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Activists, filmmakers prepare for Int’l AIDS Conference with busy lineup of local events

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Members of the World AIDS Institute team (l-r): Chad Johnson, Diego Alves, Noel Short, David Miller, Angela Kelly, Kevin Maloney, Dave Purdy and Mariel Selbovitz. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

As Washington gears up to host the International AIDS Conference for the first time in 22 years, local organizations have planned a bounty of free or independent events for those who could not afford the $150-$1,045 registration fee.

Global Village, an international organization that brings together leaders, researchers and performers from all over the world to increase awareness of HIV/AIDS, is hosting several sessions within the conference ranging from video screenings and art exhibitions to networking zones and meeting rooms. Everything the Global Village is hosting is free and open to delegates and locals.

“We are trying to connect science, research and community,” coordinator Joseph Elias says. “It is important that the D.C. community participates to get a grasp of what is happening locally and globally.”

Several of the events will be geared toward youth under the age of 30 dealing with HIV/AIDS.

Emily Carson, youth program coordinator at Global Village, says the focus on youth has been in demand.

“Young people are disproportionally affected by HIV,” she says. “In the conference in 2000, there were only 50 young people, and they said this is a severe problem, no one is speaking for us.”

Among the many attractions in the Global Village area, there will be an interactive story telling booth called, “Generations HIV.” The booth looks like a photo booth, but it records video instead.

The booth was created by Marc Smolowitz and Jörg Fockele, both San Francisco-based filmmakers, as part of their HIV Story Project. The booth has been featured three times in the San Francisco Bay area and has so far collected about 250 clips. The HIV Story Project is a non-profit organization that compiles multi-platform story telling and short films about living with HIV/AIDS.

“The booth is a conversation starter,” Smolowitz says. “It is to connect different generations of people living with HIV. You can ask questions of different generations, answer questions or record your personal story.”

Smolowitz and Fockele are currently trying to start an archive online where all the videos will be posted.

A still from ‘Ours,’ one of the films being screened July 24-25 in the AIDS Film Festival. (Image courtesy the Festival)

Along with the booth, the HIV Story Project team also has a movie screening at the International AIDS Film Festival, which is occurring in conjunction with the conference from July 24-25. The film is titled, “Still Around,” and is a compilation of 15 short films portraying different people living with HIV/AIDS in the San Francisco area. The people were paired with 16 different directors and had direct say in their own films. The films vary, and include stories about how people are thriving with the disease. One subject is a man who copes with his HIV-positive status through a hooking ritual. Another is a couple that marries, has a daughter and faces HIV/AIDS together.

Fockele says the film is an update of what the face of HIV/AIDS looks like in the U.S. and in Europe today.

“In Europe and the U.S. there are mostly historic films about HIV and AIDS,” he says. “What we went out to do is to get a film that is right here, right now.”

The movie is opening the festival on July 24 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $10, and a pass for all four films is $25. For more information about the International AIDS Film Festival 2012, visit internationalaidsfilmfestival.org.

The film festival and several other community events are a part of the AIDS2012 Reunion, a resource for conference attendees to see what local events are taking place outside the main conference.

“The one thing we are doing is we are allowing anyone to participate,” managing director David Purdy says. “Low-income people are one group that needs support and to get educated about HIV/AIDS.”

Some of the events in the AIDS2012 Reunion as well as other community events include:

• On July 20-21, the DC Center, National Coalition of LGBT Health, Whitman-Walker Health and Us Helping Us at George Washington University (2029 G St., N.W.) are hosting the Gay Men’s Health Summit. Registration is $85, $65 for students.

• On July 21, Jay Brannan is playing at the U Street Music Hall (1115A U St., N.W.) at 7 p.m. Tickets are $20.

• From July 21-27, the Textile Museum (2320 S St., N.W.) is showing a special display of one panel from the AIDS Quilt. An $8 donation is suggested.

• On July 22, there’s a March on Washington involving several different local organizations from noon to 2 p.m.

• On July 19 and 23, Arena Stage (1101 6th St., S.W.) hosts a benefit performance of its current production, the Larry Kramer-penned AIDS classic “The Normal Heart” at 8 p.m. Tickets are $65.

• On July 24, “Return to Lisner: A Forum on the State of HIV/AIDS,” is taking place at the Lisner Auditorium at George Washington University (2029 G St., N.W.). Registration is required.

For more events, visit the AIDS2012 Reunion website aids2012reunion.org.

These events are only a fraction of what will be occurring throughout the D.C. Metropolitan area.

Chris Dyer, organizer for the Gay Men’s Health Summit, says by hosting separate events from the conference, organizations can make them more focused on certain groups.

“Gay men’s health issues are unique,” he says. “The main conference deals with a variety of issues, but we are providing a safe place for gay, bisexual or trans men to talk about their specific issues in a safe place.”

Purdy also says that organizations like AIDS2012 Reunion bring the focus back to what is happening locally and connecting people to services they may not be aware of.

“We’re providing an opportunity to participate and win this war against AIDS,” he says.

Bringing the spotlight back to Washington, local filmmakers Art Jones and Pam Bailey are also presenting their documentary “13 Percent,” which is about how the African-American population in Washington and other metropolitan areas has been affected by HIV/AIDS in the past 10 years. The movie will be screening at Bloombars (3222 11th St., N.W.) on July 24 at 7 p.m. RSVP and  $10 donation is suggested.

The film is intermixed with interviews from medical professionals, political leaders, religious leaders and those living with the virus. They showcase a variety of people affected by the disease and their stories, one of the most compelling being a young woman named Raven.

Raven was born with HIV and when her mother informed the Catholic school she was attending, Raven began facing daily discrimination from teachers and students. She describes how one teacher put garbage bags around her and would bar her from going on class trips. All of this occurred well after it was known how the virus is spread.

“I am hoping [the audience] take away the recognition that we are a community that is really threatened,” Jones says. “This film should be a call to action.”

He hopes this would lead to more exposure of how much of a threat HIV remains.

Purdy wishes similar things for attendees of the conference and the different community events.

“Really, I hope people have a new commitment or a recommitment to work together in this fight,” he says. “I would like them to share stories and remember the 30 million who have died from AIDS worldwide. There is a lot of work that needs to be done.”

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Television

Check out final season of ‘Grace and Frankie’ — it ends well 

Groundbreaking show highlights queer, straight elders

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Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin are wrapping their groundbreaking series. (Photo by Melissa Moseley; courtesy Netflix)

They make up a fake Jewish holiday (M’Challah) to avoid seeing their friends, lie to their kids about killing their bunny, obsess over playing John Adams in a (very gay) community theater production of the musical “1776” and create vibrators that glow in the dark. Their children sell their house out from under them and make them wear panic alerts.

These people might well creep you out in real life.

But, thankfully, they’re the funny and engaging characters on “Grace and Frankie,” the series, whose seventh and final season has recently dropped on Netflix.

The  show, starring Lily Tomlin, 82, (Frankie) and Jane Fonda, 84, (Grace) as two hetero elders whose husbands (Martin Sheen, 81 as Robert and Sam Waterston, 81, as Sol) leave them to marry each other, is, deservedly, Netflix’s longest-running series.

In 2019, there were 54.1 million people in the United States over 65, according to a Administration for Community Living of the U.S. Department of Human Services report. Elders, the study says, are expected to make up 2l.6 percent of this country’s population by 2040.

There are nearly three million (2.7 million) LGBTQ people over aged 50 in the U.S. and 1.1 million queer elders 65 and older in this country, according to a 2017 Movement Advancement Project and SAGE report.

Yet aside from “Transparent,” few TV series (broadcast, cable or streaming) have featured, let alone, been centered around, older queers.

“Grace and Frankie” is the rare series that’s focused on the lives of elders (hetero and queer). Unlike some shows that showcase older people, it’s been mostly entertaining, even thought provoking, rather than dull or didactic throughout its run.

Set in San Diego, “Grace and Frankie” throughout its seasons has told the story of how Frankie and Grace have created a life of their own as Robert and Sol have entered a new chapter of their lives as a same-sex couple. 

Frankie, Grace, Robert and Sol, who are in their 70s, are affluent. Robert and Sol are successful divorce lawyers. Grace has run a flourishing cosmetics company. Frankie is a new-agey artist who teaches art to ex-convicts.

When Robert and Sol say that they’re leaving them to wed each other because same-sex marriage has become legal in California, Frankie says she’s done a fundraiser for that.

The beach house where Grace and Frankie live is breathtakingly gorgeous. Yet these characters encounter the indignities and dilemmas of aging from learning about social media to coming out in late life to memory loss to end-of-life decisions.

Grace and Frankie run up against the condescension that older women often face. Yet though these are serious concerns, “Grace and Frankie” hasn’t been a downer. 

In one episode, as I’ve written before in the Blade, Grace and Frankie, though they’re practically jumping in front of his face, can’t get a store’s sales clerk to notice them. Because he’s paying so much attention to a young woman. Frankie gives up and steals a pack of cigarettes. If “you can’t see me,” Frankie says, “you can’t stop me.”

In season two, their friend Babe (Estelle Parsons), who is terminally ill, tells Frankie and Grace that she wants them to help her end her life. Though it’s difficult emotionally for them, the women give their friend Babe a good-bye party that’s joyous without being maudlin.

Robert and Sol deal with Robert being in the early stages of dementia. This narrative is touching, but not sappy. Though you should have a tissue in hand for Robert and Sol’s elevator moment in the show’s finale.

Like many old people, the characters have their ups and downs in relating to their adult children. These off-spring from Brianna (June Diane Raphael), a 21st century Cruella de Vil, to Bud (Baron Vaughn), the often wrong-headed “good son,” would try any elder’s soul. 

The main pleasure of “Grace and Frankie” is watching Tomlin and Fonda. The two forces of nature, friends since their “9 to 5″ days, make you laugh and cry with the BFFs Grace and Frankie.

TV series, like everything, have to end. Check out “Grace and Frankie.” It ends well.

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Movies

Join Joel Kim Booster on ‘Fire Island’ this summer

Gay rom com features queer Asian cast

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Joel Kim Booster stars in ‘Fire Island.’

It would be an understandable mistake to see Joel Kim Booster on one of the two “Out Traveler” magazine covers he’s gracing this month and assume he was just another sexy fashion model, but the 34-year-old Korean-American comedian is not having a moment in the blazing sun of queer pop culture just because of his undeniable talent for rocking a Speedo. 

He is actually in the middle of the publicity push for the upcoming film “Fire Island,” which he wrote and in which he co-stars with (among others) close friend Bowen Yang and comedy legend Margaret Cho, and which begins screening exclusively on the Hulu streaming service just in time for Pride month.

Directed by Andrew Ahn (“Spa Night”), it’s a movie that’s generating a lot of buzz, partly because it’s the first predominantly queer film to be backed by a major movie studio (Disney, through its Searchlight Pictures division). We’ve been burned too many times not to be skeptical about such a project, but anyone already familiar with Booster’s work will undoubtedly tell you it’s not likely to be another watered-down, safe-for-the-mainstream offering designed to check off boxes on the diversity agenda. Since he first made a splash with an appearance on “Conan” in 2016, he has gained a following among queer and straight audiences alike with his unapologetically gay, unabashedly sex-positive comedy, leading to what some might call a meteoric rise to the brink of superstardom through an acclaimed stand-up career, his roles on TV in shows like the short-lived sitcom “Sunnyside” (on which he was a regular), “Shrill,” and “The Week Of” (as well as his writing for shows like “Billy on the Street” and “The Other Two”), and his popular podcasts (“Urgent Care with Joel Kim Booster + Mitra Jouhari” and “The Joy Fuck Club”).

Now he’s poised to become a movie star with “Fire Island,” a gay romantic comedy set in the titular vacation retreat that dares not only to feature a cast made up entirely of queer characters, but doubles down by putting the focus on queer characters who also happen to be Asian. To top it all off, it gives Booster a chance to show off his literate side with a story – which concerns a group of gay best friends out for sexual adventure, and possibly even romance, on what might be their last trip to the iconic gay getaway – adapted from no less esteemed a literary source than Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice.”

The Blade was fortunate enough to chat with Booster in the middle of this very high-pressure month before his feature film debut, and our conversation was informed by the kind of erudite and compassionate intelligence that has marked the young comedian’s career from the start.

BLADE: In your comedy, you’ve drawn a lot of inspiration from being raised as a Korean adoptee by white American parents in a deeply Christian midwestern community. Does that experience figure into the movie, too?

BOOSTER: Of course! As a transnational adoptee, my entire life I’ve been fighting against this nagging feeling of not quite fitting in – and that’s whether I’m around white people, or Asian people, or even some gay people. It’s tough, and it’s been such a paramount part of my life to find people who make me feel seen and accepted and to keep them close, so it felt really important for the theme of chosen family to stay in the forefront when I was making this movie. As much as it’s a “rom com,” it’s also about friendship – about relationships with people who, like I say in the movie, “fill in the gaps.”

BLADE: How did you hit on using Jane Austen as a source?

BOOSTER: It was really a lucky accident. I brought “Pride and Prejudice” with me on the first trip Bowen and I ever took to Fire Island. I would be lying there on the beach reading it and thinking, “It’s amazing how the things she was writing about are so relevant to what we’re experiencing on this island right now.” It was kinda wild, and it started out as threat, a joke – I would keep saying, ‘I can’t wait to write an all-gay adaptation of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ set on Fire Island,’ and people would boo and throw things at me. But after that I would always bring an Austen book with me to read on the island, because it felt special to me. There was just something so prescient about what she wrote, and about her observations on class, especially reading it in this place where we had sort of created our own class system, as gay men.

BLADE: When did it stop being a joke?

BOOSTER: Actually, my agent suggested that I should write it, because I was in between projects. I just had a pilot that was passed on by Comedy Central, I was depressed, I had nothing to do – so I ended up writing it as a half-hour pilot script. But nobody wanted it until Quibi [the short-form entertainment platform that launched and folded in 2020 after failing to meet projected subscription levels]. Say what you will about them, but they really invested a lot of money and time into new and young voices, and they took a lot of chances. They took a chance on me, and when they folded I had this script that I could point to which I had written and developed with them. This movie was a tough pitch to sell on just a log line, but I had this finished project, this complicated piece of work to show people, that was much more intricate than I think “Gay ‘Pride and Prejudice’” would maybe lead people to believe.

BLADE: Your movie is just one of several big queer titles on deck for 2022, including Billy Eichner’s rom com, “Bros.” How do you feel about that?

BOOSTER: Honestly, it really takes some of the pressure off. When we get, like, one gay movie a year, a lot of attention and scrutiny gets put on that movie and it’s expected to be everything to everyone in our community. And our community is huge, and it’s diverse, and there are so many stories that aren’t being told. I’m so glad Billy’s movie is coming out as well, he was my first comedy boss, and I’m really happy that people in our community are going to have two big gay rom coms to choose from.

BLADE: We haven’t seen “Bros” yet, but we’ve seen “Fire Island.” There’s a review embargo [until May 23], but I think it’s safe to say nobody is going to boo or throw things at you. Do you feel any sense of competition about it?

BOOSTER: My hope is that people love both, but it’s nice that if somebody goes to see my movie and says, ‘That’s not for me, I don’t see myself there,’ then a couple months later they’ll see Billy’s and they’ll have another shot at it. And I hope both of our movies are successful enough that they create a million clones. I hope it’s just the beginning.

“Fire Island,” which also stars Conrad Ricamora (“How to Get Away With Murder”) and a host of other familiar queer performers, premieres on Hulu on June 3. 

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Photos

PHOTOS: Taste of Point

‘Spring Garden Party’ fundraiser for LGBTQ youth scholarships

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Point Foundation Scholar Warren Small speaks to the crowd at the 'Taste of Point: Spring Garden Party' about his experience in the program. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The Point Foundation held “Taste of Point: Spring Garden Party” at the rooftop of Room & Board on Thursday, May 19.

Point Foundation scholar Warren Small of Howard University, currently working as an intern for Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-N.Y.), spoke to attendees about his experiences in the Point scholarship and mentorship program. Local restaurants and bars Amparo, Barkada, Compass Rose Bar & Kitchen, Hank’s Oyster Bar, Republic Restoratives, Please Bring Chips, Qui Qui, Drink Prosper, Chufly, Serenata and Ten Eyck Brewing provided gourmet food and craft cocktails. Drag performer Kitti Chanel Fairfield and DJ Tezrah provided entertainment.

Activist, businesswoman and Point Foundation booster Sharon Brackett was honored posthumously in a ceremony at the event.

(Washington Blade photos by Michael Key)

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