screen gems

Time to salute one of the first–and sassiest–out, gay characters in movies

Car Wash

Welcome to Screen Gems, our weekend dive into queer and queer-adjacent titles of the past that deserve a watch or a re-watch.

The Sudsy: Car Wash

So we all know the song “Car Wash,” right? The disco fabulous tune first became a staple of many a queer dance floor when first performed by Rose Royce. It also found a second life in a cover version by Christina Aguilera.

For the origins of the song–and frankly its gayness–we hereby resurrect the mostly forgotten, mostly hilarious 1976 screwball comedy of the same name. Car Wash was the Clerks of its day: an uproarious farce following the misadventures of a group of car wash employees in Los Angeles. In short order, they are: Abdullah (Bill Duke), a Black Muslim revolutionary; Mr. B (Sully Boyar), the owner of the car wash; Lonnie (Ivan Dixon), the ex-con manager of the car wash; Lindy (Antonio Fargas), a femme, gay man;  Sly (Garrett Morris), a grifter; and Marsha (Melanie Mayron), the shop receptionist. Over the course of an eventful July day, the employees all have mini-adventures that intersect with one another. The film’s meandering structure also allows for some big-time cameos, including Richard Pryor as a money-hungry preacher, George Carlin as a dippy taxi driver, and The Pointer Sisters as (what else) a trio of singers.

Uber-gay director Joel Schumacher cut his Hollywood teeth by penning the script to Car Wash, which, we suspect, gives it a sense of campy goofiness. Schumacher and director Michael Schultz also manage to include the character of Lindy with delicate, if assured tact. Lindy doesn’t try to hide who he is, and shows no shame in his effeminacy.

He also gets the best line in the movie. We don’t want to spoil it for anyone familiar with the film. Suffice it to say that, as played by Fargas, it’s both hilarious and deeply empowering. Remember, Car Wash first hit theatres back in 1976. Seeing a gay character anywhere–let alone a proud one–was rare.

We recommend Car Wash for the outstanding cast, and for Lonnie, a lovable, groundbreaking character. It may or may not be a classic, but it holds a special place in the history of queer cinema. It also features an awesome theme song that will inevitably make viewers get up and dance.

Streams on Amazon, YouTube & VUDU.