Features

Queering the Canon: Where Are All the Trans Rom-Coms?

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NewFest’s retrospective series Queering the Canon: Rom-Coms is over, and although I’m sad it’s done I am so thankful for the opportunity to enjoy all the films and speak to most of the directors. It’s now time for me to wrap up with the one film I was unfortunately unable to attend, along with a panel about trans representation in romantic comedies and an interview with NewFest’s David Hatkoff and Nick McCarthy!

Panel: where are all the trans rom-coms?

“Where Are All the Trans Rom-Coms?” from NewFest.

I was super excited to see this panel added to the Queering the Canon: Rom-Coms series! Trans representation in movies and television is often erased or written in ways harmful to the community. Cisgender and straight filmmakers can easily fall into negative stereotypes about what it means to be transgender or perpetuate stereotypes that are violent to queer communities. Even the larger LGBTQ+ community can be transphobic, and queer media is not exempt from this.

Writer Drew Gregory moderated this panel to discuss what movies (specifically romantic comedies) are out there that give trans characters that classic “kissing in the rain” ending. As we know, straight people are the most focused on when it comes to romantic comedies. Thanks to Queering the Canon, we’ve explored some LGBTQ+ films that center queer people in romantic comedies, but the question still remains: Where are all the Trans rom-coms?

Panelists Rhys Ernst, Eva Reign, and Rain Valdez join Drew Gregory in a 50-minute talk about some examples of rom-coms that feature trans characters, along with movies that simply feel trans. The conversation was intriguing and everyone provided some fun insight using their own connections to filmmaking. I encourage everyone to check out the panel and transcript published by Drew Gregory on Autostraddle!

punks

Patrik-Ian Polk from Out Magazine.

Punks is a 2000 gay film directed by Patrik-Ian Polk. Since this film was streamed in person in NYC, and not available to watch virtually, I haven’t seen it yet. The film is known to be hard to access because it was never distributed outside of some festivals.

Punks follows the lives and friendships of four gay Black friends living in California. Polk also worked on the show Noah’s Arc which features similar themes and plot points. I am hopeful that I will be able to watch Punks soon, and you should keep an eye out too!

interview with david hatkoff & Nick McCarthy

David Hatkoff is NewFest’s Executive Director and Nick McCarthy is the Director of Programming & Operations! I am super thankful to have been given the opportunity to ask them some questions about NewFest.

David Hatkoff from NewFest.

Nick McCarthy from NewFest.

Can you elaborate on the founding of NewFest as a response to the AIDS crisis?

DH: “NewFest was established in 1988 during the height of the AIDS crisis when images of the LGBTQ community were rare and largely negative. We sought to shift cultural bias with accurate, diverse representations drawn from a rapidly expanding field of LGBTQ cinema. We have since grown into the largest convener of LGBTQ audiences in New York, with the annual New York LGBTQ+ Film Festival and our abundant year-round programming providing a safe space for NYC’s queer community to share their love of queer film and stories.”

How did you get involved with NewFest and the queer film scene in NYC?

DH: “I joined NewFest in 2019 as Executive Director, following many years working at non-profit arts organizations. I studied in the MA program at New York University’s Gallatin School, with a focus on LGTBQ+ Studies, and have always had a deep passion for queer culture and a strong desire to create spaces for queer storytelling. NewFest, which exists at the intersection of NYC’s cultural activity and the vibrant LGBTQ+ community here, allows me to combine my personal passions and professional experience in an incredibly satisfying way.”

NM: “I joined NewFest in 2016 to increase our year-round programming and annual festival in October, as well as further amplify connections to, and engagement around, NYC’s vibrant LGBTQ+ community. I worked as a film critic and in international media production prior to NewFest so was already deeply aligned with the film scene, and it helped inform the importance of advocating for both the best in film and emerging voices. Applying that to queer film and our community’s hunger for more representation and visibility was an ideal match made in queer heaven.”

Where do you hope to see NewFest in the next few years? How has it changed with COVID and our current politics?

DH: “When the pandemic started, we had a choice — we could scale back and ride things out, or we could recognize the essential role we play in our community and embrace that opportunity for service. In the past two years, we have more than doubled our year-round programming, producing up to 5 or 6 events a month. We’ve added staff and forged new partnerships. We embraced a virtual platform that could reach LGBTQ+ folks throughout the country who might not otherwise have been able to discover films like the ones we share. And we have continued to expand our high school program with the Department of Education and programs that benefit emerging filmmakers.

In a moment when politicians are passing “don’t say gay” laws, we are saying gay every day, in every film we share, and we’re saying it loudly and making sure as many people as possible hear it.

We have been both heartened and frustrated by the national conversation around systemic racism. There is so much work our industry, and NewFest still has to do. If we truly believe that visibility has the power to change and save lives — and we DO believe that — then it can’t be that only SOME members of the LGBTQ+ community get to reap the many benefits of seeing their stories told. ALL members of the community deserve that experience. In 2020 we launched the Black Filmmakers Initiative to address some of the pipeline issues that prevent marginalized members of our community from getting their work made and seen.”

What are your personal favorite films?

DH: “I am partial to films that I discovered around the time when I came out when I was figuring out who I was and hungry to see myself represented in the media. BROKEN HEARTS CLUB, which is part of our Queering the Canon: Rom-Coms series, was very much one of those films.”

NM: “Similar to David, personal favorites are hard to quantify, but from Queering the Canon: Rom-Coms and I can say that when I was a young teenage queer in 2004, seeing SAVING FACE as my local arthouse in suburban New Jersey and knowing that happy endings were possible in queer film was an eye-opener.”

Sophia Schrock
Sophia (they/them) currently lives in Richmond, Virginia. They are passionate about queer cinema, horror, anything gothic, and their beloved cat Salem.