This isn't one of Fusion's strongest years. The film festival, a subsidiary of Outfest whose programming focuses on work by and about LGBT people of color, seems to be in the doldrums. Between the two new features being offered (one of which, Patrick-Ian Polk's The Skinny, was not available for preview) and the nearly two dozen shorts on deck, most of this year's slate is competent but underwhelming. Some of it is good, but nothing really dazzles.
For those of us still starving for any sort of representation, any crumb in a storm is at least somewhat welcome. But that still feels like a cop-out, a loophole that allows and excuses mediocrity.
The truth is, blame for the lackluster lineup can't be laid solely at the feet of Fusion's programmers. Some of it has to be assigned to LGBT filmmakers and their lack of imagination, their dearth of nuance and unevolved artistic ambition. What does it say that Nisha Gantra's terribly dated 1999 lesbian flick, Chutney Popcorn (about the intersections of American and Indian cultures via an interracial love affair), is really not that much more stale than the new U.K. film Stud Life, about a present-day gorgeous black stud and her white twink best friend who has a thing for rough trade? Both films are cliché-strewn journeys into cross-cultural relationships, where the insights offered are embarrassingly trite. (When JJ, the black stud, breaks the fourth wall to launch into what's meant to be a comic tirade about the dearth of real options afforded lesbians when they're shopping for dildos, you can all but smell the dust and mold on her tired monologue.)
It speaks volumes that the 1976 film Car Wash, a look at the foibles and struggles of a multiracial but largely black working-class crew in mid-'70s L.A. written by Joel Schumacher, offers a more radical, interesting depiction of queerness than so much of the new fare — and in what is nothing more than a secondary character. (Scheduled to follow Stud Life, Car Wash is billed as an audience-participation screening, with singing and dancing along encouraged.)
The fierce, unapologetic Lindy (flawlessly played by Antonio Fargas) is a black queen living and working proudly in the hood. Presented without sentimentality, she's not modeled on either white women or black supermodels — she's a diva of her own design. Both quick-witted and a fighter, she has one of the classic retorts of all time. Duane-Abdullah, a homophobic co-worker played by actor-turned-director Bill Duke, continually throws digs at her. She eventually shoots him down with the comeback, “Honey, I am more man than you'll ever be, and more woman than you'll ever get!”
FUSION: THE LOS ANGELES LGBT PEOPLE OF COLOR FILM FESTIVAL | March 22-24 | Egyptian Theatre; Renberg Theatre | outfest.org/fusion