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When it was first announced that director Bill Duke was making Cover, the story of a devout Christian woman who discovers that her husband is on the down-low and may have given her HIV, there was a huge outcry from black gay and lesbian activists who anticipated a demonizing depiction of men in the life. While the opening strains of the melodramatic score stoke those fears, Duke's film (which screens during the final weekend of this year's Pan African Film Festival, in advance of its February 22 opening) is actually quite sympathetic, even allowing male characters who've led secret gay lives to denounce the cultural and religious homophobia that makes their furtiveness a necessity. Unfortunately, Cover is psychologically simplistic, reheating assorted stereotypes on its way to dramatic revelation. Only the always exquisite Aunjanue Ellis, as the woman done wrong, makes it worth seeing. The documentary Legacy of Torture is highly recommended if you missed its recent showing at REDCAT: A low-budget but riveting account of how the U.S. government used torture as a means of breaking the Black Panther Party, Legacy shows that incidents like Abu Ghraib are hardly as aberrational as we'd like to think. PAFF's closing-night film, Kings of the Evening, stars Tyson Beckford as an ex-convict in Depression-era America trying to turn his life around. He takes refuge in a boarding house teeming with secrets, but the film's real focus is on the Sunday-night competitions in which neighborhood men put on their finest threads to vie for a five-dollar prize. The bolstering of wounded spirits is the competition's unstated goal, and Kings delicately underscores the correlation between black “style” and black despair. (AMC Magic Johnson Crenshaw 15; thru Sun., Feb. 17. www.paff.org)
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