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Rippin’ & tearin’ & strippin’

Melissa Etheridge on Wolf Trap and why drastic health steps should be weighed carefully

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Melissa Etheridge, gay news, Washington Blade
Melissa Etheridge, gay news, Washington Blade

Melissa Etheridge (Photo by James Minchin III)

Melissa Etheridge
With guest Eric Hutchinson
Tuesday
8 p.m.
Wolf Trap
Filene Center
1551 Trap Road
Vienna, VA
$35 (lawn)-$65
wolftrap.org

When we talked to Melissa Etheridge last year the conversation turned — as one might expect in an election year — to politics. So this time we focused on music. The lesbian rocker plays Wolf Trap Tuesday night. Her comments have been slightly edited for length.

 

WASHINGTON BLADE: Last time you were here you played the Strathmore, which is kind of stately, whereas Wolf Trap is outside and more earthy. Does the venue affect the kind of show you play?

MELISSA ETHERIDGE: Yes, totally. One of the things I do before I even write out a set list is I go stand on stage and look out and really get a feel for what the venue is like. Is it indoors, outdoors, is the first row up close, will people be able to stand, are they soft seats, hard seats? I’ve been touring for 25 years so I’m very conscious of what kind of show can be produced at each place and it does make a difference in what songs I play. This will definitely be different from the Strathmore show. I love playing Wolf Trap and I don’t think I’ve ever sweated as much on stage as when I’ve played Wolf Trap. It was just so humid last time I was there, I was really soaked even before the show. But yeah, it’s gonna be much more rock and roll out there.

BLADE: How do you manage to do those big rock money notes year after year? Rock singing, of course, often doesn’t use proper vocal technique that they teach you in classical singing and some singers get vocal cord nodules while others, like Tina Turner perhaps or many gospel singers, seem to be able to growl and howl for decades on end with no problem. Have you ever strained your voice letting it rip so to speak?

ETHERIDGE: I learned a long time ago playing in bars how to make that growly rock and roll sound but not harm the vocal cords. It’s not really screaming, it’s like a stage scream. That and having a good understanding of how not to tax the voice too much in doing that style of singing, also helps. I usually don’t sing more than three night in a row. I can do four, but it will start to wear down after awhile and the shape of my voice is definitely related to everything. If I’m tired, if I haven’t eaten right, if I’m stressed, all those things affect it. But as long as I can eat right and sleep well, I can be on the road and do the rock and roll stuff out there every night.

 

BLADE: How have you found the right balance throughout your career of knowing when to play up the all-out rock stuff versus having enough of a commercial, pop/AC vibe on your various projects to get some radio and mainstream exposure? Have you given much thought to those sorts of things as you’ve been writing and recording various records?

ETHERIDGE: Yeah, it’s been a big part of understanding radio and the music business in general and then just when you kind of have a handle on it, of course it changes much like it did in the mid-‘90s when I was really at the pinnacle of it. As it should — young kids grow up and they have their own stuff and I get that. I stopped, I guess around the turn of the century, trying to make my music for radio because I think that would just have been selling myself out and I realized I had a strong live audience that was not going away and would still come see me play, so I really dedicated myself to making the music that I love and not trying to be so much pop. Which is fine — I mean, I love a good pop song like everybody else does, but I don’t limit myself to that anymore. The most important thing in my mind when I’m writing and recording is how is this going to translate to the live stage. That’s more the guideline.

 


BLADE: And yet many veteran acts who have that loyal fan base have great numbers the first week out with a new album and like you said, do fine filling decent-size venues, yet without any radio traction, the albums can come and go so quickly it seems. Has there been any frustration with that at various times? Any sense of a diminishing return for all the hard work?

ETHERIDGE: Well yeah, of course you always hope there’s maybe something there radio can hold on to a little and you would always like to make your record company a little money, that’s always nice. Yet I really have learned to let it go because I think the music does sort of manage to find its own way. I just stumbled on some online music site where these two rock critics were saying my last album “4th Street Falling,” that if it had been released by some up-and-coming singer, it would have really represented kind of the future of rock and roll or something so yes, there is sometimes an advantage to being not as established but I wouldn’t trade where I am at all to be up and coming. I’m very happy with where I am overall and I feel I have a great deal of industry respect and I’m fine with that.

 

BLADE: You’ve been on Island your whole career, which is almost unheard of in this day and age. I’m sure the whole staff has changed since you started …

ETHERIDGE: Not a single person is still there from then.

 

BLADE: How have you navigated all the changeover?

ETHERIDGE: It’s funny, there was a joke a few years ago there that everytime I had a new album out, “Oh, watch out, Melissa’s got a new one, there’s going to be a complete regime change.” Different times my options have been up we’ve looked around and, you know, Island and Def Jam and Universal — it’s one of the biggest labels there is. I always felt I had good relationships there so why not? The whole business has changed so much, it’s nice to stay someplace if you can.

 

BLADE: Last time you played here, the album was just out. Do you feel freer to sing more of it live now that it’s been out awhile and people have had time to let it sink in or do you skew more hit-heavy for the summer shows?

ETHERIDGE: Last fall I did kind of the “4th Street Falling” tour and I did a lot of new stuff but at that stage, I’m still listening to the new stuff, experimenting a bit and finding out which songs seem to pop more live. So I kind of play the new stuff and see which cuts were really fun for the audience and they tend to stay in the show. But yeah, it’s a summer show — we’re going to be doing all the hits too. We’ll be singing “Come To My Window” at the top of our lungs.

 

BLADE: You had so many great TV duet shows over the years in terms of collaborations with other artists — Joan Osborne, Sophie B. Hawkins, Jewel, Dolly Parton. Any of those especially stand out in your mind?

ETHERIDGE: Well singing with Bruce Springsteen was a dream come true. It was like, “Oh, please let time stop.” That one and singing with Dolly was just one of the greatest things that ever happened to me. I felt like our entertainment ethics were the same. She’s such a great entertainer and we kind of threw things back and forth. It felt like a good game of one on one.

 

BLADE: One that I really remember was when you sang “You Can Sleep While I Drive” as a duet with Amy Grant. Here she was this gospel singer singing a sweet duet with you, which sort of gave it a lesbian undercurrent. It seemed kind of shocking at the time. Do you remember how that came about or if there was any hesitation in her camp to do it?

ETHERIDGE: Trisha Yearwood had covered that song sometime in the ‘90s, so it had kind of been in the country world, then when Amy came in and we were talking about songs we could do, she said, “Well, I want to sing ‘You Can Sleep While I Drive.’” I’ve sang that with more people than any other song. It just kind of lends itself to that harmony duet feeling. I’ve known her for a long time. I met her in Europe back in ’88 and have been friends with Vince too. You know she kind of went through her own tabloid-y thing but she’s just so open and very very easygoing so that wasn’t even part of it. It was just like, “Let’s sing together and just enjoy it.”

 

BLADE: How prolific have you been in the studio over the years? Did you overcut tracks for very many of your albums? Is there going to be a killer Melissa Etheridge box set of outtakes and rareties someday?

ETHERIDGE: I can’t believe you asked that because yes, I’m working on that right now. The record company came to me and said, “You know, it’s been 25 years, let’s put out a box set.” But I didn’t want to just say, “OK, here’s my songs again.” I think my fans will enjoy some of these other things so I started going back into the vaults and into my storage space and found some tapes I hadn’t even remembered. So it’s going to be eight CDs and there’s live tracks, covers, solo demo tracks, a recording of me made when I was 14, everything that didn’t make it onto an album, pictures and videos. I even found a TV show I did back in 1982 in L.A.

 

BLADE: ETA?

ETHERIDGE: I don’t know the exact date right off, but it will be in November.

 

BLADE: Where do you keep your Grammys, platinum albums and Oscar?

ETHERIDGE: I have a lovely office I share with my gal, Linda.

 

BLADE: You and Linda (Wallem) are still together?

ETHERIDGE: Oh yes, yes, yes. I finally got it right. It’s a bunch of things. It’s a grown-up relationship.

 

BLADE: As a breast cancer survivor yourself, what did you think of Angelina Jolie’s announcement?

ETHERIDGE: I have to say I feel a little differently. I have that gene mutation too and it’s not something I would believe in for myself. I wouldn’t call it the brave choice. I actually think it’s the most fearful choice you can make when confronting anything with cancer. My belief is that cancer comes from inside you and so much of it has to do with the environment of your body. It’s the stress that will turn that gene on or not. Plenty of people have the gene mutation and everything but it never comes to cancer so I would say to anybody faced with that, that choice is way down the line on the spectrum of what you can do and to really consider the advancements we’ve made in things like nutrition and stress levels. I’ve been cancer free for nine years now and looking back, I completely understand why I got cancer. There was so much acidity in everything. I really encourage people to go a lot longer and further before coming to that conclusion.

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Out & About

Calendar: June 25-July 1

Events in the week to come

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Werk, DJ Tezrah, gay news, Washington Blade
Join A League of Her Own and DJ Tezrah for a Pride block party brunch at 10 a.m. Saturday at Mess Hall. (Washington Blade file photo by Tom Hausman)

Friday, June 25

“DISDance, Pride Edition- Still We Dance” will be at 6:30 p.m. Join the D.C. Public Library and show your Pride by dancing with the Library’s Freegal music collections. Post a video or photo of you and your crew dancing or lip-syncing to Instagram and tag D.C. Public Library on Instagram (@dcpubliclibrary) using the tags #DCPLDanceParty and #StillWeDance. The library’s favorite videos will be shared, and crown the video with the most likes the virtual Queen of Pride! All four Pride playlists are available  here on Freegal with the names Still We Lead, Still We Live, Still We Laugh, and Still We Love.

Prince George’s County Memorial Library Systems will host “STEM at Home: Outside the Binary!” virtually at 12 p.m. The event will ask attendees to make four crafts (one snail craft, two worm crafts, and a clownfish craft) while hearing about animals that don’t quite fit into the male/female biological sex binary. More information is available at: https://ww1.pgcmls.info/event/5160063

Saturday, June 26

Join A League of Her Own, Mess Hall, and DJ Tezrah for a Pride block party brunch at 10 a.m. at Mess Hall. Chef Mathew Ramsey will be on site slinging breakfast sandos and sides, and there will also be ALOHO bartenders on site to keep the party going. Tickets are $65 and can be purchased on Eventbrite

LGBTQ+ youth are invited to join thousands of youth from across the country for the NYC Youth Pride 2021 Watch party at 3 p.m. at the Eaton D.C. This free event will be hosted by the Wanda Alston Foundation in collaboration with NYC Pride. The event includes refreshments, DJ, and streaming entertainment from NYC Youth Pride. Youth up to age 24 admitted. To save a spot, visit Eventbrite.

Sunday, June 27

Join the Garden and ALX for “Growing Pride at the Garden” a family-friendly day in honor of Capital Pride at 2 p.m. This event will have something for everyone, including food trucks and 15 local LGBTQ+ makers and allies that will be selling local goods. Guests are encouraged to register for the event beforehand on Eventbrite.

“Pride Pilates with Becca” will be at 9 a.m. at the Upper West Side Cafe (Squash on Fire). This class is high intensity, low impact, and based on the Pilates principles: breathing, precision, and control. A full body workout is promised with every class and every class is designed for all fitness levels. This session will be $22 and registration is available at outfitclass.com/explore/1129.

Monday, June 28

“Pride Month Social: Stonewall Edition” will be at Freddie’s Beach Bar at 7 p.m. Grab your beach attire and come out to this free event commemorating the Stonewall riots. As part of the event, Freddie’s Beach Bar will be asking for nonperishable food donations for the Arlington Food Assistance Center. Donations are voluntary, but are appreciated. If you would like to dine in, please make a reservation ahead of time. More information is available on Facebook

Join Capital Pride DC for “#StayatHomeDCTrivia – Pride Edition” a monthly virtual trivia event at 6:30 p.m. This month’s questions will focus on LGBTQ history, culture, film, literature, and people. For more information, visit capitalpride.org.

Tuesday, June 29

A Tour of Her Own in partnership with A League of Her Own will host A Walking Tour + A Social Gathering at A League Of Her Own at 6 p.m. This women-powered evening will take you on a historical journey through the nation’s capital. For more information, visit Eventbrite

Join the DC Center for its virtual job club, a weekly job support program to help job entrants and seekers, including the long-term unemployed, improve self-confidence, motivation, resilience and productivity for effective job searches and networking. The event begins on Zoom at 6 p.m. For more information, email [email protected]

Wednesday, June 30

Join Capital Pride Alliance for “StillWe Lead Session 4: UPLIFTING THE VOICES OF OUR LGBTQ+ ELDERS” virtually at 6 p.m. This panel will provide open and organic dialog across the community to further the discussion on lifting the voices of our most marginalized and rediscover the voices of our elders. Event registration is available here

Thursday, July 1

The API Queer Support Group will be on Zoom at 7 p.m. The support group is co-sponsored by APIQS (Asian Pacific Islander Queer Society DC) and AQUA (Asian Queers United for Action). To access the Zoom link, visit: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/81413712470

Join the DC Center for their virtual job club, a weekly job support program to help job entrants and seekers, including the long-term unemployed, improve self-confidence, motivation, resilience and productivity for effective job searches and networking. The event begins on Zoom at 6 p.m. For more information, email [email protected]

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History

AIDS @40: White House laughs as gays try to save themselves

Reagan administration ignored growing epidemic

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An APLA candlelight vigil in 1983. (Photo courtesy APLA Health)

Editor’s note: This is the fourth and final installment of this special series looking back at 40 years of AIDS. Visit washingtonblade.com for the previous installments.

Like so many others in California, lesbian feminist Ivy Bottini had high expectations for the federal government to finally intervene in the growing AIDS crisis after the first congressional committee hearing on the mysterious new disease, chaired by Rep. Henry Waxman on April 13, 1982. There was very little press coverage of the hearing — held at the Los Angeles Gay Community Services Center on Highland Ave. in Hollywood. But years later, Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health recalled a quote reported by the Washington Blade: “I want to be especially blunt about the political aspects of Kaposi’s sarcoma (KS),” Waxman said. “This horrible disease afflicts members of one of the nation’s most stigmatized and discriminated-against minorities….There is no doubt in my mind that if the same disease had appeared among Americans of Norwegian descent, or among tennis players, rather than among gay males, the responses of the government and the medical community would have been different.”

The gay San Francisco newspaper The Sentinel published a very short brief on April 16 entitled “House Holds Cancer Hearings” about “the gay cancer.” The paper quoted an unnamed subcommittee staffer saying the CDC, “which is coordinating research on the baffling outbreak, ‘should not have to nickel and dime’ for funds.” The brief appeared next to a column written by gay nurse Bobbi Campbell, who wrote about going to The Shanti Project to get emotional support for his KS.

Bottini’s takeaway from the hearing was that no one really knew how AIDS was transmitted. She was upset. Her friend Ken Schnorr had died just before the hearing and Bottini had to explain to Ken’s distraught mother that he had not been abused at the hospital — the purple bruises on his body were KS lesions. After weeks of governmental inaction, Bottini called Dr. Joel Weisman, Schnorr’s gay doctor, to update the community at a town hall in Fiesta Hall in West Hollywood’s Plummer Park. Weisman had sent gay patients to Dr. Michael Gottlieb and was one of the co-authors on the first CDC public report about AIDS on June 5, 1981.  

Bottini later recalled how gay men often thanked her for saving their lives at that packed town hall. Bottini subsequently founded AIDS Network LA, to serve as a clearing house for collecting and disseminating information. But not everyone bought the science-based premise that AIDS was transmitted through bodily fluids — including Bottini’s friend Morris Kight, prompting a deep three-year rift. Nonetheless, groups offering gay men advice on how to have safe sex started emerging, as did peer groups forming for emotional, spiritual and healthcare support. The Bay Area Physicians for Human Rights, Houston’s Citizens for Human Equality and the new Gay Men’s Health Crisis in New York City published pamphlets and newsletters. 

Panic and denial were wafting in tandem through gay Los Angeles, too. In Oct. 1982, friends Nancy Cole Sawaya (an ally), Matt Redman, Ervin Munro, and Max Drew convened an emergency informational meeting at the Los Angeles Gay Community Services Center on Gay Related Immunodeficiency Disease (GRID, soon to be called AIDS) delivered by a representative from San Francisco’s Kaposi’s Sarcoma Foundation.  

“My friends and I were in New York in 1981, hearing stories among friends coming down with this mysterious disease. We realized that back home in L.A. there was no hotline, no medical care, and no one to turn to for emotional support,” Redman told The Advocate’s Chris Bull on July 17, 2001 for a story on the 20th anniversary of AIDS. “For some reason I wasn’t really scared. It was so early on that no one could predict what would happen.” 

That quickly changed when the friends realized there was no level of governmental help forthcoming. They set up a hotline in a closet space at the Center, found 12 volunteers and asked Weisman to train them on how to answer questions, reading off a one-page fact sheet. The idea was to “reduce fear” and eventually give out referrals to doctors and others willing to help.

The four also reached out to friends to raise money, netting $7,000 at a tony Christmas benefit to fund a new organization called AIDS Project Los Angeles. They set up a Board of Directors with Weisman and longtime checkbook activist attorney Diane Abbitt as co-chairs. They gaveled their first board meeting to order on Jan. 14, 1983 with five clients. The following month, APLA produced and distributed a brochure about AIDS in both English and Spanish.

Four months later, in May, APLA and other activists organized the first candlelight march in Los Angeles at the Federal Building in Westwood and in four other cities. The LA event was attended by more than 5,000 people demanding federal action. The KS/AIDS Foundation in San Francisco was led by people with AIDS carrying a banner that read “Fighting For Our Lives.” When the banner was unfurled at the National Lesbian and Gay Health Conference that June by activists presenting The Denver Principles, the crowd cried, with a 10-minute ovation.

“If the word ‘empowerment’ hadn’t yet been a part of the health care lexicon, it was about to be,” HIV/AIDS activist Mark S. King wrote in POZ. “The group took turns reading a document to the conference they had just created themselves, during hours sitting in a hospitality suite of the hotel. It was their Bill of Rights and Declaration of Independence rolled into one. It would be known as The Denver Principles, and it began like this: ‘We condemn attempts to label us as ‘victims,’ which implies defeat, and we are only occasionally ‘patients,’ which implies passivity, helplessness, and dependence upon the care of others. We are ‘people with AIDS.’” 

While The Denver Principles were injecting self-empowerment into the growing movement of people with AIDS, the Reagan administration was infecting America through mass media association of homosexuality, AIDS and old myths of sexual perversion. Ronald Reagan was keenly aware of his anti-gay evangelical base, appointing Gary Bauer as a domestic policy adviser. Bauer was a close associate of James Dobson, president of the powerful Religious Right group Focus on the Family. Reagan also picked anti-abortion crusader C. Everett Koop as surgeon general — which turned into a mini-scandal when Koop agreed that sexually explicit AIDS education and gay-positive materials should be federally funded for schools. “You cannot be an efficient health officer with integrity if you let other things get in the way of health messages,” Koop told the Village Voice. Koop was slammed by the Moral Majority’s Rev. Jerry Falwell and other anti-gay evangelicals.

But perhaps one of the most egregious examples of the Reagan administration’s homophobic callousness toward people with AIDS came from the persistent laughter emanating from the podium of White House Press Secretary Larry Speakes. On Oct. 15, 1982, less than four weeks after Reps. Henry Waxman and Phillip Burton introduced a bill to allocate funds to the CDC for surveillance and the NIH for AIDS research, reporter Lester Kinsolving asked Speakes about the new disease called A.I.D.S.

KINSOLVING: Larry, does the president have any reaction to the announcement — the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta, that AIDS is now an epidemic and have over 600 cases?

SPEAKES: What’s AIDS?

KINSOLVING: Over a third of them have died. It’s known as “gay plague.” (Laughter.) No, it is. I mean it’s a pretty serious thing that one in every three people that get this have died. And I wondered if the president is aware of it?

SPEAKES: I don’t have it. Do you? (Laughter.)

KINSOLVING: You don’t have it. Well, I’m relieved to hear that, Larry. (Laughter.) I’m delighted.

SPEAKES: Do you?

KINSOLVING: No, I don’t….In other words, the White House looks on this as a great joke?

SPEAKES: No, I don’t know anything about it, Lester. What –

KINSOLVING: Does the president, does anybody in the White House know about this epidemic, Larry?

SPEAKES: I don’t think so. I don’t think there’s been any –

KINSOLVING: Nobody knows?

SPEAKES: There has been no personal experience here, Lester.

The exchange goes on like that. For another two years.

On World AIDS Day, Dec. 1, 2015, Vanity Fair debuted a 7:43 documentary directed and produced by Scott Calonico about that 1982 exchange between Kinsolving and Speakes. But Calonico also found audio of similar exchanges in 1983 and 1984 for his film, “When AIDS Was Funny.”

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Movies

Tribeca fest yields must-see queer documentaries

Compelling films on Leonard Bernstein, Marin Alsop among top fare

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Angelo Madsen Minax director of ‘North By Current.’ (Photo courtesy Tribeca Film Festival)

If you’re a film fanatic, chances are pretty good you are already aware that the Tribeca Film Festival took place this month.

One of the most prestigious events on the festival circuit, this New York City cinematic staple was founded in 2002 by Robert De Niro, Jane Rosenthal, and Craig Hatkoff, as a means of revitalizing the economic and cultural landscape of lower Manhattan in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. It’s become a mainstay of the city’s annual calendar, providing a high-profile platform that has brought visibility to hundreds of independent and international films – as well as to the artists who made them – across the 20 years since its inception.

Although Tribeca is not an LGBTQ+ film festival, it’s always been inclusive of LGBTQ+ films – after all, it is held in the middle of Pride month. The 20th anniversary edition, which was held June 9-20 and featured both virtual and in-person screenings, offered a particularly impressive crop, especially among the documentary lineup. That means fans of queer docs will surely be keeping an eye out for them as they make their way into general release over the next few months.

Not to worry, the Blade has you covered. Here’s a sampling of some of the titles included among the LGBTQ+ themed documentary features that premiered during the festival. There are no official release dates yet – but with the Tribeca pedigree behind them, these enticing gems are sure to be heading to your screens very soon.

“BERNSTEIN’S WALL”

Leonard Bernstein was one of the greatest classical music figures of the 20th century, the child of a Russian Jewish immigrant who rose to become not only conductor of the New York Philharmonic but a respected composer in his own right, a kind of musical ambassador who became a household name by educating millions of viewers about symphonic music on TV. He was also a gay man. In this documentary from filmmaker Douglas Tirola, we are given a comprehensive look at a life lived both in and out of the concert hall and intertwined with key historical moments. Illuminated by a rich trove of interviews, television appearances, home movie footage, photos, and letters, the film covers musical triumphs like “West Side Story” but also documents Bernstein’s pushing-the-edge activism, such as his protesting of the Vietnam War and his support of the Black Panthers. It also delves into the complexities of his personal life, exploring his fraught relationship with his father, his marriage and family life, and his struggles to find peace with his sexuality. The result is an enlightening portrait of a beloved American icon as both an accomplished musical artist and an important public figure during one of the most tumultuous eras in American culture.

BUILDING A BRIDGE”

Prompted by the apparent apathy of his peers in the wake of 2016’s horrific Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, New York-based priest, author, and journalist Father James Martin wrote a book. After it was published, “Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and LGBT Community Can Enter into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion, and Sensitivity” led to appearances on outlets from Colbert to Fox News, and he became something of a celebrity – but though he may have been lauded by many for the acceptance espoused in his views, he was also denounced as a heretic by many others. This documentary, directed by Evan Mascagni and Shannon Post (and executive-produced by notable Catholic Martin Scorsese) follows the “outspoken but good-humored” priest as he speaks before packed houses, faces protesters, consoles queer youth and their struggling parents, and makes a journey to Rome. After this year’s March 15 Vatican statement barring priests from blessing same-sex unions, this one seems particularly timely.

“THE CONDUCTOR”

Internationally renowned conductor Marin Alsop has smashed a lot of glass ceilings. She was the first woman to serve as music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, the São Paulo Symphony Orchestra, and the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra, rising to the top of a profession that had always been dominated by men. Director Bernadette Wegenstein charts that rise in this “exhilarating” documentary, filmed with “unprecedented access” to its subject and a “backstage pass” to her world, by telling the openly lesbian Alsop’s story through a combination of interviews and shared moments, encounters with musical “cognoscenti,” previously unseen archival footage with her mentor Leonard Bernstein (yes, him again), and scenes of her teaching a next wave of young conductors who, like her, were being excluded from the classical music canon. The articulate Alsop is a charismatic protagonist, and her story makes for an inspiring and triumphant film about overcoming discrimination – and about pursuing your talent, against all odds.

“NORTH BY CURRENT”

A complex, experimental-leaning documentary from filmmaker Angelo Madsen Minax, this meditation on “the relationships between mothers and children, truths and myths, losses and gains” began to take shape when Minax returned to his rural Michigan hometown in the wake of his young niece’s death to make a film about the family’s wrongful persecution. Before long, he found himself expanding his scope to explore a web of themes of generational addiction, fervent Christianity, and trans embodiment – all while participating in the evolving dynamic of a family trying to repair itself. Finally, the filmmaker turned the camera toward himself. The resulting film is a deeply personal meditation on identity, familial roles and responsibilities, and the challenges of learning to accept one another.

“NO STRAIGHT LINES: THE RISE OF QUEER COMICS”

Adapted from Justin Hall’s anthology of the same name, this fun documentary spotlights five LGBTQ+ comic book artists – Alison Bechdel (“Fun Home”), Jennifer Camper (“Rude Girls and Dangerous Women”), Howard Cruse (“Gay Comix”), Rupert Kinnard (“B.B. And The Diva”) and Mary Wings (“Come Out Comix”) while showcasing the evolution of the comic book side by side with the history of the LGBTQ+ rights movement. This celebratory film from director Vivian Kleiman blends art, comedy and politics to entertain while also schooling audiences about some important milestones of queer representation and the challenges faced by the community along the way.

“PRAY AWAY”

From director Kristine Stolakis comes this provocative documentary about Exodus International, an organization that was started in the 1970s by five men who were struggling with being gay in their Evangelical church. Organized as a Bible study group to help people “leave the homosexual lifestyle,” it grew to become the largest and most controversial conversion therapy organization in the world. In this frank exposé, Stolakis introduces us people like self-identified “ex-trans” Jeffrey, who says “I lived transgender, but I left it all to follow Jesus,” and Julie, who spent a decade going through intensive counseling to “become straight” – but also to former leaders in the conversion therapy movement who have now embraced their sexuality, coming out as LGBTQ themselves and disavowing the movement they helped to start. This one will be coming to Netflix in August. 

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