Queer films shine at Black Star Festival

“195 LEWIS”

The sixth-annual Black Star Film Festival, unspooling at various locations around the city, offers a showcase of Afro-centric films. There are a number of LGBT shorts featured in this year’s program, all of which are worthwhile.

Shorts Program 7 (3:50 p.m. Aug. 3) features queer writer/director Carrie Hawks’ fabulous short “black enuf*,” which mixes hand-drawn animation and interviews with friends and family members. Hawks recounts personal struggle finding irrefutable acceptance in the black community and in the queer community. Hawks details their family’s history and genetic make-up, as well as how stereotypes about food, “talking white,” skiing, religion and images from television impact their cultural identification and assimilation.

Hawks’ consideration of racism and micro-aggressions that they, her family and friends have experienced, from unspoken school-cafeteria politics to blatant acts of disrespect show how much understanding and consideration is needed to erase hate.

But while “black enuf*” is a monologue, it is never preachy; rather, Hawks takes a charming approach, using a disarming voice-over to recount their life story with humor and heart. Hawks describes being an outsider in Japan as the only African-American, or their family “passing” because of their light skin color. The anecdotes presented in the short provide a prismatic look at how people define their own racial and sexual identity, as well as how others define them based on look, acts or other factors.

One of the most telling moments in the short has college-aged Hawks being discouraged by the few queer folks in the Black Student Union, and the few black folks in the Queer Student Union. Hawks’ struggle to fit in is palpable and, as presented in “black enuf*,” also very poignant and moving.

Shorts Program 5 (6 p.m. Aug. 4) includes “Walk for Me,” a powerful drama written and directed by Elegance Bratton, about Hassan (Aaliyah King), a young man who goes to a New York City vogue ball to perform as Hanna. He is “mothered” by Paris Continental (Brenda Holder) at the ball until Hanna’s real mother, Andrea (Yolonda Ross), shows up.

Bratton’s short captures the energy of the ballroom scene, both on stage and backstage, where the performers help each other and form a makeshift family. The tension between Andrea and Hanna is also well-presented, showing the difficulties both parents and children have in terms of finding acceptance of themselves, each other and the black and queer communities. This is a quietly powerful short that deserves to be made into a feature.

The third program that features LGBT films has three queer shorts. The centerpiece of this anthology is the complete first season of the fun and frisky webseries “195 Lewis” (5:15 p.m. Aug. 6). Five episodes chronicle the trials and tribulations of a handful of African-American lesbians in the Bed-Stuy neighborhood of Brooklyn. The main characters are Camille (Sirita Wright), who recently completed her doctorate and is looking for a job, and her wife Yuri (Rae Leone Allen), an artist. The couple is in a polyamorous relationship, which allows Yuri to connect with Harlem (Trae Harris), a woman who catches her fancy. Camille’s butch younger sister, Anne (D. Ajane Carlton), who provides the comic relief, often crashes at their home. Enter Kris (Roxie Johnson), a sexy college friend of Yuri’s who arrives unexpectedly in New York and asks to stay for a while. As Kris starts to make a new life for herself, she attends Femme of Color brunches and hopes to escape someone from the past who keeps ringing her phone. Meanwhile, Anne, who is always on the make, gets into a bit of trouble.

“195 Lewis” is highly enjoyable as the characters and their situations are introduced. All of the performers are engaging and the drama, about identity and relationship issues, is amusing. Unfortunately, everyone who gets hooked by this series will have to wait for Season 2.

Also on the same program are two excellent queer shorts. “A Broken Appointment” is a gorgeously filmed drama that chronicles the relationship between two attractive men — one white, one black and one of them closeted — in under two minutes. The film has no dialogue, only Kei Miller’s eloquent poem “Epilogue” spoken in voice-over on the soundtrack. Nevertheless, the emotions conveyed through the words and images speak volumes.

Lastly, “Intersection” by Angela Tucker has Maya (Alexis Clark) going on a road trip with her gay friends, Malcolm (Owen H. Dunne) and Danny (Immanuel Simon). The trio talks about race, sexuality and other matters with candor, and they experience some car trouble on their way to their final destination. Tucker does a marvelous job of developing the characters and drama with just a few lines of dialogue before the nifty payoff. “Intersection” is a very well-made and acted short, and it packs a nice little wallop.

For more information about the Black Star Film Festival, including tickets, venues and showtimes, visit https://www.blackstarfest.org/.

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