Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Strike a Pose

The best thing the Byrd Theater ever did - besides installing new seats - was going thematic.

I used to be such an occasional Byrd-goer. I mean, other than "It's a Wonderful Life" every Christmas Eve, I mostly went to the Byrd for film festivals - French, Environmental, whatever. But all that changed once they started doing a different theme every month.

Hello, variety, we Geminis love to mix things up.

You better believe I got on board with that. I saw my first Miyazaki film, "My Neighbor Totoro," as part of Miyazaki Mondays, also discovering how many Miyazaki film fans there are in Richmond. I did a month of Hitchcock movies because you can never see too much Hitchcock on the big screen. Currently, I'm going to see their "Pre-Code" series showing films made before the Hays Office came up with their Puritanical production code and began dictating morals to moviegoers.

Hell, I even put up with kids and a 10 a.m. screening to attend one of their Family Classics, though it's not likely I'll do that again.

So when I saw the Byrd was doing Mon-Gays, a month of films about LGBTQ lives, I naturally wanted to go. The director of the Afrikanna Film Fest always said that she screened films made by blacks "for blacks and black-minded people." I like to think that Mon-Gays are intended for gays and gay-minded people.

And I'm one of them.

Tonight's offering was a queer fairy tale, unexpectedly done musical-style and complete with scenes of young people dancing and vogueing to bass-heavy music and you know I loved that. The sensitively-told story of Ulysses, a black 14-year old boy trying to figure out his sexuality and identity, was all the more engrossing for the many trans actors used in the film and it's not often you see that.

Some of the early scenes were especially painful to watch because they involved Ulysses being bullied at school by the jocks, who mock him, call him faggot and deposit his gym suit in a toilet full of urine. His salvation arrives in the form of Saturday Church, a once-a-week community program for queer young people and where for the first time he sees LGBTQ people able to be themselves.

It's life-changing. It's enough to make a boy start vogueing as he walks down the street and eventually buy himself a pair of studded stilettos to catwalk in.

This means that later on, when the same jocks who've been ridiculing him for ages do it again, he's in a different head space. Rather than feel intimidated by them, Ulysses blows them off with a vogue-style kiss as he glides past them down the hall at school. Yaaas, queen.

Appropriately, the audience at the Byrd erupted in cheers and applause.

Not all of the story was so life-affirming, particularly several scenes after he ran away from home because his crazy Christian aunt was beating and berating him for who he was. But the overall tome was sweet, making for a strong film with low key charm and a major message: just let everybody be who they want to be.

For me, that's a black-minded, gay-minded independent film lover who's a familiar face to the concession staff.

No shame in being a Byrd regular.

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