Interview with James Sweeney

Bred in Alaska, James Sweeney is an actor-turned-playwright-turned-filmmaker. His debut feature, Straight Up, was the Breakthrough Centerpiece at Outfest and distributed by Strand Releasing. I had the pleasure of interviewing him recently, which you can read below.

To start, how did you first find yourself getting involved in the filmmaking industry? What attracted you to it and how do you find yourself wanting to change it?

My first love was theater, then television, and film came later. I do believe good storytelling can positively affect the world, and that, plus the buckets of cash, is what drew me to Hollywood. I would like to see the entertainment industry become more sustainable environmentally and socioeconomically, for upcoming talent and crew alike. 

When the trailer for the film first premiered, various people including asexual activist David Jay, picked up on some ace coding for the main character. Were you influenced by the asexual community in any way while writing for this film?

Certainly. We wanted to address asexuality both explicitly and implicitly, but also didn’t want to misappropriate Straight Up by marketing it as an asexual romance because this is a story about two people who enter a sexless relationship for different reasons. Also asexuality is a spectrum, like most terms under the queer umbrella, and the reality is not everyone knows exactly how they want to define themselves by age XYZ (if ever) and I think that’s perfectly okay. So while personally I do see Todd as on the ace spectrum, I don’t know when another label is in the cards for him—and it was important to me to end Todd’s arc with a departure, instead of a destination. 

At a movie event in New York, you had described Straight Up as an “homage and deconstruction of rom com and screwball.” Could you expand on this statement and reconstruction on classic film tropes?

The screwball comedy is historically sexless because the genre was popularized during the Hays Code era; Todd and Rory would fit right in. Besides the staple fast-talking banter, the classic screwballs also challenged femininity, masculinity, and gender roles—and I like to believe Straight Up continues that tradition, but updates it for a modern, more fluid generation. As for romantic comedy tropes, we’ve got the meet-cute and the grand gesture, but we also question what even constitutes romantic love, and is it practical or laudable for one person to ‘complete’ you? One of my greatest frustrations with many romance films is how often I don’t understand why the leads even like each other, besides both parties being insanely attractive. In Straight Up, you know it’s not about that. 

What’s so unique about this film is its exploration of queer identity, touching on a period intense analyzation/ dissection of “attraction” that is familiar in many queer persons (especially ace persons) lives. Was it always the intention to explore how queer identity exists beyond single word descriptors like “gay?” 

Yes. Todd mentions in passing, but the politicalization of the word ‘gay’ had a specific purpose in history for civil rights, but on an interpersonal level, labels can be limiting and detrimental. As our vocabulary for various attractions and orientations expands and is normalized, I hope folks learn to view words as tools for communication, not barriers to distance or disparage others, or yourself.

Within the film there’s a truly captivating chemistry between you (Todd) and Rory (Katie Findlay) on screen. What was the energy like working together on set and would you work on any projects together in the future?

Thank you. Controlled chaos energy levels. And yes, Katie and I are looking to find something else to do together. 

In quite a few ways you seem to mirror your protagonist, Todd, in being a queer Asian man navigating his identity in a world that doesn’t reflect it back to him often. In what ways would you say you relate to your own character and what ways do the lines of fiction and reality separate?

On a scale of 6, I’m a Todd 2. Maybe a 3 pre-pandemic when I wasn’t wearing sweatpants every day.

Are there any projects you are currently working on or project ideas you are currently working on and are at liberty to say?

Twins. Parallel universes. That’s all I can say for now. 

The Geeks OUT Podcast: Crash Into Diversity

The Geeks OUT Podcast

Opinions, reviews, incisive discussions of queer geek ideas in pop culture, and the particularly cutting brand of shade that you can only get from a couple of queer geeks all in highly digestible weekly doses.

In this week’s super-sized episode of the Geeks OUT Podcast, Kevin is joined by President of NYCGaymers, Raffy Regulus, as they discuss the new diversity/inclusivity initiatives coming to the Oscars in 2024, get excited for a redesigned and playable Tawna in Crash Bandicoot 4, and celebrate the news of a new season of Kipo & the Age of Wonderbeasts in This Week in Queer. 

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BIG OPENING

KEVIN: Ubisoft apologizes for misconduct & “inappropriate content” in a game
RAFFY: The Oscars release new inclusivity requirements for Best Picture nominees

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DOWN AND NERDY

KEVIN: Mulan, The Babysitter: Killer Queen, For All Mankind, Empyre Aftermath
RAFFY: X-Men comics (Johnathan Hickman oriented), Spellbreak, Lovecraft Country, Upcoming Hyrule Warriors game, Raised by Wolves

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STRONG FEMALE CHARACTER

New look at Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time finally gives Tawna a redesign and makes her playable

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THIS WEEK IN QUEER

Netflix announces 3rd and final season of Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts

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CLIP OF THE WEEK

New teaser for the animated movie Wolfwalkers

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THE WEEK IN GEEK

MOVIES

• New trailer for Hulu’s movie anthology series Monsterland
• New trailer for the remake of Dune
• Sony Pictures waiting until the pandemic is over before releasing big movies
• New trailer for Freaky
• Neve Campbell joins Scream 5 as 3rd original cast member returning

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TV

• The Walking Dead is coming to an end, but adds two spinoffs
• New trailer for The Walking Dead: World Beyond
• Peacock orders 2 seasons of dramatic reboot of Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
• New trailer for season 3 of Star Trek: Discovery
• Adult Swim cancels The Venture Bros. 
• New trailer for Ratched 

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VIDEO GAMES

• Microsoft gives more details on Xbox Series X & introduces Series S
• New trailer for the documentary Console Wars

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SHILF

• KEVIN: Leah Williams
• JOHN: Jonathan Hickman

Interview with Author Ethan Aldridge

Ethan M. Aldridge is a New York Times and Indie bestselling author and illustrator. He is the creator of the fantasy graphic novel ESTRANGED (a Junior Library Guild selection, Indie Bestseller, and YALSA Great Graphic Novel For Teens), and its follow up THE CHANGELING KING. Ethan was raised in a small town in Utah.Growing up, Ethan’s favorite things to draw were monsters and whatever dinosaur he liked that week. He now does more or less the same thing for a living. Ethan lives in New York City with his husband, Matthew, and their dog, Kitsune. I got the chance to interview Ethan, which you can read below.

To start with, how did you first come to realize you wanted to be an author/ illustrator? What were some of the stories that originally drew your eye as a child or inspired your artistic journey?

I’ve enjoyed telling stories, and telling stories visually, for about as long as I can remember, though it wasn’t until I was about 16 or so that I realized that doing things like making comics and illustrating books was something I could do as a living. I adored strange detailed fantasies, everything from the book “The Dragons Are Singing Tonight” by Jack Prelutsky and Peter Sis to the epic fantasy films of the 80’s like “Willow” and Jim Henson’s “Labyrinth.” I poured over them again and again as a child.

Much of your work centers around folklore and fae mythology, particularly that of the changeling. What drew you specifically to this story?

I’ve always enjoyed old folklore and fairy tales, for all of their beauty and strange, surreal poetry. Just prior to starting work on my graphic novel series “Estranged,” I became  fascinated with changeling stories, where faeries would steal a human baby and replace the child with one of their own. Sometimes the stories are silly, and some pretty sinister, but at their core they all seemed to be about the same thing; a parent is convinced that the child in their care is not who they thought they were. As someone who grew up queer and in the closet, and who didn’t figure myself until much later, these stories seemed all too familiar. In the folktales, the swap is always discovered and the rightful baby returned, but I wanted to see what would happen if that wasn’t so. I wanted to see if the parents would learn to love the child they had, instead of the child they wished for. I wanted to give the story a happier ending, at least for the changeling.

Within your books, the Estranged Series, there are many parallels between one of the protagonist’s dual narratives as a changeling and as a queer teen, including the sense of being and feeling different from the people around you. For years, queer people have often gravitated towards fantasy, why do you think that is?

There are so many themes and tropes in fantasy that resonate with the queer experience; outsiders finding their way through a strange world, transformations, hidden identities. People find impossible loves, change form and gender, escape from inescapable isolation into a world wider and more strange than they ever imagined. Fantasy is all about a life and a world outside of what we are told is possible, and I think that sense is something that speaks to a lot of queer people. We grew up with those feelings in us, so we gravitated to the stories that told us those feelings meant something true and important and beautiful. From changelings to voiceless mermaids to love-lorn princesses locked away in remote towers, queer people have been using fantasy as a way to express feelings of queerness for a long time.

You are currently working on a new project called The Legend of Brightblade. Can you tell us in your own words what it’s going to be about?

It’s a brand new graphic novel about a long journey undertaken by a trio of bards, people who use music and storytelling to weave literal magic. Alto, the youngest child of a storied hero, runs away to create his own legend, and bumps into all sorts of trouble he’s not prepared for. It’s part epic journey, part coming-of-age adventure, and part Battle of the Bands rivalry. It’s about the way stories of the past affect us, and how we tell our own stories in response. It’s also got trolls, elves, a long-haired goat named Knud, and at least one dragon, and that’s always fun.

Hypothetically speaking, if the characters of your books or you yourself could interact with characters from any other fictional universe, where would they be from?

That’s a tricky question! The stories I tend to like the most have very messy protagonists, and the boys from “Estranged” don’t always play well with others. Imagine Edmund from my books meetings, say, Edmund from the Narnia books? It would be chaos. And a lot of sulking.

As a creator what advice would you give to other budding artists/writers on their own creative journeys?

If what you’re interested in is telling stories, then go ahead and do it. Don’t wait for a book deal or a publishing offer. Make sure it’s something you’re interested in, not just something you think you could sell, and make sure it’s something you can finish. Short comics are great for this. Having a complete story you can show to people is very beneficial, both for you and for your would-be readers.

Finally, what are some LGBTQ+ comics or books you would recommend to the readers of Geeks Out?

There have been so many great ones, especially ones that have come out lately! Some of my favorite recent LGBTQ+ comics are “Snapdragon” by Kat Leyh, the Witch Boy series by Molly Knox Ostertag, “Beetle And The Hollowbones” by Aliza Layne, “Mooncakes” by Suzanne Walker and Wendy Xu, and “TAZ: Petals To The Metal” by Carey Pietsch and Justin, Travis, Griffin and Clint McElroy. There are more coming later this year, like “The Magic Fish” by Trung Le Nguyen, that I’m very excited about

More of Ethan’s work can be found online at ethanaldridge.weebly.com, and on twitter and instagram at @ethanmaldridge

The Geeks OUT Podcast: Scary Stories to Tell in the Park

The Geeks OUT Podcast

Opinions, reviews, incisive discussions of queer geek ideas in pop culture, and the particularly cutting brand of shade that you can only get from a couple of queer geeks all in highly digestible weekly doses.

In this week’s episode of the Geeks OUT Podcast, Kevin is joined by John Jennison, as they discuss Sony developing a Silk series from Marvel, a new trailer for Jurassic World: Camp Cretaceous, and celebrate Star Trek: Discovery introducing a non-binary and a trans character in This Week in Queer.

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BIG OPENING

KEVIN: Nickelodeon pulls Made by Maddie after Hair Love comparisons & a new trailer for Netflix series Grand Army drops that is already falling into controversy
JOHN: New teaser for The Haunting of Bly Manor

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DOWN AND NERDY

KEVIN: New Mutants, I’m Thinking of Ending Things, Empyre, Guardians of the Galaxy
JOHN: Supernatural, Lucifer, Oracle Decks

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STRONG FEMALE CHARACTER

Sony developing Silk series along with other Marvel based shows

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THIS WEEK IN QUEER

Star Trek: Discovery is introducing a trans and a non-binary character

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CLIP OF THE WEEK

New trailer for Jurassic World: Camp Cretaceous 

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THE WEEK IN GEEK

MOVIES

• New trailer for The Boys in the Band
• Production on The Batman shuts down after the star tests positive for COVID
• John Boyega calls out Star Wars/Disney on their treatment of POC characters
• New trailer for Welcome to the Blumhouse
• New trailer for No Time to Die

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TV

• CBS All Access announces a virtual Star Trek Day
• New teaser for The Stand remake
• Netflix orders The Three-Body-Problem from Game of Thrones ep’s
• New trailer for We Are Who We Are
• AMC cancels NOS4A2 

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COMIC BOOKS

• DC Comics hires former Activision marketing officer as new GM
• Dark Horse teams with Comixology to print Comixology Originals
• Hasbro follows DC Fandome with their own PulseCon

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SHILF

• KEVIN: Dean Winchester
• JOHN: Dean Winchester

The Geeks OUT Podcast: The Killer Babysitter’s Club

The Geeks OUT Podcast

Opinions, reviews, incisive discussions of queer geek ideas in pop culture, and the particularly cutting brand of shade that you can only get from a couple of queer geeks all in highly digestible weekly doses.

In this week’s episode of the Geeks OUT Podcast, Kevin is joined by J.W. Crump, as they discuss Marvel (finally) canonically acknowledging Hercules’ queer identity in the latest issue of Guardians of the Galaxy, the new trailer for The Babysitter: Killer Queen, and celebrate Big Mouth re-casting Missy with comedian Ayo Edebiri, as our Strong Female Character of the Week. 

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BIG OPENING

KEVIN: After 4 years of battling colon cancer, Chadwick Boseman passes away
J.W.: HBO Max announces docuseries Equal about LGBTQ+ activists

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DOWN AND NERDY

KEVIN: Freak Show, Bloodshot, Bill & Ted Face the Music, Trinkets
J.W.: Stage Mother, The Goes Wrong Show, Fangs, The Wig, The Bitch, and the Meltdown, The Memo, Happy & You Know It, Cinderella and the Glass Ceiling

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STRONG FEMALE CHARACTER

Big Mouth has found their new Missy

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THIS WEEK IN QUEER

This coming week’s Guardians of the Galaxy confirms Hercules queerness

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CLIP OF THE WEEK

New trailer for The Babysitter: Killer Queen 

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THE WEEK IN GEEK

MOVIES

• New trailer for Enola Holmes
• New trailer for Justice League: Directors Cut
• New trailer for Tremors: Shrieker Island
• New trailer for Come Play
• Disney developing movie based on The Haunted Mansion

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TV

• New poster for The Conners promotes mask use
• HBO developing an adaptation of Michael Crichton’s Sphere
• New teaser for season 2 of His Dark Materials
• New trailer for Raised by Wolves
• Netflix orders a series adaptation of Resident Evil
• Networks fill their fall lineups with game shows, sports, and DISCO  
• The Stand is coming to CBS All Access in December 
• NBC orders Kate McKinnon led Joe Exotic limited series
• Fox is developing an animated X-Files series  
• Live-action Powerpuff Girls series is in development

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VIDEO GAMES

• New teaser for Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League
• New trailer for Gotham Knights
• Marvel and Galactus are invading Fortnite