Haters Will Say ‘Skate Kitchen’ Is The Female Version of ‘Kids’

Crystal Moselle’s Skate Kitchen has very little in common with Larry Clark’s Kids, yet almost every review of the new film draws parallels between the two. But the need to compare the features comes largely out of a longstanding assumption that most critics (largely men) can only consider a narrative about women in juxtaposition to something created by and starring men. 

Sure, like Clark’s 1995 film, Skate Kitchen takes place in New York City, and employs a group of young non-actors to play roles that are close to their real-life personas. But skateboarding is much less of a focus for the boys in Kids than it is for the girls in Skate Kitchen — which is, incidentally, named after and based on the group who inspired the film in the first place. In Kids, a skateboard is most memorably used as a weapon; in Skate Kitchen, the boards are, as star Nina Moran once described them, broomsticks that allow her and her all-women collective to fly.

Moselle, best known for her award-winning documentary The Wolfpack, first happened upon Moran and Rachelle Vinberg on the G train in New York. She describes seeing them with skateboards and hearing Moran speaking (“so animated and charismatic”), and knowing immediately that she wanted to create a project with and about them. What came first was a short film sponsored by Miu Miu as part of their Women Tales series. “That One Day” starred Moran, Vinberg, and fellow Skate Kitchen members Ardelia Lovelace, Jules Lorenzo, Ajani Russell, Kabrina Adams, and Brenn Lorenzo in a story modeled on their daily existence. Cameras follow them skating together, ignoring misogyny and laughter from the male skaters while landing kickflips and other tricks they encourage each other to not give up on. Later, they party, dancing in a loud, dark apartment where they end the night laying around on top of one another, opening up about love and relationships, ultimately sharing their love for one another. It’s a naturalistic depiction of friendship — unforced, without an ounce of sap, and genuine.

Some of these same moments are a part of Skate Kitchen, the feature-length film Moselle premiered at Sundance this year. It was fitting venue for the film, as she credits the festival’s director of programming (and out lesbian) Kim Yutani for suggesting she turn away from the plan she had to make a full-length documentary.

“[She] hit me up after she saw the short and said, ‘I really want you to make this into a feature. This is a film I’ve always wanted to see,’” Moselle told Culture Trip. “I thought, ‘If she says that, maybe I have something here that I don’t realize.’ So we made the feature.”

Skate Kitchen is very much about skating — more so than Kids, to be sure, and on par with truly male-focused skating films like Catherine Hardwicke’s Lords of Dogtown  — but it’s also about friendship, and finding your crew; your chosen family. Vinberg’s Camille is our way inside — she’s a burgeoning skater whose overbearing mom doesn’t appreciate her dangerous new hobby. Camille is shy and intimidated by the male-dominated sport, but when she meets Kurt (Moran) and the rest of the crew, she finds a validation and happiness she’s never had before. Unfortunately, things get complicated by her crush on one of her fellow Skate Kitchen friends’ ex-boyfriends, Devon (played by Jaden Smith, the “big name” of the film, and thus, the star-power that’s pushed most of the film’s marketing efforts). Her friendship with Devon threatens her relationship to the rest of the Kitchen, testing everyone’s loyalties and priorities.

Skate Kitchen is not only special in its depiction of how women skateboarders relate to one another, but also in its cast being largely women of color, and also, Moran’s Kurt being an out lesbian whose sexuality and subsequent relationships with women is never made an issue of, nor a point of discussion. Instead, she’s shown making out with girls and delivering quips like, “That girl just fingered me in the bushes, bro!” It’s worth noting, however, that Kurt is not a gross womanizer who sees women as sex objects, the role that butch characters serving as comic relief can often be shoehorned into. The way she speaks about her hookups to her friends is the same way they speak about theirs with men. 

But Skate Kitchen definitely passes the Bechdel Test, probably because much of what was shot was improvised, and (what do you know!?) young women have a lot more to talk about than dudes. What’s most exciting about Moselle’s film is that it speaks to a new generation of young women, women of color, and queer women who will find they don’t need permission to skate or to talk about sex or to have relationships with other women that aren’t based on jealousy or one-upping each other even when they’re literally participating in a sport. And because the Skate Kitchen is a real, tangible crew, it’s an even bigger accomplishment.

“There’s something really special about female friendships, and their being there for each other,” Moselle told Culture Trip. “So many films have this ‘mean girl’ vibe where the underdog tries to make it with the popular group. To me that’s outdated, and it also reflects a society in which girls have to fight to get their way into these small spaces. What I love about the Skate Kitchen girls is that they constantly bring each other up, and bring new girls into the fold and bring them up, too. It’s a very positive inclusion which you don’t see a lot in other movies about girls.”

Outside of Skate Kitchen, LGBTQ women skaters like Lacey Baker, Lauren Mollica, Evelien Bouilliart,  and Hillary Thompson lead the conversation in inclusion in the still quite macho pro skating community. San Francisco’s UNITY and L.A.’s Pave the Way are claiming space in the pools, parks, and half-pipes long thought to be Boys Only.  But being able to see the magic of de-masculinizing skating on the big screen can’t be minimized, especially when the bonus is a story about creating community in a lonely world where being told how to be a good young woman often means ignoring your own happiness in order to please someone else. 

Kids didn’t have that kind of message, and it certainly didn’t offer anything for young women to feel particularly good about.

Kids is about a young boy who is giving HIV to a bunch of people,” Moselle told VICE. “It’s a day in the life, it’s sensational and it’s a great film, and it also shows the youth culture of that time. It’s not a skateboard movie. I understand it’s youth culture and youth culture is timeless. My film is about female empowerment—girls and femininity in a grimy world.”

Skate Kitchen is in theaters now.

‘The Pattern at Pendarvis’: Demystifying the Heritage of Gay Culture-Keepers

From 1935 through the 1970s, Robert Neal and Edgar Hellum preserved Pendarvis House in Mineral Point, Wisconsin, and ran a Cornish-cuisine restaurant visited by the likes of Frank Lloyd Wright. Their relationship as lovers was referenced sideways, if ever, through Hellum’s death in 2000. Dean Gray brings the unseen love shared between these two men back to life in The Pattern at Pendarvis, which made its world premiere at HERE Arts Center, presented by New Dog Theatre Company and StreetSigns, through August 5.

Gray’s play fictionalizes interviews conducted by Will Fellows for his book, A Passion to Preserve: Gay Men as Keepers of Culture. Fellows is transmogrified into the fictional Rich Farnsworth (Gregory Jensen), who, like Fellows, has written Farm Boys: Lives of Gay Men from the Rural Midwest. In Pattern, Farnsworth encounters Edgar Hellum (Lawrence Merritt) at his home in Mineral Point in 1997, 14 years after Bob’s death.

Though Farnsworth wants to discuss Hellum’s homosexual relationship with Neal, he’s continually stalled by Norm Hansen (David Murray Jaffe), a “friend” of Hellum’s who is also on the board of Pendarvis. With funds to raise and a board to protect, Hansen acts out of concern that Farnsworth’s project of unearthing the men’s relationship will threaten Pendarvis’ institutional interests. Hellum wonders, himself, why Farnsworth remains insistent on digging up the past.

The play follows the three men as Farnsworth’s interview with Hellum becomes more and more vulnerable. Hansen has to be sent out in order for the two remaining gay men to speak authentically on the past.

At times pedagogic in tone, visually static, and slow-moving, The Pattern at Pendarvis finds its moments of pathos when Farnsworth’s hunger to claim his gay heritage rises to meet and overcome Hellum’s resistance to reopening old wounds. Gregory Jensen (Farnsworth) and Lawrence Merritt (Hellum) play off each other beautifully through the build.

Farnsworth, at his most passionate, wonders aloud:

Many of the negative attitudes that exist out in the larger world about men like us are attitudes that are based on the wrong assumption, that we don’t contribute anything, to the culture, to the community. That we are non-contributing, self-indulgent individuals….

It’s not so. So how do we get that message out there? How do we say, “Here we are… here are people who happen to be this way, who have been leaders — whether it’s in historic preservation or some arena in the arts or social services or, you know, whatever!” How do we get that message out there?

Hellum, for his part, says, “You have to understand something…. Back then, there weren’t any gay people. Of course, there were, but… there wasn’t. There wasn’t because you just didn’t talk about it. So… there wasn’t.” He later reveals that he and Bob had split up and lived separately toward the end of Bob’s life.

The Pattern at Pendarvis warns of the price of demystifying our heritage while affirming that the project is still worth undertaking. Where Farnsworth may have been after a love story between Neal and Hellum for his book, the reality of Bob and Edgar’s day-to-day lives — their “pattern” — in their decades of togetherness was ordinary, maybe even unremarkable.

Hellum ultimately feels he didn’t accomplish as much as he would’ve liked for the cause of gay acceptance, but he encourages Farnsworth (and us) to create new patterns by saying, “Things change. They always do.”

This production of The Pattern at Pendarvis was directed by Joseph Megel and appeared as part of [email protected], “HERE’s curated rental program, which provides artists with subsidized space and equipment, as well as technical support.” For more on the history of gay preservationists, closeted in their own house museums, see Joshua G. Adair’s essay, “House Museums or Walk-In Closets? The (Non)Representation of Gay Men in the Museums They Called Home” in Gender, Sexuality and Museums: A Routledge Reader, edited by Amy K. Levin.

Images courtesy of HERE

Germany Approves Third Gender Option for Intersex People

Germany has approved draft legislation that would add a third gender to options on official identity records. Though the German cabinet has approved it, Parliament must now pass the law for it to be officially signed this year.

Germany would join countries like Australia, Canada, India, Nepal, and New Zealand in having a third option. It is the first European country to do so.

Germany’s new law would allow intersex people to register as “divers,” which could be translated to “other,” according to Deutsche Welle. It comes after a Constitutional Court ruling in 2017 that sided with an intersex defendant. The court found that the current system in place had violated Germany’s anti-discrimination laws and had violated a citizen’s individual rights.

Lawmakers have come out supporting the new legislation.

Franziska Giffey, the minister for families and a member of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) said, according to DW, that the legislation is “an important step toward the legal recognition of people whose gender identity is neither male nor female.”

The German Justice Minister, Katarina Barley, also of SPD, hailed the bill. On Twitter, she wrote: “No human being is to be discriminated against for their sexual identity. The introduction of a third gender option was overdue.”

DW reported that the Justice Ministry is in the process of changing other policies that currently exclude intersex people. The outlet reports that there are up to an estimated 120,000 intersex-identifying people in Germany.

The new law comes after a case involving an intersex person who argued that the state should not be allowed to force intersex people into choosing either female or male on identity documentation. In 2013, Germany began to allow intersex children to not be required to register as female or male, according to Reuters.

“The legislature [parliament] has until 31 December 2018 to create a new regulation,” the Constitutional Court’s ruling said, reported PinkNews“Courts and administrative authorities are no longer allowed to apply the relevant standards, insofar as they amount to an obligation to indicate sex to persons whose sex development has variations in relation to female or male sexual development and who therefore do not permanently assign themselves to male or female sex.”

“Bureaucratic and financial cost, or regulatory interests of the state, cannot justify the refusal of a new, positive option for registrations,” it continued.

Some LGBTQ activists, however, say the legislation isn’t enough.

“For trans people, nothing has changed regarding the obstacles they face to change their registered name and gender,” Markus Ulrich, a spokesman for the Lesbian and Gay Federation in Germany, told Reuters.

Richard Koehler of Transgender Europe also called out the law, telling Reuters that it could potentially be invasive in determining if a person is intersex.

“Those who cannot or do not want to submit themselves to such invasive medicalization will remain excluded and without legal recognition. This is discriminatory,” he said.

Still, others have worked for the law to be passed, including Moritz Prasse of the Third Option, the organization that backed the first legal challenge.

Prasse tells Reuters, “It is a step in the right direction and we hope other states will follow.”

Image via Getty

Oregon Man Arrested For Threatening to Bomb HIV/AIDS Housing

An Oregon man is facing criminal charges for threatening to murder the residents of an apartment complex that primarily houses gay residents and people with HIV/AIDS, according to court documents.

On Monday, Portland resident Scott Wayne Smith allegedly told his neighbors at Hopewell Apartments he would bomb the building and kill “all you people.”

Hopewell resident Joshua Jackson told police that Smith started threatening him and a friend because they ignored Smith’s request for a cigarette, according to an affidavit signed by Multnomah County Deputy District Attorney Melissa Marrero. 

Jackson and his friend were sitting outside when Smith reportedly approached them. When they failed to respond, he became enraged.

“Stop whistling and talking about my girl and if you keep doing that, I’m gonna kill all you faggots,” Smith allegedly said.

Smith then reportedly walked back to his house across the street. Jackson told police he feared for his life. Most of the residents in Hopewell are gay, he said, and he had been harassing them for weeks.

KATU reported that other residents also had worries about with Smith. Donnie Blodgett told the station Smith threatened to set the building on fire. Wade Jorgenson reported similar problems.

“When I walked by the hedge where he lives, he was saying all kinds of hate stuff about [slurs deleted], and they should all die. Just really awful stuff,” Jorgenson said.

Smith faces a Class A misdemeanor charge of intimidation, which could result in the maximum punishment of a year in prison. Smith has pled not guilty. He is due back in court in September.

Smith’s arrest comes against the backdrop of a spike in reported hate crimes in major cities over the last four years. A study released by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism this year found that hate crimes reported to police in the country’s largest cities jumped by 12.5 percent in last year alone. From the police departments that classified the victims targeted by bias, the most common victim groups were Black, Jewish, and LGBTQ.

The Bedroom Series: Henry Giardina

I’ve always loved the idea of creating space — whether via collaborative projects you can hold in your hands, or through written words in story form, or by carving out a digital alley then bombarding the internet with photos of people who are doing rad things. For INTO‘s Bedroom Series, I’ll focus on one trans guy per post who will invite me into the most private of created spaces: the bedroom. 

We’ll lay around, stare at the ceiling and I’ll ask questions and maybe they’ll even answer. Either way, I’ll get some photos out of it, and you’ll get to meet someone new. 

First up is Henry, a writer I first met in Brooklyn, who now lives in Los Angeles.

The human: Henry Giardina

The bedroom: Glassell Park, Los Angeles. 

The current job: Writer, editor. 

The passion project: My novel. 

Your bedroom is a stand-alone situation with a shower and everything! Does it remind you of a cabin in the woods, or like a retreat?

It does. It reminds me of a tiny writer’s studio/fancy prison room. I like how contained it is, and I love being able to always have the toilet in full view.

How long have you been here?

Since I moved to L.A. in June of 2016.

Describe your personal bedroom decor.

Lots of skincare bullshit, lots of books, and a few random postcards people have sent me. Lots of wires and Charlie (the dog) belongings. There’s almost always a chewed up squirrel toy next to me when I’m working. 

Does your bedroom have a secret?

It’s very old, so probably. But none of mine. 

Favorite aspect of your bedroom?

The ceiling is great. It’s made from reclaimed wood from the 1920s. 

Least favorite aspect of your bedroom?

My dog can stare me in the eye while I’m peeing. 

If your bedroom had a name (and gender), what would it be?

It’s been compared to Grandpa Joe from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

What’s the most productive thing you’ve been able to conquer in your bedroom?

There was a random moment a year or so ago where I was waking up at 6 am due to anxiety and I ended up writing a ton of weird fairy tales in the hour or so before going to work. It lasted for maybe a month. 

How many people could you fit in here?

Two would be pushing it. 

What’s a typical evening look like?

Me trying to watch a competitive baking show naked while Charlie harasses me with his squirrel toy. 

For more on Henry: Check out henrygiardina.com and follow him on Twitter @punkgroucho.

 

All images by Amos Mac

Clarkisha Explains: An Ode To Zigmund Ortega (and Other Video Game Characters Who Stay With Us)

You ever play a game and have a character — main protagonist or not  leave an incredibly long lasting impression on you?

I have, a handful of times. Some of my faves include Link from Zelda (still mad he’s not Zelda), Kratos from the God of War franchise, Master Chief from the Halo Franchise, Ellie from The Last of Us, Ezio/Desmond from The Assassin’s Creed franchise, and Hannah from Until Dawn.

And there’s more where those come from. But besides Ellie (who is also queer), none of these characters have left quite the impression that a certain Zigmund Ortega has.

I know what you’re thinking: Who the FUCK is that?

Well, he’s a character in a series of games titled The Freshman, The Sophomore, and The Junior, and all of these games come from an app called Choices (which itself is an interactive narrative hosting/storybook app that was created by Pixelberry Studios, a successful offshoot of EA) and every time a new game comes out, he continues to surprise the shit out of me.

This is the case for several reasons and I’m gonna start with the most important one (SPOILERS AHEAD):

1. Believe it or not, the man is probably one of the first and finest instances I have seen of positive bisexual representation. Especially for cis men.

I talk about representation for bisexual folx all the time. Until I am blue in the face really. And I’ve talked about how different that representation (and struggle) can be for cis men and cis women.

But I’ve never seen a character that nails it quite like Zigmund “Zig” Ortega.

Or as I like to say, the rich man’s Beck (from Victorious).


Why, yes you can Z — I mean, Beck.

You meet his character between The Freshman Book 3 and Book 4 and if your character is single, the two of you hit it off very quickly, and if your money (read: diamonds) is right, you can date him right away.

And you also find out right away, albeit very casually, that he is bisexual.

I’ll be honest: I was left shocked. Flabbergasted. Discombobulated.

Mind you, I know now that being queer doesn’t have a “look” and that anyone can be as queer and as fluid with that shit as they want, but when I was first coming to terms with my sexuality like two or three years ago (when I started playing the game), I’ma be honest:

I did not expect something like that to come out of Ortega’s mouth.

I say this because Ortega looks like your standard bad boy (complete with tattoos, a leather jacket, and everything) who has a “troubled past,” but this time around, he is of color (Brown/Latinx, which I will get to) and that affects how his story and character is perceived.

I naturally expected his character to be with the bullshit when he met my stand-in, so imagine my surprise when several chapters later, he’s explaining his anxiety to me about being a bisexual man (of color) and how he used to think he was confused or it was bad to be such a thing, but how he now recognizes it’s not, because all people are hot and he’s not gonna shit on himself for recognizing that. And since my character’s choices thus far had led her down a more queer path herself (she had been so-so dating Kaitlyn, another female character of Asian descent, but that fizzled out — in my mind — due to complexities of what it means to be queer AND out in both the Asian and African diasporas [the former of which Pixelberry actually does a dope job at addressing]), they bonded over that and, well, fell in *deep like* lol.

 

What a babe.

This is super important for a variety of reasons. Mostly because it highlights how different bisexuality is perceived based on gender (Ortega was not surprised when he learned my character was bisexual, but I was gobsmacked when I learned he was — and that’s because it is “accepted” more in women/femmes) and his character and proud ownership of his sexuality starts to get into a concept that is inextricably tied to the discussion of men/male-presenting individuals and their emotional, physical, and sexual expression.

Which is, you guessed it, toxic masculinity.

And also brings me to my last point:

2. His character is one that intentionally recognizes toxic masculinity and does his damnedest to fight against it.

While The Sophomore gets into this a bit more, this is something that is pretty intrinsic to Ortega’s arc and his existence as a character and that is made clear upon his arrival.

NPCs (non-playable characters) in the game can rarely get away with saying something virulently misogynistic in his presence without him threatening to beat the shit out of them.

In addition to this, it is revealed that his “dark and troubled past” actually amounts to him having beat the shit out of his sister’s abuser after he had been caught beating her. And because the system sucks ass (yes, Pixelberry goes there), it is Ortega who is disproportionately punished and has to serve time and carry that stigma of being an ex-con (who is of color, so double yikes). But you know what? Ortega makes it clear that he would do it again, because it was the right thing to do and tbh, I haven’t been this attracted to a fictional character since Trunks of DBZ and Inuyasha…of Inuyasha.


I regret nothing!

But his commitment to fighting toxic masculinity doesn’t stop there. There’s another storyline where Ortega charges himself with addressing another male character (this time Black) who is incredibly toxic about boundaries and who is also struggling with their sexuality, because they’ve been led to perceive bisexuality as being “full gay” and thus “weak” and BOY, I don’t think you realize how invaluable it was to see this unfolding on these virtual pages between Black and Brown (specifically Latinx and/or Hispanic) men.

A MAN.

I say this because both groups have to deal with their own versions of toxic masculinity (the latter as Black hypermasculinity and being hypersexed and the former as a concept known as machismo — which is just as toxic, suffocating, and dangerous) and it was honestly refreshing to have Ortega address all that even though he doesn’t name it.

And you know what? He didn’t have to. Because I got what he was saying right away, with none of the big, clunky jargon you usually get when discussing a social justice issue like this, but with all of the empathy.

It’s so…stunning to me because that empathy is rarely extended to men of color. That space for expression is rarely given.

And that’s pretty much why Zigmund Ortega is a helluva character. And while I don’t know where Pixelberry Studios will be taking his character next, if that path is as amazing and eclectic and inclusive and critical of toxic masculinity (patriarchy) as he is now?

Shiiiiiit. His character will be one who goes down as one of the bisexual greats.

And it will be well-deserved.

Lithuanian LGBTQ NGO Allegedly Attacked With Molotov Cocktail

Last Friday, August 10, an alleged arsonist attacked the Lithuanian LGBTQ rights organization the Lithuanian Gay League (LGL), as well as the apartment building of its executive director. The fire left the office, located in the capital of Vilnius, with damage to the door and blinds, in the first attack in recent memory for the Baltic country. 

LGL is the only non-governmental organization in Lithuania dealing solely with LGBTQ topics, according to its website. It is also one of the oldest rights groups in the country, having been founded in 1993, only a couple of years after Lithuania gained independence from the Soviet Union.

“It was obviously a hate crime,” says Egle Kuktoraite, communications coordinator at LGL. She tells INTO that she and her LGL colleagues found out about the attack on the office when they arrived at their office around nine in the morning.

The clothing store owner they share an entrance with told them that police had called her when it happened, saying the attack happened around four in the morning. The fire also damaged that store. Police said they called the owner because her number was listed on the shop’s door.

“[The store owner] told us that somebody threw a Molotov cocktail at the door and there was a huge fire, but a taxi driver incidentally passed by and put out the fire with a fire extinguisher,” says Kuktoraite.

The same owner allegedly told the LGL activists that an investigator said she should put more signs up around her shop to deter another attack. It would be important, the investigator said, to make sure they know her shop was there and not just the NGO.

LGL has rainbow flags in its windows and on the crosswalk outside of it.

The group still does not know why authorities did not inform them as soon as the attack was reported.

Police are not treating it, at the moment, as a hate crime. “In the evening we read on local media that a police spokesman said they are not familiar with the concept of a hate crime,” Kuktoraite says. They said it would be investigated as a common crime.

This shouldn’t be the case, she says. Lithuania has an anti-discrimination law as well as hate crimes legislation, “but there are problems with the practical use of the law.”

Police often don’t implement it or even know how to report it as such. This leads to authorities downplaying the number of hate crimes that are carried out against the LGBTQ population, Kuktoraite explains.

Besides the attack on the office, executive director Vladimir Simonko’s apartment building was also reportedly attacked. When Simonko got home, Kuktoraite tells INTO, he discovered what happened. The media, Kuktoraite says, only reported that a clothing store and a massage salon had been attacked.

“It’s very unsettling for us,” she says. In order to have attacked Simonko’s home, the assailants would have had to follow him.  

Kuktoraite says this is the only such attack in recent memory. The organization is confused as to why they were targets of a Molotov cocktail: “We didn’t do anything that would gain a lot of visibility in the last few months that could have even provoked this sort of incident.”

“This incident clearly indicates that hate crimes on the ground of sexual orientation and gender identity remain an important issue in Lithuania. It is disappointing to see that such horrific crimes still take place in 2018 in the heart of our beautiful capital Vilnius,” Simonko said in a statement after the incident.

“We would like to kindly thank the taxi driver who took the initiative to extinguish the fire and saved our offices from more major damages. We hope that the true motives of the incident will be duly clarified.”

In February, Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis called for parliament to pass same-sex partnership legislation, according to media reports. However, international LGBTQ human rights group ILGA-Europe ranked Lithuania 37th out of 49 in their latest annual Rainbow Europe map with a score of 20.73 percent.  

Ariana Grande’s ‘Sweetener’: A Track-by-Track Review

Like Sandra Oh in Princess Diaries, queer people have had a feeling about Friday, August 17. The Queen is coming — and by that, we mean Ariana Grande has released her fourth album, Sweetener.

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The album comes two years after Grande’s last album, Dangerous Woman, and a year after the singer was at the center of international attention when her Manchester Arena concert was the target of a terrorist attack that killed 22 and wounded at least 59.

In anticipation of the album’s release, Grande released two singles, “no tears left to cry” and “God is a woman,” as well as the Nicki Minaj-assisted buzz single “the light is coming.”

But how does the rest of the album stack up? Here’s INTO’s take.

“raindrops (an angel cried)”

Though just a short intro track, “raindrops” is more significant than other intros, like the one to her second LP My Everything. The silky, soothing vocals introduce the mood of the album, which is heavy on breathy Ariana, as opposed to the force that she put into a lot of her poppier singles like “Break Free” or “The Way.” While the 30 seconds is certainly a bit schmaltzy, it doesn’t overstay its welcome. 

“blazed”

The first of a slew of first-half tracks that are Pharrell Williams-produced, “blazed” is the perfect mix of breezy and toe-tapping to slide you into the album. While much of Sweetener is breezy, that shouldn’t alarm anyone that she’s making an adult contemporary Lite FM album. Williams’ production is bouncy and bubbly, but not imposing. “blazed” sounds like a song that would get everyone on the dance floor at a wedding — and that’s a compliment!

“the light is coming”

The Nicki Minaj-featuring single didn’t get as much early love as “God is a woman” or “no tears left to cry,” but it sounds much better in the context of the Williams-produced album section. While the rest of Williams’ tracks are a little sonically similar and easy, “light” is a little more frantic and energized. Compared to some of Grande’s earlier singles like “Everyday” or “Into You,” calling “the light is coming” energized might sound like a joke, but this is a welcome upbeat track on what is largely a mid-tempo album.

“R.E.M.”

Much of Sweetener sounds “dream like” — .:extreme Mo’Nique voice:. “The behavior you exhibited was dream LIKE” — and nowhere is this more true than on “R.E.M.,” which is literally about dreaming! Talk about form matching content. Grande’s vocals on “R.E.M.” sound so silky I want to wear them to bed.

“God is a woman”

You’ve already heard “woman” and probably have some thoughts about it and probably snapped in delight as Grande fingered a hurricane in the music video. While it was a great single, it does feel like a bit of a slog compared to what surrounds it. But this is Grande vocals at their best.

“sweetener”

The album’s title track is, just as the title suggests, sweet without being saccharine. One of the best things about “sweetener” is that it shows flashes of the artist that emerged on Yours Truly, Grande’s first full-length LP. You can’t listen to “sweetener” without thinking about Grande’s evolution since “Piano,” and “Daydreamin’.” In a lot of ways, Grande is still daydreaming, but this time it’s from the vantage point of womanhood instead of adolescence.

“successful”

It’s rare that we get to see Grande go full braggadocio. And though on first read, it sounds like bravado might not be a dress that would slink easily onto Grande, “successful” is one of the album’s great surprises. It’s something that you can bop to down the street a la Jennifer Lopez’s “Feelin’ So Good.” You can’t help but smile for Grande when hearing the track, but you also can’t help but also feel successful. The track isn’t the last Williams-produced one on the album, but it is the end of the album’s Williams-heavy first half, and it’s a great note to end on.

“everytime”

The transition from “successful” to “everytime” is one of the more dramatic on the album, but it’s also a welcome one. At this moment, the album feels like it goes into a new movement and there are few couplets as good as “you get high and call on the regular/ I get weak and fall like a teenager.”

“breathin”

Britney Spears’ “Breathe on Me” is shook. This might be one of the best tracks about breath ever recorded! OK, mostly kidding. This mid-tempo ode to self care is another one that, like “successful” feels like an intravenous injection of positivity, though a bit more melancholy. This will be on heavy rotation on my anxiety playlist.

“no tears left to cry”

You’ve heard it, you’ve loved it, you’ve lived it, you’ve picked it up. (Still a bop.)

“borderline”

Something about “borderline” is so gloriously retro chic that you can’t help but fall for it. It’s also one of the tracks that best makes use of Grande’s vocals as its own background instrument. Like “sweetener,” “borderline” also feels like a Yours Truly cut, albeit from a more grown-up Grande. Missy Elliott’s verse is good, not great — it’s too damn short — but it’s great to hear her on a track again, period.

“better off”

This far into Sweetener, “better off” sounds like a surprise, mostly because it’s both where the album slows down for a minute but also because it’s the track that most directly seems addressed toward her ex, Mac Miller. And hey, at one point, she talks about fucking on a roof, which is cool. This is definitely the emotional peak of the album and it’s a welcome one.

“goodnight n go”

Those who love Imogen Heap’s “Goodnight and Go” will love this musical ode to Heap’s song, which both borrows from and improvises on the original. (When you get to the song and hear it, you’ll notice how much influence Heap probably had on this album.) Though it’s probably unfair to compare the two, the sampling invites invitation and while I like Grande’s version, I kinda prefer the original?

“pete davidson”

No modern love story has captured the national imagination more than the budding romance-slash-engagement of Grande and Saturday Night Live castmember Pete Davidson. Not to make a second Jennifer Lopez comparison, but this reminds me of Lopez’s “Dear Ben,” except this isn’t a whole song and is much cuter!

“get well soon”

Another ode to self care, “get well soon” has a lot riding on it as a closing track — and it rises to the occasion. It captures the mood of the album and also leaves the listener with the guarantee that, among all the chaos her life, she’s taking care of herself. At the end of the track, and of the album, Grande includes 40 seconds of silence as a tribute to the victims of the Manchester Arena attack. All together, with the 40 seconds, the track clocks in at 5:22 long, a nod to the date of the attack — 5/22.

Final verdict:

In a lot of ways, Sweetener feels like a spiritual successor to Yours Truly rather than a follow-up to Dangerous Woman. But that also makes Grande’s discography feel so much more cohesive. Truly was simple and beautiful. My Everything and Dangerous Woman were focused on delivering bops to pop radio. Like Truly, Sweetener puts Grande front and center and feels more deeply personal than anything the singer has put out before. Sweetener is a cohesive, minimalist, sonic surprise — but it’s also a confident entry in Grande’s discography that solidly moves her from pop princess to pop dauphine.

But How Gay is ‘Crazy Rich Asians’?

In “But How Gay Is It?”, we seek to answer the biggest questions you have about a new movie release in theaters now — including, most crucially, the titular question. Does the movie have any queer characters? Are there stories involving same-sex lovers? Which gay icons star in the film? We’re bringing you all that and more.

What is Crazy Rich Asians? In many ways the culmination of a multi-year arc in Hollywood, Crazy Rich Asians is the first major Hollywood film since The Joy Luck Club to have an entirely Asian main cast. It’s an adaptation of Kevin Kwan’s bestselling novel, and follows an NYU economics professor, Rachel Chu, as she finds herself thrust into a world very different than her own: her absurdly wealthy boyfriend Nick’s family home in Singapore.

The wealth comes as a shock for the modest Rachel — “We’re economy people,” she says through her confusion that she and Nick are put in a private first-class suite — but she doesn’t have much time to recover. Because Nick’s family is judgmental as hell, no one more so than mother Eleanor Young. The film is like watching a game of social chess as a romcom: Rachel has to figure out how to outplay Nick’s family and win her king.

Who’s in it? Constance Wu plays Rachel, and Hollywood should immediately cast her in 10 more romcoms. She is the perfect heroine, just plucky and determined enough without being grating. While Wu is the standout on Fresh Off the Boat, in Crazy Rich Asians she demonstrates a whole new set of skills.

She leads a cast that can be best described as “absurdly beautiful.” Seriously, I kept sighing whenever someone new would enter a scene — male or female! And they’re all great! There’s Henry Golding as Nick, pairing his devastatingly sexy smile with a great heart. There’s Gemma Chan, so ably balancing the fabulous exterior and fragile interior of Nick’s sister Astrid. There’s Pierre Png as Astrid’s husband Michael, introduced to us fresh out of the shower. It is a glorious parade of beauty.

Two supporting actresses steal the show, though. First, there’s Michelle Yeoh as Eleanor. This is easily one of the most subtle, precise performances I’ve ever seen. Nothing is big or broad about Eleanor, even though she’s effectively our villain. She communicates her displeasure through small shifts of her neck, or darts of the eyes. She imbues every line delivery with so many different emotions, it’s arguably more important to listen to the way she says things versus what she’s saying.

Then, on the very opposite end of the spectrum, is Awkwafina as Goh Peik Lin, Rachel’s Singapore-based best friend. She is loud, brash, and over the top — and perfect. The performance has been compared to Melissa McCarthy in Bridesmaids and Tiffany Haddish in Girls Trip, and for good reason. She gets some of the biggest laughs in the film just through saying “FedEx.” It’s brilliant work.

Why should I see it? Easy: It’s fantastic. I could also make an argument for supporting movies with non-white leads so that Hollywood understands they need to make more, and that’s certainly true. But this isn’t the equivalent of being asked to eat your vegetables. This is a delicious, fluffy, perfectly iced cake, and you’ll be dying to go back for seconds.

But how gay is it? Actually kinda gay! The general vibe of fabulous fashions and hot shirtless men is certainly gay male-appealing, and there’s also Nico Santos as the bitchy-but-generous Oliver, who quickly becomes Rachel’s closest ally in the Young family. He also gets some of the best one-liners, including a fashion sequence where he gets off some great, Michael Kors-esque quips.

There were two other books; will there be sequels? Hopefully! The only way to make sure of that is to see the movie. Multiple times, if you can! Trust me, you won’t be disappointed.

Crazy Rich Asians is in theaters now.

George is Tired…of Queer Loneliness

It was about two weeks ago when it happened. It was the first time in a long time that I was going to have a weekend to myself and I planned on doing nothing but resting, eating terrible food, and catching up on TV.

That Saturday went exactly as I planned it — or so I thought. As the daylight that shined through my windows turned into moonlight, I realized something that I don’t think had ever happened to me before…

I went an entire day without a single text message or DM.

I’m not going to lie. It bothered me — and not just for the obvious reasons. My first thought was Has everyone I know gone an entire day without once ever thinking about me? It was scary and depressing to even think like that. As I sat in my bed that evening, I took a chance to reflect on the life I had created for myself that could allow me an entire day with no intentional interactions. I thought about how often I chose isolation, pushed folks away and placed band-aids on old wounds that required stitches.

Things in our childhood often manifest themselves in interesting ways when we reach adulthood. As a kid, I would say that I was known but not necessarily “popular.” I got along with most people, and my normal group of friends were girls — because of my effeminate behavior. My days of having real social interaction and friendships primarily existed because I had to be around people. When I came home, I would play basketball with the guys in my neighborhood but even then, the relationship was based on my athletic ability — no one wanted to be friends with a boy like me.

Before I had the words understand that I was queer, I had the words and understanding of myself to know that I was different, so I kept away from people. I didn’t make a lot of what one would call “friends” in high school.  Even in college I struggled with that. There, it got better, but I still was very private, very closeted, and very much in fear of rejection. Isolation became better than rejection.

Year after year, I worked on being more of the person I knew I was. I came out thinking that would change things. I opened myself up to having real friends and becoming the truest version of myself around family. And yet, there are still times when I’m in a room with all the people I love and those who love me and feel alone. That feeling of how temporary the company of others is weighed against relationships that are encompassing of so much more — a “more” that I didn’t feel I needed to do the work for.

I felt I was entitled to friendship, family, or a relationship that I didn’t have to work for.

Instead of healing, I built a world that gave me the false impression that I was never alone. On Twitter, I have about 22k followers and average over 100 million impressions a month. One would think that loneliness may be an impossibility with so much social media interaction, but it’s not. It’s all a form of avoiding the work I’m unwilling to do on myself that would address the issues I have with rejection and vulnerability.  

The hookup culture I have subscribed to for so long is a mask. Not in the sense that I don’t enjoy sexual interactions, but that I used it to fill the void of the loneliness if only for a minute or night. Hanging with guys I had no real intentions of wanting something long term with. Entertaining situations with folks with no real interest. The good morning and good night texts to and from folks are all ways to feel like someone gives a fuck about me. Convos on apps that last weeks with no date to meet up ever scheduled.

Drinking also became a part of the loneliness. I drink to be social when I’m with friends, of course, but for the most part, I don’t drink when it’s just me at home. But every now and then I pour it — usually when I’m feeling really alone. The alcohol makes it all seem to just fade away. Makes whatever is on the TV more enjoyable. Makes the mask I’m wearing more acceptable and digestible when I’m looking in the mirror.

Even in a room of our peers, we all are so different. We all have layered oppressions, many shared and some not. Many of us hiding them with cocktails, meth, and pills as a coping mechanism for the pains we are hiding. Shared pains that we are often too afraid to tell one another — fearful of being seen as weak. Subscribing to the culture that tells us that “big boys don’t cry” and to “woman up.” So, we die together in isolation.

Having an entire day where I had no intentional interaction bothers me. Most importantly because I had the power to fix it. I had the power to text, or call, or walk outside and I didn’t. I let isolation beat me that day. I let loneliness beat me that day. But like Molly says on Insecure, when you know better you do better. Hopefully, unlike Molly, my better isn’t going back to the same habits that render me helpless in a problem I have the power to fix.