Tribeca 2019 Review: ‘Ponyboi’

It can be read everywhere: queer cinema is on the rise. It’s quite hard to disprove that statement at first glance; there have been truly great films about queer individuals in the past years and they have garnered a level of attention that seemed almost impossible just two decades ago. But ‘queer’ can be a very dangerous word. While it eases the way to separate non-heteronormative experiences from heteronormative experiences, it also has the downside of being an umbrella term for a great amount of extremely distinct experiences, which can quickly blur their unique and autonomous nature. The term is already being criticized in larger discussions and even when not digging into those discussions, there is no denial that it has distorted the conversation around the rise of films that are inhabited and led by queer characters. These films only apply to a certain, more widely accepted line-up of queer experiences. While gay, bisexual and lesbian films have certainly managed to thrive in recent memory and offer more stories that don’t merely exist to please and educate straight audiences, there still is a dangerously high amount of cinema about other forms of sexual expression, that does exactly that and gets away with it, only because their filmmakers are also ‘queer.’ Case in point, the highly-irresponsible Girl, directed by a gay, cis-gender man. It’s a film which both fetishizes the trans body and wallows in exploitation of trans pain for affect, which didn’t hinder it from being celebrated by critics and rewarded with several festival prizes.

Obviously this doesn’t apply to every single one of these films. Cases for Tangerine have been made as a film that grapples with and respects the trans struggle, while being directed by a non-trans person that has merely done his research. There simply is a frequent amount of examples that reduce queer individuals to concepts, stemming from a lack of accuracy and nuance by filmmakers that are not a part of the represented group. These films are dangerous, because they distort other people’s experiences and create misconceptions and prejudice in the eyes of uneducated viewers. It’s not that the filmmakers don’t usually mean well, but they often simply don’t do enough to redeem this intention.

While the inter* community doesn’t have a lot of representation on-screen in general, rare exceptions such as XXY and Predestination display how right and wrong it can go in the hands of non-inter* filmmakers. So it’s a great pleasure that with Ponyboi, there’s finally a piece of intersex representation made by an intersex-man, about an intersex-man and it’s an even greater pleasure that it’s wonderful.

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‘The OA’ Season 2 is very different to its predecessor, but it just as gripping

Whatever your stances towards the streaming service and its hyper-capitalist nature, it’s hard to deny that Netflix has given a platform to a specific group of high-quality serials. They share a firm grasp on the modern zeitgeist, push boundaries in terms of representation and bring original dramatic concepts to the table. It’s obviously a completely different story how the company treats their output —there is an easily comprehensible tactic of catering and extreme calculation. Netflix has understood that taking risks can pay off, but as soon as they don’t, any “misinvestments” are avoided —case in point are the recent cancellations of excellent, culturally significant shows such as Everything Sucks! and One Day at a Time due to insufficient viewers. That being said, it’s great to see some strong, original television being brought to the mainstream. One example particularly stands out in this context; co-created and written by regular collaborators and North-American indie darlings Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij, The OA is a tightly plotted and character-focused genre mishmash that handles its concerns of trauma, belief, death and human relationships with a stunning amount of suspense, vigor and pathos.

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The show’s premise is one that is hard to encapsulate. A hurricane of mysteries sets the ground for the events surrounding Prairie Johnson (played by Brit Marling), her mysterious disappearance—and return. Prairie used to be blind, but has her sight has been restored after reappearing on the radar. The incident draws a lot of attention to her and her adoptive parents, who particularly struggle to understand what happened. Instead of opening up to them or the authorities about the events and why she calls herself The Oa, Prairie contacts five people that couldn’t be more different, orders them to leave their front door open in the middle of the night and meets up with them in an abandoned house to tell her long, incredible story and the role they each play in itThe group, first plagued by skepticism and mistrust, slowly grows to be some sort of family and the fact that their only prior connection was being members of the same school, fades away.

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‘The Miseducation of Cameron Post’ – on Its Beauty, Its Bravery, and How Important It Is to Gay Women

Last year, there was one film that seemed to take up almost all of the space in my head. For all the wonderful movies that came in 2017, none occupied my thoughts or meant more to me than one in particular – this was Luca Guadagnino’s masterful Call Me By Your Name, a film that I have written hundreds of adoring words on over the past ten months, and which I hardly felt I could do justice to in my work. I am not here, however, to revisit Call Me By Your Name but, rather, to discuss the film that appears to have had the same effect on me this year. Though we may only be in September, I doubt that I will find another feature in the coming months that will impact me as much as Desiree Akhavan’s The Miseducation of Cameron Post. Just as Guadagnino’s film gripped every part of me last year, so has Akhavan’s – her depiction of a young, gay woman’s battle with both herself and the cruelty of her environment is as heart-wrenching as it is witty, and feels to me as beautiful and as vital to queer cinema as Call Me By Your Name.

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Horror Film’s Terrifyingly Harmful Use of Queer Tropes

Horror is gay. It’s a genre about, among other things, destroying societal conceptions of heteronormativity and domesticity. Gay horror fans like myself see ourselves in these narratives about monstrosity and “otherness” and take hold of them, making them our own. In his book, Queer Horror Film and Television: Sexuality and Masculinity at the Margins, Darren Elliott-Smith says, “…the study of monstrous homosexuality in the horror film has also revealed the celebratory pleasures offered to queer, gay and lesbian viewers’ oppositional identification with the very same monsters that threaten the norm.” Our identities threaten heteronormativity and we cheer on those monsters that do the same. Horror is not only about queerness, but is shaped by queerness, with LGBTQ+ directors, like Clive Barker and Don Manici, creating horror classics such as Hellraiser and Child’s Play, respectively.  

While gay horror directors and fanatics have helped shape horror film, their work is eclipsed by toxic tropes created to “other” LGBTQ+ characters and make them into villains. Horror ultimately reflects societal fears and for much of recent history, society has been afraid of gayness and the threat it poses heteronormative conceptions of family and relationships. While our current cultural context is evolving into a slightly more accepting one, this genre has perpetuated toxic tropes, two of which that I’ll discuss here, that depict LGBTQ+ characters as deviant, horrific monsters.

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