The documentary, Tongues Untied by Marlon Riggs engrained in me the importance of storytelling and using personal experience to create art. Marlon interweaves Black gay culture, poetry by Essex Hemphill and Joseph Beam
, striking imagery, and a snapping tutorial. I have watched it repeatedly to learn more from Riggs.
Years later, I used some of the techniques that he used to produce my first documentary, Genitalic.
Last summer, I curated a reading at the LGBT Community Center of the Desert in Palm Springs with the writer, Dave Lara. Lara, in his 70’s, talked how he received a dishonorable discharge for being gay during the Vietnam War. I realized that I needed to preserve Lara’s story for younger LGBT generations because thousands of men like Lara were never able to share their story. I applied for a grant through the city of West Hollywood in order to film the documentary.
Genitalic centers on life for gay men in West Hollywood in the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s. Eight older men were interviewed (seven in Los Angeles and one in London). Their narratives interweave as they discuss HIV/AIDS, race, racism, ageism, passing, daddy culture, and desire in the older male body.
The interviewees include Dave Lara, Lee Jackson, Philip Littell, Juan Castillo-Alvardo, David Friar, Clarence R. Williams, Brian Sean Gaston, and Martin Patrick. Each interviewee has a unique perspective. Dave Lara appeared on RuPaul’s Drag Race on Season 5 on the military makeover episode. He was paired with the winner, Jinx Monsoon. In the documentary, he discusses the impact of AIDS on West Hollywood and how men started disappearing. He also discusses how he helped create a gay-run organization for HIV testing and prevention.
Lee Jackson, a fair-skinned Black man, discusses the three picture identification rule for Black and Mexican men enforced by doormen at nightclubs in West Hollywood. These groups of men had to present three I.D.s and without them, they were denied entry. On some days, Jackson passed for white and was allowed entry into the clubs without a problem.
There is a preview screening at the West Hollywood City Council Chambers on June 2nd at 1:15pm. It is part of One City One Pride’s A Day of History event. Watch the trailer below: