn’t the latest Marvel film or Star Wars.
The Errol Flynn put on a number of films detailing stories representing “queer cinema”. However, this isn’t LGBTQ cinema. They are just great films with great stories. The characters being lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans or queer has nothing to do with it.
And if I took anything away from this weekend, it’s that being LGBTQ is only the tip of the iceberg. When you’ve got people in the world who are of colour, female and lesbian (for example), you’ve got a minority within a minority within a minority and that’s scary.