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Turing tragedy

Gay genius finally gets due in big-screen feature

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Imitation Game, gay news, Washington Blade
Imitation Game, gay news, Washington Blade

Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing in ‘Imitation Game.’ (Photo courtesy Weinstein Co.)

One of the most anticipated movies of the year has its roots in computer camp.

“The Imitation Game,” which had its area premiere at the Middleburg (Virginia) Film Festival last weekend and opens in Washington on Dec. 12, is about one of the most fascinating figures in 20th century history: Alan Turing, the gay cryptologist who broke the Nazi Enigma Code. Turing was an unsung hero of World War II and a victim of the legal and social turmoil that followed in its wake.

The movie’s director, Morten Tyldum, is fascinated by the man and his story.

“His achievements are so staggering,” Tyldum says. “Alan Turing theorized the computer in 1935 when he was 23 years old. He broke the Nazi Enigma machine which shortened the war by years and saved millions of lives. This man should have been on the front page of my history book when I was in school.”

Instead, Turing’s story was kept hidden for years. After the war, Tyldum explains, the newly formed British intelligence service MI6 hid Turing’s exploits from public view.

“They put the lid on it. Everything was kept secret. All the papers were burned and they threatened everyone to keep quiet about it. And then after the war he was persecuted for being a gay man.”

In 1952, Turing was arrested for acts of “gross indecency” and forced to undergo chemical castration.

The computer camp link comes from the movie’s screenwriter Graham Moore, who admits that he was a massive computer nerd when he was a teenager.

“I was obsessed with computer science,” Moore says. “I went to space camp. I went to math camp. I went to computer programming camp.”

Moore reveals that “among awkward nerdy teenage computer science dorks, Alan Turing is an object of intense fascination and cult-like devotion. He’s the patron saint of folks like me, the consummate outsider. And because he was an outsider in so many ways to his own society and to his own times, he was able to see the world in a way no one else did, and he was able to accomplish wonders that no one else thought were possible.”

Moore wanted to tell Turing’s story, but he thought the odds were against him.

“I dreamed my whole life about writing about him, but there’s this moment when you realize that a movie about a gay English mathematician in the 1940s who commits suicide will be unfinancable.”

Luckily, Moore met producers Nora Grossman and Ido Ostrowsky at a Hollywood party and the trio decided to make the movie.

They brought Norwegian director Morten Tyldum on board, and the pair had a period of six months to refine the script. They left Moore’s fascinating overall structure in place. He tells the story from three different vantage points: Turing’s experiences at boarding school where he falls in love with both his friend Christopher and the science of cryptography (the socially awkward Turing discovers he is better at deciphering codes than reading human emotions); Turing and his colleagues working at the top-secret Bletchley Park facility to break the unbreakable code; and, the aftermath of Turing’s arrest for homosexual acts.

According to Tyldum, this elegant structure turns the movie into an investigation.

“Alan Turing is a puzzle,” he says. “There is a mystery to him and we wanted the movie to jump back and forth between the most important moments in his life. It was a huge challenge to balance that, to make everything flow.”

As Tyldum and Moore worked to strengthen the overall story arc and to streamline individual scenes, they acted out the entire movie. When they worked on scenes between Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Joan Clarke (Turing’s colleague and briefly his fiancé, played by Keira Knightley), Moore reveals, “I would always play Keira’s part and Morten would play Benedict’s part. We would do the scenes over and over again to try and find different ways to do things. We are very lucky that there is no photographic or video record of these rehearsals.”

Tyldum adds, “We had some really tender emotional moments between us. I think we were pretty good.”

In these sessions, Moore also played John Cairncross, a Scottish mathematician who was one of Turing’s codebreaking colleagues at Bletchley Park. That role eventually went to Irish actor Allen Leech, best known to American audiences for his role as the (former) chauffeur Branson in the wildly popular BBC series “Downton Abbey” and as the gay fashion designer Vincent in the indie release “Cowboys and Angels.”

Cairncross is a complex character with a secret of his own. Leech says, “It’s always great to play a character that has information that others don’t because knowledge is power. With Cairncross, there isn’t any shock or horror when he discovers that Turing is a homosexual. He just uses Turing’s secret to protect his own.”

Leech notes that the relationship between the two men was complicated. Leech points out, “I also think that he was a friend. He warns Turing that, ‘You can’t tell anyone. It’s illegal.’ It’s a genuine act of friendship. They’ve both committed acts that if they’re caught they could go to prison for.”

Once the script and the cast were in place, Tyldum led the company through an intense (and very short) eight-week shoot. “It was insane,” the director remembers. “We had to shoot fast and cover a lot of ground quickly. It was just very focused hard work.”

Many of the scenes were shot on the sites where they really occurred, including the interior scenes at Bletchley Park (which is now a museum). Leech says that was an incredible experience.

He says, “You could almost feel their presence, almost like their ghosts were in the room. Matthew Goode (who plays another of the codebreakers) kept saying, ‘If we dusted for fingerprints I’m pretty sure we could find Alan Turing in this building.’ The fact that all these amazing minds and all these wonderful people were there, it gives you a real sense of awe.”

Tyldum also emphasizes that they were able to use some of the real artifacts that Turing and his team used.

“We used the real Enigma machines,” Tyldum says. “There is something about touching those buttons. It’s a reminder that this really happened. It does something for the performers. It’s about the responsibility we have to do justice to the legacy of these people.”

Once the publicity tour is over, Moore goes back to his writing desk to finish his second novel. He’s the author of the New York Times bestseller “The Sherlockian” which weaves together the story of Arthur Conan Doyle and a contemporary investigator.

Tyldum is carefully searching for his next project.

“For my sake,” he says, “I want to make the right choice. You have to be in love with the project. If you can ever find a reason not to do it, don’t do it. It’s going to take years of your life.”

As for Allen Leech, he’s headed back to the English countryside to work with Maggie Smith and his cast mates on “Downton Abbey” After all, he says, “the big house isn’t going to take care of itself.”

Turing doc ‘Codebreaker’ still enjoying success

 

Out filmmaker Patrick Sammon, whose 2011 docudrama “Codebreaker” told the story of Alan Turing’s life, says he heard a big-screen Hollywood adaptation was planned on Turing but says the two projects are different enough that there’s no substantial overlap or conflict of interest.

 

“I don’t see it as competition at all,” Sammon, president of Story Center Productions, a documentary production company based in Washington, says. “The reality is that any Hollywood version tends to stray from the historical facts so we’ll see what happens. With ‘Imitation Game,’ hopefully, you know, they’ll stick mostly to the facts and I’m sure the message of Turing’s life will be conveyed. The bottom line is I see it as very complementary and the distribution companies are very excited. They think ‘Imitation Game’ will only increase interest in ‘Codebreaker’ and that’s often the case with a documentary when a Hollywood feature film gets made. … People who see it are more inclined to do some digging so it has the potential to draw more people to ‘Codebreaker.’”

 

Although Sammon’s 62-minute work was shown on TV in the U.K. and has been available on DVD and Netflix after a 2012 U.S. theatrical release, Sammon has been hosting screenings heavily ever since. He’s had 10 in the last six weeks and has more planned. His film has played in about 20 countries and been picked up as far away as China, Australia and New Zealand.

 

“I had hoped it would have a little bit of a shelf life because I thought the story was timeless,” he says. “Even though it’s been out awhile, it’s not a dated story and there’s always someone who’s new to the Alan Turing story.”

 

— JOEY DiGUGLIELMO

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Rodriquez scores historic win at otherwise irrelevant Golden Globes

Award represents a major milestone for trans visibility

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Michaela Jaé Rodriguez, on right, and Billy Porter in 'Pose.' (Photo courtesy of FX)

HOLLYWOOD – Despite its continuing status as something of a pariah organization in Hollywood, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association has managed to cling to relevance in the wake of last night’s behind-closed-doors presentation of its 79th Annual Golden Globe Awards by sole virtue of having bestowed the prize for “Best Leading Actress in a Television Series – Drama” on Michaela Jaé Rodriguez for her work in the final season of “Pose” – making her the first transgender performer to win a Golden Globe.

The ceremony took place as a private, no-press-or-audience event in which winners were revealed via a series of tweets from the Golden Globes Twitter account. No celebrities were present (not even the nominees or winners), although actress Jamie Lee Curtis participated by appearing in a video in which she pronounced her continuing loyalty to the HFPA – without mention of the  longstanding issues around diversity and ethical practices, revealed early in 2021 by a bombshell Los Angeles Times report, that have led to an nearly industry-wide boycott of the organization and its awards as well as the cancellation of the annual Golden Globes broadcast by NBC for the foreseeable future.

While the Golden Globes may have lost their luster for the time being, the award for Rodriquez represents a major milestone for trans visibility and inclusion in the traditionally transphobic entertainment industry, and for her part, the actress responded to news of her win with characteristic grace and good will.

Posting on her Instagram account, the 31-year old actress said: 

“OMG OMGGG!!!! @goldenglobes Wow! You talking about sickening birthday present! Thank you!

“This is the door that is going to Open the door for many more young talented individuals. They will see that it is more than possible. They will see that a young Black Latina girl from Newark New Jersey who had a dream, to change the minds others would WITH LOVE. LOVE WINS.

“To my young LGBTQAI babies WE ARE HERE the door is now open now reach the stars!!!!!”

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As You Are Bar and the importance of queer gathering spaces

New bar/restaurant poised to open in 2022

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As You Are Bar had a pop-up venue at Capital Pride's "Colorful Fest" block party in October. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

More than just a watering hole: As You Are Bar is set to be the city’s newest queer gathering place where patrons can spill tea over late-morning cappuccinos as easily as they can over late-night vodka-sodas.

Co-owners and founders Jo McDaniel and Rachel Pike built on their extensive experience in the hospitality industry – including stints at several gay bars – to sign a lease for their new concept in Barracks Row, replacing what was previously District Soul Food and Banana Café. In a prime corner spot, they are seeking to bring together the disparate colors of the LGBTQ rainbow – but first must navigate the approval process (more on that later).

The duo decided on this Southeast neighborhood locale to increase accessibility for “the marginalized parts of our community,” they say, “bringing out the intersectionality inherent in the queer space.”

Northwest D.C., they explain, not only already has many gay bar options, but is also more difficult to get to for those who don’t live within walking distance. The Barracks Row location is right by a Metro stop, “reducing pay walls.” Plus, there, “we are able to find a neighborhood to bring in a queer presence that doesn’t exist today.”

McDaniel points out that the area has a deep queer bar history. Western bar Remington’s was once located in the area, and it’s a mere block from the former Phase 1, the longest-running lesbian bar, which was open from 1971-2015.

McDaniel and Pike hope that As You Are Bar will be an inclusive space that “welcomes anyone of any walk of life that will support, love, and celebrate the mission of queer culture. We want people of all ages, gender, sexual identity, as well as drinkers and non-drinkers, to have space.”

McDaniel (she/her) began her career at Apex in 2005 and was most recently the opening manager of ALOHO. Pike (she/they) was behind the bar and worked as security at ALOHO, where the two met.

Since leaving ALOHO earlier this year, they have pursued the As You Are Bar project, first by hosting virtual events during the pandemic, and now in this brick-and-mortar space. They expressed concern that receiving the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA) liquor license approval and the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission, or ANC, approval will be a long and expensive process.

They have already received notice that some neighbors intend to protest As You Are Bar’s application for the “tavern” liquor license that ABRA grants to serve alcohol and allow for live entertainment (e.g. drag shows). They applied for the license on Nov. 12, and have no anticipated opening date, estimating at least six months. If ABRA and the city’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Board give final approval, the local ANC 6B and nearby residents can no longer protest the license until the license comes up for renewal.

Until approval is given, they continue physical buildout (including soundproofing) and planning their offerings. If the license is approved, ABRA and the ABC Board can take action against As You Are Bar, like any bar, at any time if they violate the terms of the license or create a neighborhood disturbance that violates city laws such as the local noise ordinance.  In the kitchen, the duo snagged Chef Nina Love to develop the menu. Love will oversee café-style fare; look out for breakfast sandwiches making an appearance all the way until close. They will also have baked goods during the day.

McDaniel and Pike themselves will craft the bar menu. Importantly, they note, the coffee bar will also serve until close. There will be a full bar as well as a list of zero-proof cocktails. As with their sourcing, they hope to work with queer-, minority-, and women-owned businesses for everything not made in-house.

Flexible conceptually, they seek to grow with their customer base, allowing patrons to create the culture that they seek.

Their goal is to move the queer space away from a focus on alcohol consumption. From book clubs, to letter-writing, to shared workspaces, to dance parties, they seek an all-day, morning-to-night rhythm of youth, families, and adults to find a niche. “We want to shift the narrative of a furtive, secretive, dark gay space and hold it up to the light,” they say. “It’s a little like The Planet from the original L Word show,” they joke.

Pike notes that they plan on working closely with SMYAL, for example, to promote programming for youth. Weekend potential activities include lunch-and-learn sessions on Saturdays and festive Sunday brunches.

The café space, to be located on the first floor, will have coffeehouse-style sofas as well as workstations. A slim patio on 8th Street will hold about six tables.

Even as other queer bars have closed, they reinforce that the need is still present. “Yes, we can visit a café or bar, but we always need to have a place where we are 100 percent certain that we are safe, and that our security is paramount. Even as queer acceptance continues to grow, a dedicated queer space will always be necessary,” they say.

To get there, they continue to rally support of friends, neighbors, and leaders in ANC6B district; the ANC6B officials butted heads with District Soul Food, the previous restaurant in the space, over late-night noise and other complaints. McDaniel and Pike hope that once nearby residents and businesses understand the important contribution that As You Are Bar can make to the neighborhood, they will extend their support and allow the bar to open.

AYA, gay news, Washington Blade
Rachel Pike and Jo McDaniel signed a lease for their new concept in Barracks Row. (Photo courtesy Pike and McDaniel)
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Need a list-minute gift idea?

Books, non-profit donations make thoughtful choices

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‘Yes, Daddy’ by Jonathan Parks-Ramage is the story of a young man with dying dreams of fame and fortune, who schemes to meet an older man.

You knew this was coming.

You knew that you were going to have to finish your holiday shopping soon but it snuck up on you, didn’t it? And even if you’re close to being done, there are always those three or five people who are impossible to buy for, right? Remember this, though: books are easy to wrap and easy to give, and they last a while, too. So why not head to the bookstore with your Christmas List and look for these gifts.

And if you still have people to shop for, why not make a donation to a local non-profit in their name? A list of D.C.-area suggestions follows.

BOOKS: NONFICTION

If there’s about to be a new addition to your family, wrapping up “Queer Stepfamilies: The path to Social and Legal Recognition” by Katie L. Acosta would be a good thing. In this book, the author followed forty LGBTQ families to understand the joys, pitfalls, and legalities of forming a new union together. It can’t replace a lawyer, but it’s a good overview.

For the parent who wants to ensure that their child grows up with a lack of bias, “Raising LGBTQ Allies” by Chris Tompkins is a great book to give. It’s filled with methods to stop bullying in its tracks, to be proactive in having That Conversation, and how to be sure that the next generation you’re responsible for becomes responsible in turn. Wrap it up with “The Healing Otherness Handbook” by Stacee L. Reicherzer, Ph.D., a book that helps readers to deal with bullying by finding confidence and empowerment.

If there’s someone on your gift list who’s determined to get “fit” in the coming year, then give “The Secret to Superhuman Strength” by Alison Bechdel this holiday. Told in graphic-novel format (comics, basically), it’s the story of searching for self-improvement and finding it in a surprising place.

So why not give a little nostalgia this year by wrapping up “A Night at the Sweet Gum Head” by Martin Padgett? It’s the tale of disco, drag, and drugs in the 1970s (of course!) in Atlanta, with appearances by activists, politics, and people who were there at that fabulous time. Wrap it up with “After Francesco” by Brian Malloy, a novel set a little later – in the mid-1980s in New York City and Minneapolis at the beginning of the AIDS crisis.

The LGBTQ activist on your gift list will want to read “The Case for Gay Reparations” by Omar G. Encarnacion. It’s a book about acknowledgment, obligation on the part of cis citizens, and fixing the pain that homophobia and violence has caused. Wrap it up with “Trans Medicine: The Emergence and Practice of Treating Gender” by Stef M. Shuster, a look at trans history that may also make your giftee growl.

FICTION

Young readers who have recently transitioned will enjoy reading “Both Sides Now” by Peyton Thomas. It’s a novel about a high school boy with gigantic dreams and the means to accomplish them all. Can he overcome the barriers that life gives him? It’s debatable… Pair it with “Can’t Take That Away” by Steven Salvatore, a book about two nonbinary students and the troubles they face as they fall in love.

The thriller fan on your list will be overjoyed to unwrap “Yes, Daddy” by Jonathan Parks-Ramage. It’s the story of a young man with dying dreams of fame and fortune, who schemes to meet an older, more accomplished man with the hopes of sparking his failing career. But the older man isn’t who the younger thinks he is, and that’s not good. Wrap it up with “Lies with Man” by Michael Nava, a book about a lawyer who agrees to be counsel for a group of activists. Good so far, right? Until one of them is accused of being involved in a deadly bombing.

For the fan of Southern fiction, you can’t go wrong when you wrap up “The Tender Grave” by Sheri Reynolds. It’s the tale of two sisters, one homophobic, the other lesbian, and how they learn to forgive and re-connect.

NON-PROFIT GIVING

Like nonprofit organizations throughout the country, D.C.-area LGBTQ supportive nonprofit groups have told the Blade they continue to rebuild amid the coronavirus pandemic, which disrupted their fundraising efforts while increasing expenses, at least in part by prompting more people to come to them for help.

This holiday season, if you’re looking for a thoughtful gift, consider making a donation to one of our local LGBTQ non-profit organizations in someone else’s name. This list is by no means exhaustive, but a good place to start your research.

Contributions to the LGBTQ supportive nonprofit organizations can be made via the websites of these local organizations:

• Blade Foundation, which funds local scholarships and fellowships for queer student journalists, bladefoundation.org

• DC Center, our local community center that operates a wide range of programming,  thedccenter.org/donate

Food & Friends, which delivers meals to homebound patients, foodandfriends.org

HIPS, which advances the health rights and dignity of those impacted by sex work and drugs, hips.org

• SMYAL, which advocates for queer youth, smyal.org

Wanda Alston Foundation, which offers shelter and support for LGBTQ youth, wandaalstonfoundation.org

• Whitman-Walker Health, the city’s longtime LGBTQ-inclusive health care provider, whitmanwalkerimpact.org

Casa Ruby, which provides shelter and services to youth in need, casaruby.org

• Us Helping Us, which helps improve the health of communities of color and works to reduce the impact of HIV/AIDS on the Black community, ushelpingus.org/donate

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