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Entries in HBO (88)

Wednesday
Apr272016

HBO’s LGBT History: Nightingale (2015)

Manuel is working his way through all the LGBT-themed HBO productions.

Last week we visited Westeros and talked about Varys as a mainstream example of asexuality; definitely mining new ground for this weekly column that’s slowly coming to an end. This week we turn to a film that inadvertently makes a great entry to TFE’s unofficial Actor Month celebration (that it also features an “April Showers” scene means it’s meant to be): Elliott Lester’s Nightingale.

To say the film “stars David Oyelowo” doesn’t quite do it justice; it only stars Oyelowo. That’s only one of the things that makes Nightingale an odd if fascinating entry in this HBO history. For once, since the film is presented through the eyes of Oyelowo’s Peter Snowden—we never leave his house or see him interact with anyone else except for the phone calls to which we’re only given his side of the conversation—the word “gay” or “homosexuality” is never uttered; attentive viewers are clued early what with Peter’s subtle flamboyance (his colorful robe, the pride he shows in the red bow tie he wears to work, his penchant for singing old tunes) but even as Peter’s world begins to unravel, it’s unclear how much Peter, a devout and faith-driven army vet, understands his own sexuality in terms legible by LGBT advocates.

"Events have unfolded unexpectedly."

 

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Wednesday
Apr202016

HBO’s LGBT History: Game of Thrones (2011-)

Manuel is working his way through all the LGBT-themed HBO productions.

Last week we looked at the legacy of Larry Kramer via the rather hagiographic doc Larry Kramer in Love and Anger. And from the LGBT frontlines to the land of Westeros, we pause this week to talk about Game of Thrones which returns later this weekend. There’s obviously plenty to discuss in the George R.R. Martin fantasy series since sex and sexuality (not to mention its contiguity with violence) has been so central to debates surrounding the show. So I’m opting to focus instead on a minor character to single out perhaps the most underrepresented group of sexual minorities: asexuals.

When I taught gender and sexuality to college students, one of the things I’d often get asked when dealing with the ever-growing LGBT acronym was to explain all the letters. L, G, B, and T have always been pretty easy to identify (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans* and/or any of its variations, including Two-Spirited). It was once we went beyond those that you’d end up really understanding the way such an umbrella acronym encompassed plenty of identities. Q, for example, could stand for “Queer” or “Questioning”; I stands for Intersex while some people would point out that * is necessary given that some people in the community refuse any sort of label (you can read the Wikipedia article on the acronym to see what else often gets lumped in!). A for many stands for “Ally,” a curious category since it seems less a sexual identity than the rest; often I pushed students to also consider A as standing for “Asexual.”

Whether asexuals, who have grown increasingly vocal (if not quite visible) within the mainstream in the past few decades, belong within this broad umbrella group is a discussion in itself, but since we’re exploring the way HBO has tackled various sexual identities, I figured we’d look at the most overt attempt by the network to take on the issue of asexuality. And so we come to Varys (Conleth Hill) on Game of Thrones.

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Wednesday
Apr202016

Review: Confirmation

Kieran, here. Politics, even at their most abstract are ultimately personal. At its best moments, HBO's Confirmation directed by Rick Famuyiwa’s (Dope) and written by Susannah Grant (Erin Brockovich) understands this. Anita Hill’s (Kerry Washington) 1991 allegations of sexual harassment against Justice Clarence Thomas (Wendell Pierce) on the eve of his confirmation to the US Supreme court is a subject about which few who can remember are indifferent. Who was lying and about what? What did the Anita Hill’s testimony say about the positions of gender, race and political alignment in this country? These are the kinds of questions that evoke vociferous, often angry opinions and the film doesn’t offer up easy answers.

The truth of whether Clarence Thomas sexually harassed Anita Hill is secondary. Thomas, as rendered by Pierce in what is actually a small role with few spoken lines, is a beleaguered public figure, forced to defend himself and deal with the consequences these allegations had on his personal and professional life. I say this not to imply that Thomas is innocent (I’ve always thought he was guilty). But, as is often the disgusting and sad truth about men who commit these crimes, they’re not always technically lying when they maintain their innocence under oath. In order for it to truly be a lie, these men would have to believe that they did anything wrong in the first place. Whatever mental gymnastics Clarence Thomas had to go through in order to get to this place, his own words and Pierce’s subtle but precise performance clearly illustrate that Thomas does not believe he was guilty of any wrongdoing. When the film is examining the implications of a culture that allows men to make these leaps and how it turns victims into villains, it shines and Pierce is a key component of what makes this element works. He opts not to turn Thomas into a monster for it’s not the “monsters” who violate women and irrevocably damage lives. They are simply people, a much truer and scarier fact to fathom.

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Wednesday
Apr132016

HBO’s LGBT History: Larry Kramer in Love and Anger (2015)

Manuel is working his way through all the LGBT-themed HBO productions.

Last week we looked at the recent doc Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures which works as a nice primer on the famed photographer and, as is par for the course for films on gay icons from a certain era, as a portrait of a man working tirelessly to make the most of his ever winnowing time: Mapplethorpe died at age 42 of AIDS complications. We’re not going too far afield this week, as we’re focusing on a documentary on “America’s angriest AIDS activist” in Jean Carlomusto’s Larry Kramer in Love and Anger.

Kramer should be familiar to you. We’ve previously encountered him and talked about his righteous anger when we talked about The Normal Heart, and by that point he had already made HBO appearances in The Out List, Vito, and Outrage. That enough should be a reminder that there’s no way of talking about American gay rights activism of the last three decades without talking about Larry Kramer. Carlomusto’s film expediently moves through Kramer’s biography; from his time at Columbia Pictures, to Women in Love and Faggots, through the Gay Men’s Health Crisis group and The Normal Heart to ACT UP and his latest health scares and marriage...

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Wednesday
Apr062016

HBO’s LGBT History: Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures (2016)

Manuel is working his way through all the LGBT-themed HBO productions.

Last week we talked about race in HBO’s LGBT properties while briefly discussing Dee Rees’s Bessie. If there’s one thing media in general (but gay media in particular) needs to work on is intersectionality: ay attempt, for example, at framing the gay rights movement as “the new civil rights” movement not only suggests the plight of black people in America has been “won” but it refuses to understand how they intersect in sometimes very troubling ways. This week we're jumping on HBO's most recent release, Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures, which aired just this past Monday and which I got to see last week in the big screen. Not only is the doc wonderful, featuring candid interviews with those who knew (and posed for!) him, but it dovetails nicely with these issues of sex and race that we keep discussing.

The film borrows its subtitle from the famous words Jesse Helms used during a congressional hearing about Mapplethorpe's "pornographic" pictures: "Look at the pictures!" he implored, arguing that one couldn't deny the fact that they were not art. Cannily, this HBO documentary lets us admire plenty of Mapplethorpe's pictures—I didn’t count but the doc is exhaustive, showing us hundreds of photographs, scanned and offered up to us for close inspection. 

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Thursday
Mar312016

The Sisterly Bond Between Leading Ladies of "Togetherness"

When the mood strikes, we'll be sharing our TV MVPs of the Week. Here's Daniel Crooke...

Before last week, Togetherness was simply that great show conducting the most shrewdly hysterical act of open-heart surgery on television. Of course, since then, HBO tragically axed the Duplass Brothers’ tender Northeast LA dramedy after two seasons. On Sunday’s “Geri-ina,” (replaying tonight at 11) Melanie Lynskey and Amanda Peet reminded us how their performances as sisters Michelle and Tina breathe with such a beautifully intimate got-your-backness. When Michelle needs Tina to create a diversion at a snobby fundraiser so she can snoop on her double-crossing charter school frenemy (who also happens to be the host) they exchange a lifetime of ocular shorthand as Peet shoos her along and humiliates herself for her sister’s dream: belting Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror” to a roomful of upper crusters. Peet’s berserk timing and Lynskey’s deft, actualized determination belong to one another, fighting dirty in the name of justice.

Amy Jellicoe, you have two fabulous heroines heading your way in HBO Heaven.

Wednesday
Mar302016

HBO’s LGBT History: Bessie (2015)

Manuel is working his way through all the LGBT-themed HBO productions.

 Last week we looked at the grim, if necessary, doc Hunted: The War Against Gays In Russia which dove right into the ugly homophobic “hunting gays for sport” pastime which has been legitimized by a Russian government that, ahead of the Sochi Olympics, passed propaganda legislation that made it all but illegal to openly support and advocate for gay rights. This week, we’re turning our eyes to Dee Rees’s Bessie.

It’s a film that’s already been discussed quite a bit around these quarters. Angelica Jade Bastién wrote an in-depth review upon the film's release which, as she reminds us, “wonderfully explores the way black people relate to each other.” Anne Marie looked at it as part of her Women’s Pictures series, singling out the way queerness and blackness dominate the proceedings. I won’t rehearse their arguments because, frankly, I don’t think I could improve on their canny assessments of this ambitious film. Instead, I figure we could use the film to talk about the oppressively whitewashed LGBT representation that even a forward-thinking network like HBO cannot help but replicate.

Just as I was sitting down to write this piece, thinking that perhaps I was setting myself up for the usual cries of “ugh, another diversity article? Why must the PC police continue thumping that tired ass drum?” a mini-tweetstorm kerfuffle was taking place.

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