London Lesbian & Gay Film Festival

The program for the London Lesbian & Gay Film Festival has been announced - and what a program it is too.

Perhaps most exciting is Rag Tag (left), which looks at the lifelong friendship between Raymond and Tagbo. "As twelve year olds they enjoyed an intimacy that many adults would find threatening. As young men, despite the disapproval of Tag's religiously driven father, racism, the distractions of troubled heterosexual relationships and shady dealings in Nigeria, Rag and Tag are forced to face the inevitable. Their love is full of promise and truth but neither of them is sure how to embrace it." It's set in London and Lagos, and features the First Black Gay Kiss in British cinema in a very, very long time.

Blueprint (right) is equally promising. An African-American feature, it "depicts an ambling day in New York as Keith prepares to leave. Suddenly, and without obvious explanation, Nathan appears and sticks to him like toffee. As the day unfolds a strong bond forms between them, demonstrating the fragility of youth and the first flushes of love." Screening with Blueprint is Testify (below left), about a gay African-American father and his son.

Black Beulahs (below right) looks at three black gay men in South Africa. "This is a glimpse of South Africa that few see and certainly sheds light on one of the most vibrant Black nations on earth."

From Mexico comes Broken Sky (below left). "University students Jonás and Gerardo are involved in a rapturous love affair, barely able to keep their hands off each other. However, after an encounter with a boy at the disco, Jonás suddenly pulls away from the relationship. The devastated Gerardo clings to his lover, but reluctantly becomes erotically entangled with aggressive Sergio who has watched him from afar. Will Sergio's passion make him forget Jonás? Lyrical and undeniably sexy, Broken Sky is a masterful exercise in visual storytelling that refigures the language of queer cinema."

The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros (left) is from the Phillipines: "Set in a poor district of Manila, the lead character Maximo is a self-confident 12-year-old boy with a penchant for dressing up and a clear sense of his own gay identity. He sashays around the neighbourhood with no problems, helping his widowed father and two brothers run the household. However, when Maximo falls in love with a young policeman, the scene is set for a dramatic conflict of loyalties."

Royston Tan - who gave us the stunning 15 in 2004, about the "speed-fuelled exploration of sexual adolescence" - returns with 4:30 (right). "Left alone in his apartment by his travelling mother Xiao Wu spends his time, when not at school, warmed by the meagre comfort of pots of noodles. When a male tenant moves into the block, nursing heartache, Xiao Wu tries every which way possible, physical and metaphorical, to connect with him."

Happy Hookers is from India, and tells the story of three male prostitutes in Mumbai. This is an unmissable insight into a world that few outside of India have had access to.

My favourite director, the disturbingly talented Tsai Ming-Liang, is back with I Don't Want To Sleep Alone (left), set in his own Malayasia. In it, a homeless Chineseman is beaten up and left for dead; he's taken in by a Bangladeshi illegal immigrant, who nurses him back to health. "As he recovers, Hsiao Kang meets the lustful waitress Chyi who cares for her boss's paralysed son (also played by Lee). Is one existence the dream of another? As the city is engulfed in a mysterious toxic haze, Hsiao-kang drifts between Rawang and Chyi aimlessly searching for affection. While other Tsai films are more preoccupied with the harsh, animalistic nature of desire, this subtle and absurd film muses on the universal need for place and companionship in a disorienting world."

Other fascinating slices of gay cinema include The Last Of The Crazy People from France watches his gay older brother slipping into madness, a state his mother - the madwoman in the attic - has already succumbed to. From Korea is No Regret (right) - about an orphan forced into male prostitution "in an upmarket boy-brothel" when he loses his job at a factory; he is faced with the obsession of the son of the factory owner's boss.

The second series of Noah's Arc - for those of you who haven't seen it - is also screening, and the second episode of The DL Chronicles (below left).

There's far too many films to list here, and the above is just a selection of what I consider to be the most interesting features. This year's films are from all corners of the world - Brazil, Spain, Nigeria, Korea, Canada, Sweden... Australia (if you can bare the accent) - and there's plenty of stuff about white queens in both American and Britain, if that's your thing.

Visit the London Lesbian & Gay Film Festival site for a full listing, including dates and times. The Festival starts on 21st March.

Note: material in italics has been lifted directly from the London Lesbian & Gay Film Festival site.

One Year On: Lynden David Hall

February 14 marks the first anniversary of a beautiful soul singer, Lynden David Hall. He was 31.

Born on 7th May 1974, he was a singer, songwriter, producer and arranger, from Wandsworth in South London. He won a MOBO award for Best Newcomer in 1998, the first British artist to be Best Male Artist by Blues & Soul Magazine. He released three albums: Medicine 4 My Pain, The Other Side and shortly before his death, In Between Jobs. He's been described as an urban soul poet, his songs invested with an intelligent male sensitivity. He's smooth, funky and real.
DJ Trevor Nelson said at the time of his death: "It's the loss of a great talent unfulfilled... He was one of the biggest talents of his time, and ahead of his time in many ways. He was a very unassuming guy, very quiet and introverted, not your typical wannabe pop star. It's a sad day for British black music, but knowing Lynden as I do, I hope the attention that this brings him will make people go and re-visit his music."
If you love soul music, and you don't know about Lynden David Hall, you need to discover him. Beg, borrow or steal a CD. Visit his official myspace page. The man may be gone, but a little piece of his soul lives on.
Lynden David Hall died one year ago. He was 31.


The Ugly Side of Race and Sexuality

The main problem with Love The One You're With - like others in this series - is that it takes itself too seriously. The plot - such as it is - is pure soap. Mitchell's partner, Raheim, is out of town, and Mitchell is suddenly faced with an onslaught of attractive men vying for his attention. Naturally, they're all super-attractive, big-booty bruthas desperate for Mitchell, and they're either hyper-masculine or hyper-groomed. This could have been funny, but instead is handled without any modesty by our 'hero' (who is, we're told again and again, attractive and talented in equal measures) that it rapidly becomes both tedious and unbelievable. Conceit and self-importance are a turn-off for most people, and these suitors would turn on the haughty Mr. Crawford as rapidly as the reader does.

In fact, it's the unappealing characters who fill the pages that particularly grate on the nerves. Never before have a pool of such arrogant, vain, judgemental, bitching queens been assembled. Hardy's work has been called 'the black gay Sex And The City' by some. I don't particularly like Sex And The City, so it says a lot that I think it's a serious slur on the television show. At best, Hardy's brand of 'razor sharp wit' is banal carping. At worst, it's a thinly veiled, vicious attack on those whom Hardy judges as the enemy in his war on integration and racial harmony. What are young men of mixed black/white (or any other mix) parentage to make of a book that tells them they are born of a fraud? Or the multitude of men in interracial relationships, who are told they are living a lie? Hardy sets himself up as judge and jury on issues of race and sexuality, and from his position on high, decides what is right and what is wrong. Unfortunately, in his world, everything is black and white. No room is left for men who don't fit his limited view of black or white. It's wrong for a black man and a white man to love one another, apparently, because the white man is simply using the black man to live out slave fantasies. Okay, so what if two mixed-race men love one another? Is that allowed in Hardy's world? Or doesn't mixed-race count as black? How black do you have to be, one wonders, if you can only be one or the other? Is being one quarter black enough, for example? It seems that Hardy's characters prove their 'blackness' by denigrating whites at every opportunity. It's utterly cringe-inducing that every white person encountered in the book, or referred to, is either an out-and-out racist or worse still, rabidly liberal (although Hardy sees no difference between the two. A liberal is merely a redneck in disguise, or at best attempting to salve their guilty conscience).

As an aside, it's also worth noting that Hardy considers it wrong for white men to objectify black men (so it's BAD AND WRONG if they find large lips, dark skin or a big booty attractive), yet Hardy has deemed it okay for his middle-class, sanctimonious lead, Mitchell, to fetishise the down-low, straight-out-tha-ghetto lover, Raheim.

Hardy also over-estimates his own intellectual stature. Take the scene in which Mitchell interviews a black (gay) republican. Mitchell floors the republican with some 'cutting' questions. I'm sorry, but reality check! Almost any politician would have a slick comeback rehearsed - politicians know how to deal with difficult questions, and those Hardy (I'm sorry, Mitchell) puts aren't rocket science. Has Hardy ever actually spoken to a black republican, or read one of the many books penned by them? Hardy wishes to establish Mitchell's, and by extension, his own intellectual standing, yet everyone he meets who dares to have a different opinion is a babbling idiot, unable to make any argument once Mitchell opens his mouth. The reader is left with the distinct impression that Hardy is so righteous that he has never listened to anyone with a different point of view.

His style of writing itself is peculiar. Desperately trying to be hip and trendy, he comes across as patronising and holier-than-thou. If his target audience is young black men (which it clearly is) then he clearly has a low opinion of them. At times it's like reading a lecture by a boring do-gooder. Even his fans have criticised his long, tedious digressions into politics, education, or whichever issue has happened to cross his mind - never mind the fact it's completely unrelated to the plot or what's going on in the novel at the time. There's a particularly bad chapter in a supermarket where Mitchell is standing in line, which tries to come across as a Jerry Seinfeld "have you ever noticed how..." moment, and fails miserably.

There are seemingly endless pages of filler. Trying to up the word count from his last effort, the wafer-thin The Day Eazy-E Died, Hardy gives us lengthy catalogues of the songs played in whichever club the characters find themselves in. He describes in minute detail the menu every time a character has a meal. And there are whole chapters of meaningless fluff, in which Mitchell and Raheim have late night, long distance "I miss you" calls. None of this furthers the plot, or character development, and serves only to antagonise. It's another indication of the author being so in awe of his creations, that he expects his readers to be too. The first novel in this series, published a couple of hundred years ago, it now feels like, was fresh and original, and lacked much (if not all) of the spite and nastiness of its successors. But Hardy has proven himself to be a cynical opportunist, shamelessly flogging this dead horse for all it's worth. Worse still, a sixth (although apparently final) instalment is to follow.

And, after 262 pages of righteousness, we're told that it's okay to cheat on your lover, so long as you don't actually kiss the other man. Well, that's okay then, isn't it? At least it's in keeping with the tone of the rest of the book.

Thugs, Porn and Diversity

We all know about diversity and representation in television and movies - it's talked up often enough. Has this show got a gay character? Are the black characters in that show stereotypes?

What about porn? For many, it's a joke, disposable junk with no artistic merit. Usually that's true, but many studios, particularly the well-established ones, spend time and money on making films that can be appreciated on different levels (most notably France's Jean Daniel Cadinot).

However, in the face of these great strides (or strokes...), a disturbing trend has become established. That being, that the portrayal of non-white models (particularly black and Latino actors) is always in the capacity of The Thug.

We can probably blame hip-hop for this - as a cultural movement it has influenced, in some way, everything around us. This has filtered through to gay lifestyle, and porn. Two of the biggest success stories are Flava Works and Enrique Cruz, who have been producing quality black and Latino erotica for some years.

This is a good thing.

What isn't a good thing is the fact that The Thug is utterly omnipresent. The Thug stereotype isn't in itself a bad thing; most of us love a thug - it's sexy, as much so as a fireman, a soldier, a construction worker, or any other hyper-masculine fantasy you can think of, and both Flava and Enrique Cruz have made an art form out of realising that fantasy.

Watching a Cadinot feature recently, I was struck by how diverse the cast was: black, white, Asian, middle-eastern - in fact, almost any type of man you can think of. And everyone was on an equal footing, there was no sense of labelling - just attractive men having sex with one another, without any burden of "type". No big deal was made about anyone's race. It's a particular problem in American porn, where race is all about "the black thugs gangbang the white twink" or "the DL thug seduces his Latino bro" or "the white cop and the black guy." It's all pretty distasteful. I recently saw a clip of a new Bel Ami movie in which a white European muscle boy, and an African-American muscle man (with no "thug" pretensions) are rolling around having fun, with no reference to their race, in action or in words. Had this been an American feature, it would have been "take my big black ****" and "**** my tight white hole." Yawn.

Don't get me wrong. I like thugs. I like thugs in porn. But I'd also like to see some diversity. Why can't we see a movie where the models are portraying fantasies other than the thug dream? How about an all-black movie where the cast aren't playing thugs?

Perhaps the thirst for thugs is too strong - and that would be a shame…

(Picture, above: a racially diverse Jean Paul Cadinot feature, together with the usual thugged out offerings from Flava Works and Enrique Cruz).
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