When artist and activist Gilbert Baker first assembled the original rainbow Pride flag, it consisted of eight colors. Since 1978, the flag has evolved with subtractions, additions, and consolidations, but always with the aim of representing the diverse and inclusive spectrum of the queer experience.
Turquoise, one of the original colors, stood for magic and art — and what better representation of those tenets than cinema? As part of its Pride Month celebration, the Pérez Art Museum Miami is hosting an evening celebrating queerness through cinema with a curated collection of films that screen Thursday, June 24, from 2 to 9 p.m.
The Pride flag served as a catalyst for programmer and artist Thom Wheeler Castillo’s selection of films.
“Baker designed the rainbow Pride flag to bring visibility to the cause while symbolizing the complexity of the queer experience,” Wheeler Castillo explains.
Representing the queer experience is a daunting task, and Wheeler Castillo carefully edited down an initial program of 30 films into a tight selection of the final five.
“Queer cinema has been defiantly active and blossoming since the late ’60s, since Stonewall,” Wheeler Castillo says. “I wanted the film program to excite and expand what pride encompasses while exploring a range of narratives and radical possibilities alive in queer imaginaries.”
The program consists of Lizzie Borden’s radical Born in Flames (1983), Sasha Wortzel’s contemplative This Is an Address (2019), Cheryl Dunye’s delightful landmark film The Watermelon Woman (1996), Gregg Araki’s angsty Totally F***ed Up (1993), and Alberta Poon’s queer love story set to Sleater-Kinney’s “Worry With You” (2021). Collectively, the films serve as an abbreviated taxonomy of the queer experience, highlighting themes Wheeler Castillo selected: manifesto, history, joyful camp, loss, and the quotidian moment, respectively.
As a manifesto, Born in Flames is an incendiary examination of radical activism in the face of oppressive systems told through multiple and intersectional points of view. It is a film that has proven itself prophetic, repeatedly and especially in light of the last year in American culture.
Cheryl Dunye’s The Watermelon Woman
Photo courtesy of First Run Features
This Is an Address manages to represent the past, present, and future by exploring themes of community and erasure through gentrification. Featuring Sylvia Rivera, the trans activist and Stonewall icon, living along the Hudson River piers as New York City drastically changes, the film is a testament to queer history.
The Watermelon Woman, recognized as the first feature film by a black lesbian filmmaker, exudes joyful humor while exploring complex race, sexuality, and representation issues in the cultural archive.
The theme of loss is explored throughout Totally F***ed Up as a group of queer adolescents shed the restrictions of their past families and form a new unit together as they overcome multiple obstacles.
The program ends with the music video for “Worry With You,” personifying the quotidian moment, which Wheeler Castillo views as a “queer love story” about “living through and surviving the uncertainty of the pandemic.” Wheeler Castillo wanted to end the program “with a love song” about getting “through the worst times together” as a nod to the perseverance of the queer community.
The cinematic program complements and supplements the museum’s ongoing Pride Tours, held every Thursday at 6 p.m. and Saturday at 3 p.m. through September. The hourlong tour highlights queerness throughout the museum’s current exhibits.
“From the beginning, I wanted to present the complexity and richness of perspectives on view at the museum,” Wheeler Castillo says.
Lizzie Borden’s Born in Flames
Photo courtesy of First Run Features
The Pride Tours continuation through September bridges National Pride Month with the rescheduled Miami Beach Pride. There are plans to make it a permanent feature of the tour schedule as well as being integrated into the PAMM app. This move reflects a reckoning that institutions, such as museums, have felt over the last year about how they commit, or recommit, to year-round inclusivity and representation. It has been on Wheeler Castillo’s mind in the creation of the Pride events.
“I’ve also been thinking about what has been happening this past year in museums and the desire to rethink how we address history and how museums present America,” he says. “I think art ignites these conversations.”
This marks the museum’s first Pride celebration after the 50th anniversary in 2019 and having its 2020 edition canceled by the pandemic. As a result, this celebration can be seen as a turning point, in which there is a new focus placed on what Pride means and how institutions such as PAMM can explore, embrace, and engage those meanings.
“It is important that everyone reflects on how life for queer people has changed 52 years after Stonewall and then assess what work needs to be done,” Wheeler Castillo says.
Acknowledging the cultural backlash being played out in legislatures across the country, Wheeler Castillo says, “We’re not all free till every person on the planet is free to be their authentic selves.”
Wheeler Castillo sees this year’s program and Pride as both a celebration and commitment.
“We’ve got celebrating to make up for, but we also have to continue the momentum that 2020 ushered in.”
Pride Month on Film. 2 to 9 p.m. Thursday, June 24, at Pérez Art Museum Miami, 1103 Biscayne Blvd., Miami; 305-375-3000; pamm.org. Admission costs $16. Films will be screened on a loop in the auditorium, and socially distanced seating will be available on a first-come, first-served basis.
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