- Reporters Desk
By Zamná Ávila, Assistant Editor
It may seem as if the United States has reached an unprecedented level of equality, now that it is moving toward a society that no longer struggles for marriage equality, but the battle is far from over. The Long Beach QFilm Festival, which takes place Sept. 10 through 13, reminds us that there are still intersectional struggles that remain, such as wealth inequality, racism and sexism—not to mention acceptance of transgender identities.
Among the plethora of QFilms being showcased, there are three that make this point in particular: How to Win at Checkers (Every Time) from Thailand; While You Weren’t Looking from South Africa; and Liz in September from Venezuela.
Each of these films grapples with intersectional themes of privilege, race and sexual fluidity—issues that the American LGBT community must continue to address.
The Josh Kim-written and directed film, How to Win at Checkers (Every Time), stands out as one of the best selections at the festival.
If you are like me, watching subtitled films can be a task, but How to Win at Checkers definitely merits your time. Set in modern Bangkok, the film takes an endearing look at the love between two orphaned brothers. What’s fascinating about the film is that, while there are gay-themed elements to the film, the storyline is universal and the cinematography is superb. Based on the short stories Draft Day and At the Café Lovely by Rattawut Lapcharoensap, the characters can speak to many peoples’ experience of struggle in the confines of familial devotion.
Most of the film takes place in the past, when Oat (played by Ingkarat Damrongsakkul), the main character, is only 11 years old. His older brother, Ek (played by (Thira Chutikul), has stepped up to the plate to help their aunt rear him.
Because Thailand decriminalized homosexuality in 1956 and ended the ban on gays in the military in 2005, homophobia doesn’t play a large role in this film. Instead, the lens is focused on the social stratification–wealth in equality and corruption–that leads to the climax of the story in a world where you do what you have to do to survive.
Ek, who just happens to be gay, has reached the eligibility age to be drafted by the military. He must submit to Thailand’s annual military draft lottery. As with many other countries that utilize the draft system, whether one is drafted or not has more to do with privilege than luck. Oat inadvertently learns this lesson when tries to save his brother from the draft. Checkers, like the red and black lottery balls that determine whether someone is drafted or not, are symbolic. In the game of checkers, someone has to lose when someone jumps ahead. So, the game of checkers are what open Oat’s eyes to learn that sometimes you must “do everything you need to win, even if it means someone else loses.”
The essence of family, struggle and social inequity also takes center stage in While You Weren’t Looking, directed by Catherine Stewart. The film looks at modern South African society’s haves and have-nots.
Through two separate but related storylines, While You Weren’t Looking challenges its audience to look beyond marriage as the pinnacle of equality.
My only criticism is the realism of the film’s un-ending. As it is in real life, there is no clear conclusion that resolves the issues. The ending is abrupt and I like conclusions, even if they aren’t happy endings. However, this might be purposeful to show how things tend to stay the same, and people, for one reason or another, stay in their own bubbles.
Callous, “legally” gentrifying, real estate developer Dez (Sandi Schultz) and Terri (Camilla Lilly Waldman) are living the life of wealth, complete with a beautiful home and a maid. Their wealth even shields them from discrimination. While their marriage includes a beautiful 18-year-old daughter and a steamy sexual relationship, Dez’s eye still wanders, and she philanders.
Asanda (Petronella Tshuma) has the world at her feet: two loving mothers, a protective maid, a clingy boyfriend and an interesting, gender-bending, queer studies course that she takes. That is, until she meets Shado (Thishiwe Ziqubu), an androgynous woman who “packs” objects in her pants so that people believe she is a man.
“For protection, you know how hard it is to be a woman around here,” Shado explains to her grandmother.
Her point is proven when, later in the film, a man threatens to rape her and Asanda.
A careful observation of the relationships among Dez and Terri—a middle-aged, mixed race couple—their daughter, Asanda and Shado —Asanda’s love interest—shows viewers that when it’s said and done, patriarchy and privilege are still issues that need to be tackled.
While many elements have moved the equality pendulum forward, classism remains. There are many examples that prove that Asanda and Shado are from two different worlds. When Shado visits Asanda’s home in the city, she is greeted by a maid who tells her she does not belong in there. In fact, the maid later tells Terri that people “like her” are not welcome members of the community she is from. When Terri correctly assumes that the maid is referring to Shado’s sexuality, the maid tells her that Terri is different, because of her social status.
When Shado takes Asanda to Khayalitsha, the town where she lives, Asanda also is confronted with culture shock. She doesn’t know the dialect and she is viewed as a rich outsider by people of the same skin tone but totally different culture.
Their differences are even underscored by their own interactions during moments of intimacy.
“Have you ever been on an airplane,” asks Asana, who plans to study abroad.
“No, but I’ve been to an airport,” Shado responds.
This film could easily be staged as a multi-faceted play that tackles both socioeconomic issues and sexuality. As I mentioned earlier, Asanda had a boyfriend at the beginning of the film, but on her 18th birthday she meets Shado and kisses her, thinking Shado was a man.
Parts of the film take place in a class Asanda is taking. The instructor challenges the class to think beyond social confines. For example, he makes reference to a 2010 statement from the minister of culture, who decries “social cohesion and nation-building.”
“The nation is heterosexual,” the instructor declares as he presents his students with queer and gender identities. “If we can queer gender, we can queer identity, culture, nature and subject. And, that’s freedom.”
By contrast, Liz in September (based on the classic lesbian play, Last Summer at Bluefish Cove) is more of a classic romance with a solemn but happy ending.
The story takes place in lesbian resort, where Eva (Eloísa Maturén) shows up after being stranded when her car breaks down. Eva is on her way to meet her husband in Carracas. You can assume that her marriage has been rocky since the death of her son, who died of cancer.
Like While You Weren’t Looking, Liz in September explores sexual fluidity through the eyes of Eva and Liz. Liz is a womanizer losing her fight against cancer, and Eva is a grieving mother, hungry for love. “Death is the betrayal of God,” but one that help these two women find love and comfort in each other’s arms.
While many people maintain that sexuality is rigid the bond between two people often transcends those assertions.
“There are shades of gray but nobody takes them in consideration.”
At the beginning of the film, Liz (played by the beautiful supermodel and activist, Patricia Velasquez), states she was born gay.
“Without any doubt, and then when I started having experiences with girls I became even more gay,” said Liz at the beginning of the film. “I like women very much.”
When Eva arrives her friends dare Liz to seduce her but Eva is the won that ends up winning Liz’s heart, despite attempts by another character to seduce her. Other films to keep an eye out for at the QFilm Festival are the documentary Upstairs Inferno, Velociraptor, a low-budget apocalyptic film, and Those People, a feature about a tight-knit group of friends confronting adulthood.
Check out the full schedule of features and shorts at http://qfilmslongbeach.com.
Venue: The Art Theater of Long Beach, 2025 E. 4th St., Long Beach.