by Katrina and Gabby
This won’t be a typical review. Not that anything here at Autostraddle is typical, but it can’t just be something where we say: Oh, we went to this thing. This is why it was cool. Our review can’t just be that because the MIX festival was alive, as in the colors created new dimensions for retinas to translate reds and greens, the installations were labyrinths of queer electricity bursting out of media, out of electronic expression of feelings otherwise muted by the teevee, by the cinemas, by everything we don’t own. The MIX festival was the answer to the following question: What if my queer-erotic-creative daydreams sprung forth and produced a world onto itself?
But this wasn’t a dream. MIX is real. This experience is real, and it’s ours for the taking. Queer Rebels’ “Exploding Lineage” is here to lead the way. At the very least it’s here to lay down a few very important stepping stones, build some bridges, and watch what happens.
Although “Exploding Lineage” is described as a film festival, it’s much more than that. Most of the films rely on mixed media, most notably music, dance, and poetry. It’s extremely accessible material, not just in the way where it’s easily understood or that there’s something for everyone, but in the way that it speaks quietly to our hearts and sets fire to our minds, weaving threads of common QPOC experience with personal stories and histories. It doesn’t give the QPOC experience meaning, it speaks to a meaning that was always there, but that maybe we never had access to before.
To be a rebel is to stand defiantly and purposefully in the face of something. The Queer Rebels do just that. It’s not defiance for its own sake: it’s a war cry into the darkness, it’s the ghost in the media machine. But, okay, what exactly was it? I feel like I’m talking about a dream I had to people who have real life things to attend to and maybe that’s the point of it all. To take a pause, strip the layers of excess and meaningless media representation off your queer skin and allow the QRP rebellion to take over.
Their simple mission statement, written in 2008 by directors KB Boyce and Celeste Chan, says it all while saying so little:
Showcasing LGBT artists of color
Connecting generations and genres
Honoring our queer legacies with visionary art for the future
In just a few solid sentences, QRP lays it down and their film night at MIX did absolutely that and they did it so so well. I’m moving too fast. Maybe sometimes that’s the problem with modern queer culture, least for me, we run run run top speed to the next hottest thing, the next form of expression, the next best identifier, or fringe group or alternative lifestyle haircut. Sometimes we’re so excited about that new new new, that we forget where we’ve been, the steps the ones before us took to pave the way for our undercuts, our remembrance and reclamations of third spirits and the very right to call ourselves queers, dykes, trans, fags, genderqueers, liberators, originators and, well you know, all of the others things. Which, you know, is why we need this.
So back to me and Katrina, who arrived an hour late, out of breath, trying not to giggle as we squeezed through an aluminum vagina-esque entryway while sneaking into a darkened warehouse as films flickered against a wall the size of my block in the Bronx. Me and KC Danger, wearing our press badges like we’re some type of important people and shit, and finding empty seats as the credits of one film ended and the bright lights of another crept their way across the white brick walls. We still had an hour left of films to dive into. Writing in the dark isn’t easy. Neither is writing anything when all senses ask you to just watch the magical thing happening in flashes of film in front of you.
Enter the experimental films. Enter Celeste Chan, one of many filmmakers in the Exploding Lineage showcase and founding member of QRP.
Celeste Chan’s film Bloodlines pricked pinpoints into what is considered the right way to discuss history and left flesh wounds of truth, without even using words. Normally, you sit in a classroom where someone you don’t relate to tells you some whitewashed version of something that happened a long time ago. I’d rather be in Celeste Chan’s film class, where vibrant video of flowers, metal gates are shot in shaky fashion then intercut with footage of barracks, of empty cots to create fear, create curiosity. The audience is forced to ask “What am I looking at?” Without a direct path or google map directions, Bloodlines pushes the viewer into the uncomfortable place of figuring out the context of historical oppression, of the collection of othered bodies for the purpose of extinction. Barracks = camps. Gates = imprisonment. All of a sudden this film doesn’t feel safe. This is the story of immigrants detained on Angel Island during the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1892 and the ghosts of that era won’t be forgotten.
And holy shit, thanks to La Chica Boom, I’ve never watched a film that more accurately represented what the woman of my dreams looks like. Exploding Lineage rushes forward on the strength of innovative women of color. Our bodies have been colonized, oppressed, abused and and and motherfucking reclaimed. In her short film FML, La Chica Boom explores the life of a reckless spirit filled with wanderlust, a penchant for booze, orgasms and yes, a cockroach costume. Fuck yes finally, a film about a brown skinned women of Latin@ descent that comes from her fingertips and isn’t about how fucking oppressed we are. Her short pulled me into the reverie of MIX and portrayed the type of woman I want to fall desperately and unapologetically in love with. A woman that is oblivious to the pull of the ordinary and dives fist first… that also probably wouldn’t remember my first name. Inspired by Lupe Velez and with music by the legendary La Lupe, FML is the type of short that makes you want a feature, a series or a graphic novel based on the main and only character. I needed to see this because my brown body has often felt so disconnected from all the other brown bodies. FML explores the world of the othered other with bravado and a Cristy Roads-esque level of give a fuck. So thank you, Queer Rebels, for including this piece in your showcase.
“My country does not hate me,” is how the narration of Crystal Mason’s In My Own Hands, the final film, begins. The camera moves over the body of a black stud masturbating through her boxer briefs as written statements of anguish and triumph flash on the screen. The narration continues: “My country has taught me well to hate myself.” The momentum mounts, becomes almost unbearable, and then, of course, a climax, a conclusion. The narrator: “Every second of joy is a revolution.”
In My Own Hands felt so important, so universally necessary while at the same time speaking to a specific experience. Sometimes we feel reduced to our bodies, betrayed by that which for so long have been the site of violence and oppression. Our bodies, which have given us away as “different,” as “other.” Art rejects the negative meanings imposed on these bodies, or rather, it acknowledges and reclaims them. It swallows our internalized hatred whole and spits it back out, almost unrecognizable, changed in form. When we create art, we’re closing the gap between our history and our present experience, we’re making the ties that no one ever made for us, and we are proud.
The Queer Rebels acknowledge the suffering ingrained in our histories and the way that has shaped our identities. They also give power to the idea that we are more than that. Their approach isn’t reactionary. They don’t spend as much time refuting age-old stereotypes as they do building a vision of what empowered queer women can be. They create new, honest narratives that express our hurt and encompass our joy. In the process of creating and sharing, The Queer Rebels balance the dynamic tension that is necessary to our existence. They acknowledge the duality that we live with as queer women of color in America: colonized bodies and minds lifting each other toward liberation in a world founded in our histories and built up by our imaginations.
It’s the space left for imagination that allows the joy queer rebellion to shine. Some of the beauty in in our collective experiences as queers, people of color and straight up humans living in the struggle, are the ways in which expression allows us to just fucking play, be merry and acknowledge the severity of the world with a feather boa around our neck and a snifter of scotch in hand. It’s the camp, the Queen, the desire to run around bare breasted, painted in neon rainbow that allows half of what life impresses upon us to be bearable. Exploding Lineage makes it a point to infuse its lineup with films that pop past the rainbow and into the land of sexy Oz.
Watch as Queer Rebel Productions pays homage to many of the creative, unapologetic and revolutionary artists and rebels of color during the Harlem Renaissance:
Please support and show love to Queer Rebel Productions.
Exploding Lineage! Films include:
HOKUM (Dr. K. Ryan Ziegler) subverts the gaze by asking, ‘What does it mean to take pleasure in viewing the queer Black female body?’
The energy and brilliance of the Queer Harlem Renaissance shines in BULLDAGGER WOMEN AND SISSY MEN (KB Boyce).
FML (Chica Boom/ Rob Fatal) explores the pleasurable lament of failure, discontent, and loss in creating the hyper racial and gendered self on stage.
WEEP WILLOW: THE BLUES FOR LADY DAY reveals the chilling biography of Billie Holiday and the emotional landscape behind her voice.
IN MY OWN HANDS (Crystal Mason) proves that every second of joy is a revolution.
Nostalgia mixes with experimental animation to foment QUEER ORIGINS
Electric 60’s choreography abounds in FREE JAZZ, a new film from punk provocateur Brontez Purnell
I KNOW MY SOUL, based on a poem by Claude McKay, proves that the way to self-love is through self-knowledge.
HOMESCHOOL is a lyrical exploration of the forced assimilation of a Korean adoptee.
FAN CHRISTY reinterprets Faen Christy, reclaiming culture via karaoke.
ERZULIE’S TEARS are haunting, and saturated by the spirit of the Haitian Voudoun goddess of love.
NO LEGACY LET GO (Alexis Pauline Gumbs/Julia Wallace) takes a snapshot of Queer Harlem through thestories of Imani Rashid, translating them into poetic and musical form.
RENAISSANCE REDUX continues the testimony of Harlem Elders through the words of G-pop and Nana.