Little Richard

While watching John Waters’ controversial movie Pink Flamingoes for this course, one thing that lingered in my mind was how important the film, and its creator, ultimately were to queer culture. Despite what you may (and let’s be honest, will) think about it by its conclusion if you can stomach it, it is a cult classic still talked about today with fans similar to those of Rocky Horror, and there was nothing like it or him at the time of its theatrical release. I consider Little Richard in the same way I consider John, because even today it is hard to state there was anything, or anybody, quite like Little Richard at the time.

Little Richard in my opinion is not just an important part of music culture, but queer culture as well. For one thing, the subject of his sexuality was a mystery throughout his career, and that mystery continues to this day. Whether it’s intentionally vague or not can also be debated, but what is known is he’s admitted to having sexual relationships with men and women, had drag queen stints, married a woman, told his biographer in 1984 he is omnisexual, told both his biographer and Penthouse magazine in 1995 he is homosexual, and authorized Mojo magazine calling him a “bisexual alien” in 2007. Who knows? The only thing that seems crystal clear amidst all the confusion is he does not identify as straight.

Little Richard was like nobody else on the planet at the time, in more ways than his sexual orientation. He broke barriers for both sound and skin color that were unheard of in his heyday. He was one of the first popular black crossover artists in music, selling out stadiums filled with black fans and white fans, appealing to minorities while being embraced by the majorities. He combined elements of different music genres like gospel music and the blues into rock and roll music everybody could not help but love, even if they did not want to; they usually did not want to, because of both his questionable sexual orientation and his androgynous appearance. And his voice. Holy shit, his voice! Drag queens in the ’50s who wore long wigs or had long hair like him, and who ever sounded high pitched like him (singing or just talking) were usually banished to the darkest recesses of street corners or bars with very low attendance, but in that same time Richard was selling out major stadiums and earning the respect of all who viewed his performances (spoiler: there were a lot of viewers). His flamboyance was never seen before from a major musician of the time, let alone a singer in as high a profile as him. His high pitch vocal style still resonates in gay bars in California, where “Tutti Frutti” can commonly be heard on the same night on the dance floor as Sam Smith’s “I’m Not The Only One” and Adele’s “Hello”.

Every single thing that made Little Richard Little Richard was odd, weird, and was not seen before he entered the stage, entered the public eye, entered people’s thoughts, hearts, and minds, and blew it all away with good catchy music you could not help but dance to, even if you had nobody to dance with. His influence and excellence inspired generations of straight, queer, and questioning individuals alike to get into music, while simultaneously inspiring musicians of his same generation to improve (as both musicians, and people). There was never anybody quite like Little Richard before he started, and I cannot say there has been anybody quite like Little Richard ever since.

In The Flesh

In 2013, a unique little show popped up over in the United Kingdom. This show was called “In The Flesh”, and it took a unique approach in numerous directions. It was a horror television show that had very little focus on blood, guts, and gore; they appeared (what form of media involving zombies could entirely omit it after all) but were in contrast to the story, which focused on the zombies’ thoughts, their feelings, and their struggles. In doing so, it went against the traditional layout of zombie films and TV shows. And in another surprising development, the creators made the focal point of the show in particular an openly bisexual male character: a rarity in entertainment worldwide, but especially in the United Kingdom, who would get legal marriage equality shortly after the first episode aired (months after it was filmed, when it was still at best considered an outside possibility).

This is by no means the first instance of LGBT+ representation in zombie media: Walking Dead viewers and readers know there’s at least one gay couple and lesbian undertaking over the course of the lengthy still-ongoing series. But to the best of my knowledge, this is the first time LGBT+ representation is at the forefront of the piece. The main character, Kieren, is a rehabilitated zombie or “rotter” who ended his own life after his closeted boyfriend was killed in action in the Afghanistan war. Rehabbed zombies are essentially treated like immigrants or…well…LGBT+ people. The town rebels and says we don’t want you, you might infect or kill us or take our jobs. Over the course of the show’s 2 seasons, things happen that affect his life even more than those verbal accusations. Yes, it’s a zombie show, so the lover comes back, but as with many things it’s not meant to last.

Season 2 shows the most progression of both the storyline and the role/trope of the doomed LGBT character. Things don’t seem so hopeless ultimately, even for a drama! A new love comes into his life. His best friend is by his side until the end. And he comes to terms with himself, who he is, what he is. The show got praise from critics and viewers alike in the United Kingdom when it aired on BBC Three and in the United States when it aired on BBC America for its progressiveness, not just for a show with zombies, but for a show with an LGBT+ main character. Throughout the show, aside from flashbacks, it’s abundantly clear that zombies mirror LGBT people, especially Kieren who is both: the town didn’t like him when he was bisexual and human, the town doesn’t like him now that he’s bisexual and potentially could snap and eat their brains. In season one, this was a problem because Kieren didn’t like that he was either. He didn’t want to be an ostracized minority, he just wanted to be happy and fit in.

But in season 2, he gradually became more confident in both his sexuality and his status as a rehabbed zombie. He only has two relationships in the show, and they’re both with men, but it’s never assumed that he’s just gay even by other characters like his best friend Amy, which is a wonderful step forward for media showing bi visibility. Simon, his new lover in season 2, at one point gives a speech that essentially teaches Kieren the biggest lesson he learns potentially ever: the only acceptance you really need most is your own. And he never forgets it after they embrace in a wonderful moment.

Like I said earlier unfortunately, many things in life aren’t meant to last, and this show was one of them. The second season was its last, with a total of 9 episodes throughout the series. Still it was a hell of a ride, and both seasons are available for purchase on DVD from BBC America wherever DVDs are sold. I highly recommend giving it a chance. Few zombie shows or movies are this consistently captivating, progressive, and important.

A “Weekend” You’ll Never Forget

With his critically-acclaimed 2011 British modern romantic drama, “Weekend”, Andrew Haigh has created something truly special. “Weekend” is the tale of Russell (Tom Cullen) and Glen (Chris New), two very different people who meet at a Nottingham gay nightclub, have a one-night-stand (which turns to something more throughout the weekend), and are never the same again.

Russell is a single lifeguard who attends a house party with friends one Friday night, but leaves early to go to a gay club (partly for more drinks, partly to find a one-night stand). He finds the latter in Glen, a student artist. This is a romance film, so of course, they fuck. The next morning (Saturday), Glen asks Russell to describe the experience of the night and their meeting on a tape recorder “for an art project”, and from that point forward, 2 things are clear: these people couldn’t have less in common (making their life-changing relationship that much more amazing), and that this isn’t your ordinary LGBTQ+ romance movie.

Throughout the description, and at other points in the film, Russell is noticeably hesitant and reserved, while Glen is more open and blunt and descriptive. They meet again after Russell’s shift at the pool ends, and learn more about each other (Russell grew up in foster homes with his friend Jamie, who he’ll see Sunday for his daughter’s birthday; Glen’s moving Sunday afternoon to Oregon for 2 years studying art). With the latter revelation, Russell is sad, but they still promise to meet again at Glen’s goodbye party to his friends later that night. There, they talk more, fight, make up, and make out.

Sunday comes, and there’s no fairy-tale magic or wish that undoes what both said they’d do on this day. Their paths cross in the morning with more talking, and at night they’re able to meet one last time at the train station. Though who’s to say it’s the last time, or that it’s goodbye, because after all 4 days before neither of them even knew the other existed. Russell breaks his reservedness in public for a beautiful moment that also serves to express the many ways both change from this experience, this weekend-long fling. In another way, the fling changes Glen’s anti-relationship thoughts (he starts out not wanting to get in a position where he could be hurt again, but discovers some people are worth giving that risk a shot).

“Weekend” is one of a few LGBTQ+ movies deemed important enough to receive a DVD and Blu-Ray distribution release from the Criterion Collection series, which is dedicated to gathering the greatest films from around the world throughout history, and releasing them in high-quality with historic bonus features. It’s been compared in numerous ways to Richard Linklater’s 1995 great “Before Sunrise”, which also lingered on the beginning of a connection. That film had a sequel, “Before Sunset”, which had the same characters retain their relationship years later, and while “Weekend” likely won’t receive a sequel, the ending leaves the possibility that this might not be a permanent end to their friendship and relationship. But even if it is, they’ve both been changed for the better.

Gay love stories have been more prevalent in cinema over the last two decades than ever before, with two in particular getting widespread mainstream praise and Criterion Collection releases (this and “Blue is the Warmest Color”). You’ll find few that are as important or realistic as “Weekend”. One of the best-reviewed movies of 2011, it’s also likely one of the best LGBTQ+ movies ever made. It’s a tender, honest, story about falling in love. It’s a tale of identity and self-definition. And it’s about love between two gay men. And that’s probably why it stands out so much among other LGBTQ+ films throughout history: the latter aspect is just a small part of it amidst the rest of the tale. Most people can identify with at least one of these two characters, and most people can sympathize with this tale, and most people can understand and agree with the potential tagline “Weekend” could conceivably have: “Sex is easy, love is hard.”

In conclusion, sometimes you meet a person truly special, that your life would never be the same with or without meeting, that you never forget. Glen and Russell were never the same after their “Weekend” relationship. And after watching “Weekend”, you’ll never be the same.