Martine Wants You To Watch

On a cold rainy New York City night, I walked into Vanity Projects, a nail salon in Chinatown where my friend and renowned art curator Tim Goossens, invited me to view a curated series of music videos on display which patrons viewed while getting art deco designs painted onto acrylic talons. When the polish dried, we stood around, clawing plastic cups, sipping white wine while swimming in the nostalgia of a Cher video being projected on the wall.

Suddenly, the lights dimmed and the sounds streaming through surrounding speakers shifted from familiar to foreign. A sea of long, dark hair began emerging onto a carefully lit platform in the corner of the salon as a warm and tropical soundscape took over the room. A spell was cast upon us as Martine Gutierrez spun around enchanting us as each follicle of her jet black hair swung merely inches past our noses. She stared into us with a steady, somber gleam in her eyes as she slowly raised a microphone up to her lips. We were pulled even deeper into the mood as a soothing voice escaped her, a sound undulating between whisper and moan, and like a rising tide, she held us captive the rest of the night in metaphors of eager and idol love.

Discovering Martine and her majestic self-produced music was a breath of fresh air for me. I had been looking for an artist who represented what my label Park Side Records stood for, a ruthless creative who was independent in their ideas and passions, yet spoke directly to the hearts of listeners who may not realize what music beyond the mainstream could offer. I immediately felt a responsibility as well as a need to share the emotive beauty of her and her music with the world so I asked if I could re-release her debut EP, Blame The Rain. Much to my delight, she obliged, and this summer I also got to release two of her singles, “Head 2 Toe” and “Origin,” the latter of which I am featured on and whose video, directed by Martine as well, is part fantasy, part documentary as it contains footage of our first collaborative live performance art piece which took place on the streets of the Dallas Aurora Festival, also curated by Tim Goossens.

Martine is a force to be reckoned with, and getting to know her has felt similar to Alice falling deeper into Wonderland, where just when you thought you found your way out, behind the door is another endless pool of wonders.

For Martine, music is sort of a secondary effort when it comes to creative priorities. The first being her work as a photographer who focuses on conceptual self-portraiture. Here is where she really takes center stage, voicing her public opinion through the time-consuming details of her works. After her solo exhibition Indigenous Women, a self-produced 146 page glossy fashion magazine, debuted at the Ryan Lee Gallery this past September in New York City and was met with praise by the New York Times, she secured her spot as one of New York’s newest art elites while simultaneously proving she exists beyond labels and pronouns.

She’s a revolutionary artist who manages to boldly take ownership of her narrative while leaving herself open and vulnerable to prying eyes. She motions between innocence and mistress, empathy and revenge all while continuing to evolve as her own divine muse and once you dive in there’s no easy way out. So with fair warning, I dare you all to fall into Martine.

NOMI:  I refer to you as a multimedia artist. How would you describe yourself in a way that encompasses all the things that you do?


MARTINE: I’m a star. [laughs]


NOMI: Yes, you are!


MARTINE: I’m a star that just discovered herself opposed to waiting for that muse moment that every good movie with a makeover scene has where you know, the man finds her in the dark nightclub and he’s like “Wow, look at this potential!” I just beat him to the punch and I said: “Let me do it myself!” [laughs]

NOMI: Genius. So you take control of your own narrative. I feel like that’s a throughline through all your work, where you’re sort of like ‘This is something usually seen through the male gaze, but I’m gonna do this in a way where you’re seeing it through my perspective.”


MARTINE: I think making things has always been a huge conduit for me to discover how I want to identify and how I want to evolve as a person. And it just so happens that everyone’s watching right now. I’ve been doing this a long time, which is the gag, I guess, because right now everyone’s saying “How are these things so glossy? How are you doing everything yourself? How are you XYZ?” And it’s just time. It’s just taken a long time.


NOMI: Yes, actually I was going to ask you this later on but I think we’re on it now. In your work, you sort of objectify yourself in a way that feels really empowering because you’re taking control of something that is usually in the male gaze and you sort of use it to mix yourself with pop culture and what people usually consider to be mainstream. Is that sort of like an act of vengeance?


MARTINE: Oh my god, love vengeance! Love vengeance! I think that’s more your narrative than mine though. [laughs]


NOMI: [laughs] I love revenge!


MARTINE: You love a revenge. You love returning like a storm.


NOMI: Do you feel like you’re not allowed in mainstream spaces for whatever reasons? And so you create them yourself and, like you said, instead of waiting for someone to discover you, do you feel like you haven’t been allowed into certain venues but you took control of it?


MARTINE:  I used to think that I didn’t have access to those platforms until I guess I started modeling and I got to have my runway moment, I got to have you know, work with some like high-end fashion people and I guess that’s what I thought I wanted. I thought I wanted to work with the best of the best because that would make me feel better about myself. Or that would somehow validate me and it just made me feel so much more other. It made me feel, you know — it made me feel objectified because of my identity, if that makes sense. For minorities who sit at the often isolating crux of intersectionality, how do we ensure that our voices are not jeopardized by “opportunity.”  And how can we work against the very power structures that propagate beauty and normalcy to the masses, and I think in the pursuit of personal gain, we look at collaborations as positive opportunities, but for those of us who are minorities, we’re almost always objectified, tokenized, or used to diversify or assume allyship, and that’s how I was in the campaign, right? I was the check off the box — “Oh we have a Latin girl, oh we have a trans girl. Look at how open, look at how progressive we are? This brand, whoever they are.”

NOMI: It’s like they’re operating under a cloak of allyship. They’re like “OK, we’ve done this thing in the past where we objectify people so we’re going to diversify so we feel like we’re on the up and up, but we’re doing the same thing but through this idea of working as an ally, working with our community.” You’re like this is being done by men and the male gaze—


MARTINE: Absolutely, because the male gaze is at the center of everything. It’s part of why it’s almost always heteronormative, sexual — what would you call it? — narratives within advertising. It’s like the girl is sexualized within the narrative, but she’s not sexualized for girls to look at her. She’s sexualized for a dude to look at her. Does that make sense?


NOMI: I also sometimes feel like even queer people and even women — sometimes we’re approached by women or the queer community and it’s safer to be a part of these things, but they’re also operating in a way that they’re trying to use the male gaze as well.


MARTINE: Mhm. It’s hard because using it is also a tool to dismantle it because how else are you going to get to that audience if you don’t get their attention?

NOMI: I wanted to know — the video for “Origin,” which deals with gaze in a very different way from different perspectives. I feel like it touches on voyeurism and self-obsession when it comes to the video. So that being said, do you prefer being a voyeur or a subject?


MARTINE: I love being a voyeur. I love being a voyeur. I love watching. [laughs]


NOMI: [laughs] You’re a spy.


MARTINE: I’m a spy! I think that’s why I like being — I like changing my identity or changing my appearance because it means I get to have a certain amount of anonymity so I get to watch. I get to watch without being watched, which is so funny—


NOMI: Within that, you also like watching yourself.


MARTINE: I do. I mean, I love a mirror, as you well know.


NOMI: I mean, yes. There was a mirror literally on the bed—


MARTINE: There was a mirror that had to be on the bed, a double-sided mirror. Even our phones — a selfie is a mirror, in a way.


NOMI:  A selfie is a mirror. And I feel like the mirror in the middle kind of insinuates us also seeing ourselves within each other. Do you sort of feel like you’re drawn to people in ways where you see yourself in them?


MARTINE: Yeah, I think that was a huge part of—I mean, there’s the physicality of it, right, we both have dark hair, we both have brown eyes, we both have caramel skin, plump lips. But then there’s the other side where because of our backgrounds, whether that means we’re Latina or being exoticized for being, you know, mysteriously looking women, we have similar experiences, and so I think I’ve always looked to — I guess I’m always hoping to learn something about myself, like in someone else. I don’t know if that’s unhealthy or not.

NOMI: Right. It’s a little bit—I guess it’s different when you try to validate yourself instead of learning. There’s a difference. In the video, there’s a few dimensions where …. There’s us watching ourselves. It kind of turns into this whole cyber world. It kind of insinuates a little bit of sex in a way, or lust. Do you enjoy cybersex?


MARTINE: Oh, it’s sex talk? We’re having a sex talk?


NOMI: [laughs] How did that turn to — I feel like it started with a performance, and then you added, and it kind of turned voyeuristic into a very lustful place. So I feel like it turned very cyber-sexy.


MARTINE: Yeah, it’s very cyber-sexy. I feel like it’s nod to the platforms in which we meet people now. Whether it’s Tinder or What’s App or Grindr or, like, OKCupid or, I don’t know. What’s that elitist artsy one I wanna be on?


NOMI: Raya?


MARTINE: Someone invite me. Someone invite me on, because I’m curious!


NOMI: No, it’s bottles and models — you’re gonna hate it!


MARTINE: I still need to see. But I think because the performance started as this public exhibitionism of our own bodies and our own sensuality, right? Because yes we took footage and yes I edited it down to moments that I like the most, but people that were there weren’t extras — they were strangers; they were voyeurs. They were people who chose to stay and watch, chose to take pictures, chose to touch us, which was totally inappropriate and remember we had to leave and get ushered away. They got security. I think the second part of it was, you were also streaming onto Periscope.


NOMI: Periscope, yeah.


MARTINE: And that was the part I wanted to incorporate at the end, like this other side of the people that don’t have to come in real life and get to have — I don’t know if the experience then becomes more seedy, but it’s a much more ‘90s navigation of, like, porn for sure.


NOMI: Yeah, and I think it was interesting to show footage of people watching, logging in and watching something that becomes lusted for online, because that’s usually very private. And to actually see that perspective added this level of loneliness. I feel like we use the internet, not only to connect with people, but in reality, you’re alone and you’re just so isolated and not even connecting whatsoever.


MARTINE: Right, if anything, it’s a large opportunity to invent what it is that you’re interacting with. Whether you’re IMing with someone, sending pictures or Skyping, like, you can put more on that person or on that experience than is actually happening because you’re not actually there. Through our phones, it was a total fantasy, and yet, in the real space, people were drunk, people were — the bed was stopping and going because our weight wasn’t evenly distributed. [laughs]


NOMI: Oh my god, it was scandalous.


MARTINE: It was crazy.


NOMI: That moment on the bed you mention how someone tried to touch us and it got a little dangerous and I remember someone in the crowd was going around and telling other people that we were trans — they were also trans and they wanted the audience to somehow know that they were watching trans people because they themselves were actually living a stealth life and they wanted to sort of gauge people’s reactions to trans people for their own weird benefit. I don’t know. It was a strange thing that added a sense of danger that we were not aware was going to happen. It was just strange because the whole performance had nothing to do with gender or transformation. It was just like, for me, it was about we took voyeurism and self-obsession —


MARTINE: It was a social commentary as opposed to a commentary about our bodies as individuals, you know what I mean? And unfortunately once people know, they want it to be a thing, right? Because it makes them uncomfortable. So that’s what they focus on.


NOMI: Right. So do you find that you’re constantly pushed to present your art from an angle so that it makes a statement about gender or transition and that whole world even though the focus of the work at hand has nothing to do with that?


MARTINE: I think press — I think press pushes it to be the topic. I get to write the statement at this point because I’m not dead yet. [laughs] Like I’m still writing, like “This is what the work’s about.”

NOMI: So it’s not reinterpreted.


MARTINE: Right. Once I’m not around, who knows what they’re gonna say. But I already have this feeling my work is going to represent something that I didn’t intend for it because it already happens when I’m alive through press. I’m already a token.


NOMI: Yeah. Crazy. So music for you—was music something you fell into an extension of your art, or how did music come into play? Was it just a whole separate world for you or did it also come to pass as you were creating your photography and producing art?


MARTINE: It became like a skill I had to develop because I was making a lot of video and it was before the videos were kind of like taking on a music video structure or length. Some of them were really long, and it’s boring and it’s not like — it’s elevating to have sound or some kind of score.


NOMI: Engaging.


MARTINE: It brings everything to life. I was in a band in art school with two cuties and it kind of like fizzled out, which also gave me more time to take control — because I was just the vocalist. I wasn’t producing, I wasn’t coming up with really the melodies or the beats, and I realized “Oh, there’s so much to chosoe from. Why use those?” Why were we using those sounds when I like these sounds so much more?


NOMI: Again, you were taking control of your narrative.


MARTINE: Right, right. And then, yeah, I guess —


NOMI: What state of mind were you in when you were writing “Origin.”


MARTINE: Um, I was in the state of mind of Nomi Ruiz because we had, like, just met through Tim. Because he brought you to my show in China Town, and you were gagged and you were like “I’m gonna say hi to her.” You tell your side! I feel like Tim just told me “Nomi Ruiz is coming to your show.” And I was like “Cool, who’s that?”


NOMI: You were like “Who’s this bitch? Why do I care?”


MARTINE: “Why are you so gagged by her? I thought I was your star!” I’m like “She’s coming for me!” No, I didn’t think that. I thought, “Cool, I’m gonna meet a celebutante.” But also I was so nervous and anxious about the performance that honestly it didn’t really stay in my mind long. And after the show, the space was so small, that it was packed and I remember having to weave through people to even shake your hand and be like “Hello, nice to meet you!”


NOMI: I was just about to leave and I was like “I have to meet this girl.” Like it was the first time  — because I can be nervous and anxious and something just drew me to you. I was like “I have to know this person. We have to be in each other’s lives.” Tim introduced us and I was like “Hi, I’m a nerd, let’s know each other!”


MARTINE: And I was like “So great!” And later, Tim was like “That was Nomi.” And I was like “Oh, cool, oh I like her!”


NOMI: That’s what I love about watching the “Origin” video because I feel like it takes me back to that whole process — we got to know each other on such a deep level. It kind of forced us to spend more time together and really got to know what was behind your ideas and know you as an artist and as a friend. It brings me back to that time.


MARTINE: I remember once Tim told us that there was this performance and that he wanted us to perform together or like, he would love for us—it was posed as a question really. And we were like “Obviously, that would be amazing — what are we performing? We don’t have a song together.” And so it was obvious that I had to write one, I guess! So I remember going — remember, was it Williamsburg? I don’t remember where it was. We got, like, tea.


NOMI: We met in Williamsburg.


MARTINE: We sat at this cafe and I had like that little notepad and I was just writing down words. Writing down words when we were talking and it was like “Cats. Milk. Collars. Purring.” It made absolutely no sense and you were probably like “This girl is crazy.” But I remember being just so inspired by you and your energy and your confidence and your sexuality. You’re like oozing sexuality and feeling like this is — I have to do a song that will do her justice. I can’t have her — I can’t have some sad love song like I’m always singing. It has to be something sexy!


NOMI: I think you really blended the two, which is something I love and I also express in my music. There’s this sexy confidence and there’s this underlying sort of somber pessimistic idea of what love is.


MARTINE: Right, and it’s always just out of reach — at least for me. It’s always just around the river bend. [laughs]


NOMI: Right so, do you believe in love?


MARTINE: Um. [laughs] Dot dot dot. I want to believe in love. I believe in a deep, deep love, but I don’t think I’ve experienced it.

NOMI: So what is your perception of what love is?


MARTINE: I don’t know. I don’t know! Because in some ways I’ve never really seen a successful relationship, whether it was in my family or —


NOMI: So you think love is a successful relationship?


MARTINE: I think love is having passion for finding someone that is passionate about what you’re doing, who you are, and your passion for them circles this swirling magnificent energy of like acceptance and intimacy and laughter and, I don’t know — it’s funny because, in some ways, I’ve had that with really close friends, that openness and safety and intimacy, it’s just not sexual. And then I have the other side, which is like sooo sexual. It’s like just sex — it’s just about the physicality of the other person.


NOMI: Why can’t you have it all in one?


MARTINE: It’s like where’s that guy with the duality of both? I don’t know. And I don’t know if it’s like an age thing and the age that I’m at, the people around me are just immature, or, I don’t know.


NOMI:  I also feel like we’re pressured to have that in one person, and that’s not so realistic. For me, I’m in a phase where I”m starting to question why can’t I have love for my friends and sex from a lover and have all these different desires within me fulfilled and be OK with the fact that it comes from different places. Like why can’t that be a version of love?


MARTINE: It can. I guess that’s what life is—inventing the narrative that works for you. Like there is no normal, that’s the bottom line. There’s average. There’s the majority, and you can choose to be a lemming or you can make your own life.

I guess that’s what life is—inventing the narrative that works for you. Like there is no normal, that’s the bottom line. There’s average. There’s the majority, and you can choose to be a lemming or you can make your own life.

NOMI: How much of your songwriting is based on real-life experiences?


MARTINE: It’s hard because I honestly don’t know if I actually live in reality most of the time.


NOMI: That’s why I love you.


MARTINE: Oh, and I love you! Because you’re so willing to — I don’t know — to take the glamour of… I don’t know. It is invention. You’re fully on board, always! You’re always on board to be like — I don’t know, I can’t even explain it. When we’re together, whenever we hang out, it always becomes a cruise collection editorial video in like the strangest way where everything is paid for, everything is easy, everything is chic, there’s drugs everywhere!


NOMI: [laughs] I’m like whatever you want, whatever you desire, I’ll make it happen.


MARTINE: There’s boys everywhere. It’s just like beach and ocean and skin and late nights, late mornings. I don’t know! It’s just so luxurious, and it’s not real, which is why it’s like when you ask about making songs about reality, that was happening, but I don’t know if that’s actual reality—it was so dreamy.


NOMI: Yeah, totally. When you say in “Origin,” “Forget about my origin,” what are you saying?


MARTINE: I’m saying forget about — I guess, in some ways, it’s directly about me or any trans girl, really, if she, unfortunately, is straight and into cis men, it’s saying forget about the place I come from, forget about my beginnings.


NOMI: Like this is who I am now.


MARTINE: Like take me right now for what I am right now. And I think it could also speak to a greater social understanding of not putting pressure on or not finding so much importance in where people’s — how people’s bodies came together; formed.


NOMI: You also say what’s your flavor, what’s your type.


MARTINE: Isn’t that obvious what I’m saying?


NOMI: Yeah, but what’s your flavor, what’s your type?


MARTINE: Ohhh! Mmmm. Well, last night I had a good flavor. [laughs] And a good type. He was Serbian. He was a martial arts teacher in Queens, athletic build, scruffy with a buzzed head, gorgeous skin. There’s a celebrity he looks like, I just can’t put my finger on it. So handsome, smelled a little — had a little B.O. because he was coming from practice so in his sweats and a T-shirt — and you know, the sweats that kind of cling the right way. His cute little sneakers. He was checking me out, the L was down, so a bunch of people — it being so late, it was midnight — and I noticed him, he noticed me, and then I don’t know what it was. I was feeling my oats and I went over and started talking to him and he had this thick accent and I was like “You’re obviously not American.” Because he was like “Where you from?” I’m like “America. Obviously, you’re from somewhere else.”  But so hot, kind of shy but wouldn’t admit it. When we were on the train, for no reason at all, had to hold the rod across the ceiling with both hands so his arms were above his head and he kept swaying back and forth in and out of my space. Because of course once the train came, we stood next to each other and it was so awkward because everyone on the train could tell we had just met and we’re flirting.


NOMI: I love that when there’s an audience.


MARTINE: There was a real audience and there were like other guys that were interested in me just because of the proxy of this other dude. It really felt like I was hitting on him until halfway and then convinced him to get off at my spot and we went to a park — because we were gonna go dancing. He was like “I love the disco”— I was like “I love the disco. I love to disco.” He was like “Let’s find one.” I was like “It’s a Wednesday night.”


NOMI: I love it — a New York moment!


MARTINE: I was like “I’m so exhausted but you’re so cute.” And so we just went to a basketball park — what do you call it, a basketball park? Is it obvious I don’t play sports? I just watch them. A basketball court. And I was like ”Play me your favorite song” and he wouldn’t play me a song so he played like the number one song in Serbia or whatever, and it was this pumped girl—she was like Iggy Azalea of Serbia and I was like “You think she’s hot?” and he was like “yeah!” I was like “Oh my gosh, I look nothing like this girl.” And so I danced for him and he was mesmerized.

NOMI: You danced for him on a basketball court.


MARTINE: Couldn’t find a club and couldn’t get him to dance but he sat there and would kind of spin me around from his seat and then pulled me in and then stole a kiss and then…put his hands in between my thighs and then I was like “Oh wait, um, I forgot to tell you.”


NOMI: Oh shit.


MARTINE: I was like “Did you know? I’m trans.” Like “I’m trans” — like question mark? Now I’m confused too! And he was like “Yeah, oh yeah, I know!” But the language barrier — I was relieved for point one seconds until he was like “Nope. Actually I don’t know what that is,” and put his hand inside my skirt and then jumped and was like  “Are you kidding me?” “I’m not kidding you, no.” He was so confused and I was like “I thought you knew” and he was like “How would I know? How would I know?” Which I guess speaks to my own dysphoria about myself. I’m like isn’t it obvious? Isn’t it obvious? And I guess it’s not — not even under the terrible fluorescent lights of the J Train.


NOMI: Yeah there’s a weird disclosure thing going on these days where it’s like, when do I say something?


MARTINE: RIght, it’s like when do I say something? Because you build a moment and you build a mood — that is a total deflation of anything you’ve built.


NOMI: Yeah, it’s like how do I go there? When we’re riding the subway?


MARTINE: I’m always dealing with straight cis men that have never been with a trans girl before. I don’t know why this is becoming my type. I guess it’s cuz I’m fishy.


NOMI: It’s not a type, it’s a situation. It’s just like….I don’t know, it has to be addressed at some point and the thing for me is when is it safest — when is it safest in this scenario as a trans woman, building a mood?


MARTINE: In some ways I’m — my perception is like sheltered and an allusion because I’ve been lucky enough to hook up with guys where they don’t know, I tell them, and they’re just totally accepting and they’re into it, you know?

NOMI: Passing privilege.


MARTINE: Passing privilege, yeah. So they’re just like “Sure.” But the Serbian guy was not — he walked away. He got his backpack and walked away back to the J train.


NOMI: You’re lucky he didn’t go crazy.


MARTINE: Right because that’s the thing — he’s a martial arts teacher at one in the morning in an empty basketball court. What was I thinking?


NOMI: Oh my god, one in the morning?


MARTINE: We met at 12!


NOMI: I wanted to talk about the concept of chosen family. I feel like there’s this concept that exists in queer culture, gang culture, biker culture, etc. Do you feel you belong to a chosen family that you’ve sort of curated?


MARTINE: Absolutely, but I think I have several families. It’s not like Pose. [laughs]


NOMI: [laughs]


MARTINE: I’m just letting everyone know the trans narrative is not just like Pose. [laughs]


NOMI: Right, exactly.


MARTINE: You have several — I don’t have a house, I have several groups of friends that are, they’re all family in different ways. There’s some people I turn to — some communities can make me laugh, and there’s certain communities that I go to that I know will always lift me up, you know, and release my self-doubt. And then I think you are one of the categories and feeling like I have a mentor or can come to someone who has been there before. My sister, too, in a way. But it’s different. It’s the same as these newbie boys. Everybody has a different experience. It’s like how do you build a community for yourself where different people have that insight that you need to grow and survive?


NOMI: Yeah. Totally. I wanted to talk about your solo show where you displayed a 146-page glossy magazine called Indigenous Woman. In the letter from the editor, which is also written by you, you posed an interesting question that I wanted to ask back to you. You said, “As artists, how do we tell our own stories?” So how do we tell our own stories?


MARTINE: We have to make our own gags. It’s the same thing I was saying at the beginning. We have to be our own distributors, our own photographers, our own CEOs, you know? Make a magazine. Make a magazine, girl!


NOMI: Make a magazine, girl! [laughs] Oh my god, looking at that magazine stresses me out because I was thinking I know you did everything — produced the whole thing entirely on your own. What kind of work went into bringing Indigenous Woman to life?


MARTINE: What kind of work? That’s a crazy question. Every possible kind of work you can imagine. I had to learn InDesign, I had to download fonts, things that had never felt important to be before. I was looking at so many other publications to see what I was drawn to in terms of how they layout text, how you break up a page. It was crazy — I made so much work for myself because I wasn’t just contributing an image, I was contributing …. Like, I wanted to project different mental head spaces. I wanted to feel like they were different photographers and different models and different stylists and different writers. Like even the interview I’m doing with myself and I struggled at first to make I wasn’t just talking to myself. How do you create tonality that people can project “Oh this is a real interview between two people.” Not like a girl and her sis.


NOMI: I think work like this is so important, to talk about all the things that go into it because for so long as women and marginalized people we’re constantly — there’s this illusion that we have to wait to be discovered, or we have to wait to sort of prove that there’s sitting at the table we want to be a part of. I think we need to push each other and encourage each other to dismantle that narrative and take ownership of our own work and not wait around for someone to give us permission to exist as an artist. Just make your own shit.


MARTINE: Completely and I just saw A Star is Born.


NOMI: Me too, I saw it yesterday.


MARTINE: Oh my God, what’d you think?


NOMI: Is it a good movie? I enjoyed it. I feel like I was judging it because I saw the version with Barbara Streisand.


MARTINE: Oh, I haven’t seen that version — is it better?


NOMI: I mean, yes, it’s gorgeous. It’s flawless.


MARTINE: Maybe I’ll watch that.


NOMI: The pop moment kind of threw me off when she went full electro-pop. Because I thought it was going to stay in this rock singer-songwriter world.


MARTINE: Interesting. I had nothing to compare it to and I loved it. And I cried. I thought it was so good.


NOMI: Yeah, I cried!


MARTINE: I thought it was so good. But at first, I had trouble getting into Gaga’s acting, because I was just like “That’s Gaga — no you are not working for a catering business.” And then I don’t know, I guess her chemistry with what’s his face, I was like “Oh, I believe it. I believe it now. I see sparks of something.” And I could hold on to that. But I guess I brought it up because it’s the same narrative. It’s the same narrative! Like she is stuck until he pulls her out of the mud.


NOMI: Right, it’s like someone has to give her the opportunity, which does exist, but I feel like she should be empowered to take it.


MARTINE: Like cute as a representation of reality, but why not give us something that’s aspirational?


NOMI: Yeah, totally!


MARTINE: I guess in some ways they are like “It is aspirational! She wants to be a star! And she becomes one!” But no, let’s look at the way in which it happens.


NOMI: Right. She’s discovered. It’s that same narrative. Redoing it, brainwashing us again in a way.


MARTINE: What’s the actor’s name?


NOMI: Bradley Cooper.


MARTINE: Oh my god, imagine A Star is Born comes out and the twist is Bradley Cooper plays Gaga’s role and Gaga plays Bradley’s role. Gaga is already the famous rock drunk singer who comes into this drag bar and here’s this straight guy performing “La Vie En Rose” and she’s like “Gag, like, this guy has balls to be performing at a drag club.” And then she’s like “Come to my concert,” and he’s like “No, I have to take care of my mom.” It’d be major! It’d be major.


NOMI: It would be major, oh my god.


MARTINE: And then she props him up to become this star and then she kills herself. It would be such a gag!


NOMI: It would be a gag. I would watch that movie over and over again.


MARTINE: That’s the movie we should make now. Hollywood, open your ears, write it down.


NOMI: In Indigenous Woman, you make a few statements about white privilege. Like in the CovertGirl ad and the whitewash soap ad. As a biracial person whose father is Guatemalan and whose mother is white, do you feel you experience both ends of a spectrum privilege?

View this post on Instagram

opening tonight 6 to 8pm @ryanleegallery covertgirl for lyf 🕵️‍♀️ say hi if you can find me

A post shared by Martine Gutierrez ( on


MARTINE: I have passing privilege, but I don’t know about both ends. I guess I — if anything I feel more distant from both sides of my family because it’s polarizing to be something in between when you have a dozen cousins that are WASPy and a dozen cousins — more like two dozen cousins — who are full-on Guatemala City, speak very little English. I mean, the last time we hung out — it’s been so long now. I mean, ugh, maybe we don’t include this part. I don’t know what I want to say about it.


NOMI: For me, I often think about on the spectrum of people of color, we are viewed as more privileged because of the color of our skin, because we are sometimes viewed as racially ambiguous. For me, I think it’s harder to acknowledge that privilege in a wider scheme of when I talk about people of color in general and I think in order to dismantle classicism and racism I need to acknowledge that I’m operating from that perspective in certain situations, like “OK, this is not cool, I need to check others and check myself some of the time.” Do you know what I’m saying?


MARTINE: Totally. I believe we all negotiate who we are by trying on labels, and sometimes that means you fumble, you know?

NOMI: Yeah. Well, that’s what I loved about Indigenous Woman, because I felt like you were sort of using privilege as a way to make statements about being marginalized at the same time as you have this gorgeous ad and you make this whole statement of white privilege. It was being sort of used an image that could have been “Look at this gorgeous girl. Of course she’s a supermodel, I wish I could be one,” and at the same time, you’re doing this thing you don’t even realize at first — and then it’s like boom, it sits with you because your mind is right away like — just thinking about this beautiful person you created there.


MARTINE: And then you’re like, wait, is she white? Is she —?


NOMI: Then it moves to you and you’re saying “Maybe she’s born with it, maybe it’s white privilege.” It really stayed with me and it really opened my eyes to that conversation. I thought it was well done.


MARTINE: Thanks, Mom!


NOMI: I love you. That’s all the questions I have.


Photos by Stevens Añazco

Ten Essential ‘UNHhhh’ Episodes To Celebrate Trixie and Katya’s Return

At RuPaul’s DragCon 2018 in NYC, Drag Race stars Trixie Mattel and Katya announced that UNHhhh, their YouTube series on WOW Presents, would be returning on October 19th, almost a year after it ended its original run. Back then, Trixie and Katya were building so much momentum that they landed their own show, The Trixie and Katya Show, on the nascent Viceland channel, to replace UNHhhh.

After Katya took a mental health break from the Viceland show and drag in general  the show replaced her with Bob the Drag Queen. Though it’s still unclear what happened with their Viceland gig, Katya is back, and so is their YouTube show.

In celebration of UNHhhh’s return, we thought it would be a good idea to share some of the fundamental episodes from its first run. If you haven’t seen all of them, these are definitely the ones to watch:

“Jobs Before Drag” — Episode 46

Watching Katya and Trixie look back on the jobs that they had in adulthood before they were drag queens, from tea shops to make up, is hilarious to watch. But, this is also a perfect episode for people to watch because it requires zero knowledge of the queens or Drag Race in general.

“Halloweenie” — Episode 29

All of the holiday episodes, especially both of the Halloween episodes, are classics. Definitely required viewings for Halloween through New Year’s. In this installment, Katya and Trixie talk about how every day is Halloween for drag queens. Trixie also talks about one Halloween where her mom made her a costume out of a white box and said she was dice. Her response: “Thanks for the hookup, Val.” We also get a bit of a recurring joke in the series: Trixie scaring Katya.

“Death” — Episode 58

All right, you probably don’t want to watch a whole episode about the grave. But, watching Trixie and Katya discuss death, the process of dying (and dyeing fabrics), and the afterlife works because the queens’ two very different styles of comedy complement each other. It turns out the two bring out the best jokes in each other when they’re dealing with a really tense subject.  

“Space” — Episode 31

“Space” is where you can see the show’s iconic style starting to take shape. In addition to the running joke of Contact references, this episode also has the video editors going all out with the scenes and visuals that really showcase that they are the third necessary ingredient after the two headlining queens.

“Dating” — Episode 4

When people talk about UNHhhh, they often mention a lot of the later episodes because the show’s editing is really integral to the whole aesthetic. However, a lot of the earlier episodes are really solid and contain some of the most memorable jokes. The moment that always gets me is when Katya mentions that it’s been a long time since she’s been on a date and Trixie replies, “Yeah, when did your dad die?” Plus, it’s nice to see the roots of why this show is so successful and unique: Their chemistry is unmatched.

“Drinking” — Episode 62

Between their personal experiences and their nightlife jobs as drag performers, Trixie and Katya have a lot to say about alcohol. This episode is close to the end, right before they transitioned to Viceland, so they’ve definitely gotten in the groove. The two make each other laugh a lot and one of the most iconic parts of this episode is when Trixie accidentally says “Whose birthdays are it?” Kills me every time.

“RuPaul’s Drag Race #LipDub” — Episode 48

While Trixie and Katya garnered a lot of their success off the set of Drag Race, it is equally entertaining watching them look back at the show and make their own jokes. In this episode, the queens did redubbing of iconic scenes from the show and joked about some of their bitter loss experiences. “In today’s challenge, we’re going to catfish your boyfriend from freshman year of college.” If you’re a big fan of Drag Race and somehow haven’t seen this extracurricular video, you need to.

“Worst Hookup” — Episode 7

Rather than focusing on a single topic, Trixie spends the whole episode telling Katya about one of her worst hookup experiences. Everything else aside, you can really get a sense of their friendship and it’s cute.

“PornOh Honey” — Episode 49

Another common fan favorite! In this episode, the queens talk about their porn habits and also imitate a female porn star orgasm, which is iconic. Let’s face it, Katya and Trixie are at their best when they’re depraved, Linda.

“Hollywood” — Episode 35

In general, this episode has it all and is a good accumulation of everything that makes UNHhhh wonderful. It has solid banter over a random topic, a good running joke, and perfect editing.

Lady Gaga’s Oscar Chances Explained

With her starring role in Bradley Cooper’s A Star Is Born, Lady Gaga has given the world so much already. The trailer — and the entire film — has been memed to death and the film’s characters, beats, and quirks have become a part of queer lexicon. (And, also, it’s already the subject of some pretty intense backlash, but more on that later.)

Gaga has been so generous with her adoring public this year that many people want to know: will she be getting anything in return, especially — oh, I don’t know — a hulking piece of gold hardware known as the Academy Award for Best Actress? Currently, Gaga shows up in 23 of the 24 Best Actress finalist lineups by Oscar experts on GoldDerby. Hell, she tops nine of the lists.

So, let’s assess the chances that we’ll be able to say “Academy Award Winner Lady Gaga” come February 24.


The film: A few detractors aside, A Star Is Born has garnered some pretty hefty critical acclaim. Critical acclaim will no doubt lead to critics’ awards, but on a basic level, it’s clear people love the film and want to reward it. The bigger question is: does that mean rewarding Gaga?

Box office:  OK, it’s important to understand that no awards show, and no award given out by an awards body, can be separated from the show’s politics and public persona. As evidenced by the Oscars’ ill-fated “Best Popular Film” category, the Oscars want to be Sally Field. They want you to like them, to really like them. Well, there’s no better way for the Oscars to show that they’re hip and young — hello, fellow kids! — than to heap awards on A Star Is Born, which earned $43 million in its first weekend alone, more than many Best Picture nominees will earn throughout their entire run.  

The performance: OK, all this other shit aside, let’s just call it what it is — Gaga is great as Ally. Though a lot of people are less forgiving to the film’s Jackson-heavy second half, Gaga wins every viewer’s heart in the first half. The camera loves her and she loves it. She completely delivers on creating a character that is completely different from her own public persona, and more than being a good actress, she’s also a completely watchable one that grabs your eye no matter the scene. There are plenty of actresses — Julia Roberts, Sandra Bullock and Reese Witherspoon, for instance — who won not only for solid performances but for starring in a vehicle that used their star power to maximum effect.

The narrative: Often, just as important as the performance itself is the narrative that the win fulfills. Bullock was the “prom queen,” Julianne Moore was “overdue,” Jennifer Lawrence was the brand new Hollywood royalty. To paraphrase and mangle Ratatouille, Gaga’s performance dazzles because it’s not only a reminder that anyone can be a great actress, but that a great performance can come from anywhere. Even though she’s won a Golden Globe for American Horror Story: Hotel, A Star Is Born is Gaga’s first major foray into film acting (she had a small role in Machete Kills). Gaga definitely has the “She can act!?” narrative going for her.

The meta-performance: Gaga has been doing a sort of meta-performance of an actress during the festival circuit. She’s been playing the part of starlet very well and she’s become someone who voters want to root for. By playing the part of the star, she also makes voters feel like they’re giving the award to someone who respects Hollywood the institution (as opposed to last year’s winner, Frances McDormand, who eschews the whole kit-and-caboodle.)

The soundtrack: A Star Is Born is a musical and people love the soundtrack, which reached #1 on the Billboard 200, while “Shallow” has so far peaked at #5 on the Billboard Hot 100. Gaga does the best vocal singing and the best lyrical interpretation in the film. People will want to reward her.


The character: As much as Gaga gives a great performance, her performance does the job of having to elevate what is, in the end, a poorly-drawn character. There’s definitely a precedent for terrible female characters netting their actresses trophies, but some people may be hesitant to award Gaga for a character that doesn’t have a last name until she gets married.

Her early frontrunner status: The Oscar season is a marathon, not a sprint. And A Star Is Born has the dubious honor of being the first big Oscar film to debut in theaters. It got a lot of acclaim pretty quickly before people grew too cynical, and it avoided the December glut when people can hardly get around to seeing every award-worthy film. But, having to keep up the frontrunner status for a full four months is hard to pull off, especially when other performances will feel more fresh in voters’ minds.

Bradley Cooper and Sam Elliott: The Best Actress race is already sorely overcrowded, with Olivia Colman, Glenn Close, Melissa McCarthy, Viola Davis, Yalitza Aparicio and more trying to get their hands on some Oscar gold. That stands in stark opposition to the Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor categories, which look mighty paltry in comparison. The Academy will want to reward Cooper, who has been nominated three times before in the category, and who delivered big time as the writer, director, and star of Born. And Sam Elliott already is dominating conversations about the sleepy Supporting Actor category. Only two films in history have won three acting awards: A Streetcar Named Desire and Network. Of those two, only Network won two statues in lead categories, meaning A Star Is Born would have to pull off something done only once before in Academy history. 

The soundtrack: Hey, the soundtrack was a strength — what gives? Well, the Academy may look to spread the love around and give Gaga a Best Song Oscar and give the award to another actress.

The backlash: It’d be easy to say a backlash for A Star Is Born is inevitable, but it’s not … it’s already here. The film and Gaga’s performance have already garnered a bit of criticism from the film community and who knows if the film’s mighty wall will be able to withstand four months of criticism. However, one PRO from that: there’s always backlash to the backlash, and the film has some pretty fierce defenders.

Image via Getty

Oct. 16, 2018: This story has been updated to reflect that Network also won three acting Academy Awards. 

Come Inside the ‘House of Mamis’: The Premiere of Our New Series About a Mexico City Vogue House

Filmmakers and co-directors Angela Jude and Lo Calsada’s House of Mamis docu-series premieres on INTO today, with our first episode of seven taking you inside the lives of the family members in a Mexico City-based voguing house. Calsada describes the Mamis as “a group of queer folks, bois, femmes, chicxs, womxn and everything in between.”

“I lived in Mexico City for a month shooting everything that inspired me, immersing myself in the queer scene there,” Jude said of discovering the House of Mamis. “While filming a small documentary about a trans woman opera singer with Lo, we ate lunch one evening and she spoke about houses in Mexico City.”

What drew me to the Mamis is their way of sustaining each other, loving each other and working together, whether it be voicing transphobia in a queer space or taking the midnight train. It is done together,” Calsada says. “House is Mamis is a family that happens to vogue.”

The debut episode invites you home to meet the Mamis, who introduce themselves and explain how they came to be part of this colorful chosen family.

Check back for new episodes every Tuesday morning at 6 a.m. PST.

It’s Time for Gay Men to Stan Regina Hall

It’s a good time to be Regina Hall. In 2018 alone, she’s delivered an Oscar-worthy performance in Support the Girls — which is streaming on demand and demanding your attention right now — and played emotional anchor as mom Lisa in YA adaptation The Hate U Give. The latter film, which is currently in limited release and goes wide Friday, is just the latest reminder of what a reliably excellent actress Hall is.

So why don’t gay men stan her?

Yes, obviously, there are gay men out there who already stan Hall. We see you, we appreciate you. But what we’re talking about here is not individual standom. We as a collective need to add Hall to the ranks of the collectively beloved — the contemporary actresses who are so adored by gay men that they become easy to reference as gay icons. The Laura Derns. The Meryl Streeps. The Julianne Moores. Hall deserves her place in that hall of fame (pun absolutely intended).

Follow Now GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

If you spend a good deal of your time online, chances are you primarily encounter Hall as Brenda in the Scary Movie franchises. This is thanks to a particularly memorable and memeable scene in the original Scary Movie, when Brenda loudly reacts to the movie she’s watching. “Oh, this is some scary shit!” is the most oft-GIF’d and oft-Vined line, thanks to Hall’s exuberant delivery and pronouncing “scary” as “scurry.”

That the moment is still so frequently used online 18 years later is a testament to how good Hall is as Brenda. She’s one of only two characters to appear in the first four Scary Movie installments (Anna Faris’ protagonist Cindy being the other), and is reliably the funniest part of each movie. Brenda is a broad, energetic character, and Hall plays her to the hilt every time.

It’s wild to think of Hall as both the wild Brenda and the even-keeled Lisa in The Hate U Give, but that’s how strong Hall’s range is. Just take a look at her résumé: She can go from romcoms like the Best Man series and Love & Basketball, to a thriller like When the Bough Breaks, to a phenomenon like Girls Trip. And she feels at home in all of them! She’s even done extended stints on TV shows like Ally McBeal and the short-lived Law & Order: LA.

Let’s take Girls Trip as a singular example. Ostensibly, Hall is the straight man as Ryan — the stable and sensible friend of the Flossy Posse whose professional connections are what make the trip to Essence Fest possible at all. But Ryan is also thrilled to zipline across Bourbon Street, and when she accidentally drinks absinthe, Hall wrings every possible laugh out of the subsequent tripping scene.

Yet not long after those scenes, Hall has to flip a switch back to serious when the Flossy Posse looks ready to break up. In just one sequence, Hall has to balance Ryan’s concerns for her marriage and brand with her pain at feeling betrayed by a friend — all while making her seem like the same character who was screaming while ziplining shortly before. And don’t get us started on how she makes us cry during the final speech scene. It’s a deceptively difficult role, one Hall positively crushed. The lack of Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy still stings.

Support the Girls and The Hate U Give make for a spectacular double play this year, but Hall isn’t letting up. Next year, she’ll star alongside Don Cheadle and Andrew Rannells in the Showtime series Black Monday. She’s also got several films in the pipeline, including — hopefully! — a Girls Trip sequel. That is Hall’s greatest strength as a star: She may not be the biggest one, but she so consistently works that you never have a chance to forget about her.

Regina Hall has given us far too much for us to not stan in return. Now is the time to add her to the canon of gay-beloved actresses. Now is the time to support this girl.

Image via Getty

Take a Look Inside Folsom Street Fair, the World’s Biggest Leather Event

Whips and cigars and puppets, oh my. Welcome to Folsom Street Fair, the famous and infamous San Francisco celebration that stands tall as the world’s largest leather event.

Founded back in 1984, the event brings together leather, BDSM, and other kink enthusiasts across the globe every September. Some have been coming to the festival for nearly the entirety of its existence. Others are newer converts, drawn into the scene out of sheer curiosity.

INTO went to Folsom to talk with attendees from all walks of life. What we found was a sense of community, of belonging. As one puppet (!) told us, for those who don’t feel they belong elsewhere: “This is where you fit in.”

Animated GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

We Have To Hold Our Allies Accountable, Too

I’ve always enjoyed Madonna’s music. In 2015, when she released her 13th studio album Rebel Heart, I replayed it on a loop, especially “Livin’ For Love.” Many fans argued that Rebel Heart was not her best work, but, I understood why people called her the queen of pop. She is the queen of pop.

Madonna is also one of the only musicians who fought for queer rights before it was trendy. She included queer people of color in her music videos before today’s visibility was afforded to them. She used her platform to discuss HIV/AIDs.

It isn’t hard to see why the LGBTQ community is super defensive of Madonna. However, I don’t believe that her resume should exclude her from the same criticism other artists are canceled over, especially since she is still a powerful white woman with special privileges.

I’m not saying that Madonna is a racist or a homophobe, but she is culturally insensitive. She comes from an era where cultural appropriation was standard for white artists. When I mentioned this in one of my pieces, Madonna’s fan base attacked me for nearly one week. Some called me a “disgrace to the LGBTQ community.” Others called me “a fat loser.” Others argued that Madonna’s activism gives her a pass to use the “n-word,” “unintentionally” compare herself to Dr. Martin Luther King, and appropriate countless cultures.

Countless insults filled my mentions, and none of the insults or arguments acknowledged Madonna’s behavior. Some people argued that I was making everything up; however, no one could tell me what exactly that was. Some people — and I probably have more respect for these people — stated that they are willing to ignore Madonna’s behavior because of her activism for the LGBTQ community.

However, for Black and queer people like myself, I cannot ignore somebody’s racism because they support my queerness — just like I cannot ignore somebody’s homophobia because they support my blackness. Ignoring the intersectionality one’s racial and sexual identity is a privilege only afforded to white queer individuals. Therefore, I can’t ignore Madonna’s troublesome behavior because of her activism for the LGBTQ community.

Some (*cough* white *cough*) LGBTQ people were willing to ignore Rosanne Barr’s racism because she has used her platform to denounce homophobia. However, one’s willingness to ignore racism says a lot about that person. To me, it means that the majority of the LGBTQ community is as self-serving as many white rad-feminists and homophobic pro-black people.

Some people, like Caitlyn Jenner, were willing to ignore Donald Trump’s beyond disgraceful antics because she believed that Trump will protect her rights as a rich and powerful transgender white woman. However, this changed the moment Trump began threatening transgender rights. This was truly a big loss for the less rich and powerful transgender community — but even more of a loss to have someone as influential as Caitlyn support everything else Trump has done (i.e: racism, sexual assault and blatantly discriminate against black and brown communities).

We can’t wait until our favorite “ally” does something that threatens our lifestyle or community. Chances are, a racist is also a homophobe. Nothing separates one form of bigotry to the next.

Being an ally means supporting everyone within a particular community — this includes colored people, queer people and women. The Black men and women who supported Bill Cosby revealed how anti-black they are after ignoring or attacking Jewel Allison, a Black woman who Cosby assaulted.

In a piece for the Washington Post, Allison wrote, “When I first heard Andrea Constand and Tamara Green publicly tell their stories about being drugged and assaulted by Cosby, I wasn’t relieved; I was terrified. I knew these women weren’t fabricating stories and conspiring to destroy America’s favorite dad, but I did not want to see yet another African American man vilified in the media. As I debated whether to come forward, I struggled with where my allegiances should lie – with the women who were sexually victimized or with black America, which had been systemically victimized.”

Allison stood quiet because her pro-blackness would be attacked (by both Black men and women) if she went public about Cosby sexually assaulting her. She was tasked with one of the most difficult decisions: being an ally to all women or being an ally to the black community, even if that community often excludes her.

Being an ally means always being able to see how our identities intersect; you can’t be an ally to transgender people if you don’t support transgender people who are Black or Brown. You can’t be an ally to the LGBTQ community with racist views. Our communities aren’t singular, and true allies are able to recognize that – so should their fans.

Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Madonna’s MDNA SKIN

ONE Archives Foundation’s Queer Noise Event Honors Jewel’s Catch One

For one night only, the marquee found at the historic site of LA’s premiere queer black disco will once again read the words, “Catch One.”

The permanent rebrand of UNION nightclub to Catch One is a part of ONE Archives Foundation’s event Queer Noise, featuring a queer ensemble of live music and djs.

This Sunday, ONE Archives Foundation will honor Jewel Thais-Williams at Catch One, the same space where she made history.

For many in the queer community, nightlife has served and still serves as a point of liberation and catharsis from a world that skews white and heterosexual. The legendary Catch One and Jewel Thais-Williams are a testament to that.

In 1973, when being LGBTQ also meant staying in the closet, and when many queer nightlife spaces were reserved for white folk, the only diverse spaces for QPOC to coexist in Los Angeles were a few dive bars.

After being denied entry to many queer underground spaces based on being black or lesbian, Jewel Thais-Williams decided to create their own space. Enter: Jewel’s Catch One.

For over 40 years, Jewel’s Catch One provided a safe space for black queer people in the face of systemic racism, the AID’s epidemic of the 1980s and a 1985 arson attack that almost left the venue in ashes.

Referred to by many as the unofficial Studio 54 of the West Coast, Catch One played host to such legends as Janet Jackson, Madonna, Chaka Khan, Rick James, Thelma Houston and more.

In addition to honoring Jewel Thais-Williams, Queer Noise will also host R&B afro-futurist Kelela. Last week, Kelela released a remixed edition of her highly successful album Take Me Apart featuring a stable of cutting-edge queer talents in music and nightlife. This Sunday will be Kelela’s first LA appearance since the release of Take Me Apart: The Remixes and the setting could not be more perfect.


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by MUSTACHE (@mustache__la) on

Queer Noise will also feature a number of other QPOC artists in Los Angeles including SAN CHA, BAE BAE, Rush Davis, Solomon Georgio, Thurmon Green, Liza Dye and more and an immersive presentation by Los Angeles’s iconoclastic party Mustache.

These days it sometimes feels like QPOC are under fire from every angle. The significance of a Queer Ethiopian woman like Kelela and additionally Queer Chicanx woman like SAN CHA, among many more others, coming together to honor a legend who created space for herself and others marginalized, is all the makings for a very beautiful and historical evening. 

To purchase your tickets for Queer Noise, visit the ONE Archives Foundation Website. Anyone purchasing a ticket for the event will also receive a membership to the ONE Archives Foundation’s new membership program.

I Would Watch ‘First Man’ Star Claire Foy Castigate Men Forever

When I first binged the first two seasons of Netflix’s The Crown, at both my friends’ and my mom’s behest, I quickly realized why my loved ones were so obsessed. What looked like a stodgy period drama was, in fact, actually about Claire Foy as Queen Elizabeth II verbally ruining every man in her government who failed her.

So, basically, it’s the perfect TV show.

Scenes in which Foy’s Elizabeth tears into her prime ministers Winston Churchill, Anthony Eden, and Harold Macmillan are the stuff of legend. One particular season two episode, “Vergangenheit,” sees Elizabeth positively destroy her uncle, the Duke of Windsor, for his Nazi sympathies. These scenes thrill because they’re such a subversion of what we know of the monarchy: the Queen is a figurehead, and the rest of the government works in spite of her. The Crown posits that, in fact, Elizabeth is the one thing standing in the way of these idiotic men destroying the United Kingdom. Only she has the sober vision to see the full picture, and only she has the position to light into her governors without penalty.

Foy is ideal for this characterization of Elizabeth thanks to her mixture of softness in expression and toughness in temperament. She looks so gentle, with the wide blue eyes of a doe, that men in her employ underestimate her. When she grabs them by the proverbial balls and ruins them with a few words, she teaches them to never underestimate her again. Moreover, she verbally lacerates them not out of petty beef, but because they are incompetent. Queen Elizabeth II is a manager, and her staff is bad at their jobs. And they dare to condescend to her while being fuckups! “Cathartic” doesn’t begin to cover how good Elizabeth’s speeches are.

To my delight, Foy does much the same as Janet Shearon-Armstrong in First Man, Damien Chazelle’s Neil Armstrong biopic in theaters now. Playing Neil’s first wife, Foy takes a fairly typical wife role and fucking runs with it. In her hands, Janet is not merely a concerned spouse, or even just an angry one. She’s a ball of complexity, one who stands in sharp contrast to her much simpler, and much more reserved, husband.

Screenwriter Josh Singer baked in two killer scenes for Janet: a confrontation scene at NASA, and a scene where she has to get her husband’s head on straight. The latter is a bit of a spoiler — as much of a spoiler as one can have in a biopic, that is — but it’s the former I’d rather focus on anyway.

During a particularly difficult mission, NASA’s Chief of the Astronaut Office Deke Slayton (Kyle Chandler) cuts off Janet’s access to Neil’s audio feed. Furious, she storms down to NASA, demanding they turn the feed back on. Citing security protocol, Deke refuses, saying they have things under control. It’s his worst possible move.

“No, you don’t,” Janet says. “All these protocols and procedures to make it seem like you have it under control. But you’re a bunch of boys making models out of balsa wood! You don’t have anything under control!”

Okay so first off, Foy plays this scene like she’s a drunk Katharine Hepburn, and it’s incredible. Second, the way she hits the B in “balsa” is like it’s the final B she’ll ever speak, and she truly makes the most of her last one. Third, that final “under control” captures exactly what makes Foy’s Elizabeth speeches so thrilling: She makes perfectly clear that she doesn’t trust these dumb men with anything, that they’re plainly incompetent, and she’d rather march into the control room and do the damn thing herself. Because she could do a hell of a better job than these idiots could.

Claire Foy has become our finest destroyer of men. She will almost certainly earn an Oscar nomination for First Man (as she won the Emmy for The Crown), and it’s nigh-impossible to deny she deserves it. I would watch her rip into incompetent guys in anything. Long live the Queen.

Islam and Homosexuality Collide In ‘Isha’

Isha opens with the sight of a young, half-naked man leaving his male lover in bed. Within seconds, the film cuts to the same man worshipping on a prayer mat with the sound of religious chanting all around. In less than a minute, the problems that trouble the protagonist of this short — and countless other queer people around the world — immediately become apparent.

Shot on location in London and Dorset, the latest short from writer/director Christopher Manning explores the double life led by a gay Romanian Muslim in the UK. Rahmi (Horia Săvescu) lies to his family, pretending that he’s working night shifts at a local fast food restaurant, but he’s actually dating an unnamed English guy (Dario Coates) in secret.

Not only does Rahmi have to somehow reconcile his desires with his religious beliefs, but he also has to contend with homophobic jokes from his younger brother Cemil (Lino Facioli) and pressure from his mother (Maia Morgenstern) to open up more: “Sometimes I lie here all night wondering about your other life, trying to imagine what’s it like…”

Rather than just focus on the struggles that religious gay men face keeping their love life a secret, Manning’s script also flips things around, taking time to consider what it’s like for family members to be shut out of someone’s private life. Morgenstern portrays this “terrible feeling” all too well, proving once again why she’s so respected by critics within the world of Romanian theatre and film.

Fortunately, Isha opens up to the audience far more than Rahmi does to his family in the scenes where he and his lover share a bed together. Without being overly explicit, Manning uses intense close-ups to convey the passion that these two men share for each other before they settle down to talk about their future plans.

Whether the central pair are connecting physically or emotionally, the script is beautifully honest and strives for authenticity throughout. Without spoiling the ending, it’s commendable that Manning and his team don’t go down the obvious path here, something which is particularly important given how few films explore this subject matter with respect.

Rahmi states at one point that “I have the right to live my life,” and clearly there’s a need for this powerful message to be heard. After all, production was funded through a successful Kickstarter campaign that spoke to people before the film was even released.

It wasn’t so long ago that gay Muslim director Parvez Sharma helmed Jihad For Love back in 2007, which became the first film ever made about the relationship between Islam and homosexuality. For this incredible honor, Sharma received a horrifying number of death threats.

Although some progress has been made since, it’s worth bearing in mind that just last year, Lebanon finally became the first Arab country to celebrate a gay Pride festival, only to then see it canceled in 2018 after the organizer was detained by police. In Arab countries like Lebanon, LGBTQ love is still criminalized, proving that Islam and homosexuality are still deemed by many as incompatible.

Of course, the experiences of gay Muslim men who live in the east or west can differ radically in a number of ways, but the complications that arise from the intersection of their religion and sexual orientation can occur nonetheless, wherever people might live.

The issue is far from clear-cut, so it’s particularly commendable that Manning and his crew tackle these problems head-on in Isha. With a running time of just 14 minutes, this powerful short could never even begin to answer the many questions that this ongoing conflict raises on both an individual and societal basis.

Perhaps it doesn’t have to, though. Instead, Isha can help kick-start a dialogue about LGBTQ people who are religious, helping them reconcile any conflict they may suffer while also educating those who would preach said religion and intolerance in the same breath.

The World Premiere of Isha will be held at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2018.