Tuesday, August 21, 2018

“A Very Sordid Wedding” - Much More Than A Wonderful Movie,But A Game-Changer In LGBT Politics

Published in HuffPost
March 13, 2017 - 06:57 pm ET
By Rich Weissman, Palm Springs, California (www.richweissman.com)

I attended the opening of the new film “A Very Sordid Wedding” the weekend of March 11, 2017, in Palm Springs, California. Following the viewing, many from the full cast were present and discussed the film. Continuing the poignant yet comedic story from the movie and television series “Sordid Lives” from 20 years ago, the current story picks up all these years later with the same characters and original television cast. In the new movie, SCOTUS has approved marriage equality, and the story focuses on a young gay man and his older drag queen uncle in a very small and conservative, Christian town in Texas. The young gay man and his African-American husband come back to visit after many years to announce that they are to become fathers of bi-racial twins through surrogacy. The couple attempts to reconcile with this very conservative, white Christian family, and challenges the family to have a gay wedding ceremony in the town, while facing the backlash that marriage equality, as well as racial equality, has engendered in this archetype religious right community. It is most apropos in today’s world of Trumpism.

Written, directed and produced by Del Shores and co-produced by and co-starring Emerson Collins, the movie stars an award-winning cast including Bonnie Bedelia, Leslie Jordan, Caroline Rhea, Dale Dickey, Levi Kreis, Katherine Bailess, Alec Mapa, Aleks Paunovic, Carole Cooke, Michael MacRae, Ann Walker, Rosemary Alexander, Newell Alexander, David Cowgill, Sharon Garrison, Kirk Geiger, Sarah Hunley, T. Ashanti Mozelle, Scott Presley, David Steen and Lorna Scott, with a cameo from Whoopi Goldberg.

The film is wonderfully performed and incredibly funny. Leslie Jordan is, as always, an amazing talent, performing as Brother Boy who had been institutionalized for being gay and a drag queen who performs Tammy Wynette, Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn, while having recurring nightmares of his failed conversion therapy. Whoopi Goldberg’s cameo appearance, albeit brief, stole the show at the end. She is a gem. Bonnie Bedelia’s performance, along with Caroline Rhea, Dale Dickey, Ann Walker and Sarah Hunley were truly amazing, as well as all the others who added so much to the story and setting. It is a laugh-out-loud, sidesplitting movie, with touching moments of sadness and joy, coupled with lots of hilarity.

However, there is much more to this film than simply an enjoyable night out with a great movie. The film’s core theme and timing are critically important for the LGBT community and for all people who find that we as a nation are moving backwards with right-wing bigotry on the rise.

I view the film as one of historical importance, and as a social scientist, I am intrigued and impressed with the film’s ability to address and redefine the ways in which the LGBT movement might evolve. That is the reason why this film must be shown throughout the U.S. and seen by millions. The film makes it clear what the issue is now for LGBT people: We don’t just have a legal problem, we don’t just have an acceptance of our love problem, we have a religious fundamentalist hypocrisy problem, and we need to address that head-on. This point is what makes this film a truly important one, and its ability to communicate this concept through humor is brilliant.

The core of the film is the role of religious intolerance as a winning political force in regressive American politics, and the movie bluntly confronts the issue in ways that other narratives have not and cannot. The character of Sissy (who has always been one of my favorite characters from the original television series and movie) decides to read the Bible from cover to cover, and much to her surprise, is able to uncover the hypocrisy of much of today’s Christian teachings. By bringing the audience into the Bible, and citing verse, she is able to confront her fellow Christians.

Historically, the LGBT rights movement focused on constitutional and human rights and freedom as the core foundation of the American creed. The goal was to include LGBT people in the civil rights platform and the venue for the battle began in the streets, moved to the voting booths and ultimately into the courtrooms, where political and judicial progress were the principal objectives. The recent documentary-drama television series “When We Rise” depicts the history of the emergent LGBT civil rights movement from the perspectives of three political leaders Cleve Jones, Roma Guy and Ken Jones, and its focus on political change for creating a foundation of legal protection for LGBT people. Many organizations and political and social leaders played roles within the movement over the decades from Stonewall until now, and the movement has reached goals which would have been inconceivable fifty years ago.

The next step in the LGBT liberation was the marriage equality movement brilliantly conceived and led by Evan Wolfson and Marc Solomon, as depicted in the important documentary film ”Freedom To Marry”. This ingenious movement changed the narrative to a focus on acceptance of love as a core principal, and connecting us all through a universal institution based on love. The focus of the movement was again in the voting booths and state legislative bodies, then moving into the courts and finally at SCOTUS for inclusiveness of same-sex couples as equal participants in legal marriage. The movement was strategic and its platform of love was adeptly executed by the great minds within the Freedom To Marry organization.

Both legs of the movement were clearly successful and engendered a new generation of LGBT acceptance and rights in the U.S., and throughout the world. Leaders of the movement need to be highly praised for their groundbreaking efforts. And yet, in 2017 we now face a new era of Trumpism in which the anti-LGBT forces arise again. Just when we all thought the movement had reached so many of its aspirations and that LGBT people were on the path to full acceptance, there seems to be the big step backwards, and we are forced to ask “why?”

“A Very Sordid Wedding” helps to answer that question. The movie adds another important leg which is typically not part of the LGBT rights narrative for people like me who are not Southern, who are not steeped in Christian scripture. This third dynamic is clarified in the movie in an altogether new way, and it is unequivocal: Fundamentalist Christianity is at the core of the anti-LGBT effort, and the fight now has to move from the voting booths and the courts into the churches of America. This is where the battle now needs to take place. It’s the last bastion, and Christians need to drive the change from within. The film demonstrates how fundamentalist Christians have it all wrong when it comes to LGBT issues because they do not understand the Bible, and they parse and cherry-pick from the Bible in ways that are contrary to basic Christian doctrine. And this movie, unlike the others mentioned, is done through a humorous and fictitious story, and not as a documentary, challenging the audience and setting the stage for the next drill in the LGBT movement.

The three amusing sister characters, Sissy, Latrelle and LaVonda, with their wild neighbor Nolita, and even the comic town drunk Juanita, are capable of speaking in the vernacular of those steeped in Christian scripture. As good followers of Jesus, they have the capacity to intuit and articulate that anti-LGBT activities are not only unsupported by, but are contrary to the Bible itself. Through comedy, these wonderful characters raise the following question: Why did bigotry and hypocrisy replace the pursuit of goodness and decency in the religion? They make it clear that the fight is now one that needs to de-politicize and redefine what it means to be a Christian.

This is why the movie must be seen throughout the U.S., and must be viewed as a critical communication in today’s hateful times, not just in Palm Springs, but in all corners of America. Spread the word …

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