They’re here, they’re queer, and they’re ready for their close up. Outfest, the world’s leading LGBT film festival, which runs July 7-17 across several Los Angeles venues, not only showcases the best of cinema, but also spotlights a tight knit, overlapping community of artists and allies.
The festival hit the ground running with the Opening Night Gala premiere of The Intervention at The Orpheum Theater, reuniting But I’m a Cheerleader alums Clea DuVall and Natasha Lyonne on the big screen. Once again portraying a lesbian couple, the duo’s relationship is thrown a monkey wrench in the form of queer stranger Lola, played by Alia Shawkat, most notable for her role as Maeby Funke in the cult comedy Arrested Development.
Shawkat took centerstage Saturday morning at the Directors Guild of America with the premiere of her new TBS series Search Party, a darkly comic Millennial murder mystery.
Serving as the nucleus for a circle of self-absorbed, self-deluded 20-somethings, Shawkat’s Dory is adrift in post-college ennui, externalized by the recent disappearance of an old class acquaintance. But the break out hit of the series is scene stealing John Early, recognizable from his roles in The Neighbors 2 and Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp. Early possesses the crucial ability to spin snark into gold. And, although he plays a gay character, don’t expect him to pop off his shirt onscreen any time soon.
“I have a yeast imbalance,” quipped the queer comedian, “so I was not ready or TBS and the world to see my rash.”
While television may be missing out on Early’s bare torso, it will be compensated by a slew of LGBT positive programming, evidenced by Outfest’s weekend line up which juxtaposed Search Party with screenings for new seasons of Difficult People and Transparent.
“Its so nice that there isn’t just one gay show on TV,” said Outfest veteran Drew Droege, holding court in the DGA atrium. “Literally, last year it was Looking. Everyone was looking for Looking to be every gay show for every gay person. Its impossible, nothing can be. We have a lot more now.”
Looking itself took a final bow over the weekend with a Saturday night screening of its feature length finale, tying up the loose ends left dangling after HBO chose not to renew the dramedy for a third season. Although the series has ended, its inclusion of non-traditional gay characters, like HIV-positive bear Eddie, has paved the way for a more diverse LGBT terrain on television.
“Slowly but surely we’re seeing different colors of the rainbow on TV,” said Daniel Franzese, the out actor who portrayed Eddie, while sipping a cocktail in VIP section of the pre-screening reception. “Eddie is currently one of three HIV characters on TV. With 1.2 million people with HIV, it’s not enough. Hopefully, we see more. We are starting to see more diversity, and in-depth characters where their story line doesn’t center just that their gay. Its part of their life but not necessarily the focus of their arc.”
This concept of fully realized LGBTQ characterization is exemplified by the hit Amazon series Transparent, which offered a soupçon of its upcoming third season during a Sunday afternoon panel. The show is admirable for incorporating trans professionals into its production, both in front of the camera, and behind it.
“In attempting to undo ‘other-izing’,” explained series creator Jill Soloway, “the only way to not create stories where women, people of color, queer people, trans people are objects is to make them the subjects. I can’t make them the subjects by writing and directing it. I have to offer them the opportunity to make their own subjectivity as artists.”
Soloway’s philosophy was evidenced by the presence of Our Lady J, one of the trans staff members of Transparent who participated in the panel. Before writing for the series, J was a professional pianist who was silently elbowed out of the industry after transitioning. Pulling from personal experience, the trans scribe imparted sage advice for upcoming artists.
“Show up to the party without an invitation. No one is going to give you your rights unless you demand them.”