Every year the Oakland International Black LGBT Film Festival opens with some Hollywood classic that's risen to cult status among gay African Americans. Last year it was The Wiz — because honestly, what could be gayer than easing on down the road "to self-discovery" with chunky-heeled Diana Ross and an exuberant Michael Jackson? This year it's another Diana Ross vehicle, the 1975 Motown film Mahogany — which has the singer playing a haute couturist from the 'hood who gets her major star turn when she meets fashion photographer Sean McEvoy (played by sinister Anthony Perkins). Slammed as a vanity project by critics, it still resonates with queer audiences. After all, said film fest organizer Joe Hawkins, every drag queen in the world wanted those frilly, Kabuki-inspired frocks that Ross was wearing. Not to mention that Billy Dee Williams (who plays the star's mustachioed, political agitator boyfriend) "was hottttt back then."
Williams and his handlebar may be too-hot-to-handle, but thankfully, that's about as much camp as you'll see during the four-day festival (until Saturday's Donna Summer-themed after party at the Vibe Lounge, that is). Founded five years ago by Hawkins and Oakland filmmaker Debra A. Wilson, it's one of the only film festivals in the world that focuses specifically on issues facing queer African Americans. ("Debra and I are still kinda blown away that if you do a Google search for black gay festivals, we're it," Hawkins assured.) With twelve screenings in all, this year's festival will include gay romantic comedies, teen bully films, a behind-the-scenes look at one at the music video shoot for Hanifah Walida's "Make a Move," and a few searing documentaries about HIV, hate crimes, and religion. It peaks with the world premiere of Shirts & Skins, a reality show about San Francisco's all-star gay basketball team, the Rockdogs.
Hawkins said that since meeting in the dot-com industry several years ago, he and Wilson have formed what's been "the perfect marriage." As the chief promoter of Bay Area gay nightlife event, Club Rimshot, he's able to bring people "from the clubs into an arts scene," while Wilson attracts the cult following she garnered from two indie documentaries, Butch Mystique and Jumpin' the Broom. When they first got together it was Wilson who brought up the dearth of black film festivals in the LGBT community. She said that given the number of up-and-coming African-American filmmakers in Oakland, it was strange to find no black equivalent to San Francisco's Annual Frameline fest. Hawkins took the idea and ran with it. "Don't show me a void," he said. "If you show me a void, I'm gonna fill it ... no pun intended." August 14-17 at the Parkway Theater (1834 Park Blvd., Oakland), all screenings $10. ClubRimShot.com
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