“I’m just saying if you’re gonna have three out of the witches, you need four, don’tcha?” actress Rachel True asked, referring to the controversy that erupted when she went public about an unnamed convention inviting all three female leads in The Craft–except her. “Sounds about white,” she tweeted dryly. “I’m very happy to be here with my whole cast,” she declared. “I’m delighted to be here with the whole cast. I am.”
True talked to me at Monster-Mania 42, “the semi-annual Philadelphia Horror Film & Memorabilia Convention,” which invited her to join Robin Tunney, Fairuza Balk, and Neve Campbell for a Craft reunion at their March event shortly after the snub story broke. The coven proved to be one of the weekend’s biggest draws. There’s always a preponderance of Goths and geeks at the convention, of course, but the Craft ladies brought them out in force. Much of the crowd seemed to exemplify Balk’s famous line “We are the weirdoes, mister.” I told a woman in line with me that her outfit was appropriately witchy. “Oh!” she replied. “This is just what I wear all the time.” Elsewhere, cosplayers embodied a mix of horror icons like The Haunting of Hill House’s “Bent Neck Lady” and a gender-swapped Ash (from Evil Dead) and comics universe characters like Batgirl and Gotham’s Oswald Cobblepot.
The weekend marked the one year anniversary of a near
disastrous event wherein the combination of big names like Tim Curry, Paul
Reubens, Richard Dreyfuss, and the young stars of It (2017) drew crowds far past the capacity of the Cherry Hill, NJ
Crown Plaza Hotel. The fire department
intervened, limiting Saturday admittance, shutting down a tent meant to host
panels, and leaving droves of fans either left out in the cold (literally) or
just plain ticked off. To its credit,
the organizers have since taken steps to strictly limit sales to reasonable
capacity, meaning advance tickets are pretty much a must—but the precautions
have paid off in avoiding a similar debacle.
I went on the comparably quieter Sunday this time, and although I heard
the day before was packed, it didn’t sound anything like the previous year.
The Con drew a wide assortment of guests, including two other notable African American actors: Jibrail Nantambu, who stole the show with his hilarious, heavily improvised performance in Halloween (2018), and Eugene Clark, the imposing actor who memorably played “Big Daddy,” the leader of the zombies in George Romero’s Land of the Dead. There was also Dylan McDermott, hunky star of American Horror Story and the 1990 scifi thriller Hardware, original Michael Myers Nick Castle and 2018 version James Jude Courtney, 80s hearththrob Dolph Lundgren (He-Man in the camp classic Masters of the Universe), and Meatloaf! (Christina Ricci was only there through Saturday, so I missed her. Le sigh.)
Also in attendance was Ashlee Blackwell, founder of the scholarly
website Graveyard Shift Sisters (graveyardshiftsisters.com) and co-writer/producer
of the excellent Horror Noire: A History
of Black Horror, currently streaming on Shudder. I watched the film to prepare for meeting True,
who appears throughout the movie’s brisk 83 minute runtime. The actress joins everyone from Candyman Tony Todd to Get Out director Jordan Peele to discuss
the history of black representation and contributions to horror, with plenty of
illuminating insights throughout. “It’s
so good, isn’t it?” True enthused. “Tell
your white friends to watch it, because I think people think it’s only for
Black [people]—it’s not, if you like horror, this is a great documentary,
right?” I agreed that it was, and
mentioned how passionately Geeks OUT believes in representation. “I’m
really big on representation!” True responded, adding pointedly, “I’m
here. I’m happy to be here.”
The weird ‘facts’ JK Rowling has shared has turned into a fairly hilarious meme describing all of the ‘new information’ JK Rowling has bestowed about Harry Potter characters as well as other fandoms. It’s inception has come from the Harry Potter author divulging various tidbits on Twitter and it interviews about characters and plot points that really don’t have anything to do with the story. The intention to expand the Harry Potter universe is interesting in of itself, but telling us that a character is actually part of a minority way after the fact is hollow and irritating.Unfortunately, the stuff that JK Rowling comes up somehow outshines the creativity of Twitter with it’s sheer ridiculousness.
The latest revelation that she decided to share was that Dumbledore and Grindelwald had an ‘intense sexual relationship’.
First of all, no one was asking about that, and no one wanted it. Seriously there was never any time during the books or movies where I sat there wondering about any of the characters’ sex life. It’s not important to the story and at this point doesn’t give us any value at all. This revelation is nowhere as strange as the ‘wizards used to shit themselves before muggles invented toilets’ factoid, but the weird faux-representation she is trying to bestow is hurtful, annoying, and frankly pointless.
Full disclosure, I started reading the Harry Potter books when I was 11, rereading them all multiple times. The book series has it flaws, but I still love it with all of my heart. But as the years have passed the more and more JKR has tried to shove weird ‘inclusive’ things into the series, it’s taking away any joy I used to feel about these books.
People were obviously disappointed that a gay character (which wasn’t revealed in the books at all) would be in a movie with his love interested and there would absolutely zero queer context. It feels like someone dangling representation in front of faces only chastised when we want concrete examples of queer characters in the Harry Potter universe. It seems like she’s trying to be inclusive in ways that are safe to her and the franchising bottom line. JK Rowling and Harry Potter wouldn’t suffer greatly if there was actual canonical representation in Fantastic Beasts, but it probably would have hurt if she explicitly stated Dumbledore’s sexual orientation in the books.
This does NOT mean, however, talking about how two male characters used to bone a lot. It still leaves the representation at zero and overly sexualizes characters that are in books made for children and young adults. I’m not saying there shouldn’t be any of that in kids books, but it’s not what we’re asking for and it feels extremely strange to be given that over a decade since the last book was released. Saying Dumbledore and Grindelwald have sex is supposed to make me feel better about there being no out queer characters canonically? What does this solve exactly? Am I supposed to be satiated by this?
It would have been brave of her to include an openly gay character in a popular book series that debuted in 1997. But now it all just feels like I’m reading really bad fanfiction. I’ve read better fanfiction that includes more tasteful and concrete representation. Now I’m left questioning why no one in her circle is telling her to stop tweeting these empty platitudes. I’m wondering why her or anyone else feels like this is a solution to the lack of diverse representation in the books and the movies.
I’m not going to lie, the JK Rowling memes have been more creative than and interesting than Rowling’s revelations. But I would trade them all for actually queer representation in the Harry Potter universe. Queer wizards want to be seen too.
In this week’s marvelously extended episode of the Geeks OUT Podcast, Kevin is joined by Jason Conover, as they discuss Black Widow’s hair journey in the latest Avengers: Endgame trailer, marvel at Disney’s decision to bring James Gunn back, and question JK Rowling’s decision to continue to gay-bait Harry Potter fans in This Week in Queer.
In this week’s marvelously extended episode of the Geeks OUT Podcast, Kevin is joined by Jon Herzog, as they salute the success of Brie Larson and Captain Marvel, take a peak at the new trailer for Game of Thrones, and celebrate Mr. Rogers and 20BiTeen in This Week in Queer.
In this week’s super-sized episode of the Geeks OUT Podcast, Kevin is joined by J.W. Crump, as they discuss the latest trailer for Detective Pikachu, fan cast an out gay actor for Marvel’s The Eternals, and celebrate Matt Bomer speaking out about the importance of queer superheroes in This Week in Queer.
Eliza and Nate Dushku are like a lot of siblings-their words overlap, and they’re obviously close-except both happen to be very good-looking (seriously, what is with their family’s genes?) and have spent a lifetime acting and now producing in film and television. Their latest collaboration, Mapplethorpe, directed by Ondi Timoner and starring Dr. Who‘s Matt Smith as the eponymous enfant terrible, is now open in limited release after a run at Tribeca Film Festival last spring.
The Dushkus endear themselves to me early on. Nate is wearing a high school jacket recently unearthed by their mom. Like Eliza’s famous Buffy the Vampire Slayer character Faith, the two grew up in the Boston area, where I was attending college when I first discovered her. Eliza apologizes unnecessarily for grabbing food before joining us at Tribeca’s posh Roxy Hotel. As I watch her start in on some chicken wings, I think, “Slayers… They’re just like us!” I’ve just seen Mapplethorpe and am eager to discuss the film. It turns out I was a freshman at Emerson when the Dushkus first started development.
“This one was just something that really spoke to me when Nate sent the script to me in 2002,” Eliza professes. “It’s been a long time. Just with Mapplethorpe being such a boundary pusher and such a fascinating artist, and … the art that he made and the person that he was sort of being in contradiction. You know the controversy about him but then there was such humanity in him, too, and I feel like it was just exciting for us to tell that story.”
“It’s not easy getting an independent film financed and shot in New York City anyway,” Nate states, “and an artist that’s this controversial, whose work was censored … trying to put this out into the mainstream, we knew there were going to be challenges. But Robert was an icon not just to artists but… he’s not Lady Gaga, he’s not Ru Paul, he’s his own [thing]-but he came before, in many ways, those people were influenced by him and-“
“He forged a path, you know?” Eliza chimes in.
“He forged a path,” Nate agrees, “and it’s really cool to be holding his legacy.”
It’s a responsibility the pair took seriously through every aspect of production, which recreates three decades convincingly through music, wardrobe, and a vast number of locations. The cast, led by Smith, was more than up to the job.
“[Matt] was so prepared, every day, even towards the end, he got really sick, he got some kind of bug-and he just plowed through it,” Eliza gushes. “He really just embodied the character, the way he improvised, the way he would interact with the other characters, it was extraordinary to watch, you know. Lucky to have him.”
Nate agrees, explaining that the screenplay’s time span presented some unique challenges: “In maybe one day, you’d be doing a scene from the 60s and also a scene from the 80s.”
“In one location,” Eliza adds.
“It’s like, ‘you’re dying! You’re 18 years old, you moved out to New York City. It’s the mid-70s…'” Nate recalls. These drastic shifts also extended to the actor’s hairstyle: “We had Wigmageddon,” Eliza jokes, “there were a lot of wigs on the actors.”
Photo by Andrew Toth
Smith’s costars also impressed the duo. “Marianne [Rendon], she read for the role and it was like, there’s real life young Patti [Smith], in the flesh,” Nate declares. He also has kind words for newcomer Brandon Sklenar (Edward Mapplethorpe) and veteran actor John Benjamin Hickey (Robert’s lover Sam Wagstaff). “[Brandon’s] playing opposite Matt, and we just needed somebody who could go pound for pound with him,” Nate explains. “John Benjamin Hickey is another story, he’s a pro, he’s been doing this for a long time, but that was great to see [him and Smith] come together. Every single actor just humanized the role and just gave it levels.”
This being the Robert Mapplethorpe story, there’s considerable nudity and sexual content in the film. This wasn’t a problem in the acting realm, at least. The actors “responded really well,” Eliza states. “We sent them the script, we sent them the material-it’s a choice, even for me as an actor, and everyone who came and knew what the movie was and knew what the artist was, and we were really impressed with the performances. And in terms of the extras in the sex dungeon [sequence], yeah there are a lot of rules in SAG, and protections and things. Some of them came in their own wardrobe.” Eliza says many of the background performers came from the leather and kink community, and credits Central Casting with finding them all. “Central Casting, they have been around forever and they put their own people on it,” Nate elaborates. “They were so excited about the project and whenever we needed something, we’d say ‘this is what we need’ and they’d send pictures for us to choose from. They interviewed them, because they have to stand by the people they’re sending over to be on set. It’s just like any other actor, really.”
While the cast was game for the racy scenes, some of the potential locations and soundtrack contributors were another matter. When I tell the pair that I loved the vintage soundtrack, Eliza reveals that a number of performers “had deep Christian values and didn’t want to have their songs in this kind of film, and we’d have to say, ‘OK.'”
“I mean, that happened during production, too,” Nate says. “We had a really hard time finding the church to shoot in, and then we had a really hard time, [this] church I guess, owned this [building]-“
“Don’t tell him the name!” Eliza scolds. I assure them the name will be redacted and suggest referring to it only as “Church X.”
“Church X,” Nate continues, “this other location that I guess was owned by them, they pulled out at the last minute.” Despite these challenges, the producers strove to reinforce the narrative with deliberate choices. One of the songs that was secured is “I’m a Man” by Jobriath, which Eliza handpicked for the end credits. “He was the first ever gay musician to have a major recording deal,” Nate tells me. “He was a gay glam rocker … he basically got torn down by the media, and then he moved into the top floor of the Chelsea [Hotel, where Robert and Patti lived] and then he died of AIDS at 38 years old. And that was another angle to it, that we wanted to try to have the narrative of the music, fit Robert’s narrative.”
So after all the trials and tribulations of Mapplethorpe, would Eliza consider producing again? In fact, she and Nate are developing projects, including the “big, epic TV series” The Black Company, though the actress/producer has other things happening. “I live back in Boston these days,” Eliza says. “Marrying a Boston boy this August, and going to school in Cambridge, working on my bachelor’s degree in holistic psychology.” I tell her that I always dreamed of going to school in Cambridge. “Me, too!” she exclaims. “So I just friggin’ went for it.”
Eliza adds that she might be starting a family soon, “but I think I’ll always have a tie in to the business. My brother and I have always been so close and share a lot of excitement around different stories and storytelling.”
Eliza also shares the excitement of her Buffy fans. I ask her for her take on being an icon to the LGBT community. “Awww!” she says. I mention the panel at Flame Con in 2017, in which panelist JE Reich responded to the question “Buffy and Angel or Buffy and Spike?” with “Buffy and Faith!” Eliza smiles knowingly and answers only, “Yeah.”
“I’m always honored and tickled when I hear that,” she continues. “I feel the love, you know, from guys telling me that I’m the only female on their ‘list,” and their boyfriend’s totally cool with it, to like, I’m the only one that would turn her!” Eliza laughs. “It’s cool that we’re living in a world today where we can just be out with like, what does it for us. [Buffy] was such a-I mean, we throw the word ‘groundbreaking’ around a lot, but it was a groundbreaking show!” Eliza adds with amazement that the series “really spoke to people and changed a lot of people’s lives! Because I meet them frequently, and they profess exactly just how it did, and it’s awesome. A lot of actors never have that opportunity to be part of something that just has such a beating heart. And such an effect on so many people, and I’ll always just be blown away and grateful for that.”
Eliza explains how this passion has benefited her personally, through “that feeling that I’ve helped people get through really hard shit. And then a few months ago, I had to go through some really hard shit (in January, she shared her experience with sexual abuse at the age of 12 at the hands of True Lies stunt coordinator Joel Kramer) but my fans kind of inspired me in the same way they told me that I inspired them so it was really kind of a beautiful circle thing.””
Biopics are a tricky beast. They can be vivid, galvanizing depictions of real life figures that bring their subjects to life with vigor and relevance: i.e. Milk. They can also be hackneyed, cliché messes that turn complicated lives into a series of familiar, screenwriter friendly tropes. Mapplethorpe, which casts Matt Smith as the legendary homoerotic photographer, isn’t immune to these pitfalls, but an outstanding cast, superior production values, and a heady dollop of sexuality make it an engrossing and entertaining movie from start to finish.