Sunday, May 31, 2009

Besieged, Bothered and Bewildered

If the 2008 Presidential election taught us anything, it is that fear of "the outsider" is still rampant in our society. Proposition 8 gave the nation's LGBT population a cruel reminder of what it means to live in the kind of society George Orwell described in Animal Farm where "all animals are equal, but some are more equal than others."

Discrimination against gays still exists, sometimes with violent consequences. Transgendered people like Gwen Araujo are murdered by homophobic pricks who then try to invoke a trans/gay panic defense during trial. In February of 2008, 15-year-old Lawrence King was shot to death by a 14-year-old classmate in Oxnard, California. Recent reports described how gay Iraqis have been gruesomely murdered by having their anuses sealed shut with glue and then being fed a drink which causes diarrhea.

Violence is not the only way in which gays are shunned. A recent diary on DailyKos  entitled Tonight, I Was Fired For Being Gay shows the insidious way in which job offers can suddenly be "withdrawn." In the following clip, Rachel Maddow interviews Lieutenant Dan Choi (one of the many gay soldiers who has been kicked out of the military in accordance with the infamous Don't Ask, Don't Tell law).

A program of short films entitled Global Queers that will be screened at the Castro Theater on Wednesday afternoon, June 24th by Frameline 33 (the 2009 San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival) shows how, while Americans may be focused on gay marriage and adoption issues, LGBT people in other parts of the world face a wider variety of challenges.

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My favorite short on  this program is Larry Tung's Welcome To My Queer Bookstore. Focusing on the 10 years in which Lai Jeng-Jer's small business, Gin Gin's Bookstore, has played a crucial role in Taipei's gay community, the film stresses its importance as a bookstore, coffee house, community center, and communications hub for LGBT people in Taipei. The film also describes the legal hassles faced by the owner of Gin Gin's when censors objected to a gay men's magazine he was importing from Hong Kong.

In an era where bookstores are vanishing as more and more people get their information online, Gin Gin's continues to thrive. Many sex toys are imported from Japan and Germany. One of the most popular sections of the store features sports bras for women. The film includes footage of recent gay pride celebrations in Taipei.

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Things are not so cozy in Bosnia, where the first gay festival to be held in the nation's capitol was forced to shut down after attacks from an enraged and mostly Muslim community. Queer Sarajevo Festival 2008 documents the violence that erupted in Sarajevo after word leaked out that the festival's dates coincided with Ramadan. Although there was a large turnout for the opening of the festival at an art gallery (nearly 400 people, including straight supporters), violence erupted within hours.

This 30-minute documentary directed by Cazim Dervisevic and Masa Hilcisin chronicles not only the violence, but how the festival's leadership (mostly gay women) handled the stress of the moment. It also raises serious questions about whether or not a democracy can fulfill its obligations to all citizens if the elected officials and police are not willing to fulfill their legal responsibilities. This clip from Reuters gives some background information on how things went down:

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Meanwhile, in Havana, a trio of rowdy lesbians is trying to carve out a place for themselves in Cuba's hip hop community. Because hip hop has largely been a male-dominated genre of music, these women have to fight homophobia as well as years of traditional machismo within Cuban society which relegates women to secondary roles in life.

While Krudas is not a particularly well-made film (the footage shot from the back of a car as it travels down Havana's bumpy streets is often difficult to watch), these women are determined to entertain people -- whether walking in a parade on stilts, running a small theater group, or performing onstage. You can watch one of the music videos created by Krudas Cubensi in the following clip:

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If Cuba's lesbians feel shut out, their troubles are minor compared to those faced by Malaysia's transgender (Mak Nyah) population. Poh Si Teng's 30-minute documentary entitled Pecah Lobang (Busted) examines how transgendered people in Kuala Lumpur and other parts of Malaysia are affected by religious censors whose Islamic culture dominates what is supposed to be a secular government. The film describes how doctors were ordered to stop performing gender reassignment surgeries because it was against religious doctrine and how difficult it is to get one's gender changed on driver's licenses and other forms of identification.

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Discrimination does not always come from homophobes. Sometimes one's self doubts cause so much internal conflict that a gay man can end up in a mental ward. Light Gradient starts off with Johann (Sebastian Schlecht ) relating the curious tale of the hare who tried to become friends with a fox. In a flashback to a weekend that went horribly wrong, we see Johann and Robin (his boyfriend of two months) setting out on their bicycles for a weekend of camping in the Brandenburg Forest. Robin has mischieviously "forgotten" to pack the tent poles and, as the movie progresses, reveals himself to be a bit of a selfish prick. 

Johann (the more introspective of the two) can never quite be sure where he stands with his new boyfriend (played by Eric Golub). Johann's hypersensitivity to being the "third man out" causes problems as their weekend continues to go downhill. First, their bikes are stolen from their campsite. Then they find what they think is an abandoned farmhouse (until a young man points a rifle at Johann's head). 

When the young man's mother Grit (Iris Minich) returns home, she welcomes the two gay men and invites them to stay for dinner. Grit and her son Henri (Denis Alevi) don't get much company, so there are moments of shared tenderness and revelry among the four characters. A subsequent fishing trip undertaken by Johann, Robin and Henri runs into trouble when Johann, having gone for a walk in the woods, peers through the brush and sees Robin getting quite friendly with Henri. Any doubts Johann might have had about his relationship with Robin are only exacerbated by the hallucinogenic effect of the red berries he picked and ate a short while before.

As written and directed by Jan Kruger, Light Gradient's greatest strength lies in the stunning cinematography by Bernadette Paa├čen. You might not find yourself caring very much about any of the four main characters (or the vagueness of their situations), but your eyes will be richly rewarded. Here's the trailer:

1 comment:

SinlessTouch said...

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