Raise a banner for Patrik-Ian Polk’s 2012 film The Skinny, the best film ever made about Pride. The only movie I’ve seen set during New York’s Pride Week celebrations, Polk’s film reunites five young black gays, recent Brown University graduates.
Gorgeous, young, educated queers like these don’t appear in movies by Gus Van Sant, Todd Haynes nor in mainstream Hollywood films. They hail from a society that no other filmmaker until Polk has put on screen—a world recognizably his own vision, like Wes Anderson’s, but that we all can recognize.
In this liberating march, Polk gives his characters a cultural coming-out—in the debutante sense. They advance upon the bourgeois mainstream so dominated by media-empowered white gays that these characters seem new—in fact, almost alien as in the dismissive New York Times review that linked Polk’s characters to “an invisible demographic.”
Fact is, Polk casts and photographs his characters handsomely. These good-looking queers are living tributes to black, gay social progress. They march and, like the diverse float-riders on Fifth Ave., they have arrived. Magnus (Jussie Smollett, a Prince-look-alike but with dimples) breaks up with his thug-hot boyfriend Ryan (Dustin Ross), while virginal Sebastian (Blake Young-Fountain) hankers after his studly best friend Kyle (Anthony Burrell). Beautiful British dyke Langston (Shanika Warren-Markland) and the elegantly masculine Southern queen Joey (Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman) watch from the sides, nervous about making their own hook-ups.
This group recalls the ensemble of Polk’s trailblazing LOGO-TV series Noah’s Arc, but he’s refined the stereotypes into more subtly-performed archetypes.
Here are the other contenders:
Stonewall (1995) Nigel Finch directs and Rikki Beadle Blair wrote the script for this movie dramatization of Martin Duberman book-length account of that historic, multicultural uprising. It has the truth of documentary and the force of drama thanks a cast of compelling actors. The 2015 version is de trop.
Pride (2014) directed by Matthew Warchus. You say you want solidarity? Here is the fact-based story of a British gay and lesbian organization supporting the 1984 miners’ strike. This allies-in-reverse story is propelled by glorious pop music authentic to the period. It’s a real celebration.
Jeanne and the Perfect Guy (1998) French duo Olivier Duscatel and Jacques Martineau (Paris 05:59: Theo & Hugo) depict an AIDS protest march as a musical testimony to finding unconventional love. Its sung-through style also pays tribute to cinema’s operatic genius Jacques Demy.
The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert (1994) Stephan Elliott’s famous Australian drag queen saga has some maudlin moments but the cast (Terence Stamp, Hugo Weaving and Guy Pearce) prove irresistibly flamboyant. The entire ABBA-fueled movie is a parade in itself.
Madame Sata (2002) Karim Ainouz’s bio-pic about Brazilian drag legend Joao Francisco dos Santos goes behind the scenes of Carnival. What could be more appropriate? Lazaro Ramos’s intense title characterization is one of the most powerful, soul-baring performances in the history of gay movies.
All Over the Guy (2001) Julie Davis directs Dan Bucatinski’s serio-comic script with a fresh openness about Eli and Tom (Bucatinsky and Richard Ruccolo), two L.A. men struggling to define love and rectify it with their libidos. It connects liberation to pride.
The Broken Hearts Club (2000) Greg Berlanti wrote and directed this original film about gay camaraderie. Combining coming-of-age and coming-out among its cast of eight West Hollywood films, Berlanti emphasizes coming-together. A less witty movie would call it “community.”
Carla and Connie (2004) BFF Nia Vardalos wrote (and Michael Lembeck directed) this musical comedy about two female entertainers (Nia and Toni Collette) hiding out from gangsters by posing as drag queens. It’s our Some Like It Hot but without the innuendo.
Trick (1999) Director Jim Fall and screenwriter Jason Schafer mirror Pride Day spontaneity. They extend a familiar lust-at-first-sight scenario into the distinctly urban dilemma of finding a place to do it. Christian Campbell and John Paul Pitoc play the meet-cute couple. It’s our After Hours but with an unforgettable cameo by Miss Coco Peru (Clinton Leupp).