Isabella Rossellini is leading me into the light.
There, in front of an almost full-wall window in a hotel suite at the Mandarin Oriental hotel in New York City, we stand beaming as her assistant snaps a pic. Good lighting is everything, as Rossellini notes in her thick Swedish-Italian accent — otherwise, “it’ll get all black.”
She should know. Rossellini embarked on a career in front of the camera when, at the age of 28, the classic Rome-born beauty fell into modeling, hawking Lancôme as the company’s spokeswoman for 14 years and posing for an array of eminent celeb photographers, including Annie Leibovitz and Robert Mapplethorpe.
“When I worked with him, he was quite sick with AIDS,” Rossellini says. “I remember how sad I felt, because he was very handsome and he celebrated in his photos the male body, the human body and to see him paying such a toll, not even just physically. But he seemed to be in good spirits. I wondered … of course he knew he was dying. It was a very difficult time, the ’80s. And it was the last book that he made. They wanted him to photograph women and he did beautiful portraits of several women.” (Also featuring Yoko Ono and Susan Sarandon, “Some Women” was published in 1989, the same year Mapplethorpe succumbed to AIDS-related illness.)
Rossellini’s striking appeal wasn’t only dark room-worthy, however.
While modeling, Rossellini also began mirroring the career of her iconic mother, Ingrid Bergman (Rossellini’s father is Italian director Roberto Rossellini), reaching beyond the glossy pages of Vogue to become a film star. As abused nightclub vocalist Dorothy Vallens in David Lynch’s 1986 trippy thriller “Blue Velvet,” a role that required Rossellini to sing, Mapplethorpe’s muse demonstrated more than a pretty face — she could really act.
Rossellini also happens to know a lot about animal sex. In 2008, she directed, produced, wrote and starred in a series of short films for Sundance titled “Green Porno,” illustrating the various mating acts of insects and other non-humans with, of course, cardboard and foam rubber. And if you ever wondered how dolphins do it (who hasn’t?), the actress also created the 2014 web series “Seduce Me,” wherein she discusses “blowhole sex” as she pseudo swims in a diorama-inspired scene among some very frisky Flippers.
Rossellini’s latest is certainly less niche. In director David O. Russell’s “Joy,” the veteran actress is back on the big screen as Jennifer Lawrence’s affluent, finger-wagging stepmom, Trudy, a tough-love foil to the based-on-real-life titular character.
“It’s empowering to women,” Rossellini says, nuzzled into the corner of a sofa, “and it’s also about the struggle of success. Generally when a person is successful people imagine, ‘Oh, overnight success, luck,’ instead of how arduous it is. The film portrays it very well. Family encourages you and discourages you because they are protective.”
Though Rossellini recognizes Joy’s unwavering ambition to seize businesswoman status — a path she blazes after inventing a fancy mop — her own life, she says, has been “completely different,” a truth she attributes to her European background as well as her famous film industry family.
“You know, I was more successful than I thought I’d be,” she says. “I’m old enough to have belonged to a group of women who thought, ‘I’m gonna get married and be a housewife.’ Instead, a career came, and it was really modeling — modeling is almost like winning the lottery.”
Rossellini’s modeling career continued to blossom in the ’80s, when she graced the covers of countless women fashion mags: Marie Claire, Harper’s Bazaar, Vanity Fair and Elle. She could’ve been a stay-at-home mom. She could’ve cleaned and cooked and called it a day. And she thought, for many years, she would. But in her 30s, she changed her mind.
“I understood that being financially independent meant also to be independent,” she says. “You don’t really do anything to become a good model. You’re either chosen or not chosen, liked or not liked. If you are a bitch, they’re not gonna hire you anymore. And modeling really teaches you the discipline of work. So modeling for me was a wonderful revelation. Though my mother worked — my mother was Ingrid Bergman, had a big career — it was seen as she had a gift, she had a talent, that it was extraordinary. It was a kind of a call for her, but it wasn’t percolating down to the family that all the women should have a career, no.”
In 1976, Rossellini shot her movie debut, playing a minor role in her mother’s film “A Matter of Time.” Ten years later, Rossellini became an icon in her right, achieving cult status after starring in “Blue Velvet.”
It was “Death Becomes Her” in 1992, though, that secured the actresses’ queer cred with a dream trifecta: Rossellini, Meryl Streep and Goldie Hawn, an ensemble cast who punched up the film’s camp commentary on pre-Botox-fad superficiality. “Now, a warning,” her potion-touting character, Lisle Von Rhuman, cautioned Meryl’s Madeline Ashton to the delight of supremely geeked gays everywhere.
She says “Death Becomes Her” was always meant to be one of the gayest films about beauty you’ve ever seen even if she and director Robert Zemeckis, didn’t know it at first.
“When the film came out, Robert Zemeckis was so successful after ‘Roger Rabbit’ and the films that he did at the time were big, big, big. Also, they were family films, so when he did ‘Death Becomes Her’ he also thought it was going to be a family film, but then they did all this marketing research and said” — Rossellini unleashes a whooping laugh — “‘Oh, it’s a gay film.’”
It took almost no time for Zemeckis and the cast to realize they weren’t making the next “Roger Rabbit.” “Within three, four months he said, ‘You know, our audience is a gay audience,’” Rossellini says.
Rossellini has become accustomed to swooning gay adoration. She’s inspired drag queens, and not just with that vampy nip-hiding-necklace coverup she wore in “Death Becomes Her.”
“They do me in drag in ‘Blue Velvet,’” she says. “I had a friend who was gay who died, unfortunately, and he would go out on Halloween and dress up like me. I had a ‘Blue Velvet’ robe, and I had my wig for a while, and he would borrow it every year.”
Rossellini is smitten with the idea of men resurrecting her most iconic screen characters in drag. She calls it a “compliment.”
“Oh, it’s fun. I know there are certain women like Judy Garland and Barbra Streisand who are particularly liked by the gay culture. I know that strong women are liked and I wonder why strong women and not weak women.” She laughs. “I don’t know what it is in the gay culture. What is it that makes the gay culture to be so supportive of Barbra Streisand, Judy Garland, images of these iconic women? Why did you like so much stronger women instead of, like, a housewife?”
Rossellini famously appeared in Madonna’s “Erotica” video and also photographed for her controversial “Sex” book, both out in 1992. The latter, she says, was not what she had hoped.
“I didn’t like it totally,” Rossellini says. “In a way, I found it a bit moralistic in the sense that Madonna is playing the sadomasochistic, Madonna playing the gay. It was teaching us to be open-minded, and she didn’t really reveal anything about herself. It wasn’t vulnerable. Vulnerability is not what she exudes and what she did was powerful and unique. There was something about the book that was not erotic, and not moving either. It was aesthetic. It was guarded. It wasn’t empowering. But she is an incredible lady. I’m looking at her, because she’s now in her 50s and I’m 63, and I would like to have a role model of a woman who is older. I want to see these powerful women. How do they fight ageism? What do they propose to fight ageism?”
Regarding Hollywood ageism, not much has changed, she says.
“I see that, at 40 now, you’re still considered beautiful, but I don’t see it defeated. They stretch the younger age longer, but I haven’t seen acceptance.”
Rossellini celebrates Streep and Helen Mirren, actresses who have “given old age an energy that is beyond that” without sucking down an age-defying potion. At the same time, she notes, “there are fewer roles (for older women), and they go to them.”
It’s a reality she’s come to terms with, and instead of sulking over Streep and Mirren’s lock on roles for women over 60, she’s blazed her own quirky path. The titles alone are telling (and this is not counting her horny dolphin doc): “The Saddest Music in the World,” “My Dog Tulip” and 2011’s “Chicken with Plums.”
It’s no surprise, then, that she’s also voiced a hamster. In the gay-themed coming-of-age drama “Closet Monster” from out producer Niv Fichman and first-time director Stephen Dunn, who’s also gay, Rossellini takes on a rodent. Her involvement, she says, is partly due to the fact that she’s friends with Fichman, and also, she says, “maybe because I study animals, or maybe just because I have a foreign voice.”
For the film’s protagonist, a sexually confused boy named Oscar, the hamster is an illusion, his muse for comprehending life tropes like “mortality, lying … that life is tough,” Rossellini says, laughing.
Though it won Best Canadian Feature Film at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival, the indie isn’t meant for mainstream consumption, like “Joy,” and that’s just fine by Rossellini.
“Since I was always interested in animals, I went back to university to study animals and then I made my own film and I do monologues,” she says. “The work that I have done doesn’t have the exposure of ‘Joy.’ I am still working and doing a lot of work but more in an artisanal way.”
After all, someone has to enlighten the world on the sexual habits of sea animals.
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Taste of Pride celebrates LGBTQ and allied restaurants
Weeklong event will feature local eateries and bars
Get ready to celebrate LGBTQ-owned, managed, and allied restaurants at Taste of Pride from Oct. 2-8.
The weeklong event is a new initiative by Capital Pride Alliance. In 2021, the organization put on a single-day brunch event in June at LGBTQ and allied restaurants, but this is the first weeklong iteration.
About 15 local restaurants and bars are set to participate, including As You Are, Shaw’s Tavern, Jane Jane, and Code Red. There’s also an opening party on Monday, Oct. 2 featuring food and drink vendors without a traditional brick-and-mortar space, like Suga Chef and Vegan Junk Food.
Taste of Pride will raise funds for the Pride365 fund, which supports local LGBTQ organizations. There will be a three-course prix fixe menu at several of the participating locations, with lunch and brunch menus offered at $30, and dinner menus offered at $40 or $55.
Kareem Queeman, known as Mr. Bake, will be headlining the opening event on the evening of Oct. 2 at Lost Generation Brewery. Queeman, the founder and owner of the renowned bakery Mr. Bake Sweets and a James Beard Award semi-finalist, said he’s excited to spotlight LGBTQ chefs and mixologists.
Queeman said he’s proud to be a part of bringing queer culinary experts together to celebrate the work they’ve all done and discuss what changes need to come to the industry — there will be a panel discussion on Oct. 2 covering those topics. LGBTQ chefs have long gone unnoticed, he said, despite the innovative work they’ve done.
“Queers have been in the industry doing the work for a very long time and we just haven’t really gotten that acknowledgment,” Queeman said.
Providing this space for LGBTQ people in the restaurant industry is paramount to giving a sense of power and ownership in the work they do, Queeman said. He wishes there was this kind of space for him when he was coming up as a chef when he was younger.
Taste of Pride is also a great opportunity for LGBTQ people looking to get into the industry to find safe spaces to work that are run by queer people, Queeman said.
Rob Heim, the general manager at Shaw’s Tavern, said he’s looking forward to being a part of the event. And new fall menu items at Shaw’s Tavern will be available during Taste of Pride, which he’s thrilled to showcase.
“I was really excited to help out and participate,” he said. “It’s a great idea.”
The smaller number of participating restaurants in Taste of Pride is intentional, said Brandon Bayton, a volunteer executive producer organizing Taste of Pride. It’s so each restaurant can be well-represented during the week, and different restaurants will be highlighted on social media on separate days. Capital Pride Alliance is also partnering with influencers to get the word out.
Visibility — all year long
It’s important to have events like Taste of Pride outside of June, Bayton said.
“We exist 365 days,” Bayton said. “So we need to make sure that we continue the celebration and invite others to celebrate with us and just be authentically ourselves. We enjoy and do a lot of things other people do. There’s no reason why we should just be constrained to one month.”
Queeman agrees. His identity as a queer Black man doesn’t stop or start at any given month.
“I’m not just a queer or gay man in June or I’m not just a Black man in February,” he said.
And food is a major intersection that all people of all identities enjoy, Bayton said. It’s a simple way to bring people together.
“We do the exact same things that everyone else does,” Bayton said. “We all eat. We all love to eat.”
Taste of Pride will run from Oct. 2-8. For more information and to make reservations, visit capitalpride.org/event/taste-of-pride.
Hip-Hop’s complicated history with queer representation
At 50, experts say the genre still doesn’t fully welcome LGBTQ inclusion
I didn’t really start listening to rap until my college years. Like many queer Black children who grow up in the closet, shielded by puritanical Christianity from the beauty of a diverse world, I longed to be myself. But the affirming references I could pull from — in moments of solitude away from the wrath and disdain of family and friends — were in theater and pop music.
The soundtrack to my teenage years was an endless playlist of pop divas like Lady Gaga and Beyoncé, whose lyrics encouraged me to sashay my hips anytime I strutted through a long stretch of corridor.
I was also obsessed with the consuming presence of powerful singers like Patti LaBelle, Whitney Houston, and the hypnosis that was Chaka Khan. My childhood, an extrapolation of Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays spent in church groups, choir practices, and worship services, necessitated that I be a fan of throaty, from-the-stomach singing. But something about the way these artists presented themselves warmed my queer little heart. LaBelle wore avant garde geometric hairdos paired with heavily shoulder-padded blazers. Houston loved an elegant slender gown. And Khan? It was the voluminous red mane that gently caressed her lower back for me.
Listening to rap music in college was a political experience. My sociology classes politicized me and so it was only natural that I listened to rap music that expressed trauma, joy, and hope in the Black experience. However, I felt disconnected from the music because of a dearth of queer representation in the genre.
Nevertheless, groups like Outkast felt nostalgic. While delivering hedonistic lyrics at lightning speed, André 3000 — one half of the rap duo — mesmerized with his sleek, shoulder-length silk pressed hair and colorful, flowing shirts and trousers — a style that could be translated as “gender-bending.” Despite the patriarchal presentation rampant in rap and Hip-Hop, André 30000 represented to me, a kind of rebellious self-expression that I so badly wanted to emulate but couldn’t because of the psychological confines of my conservative upbringing.
My discovery of Outkast was also sobering because it was a stark reminder of how queerness is also often used as an aesthetic in Hip-Hop while actual queer people are shunned, rebuked, and mocked. Queer people in Hip-Hop are like backstage wingmen, crucial to the development of the show but never important enough to make a curtain call.
As Hip-Hop celebrates 50 years since its inception in New York City, I am filled with joy because it’s been half a century of Black people owning their narratives and driving the culture. But it’s fair to ask: At whose expense?
A viral 2020 video shows rapper Boosie BadAzz, famed for hits like “Set It Off” and “Wipe Me Down,” rebuking NBA star Dwayne Wade and award-winning actress Gabrielle Union-Wade for publicly supporting their then-12-year-old daughter after she came out as transgender.
“Don’t cut his dick off, bro,” said BadAzz with furrowed eyebrows and a gaze that kept turning away from the camera, revealing his tarnished diamond studs. “Don’t dress him as a woman dawg, he’s 12 years. He’s not up there yet.”
The responses from both Wade and Union-Wade were a mixture of swift, sarcastically light-hearted, and hopeful.
“Sorry Boosie,” Union-Wade said to an audience during a live podcast appearance at Live Talks Los Angeles. “He’s so preoccupied, it’s almost like, ‘thou doth protest too much, Little Boos.’ You’ve got a lot of dick on your mind.”
Wade also appeared on an episode of podcast, “I AM ATHLETE,” and looked directly into the camera.
“Boosie, all the people who got something to say, J-Boogie who just came out with [something] recently, all the people who got something to say about my kids,” he said. “I thank you because you’re allowing the conversation to keep going forward because you know what? You might not have the answers today, I might not have the answers, but we’re growing from all these conversations.”
This exchange between the Wades and BadAzz highlights the complicated relationship between Black LGBTQ individuals and allies and the greater Hip-Hop and rap genres and communities. While Black queer aesthetics have long informed self-expression in Hip-Hop, rappers have disparaged queerness through song lyrics and in interviews, or online rants like BadAzz, outside the recording studio.
And despite LGBTQ rappers like Queen Latifah, Da Brat, Lil Nas X, and Saucy Santana achieving mainstream success, much work lies ahead to heal the trauma that persists from Hip-Hop’s history of patriarchy and homophobia.
“‘Progression’ will always be relative and subjective based on one’s positionality,” said Dr. Melvin Williams said in an email. Williams is an associate professor of communication and media studies at Pace University. “Hip-hop has traditionally been in conversation with queer and non-normative sexualities and included LGBTQ+ people in the shaping of its cultural signifiers behind the scenes as choreographers, songwriters, make-up artists, set designers, and other roles stereotypically attributed to queer culture.”
“Although Hip-Hop incorporates queerness in their ethos, ideas, and trends, it does not privilege the prospect of an out LGBTQ+ rapper. Such reservations position LGBTQ+ people as mere labor in Hip-Hop’s behind-the-scenes cultivation, but not as rap performers in its mainstream distribution,” he added.
This is especially true for Queen Latifah and DaBrat who existed in the genre for decades but didn’t publicly come out until 2021. Still, both faced backlash from the Black community for daring to challenge gender roles and expectations.
Lil Nas X also faced backlash for his music video “Montero” with satanic references, including one in which he slides down a pole and gives a character representing the devil a lap dance. Conservatives such as South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem accused him of trying to scandalize children.
“You see this is very scary for me, people will be angry, they will say I’m pushing an agenda. But the truth is, I am,” Nas X said in a note that accompanied “Montero.” The agenda to make people stay the fuck out of other people’s lives and stop dictating who they should be.”
Regardless, “Montero” debuted atop the Billboard 100.
In an article published in “Souls: A Critical Journal of Black Politics, Culture, and Society,” scholar C. Riley Snorton posited that celebrating queer visibility in mainstream media could be a problem as this kind of praise relies on artists presenting in acceptable forms of gender and sexuality expression and encourages representation that is “read alongside…perceptions of Hip-Hop as a site of Black misogyny and homophobia.”
In the case of Frank Ocean, who came out in 2012 prior to the release of his album “Channel Orange,” his reception was warmer than most queer Hip-Hop artists because his style of music is singing, as opposed to rapping. Because of this, his music was viewed more as R’n’B or pop.
“Frank Ocean ain’t no rapper. He’s a singer. It’s acceptable in the singing world, but in the rap world I don’t know if it will ever be acceptable because rap is so masculine,” rapper Snoop Dogg told the Guardian in 2013. “It’s like a football team. You can’t be in a locker room full of motherfucking tough-ass dudes, then all of a sudden say, ‘Hey, man, I like you.’ You know, that’s going to be tough.”
So what’s the solution for queer people in Hip-Hop? Digital media.
Williams, the Pace University professor, says that being divorced from record labels allows queer artists to be independent and distribute their music globally on their own terms.
“We witnessed this fact with artists such as Azealia Banks, Cakes Da Killa, Fly Young Red, Kevin Abstract, iLoveMakonnen, Lil Nas X, Mykki Blanco, and Saucy Santana, as well as legacy LGBTQ Hip-Hop acts like Big Freeda, DeepDickCollective, and Le1f,” he said. “The music industry has experienced an increasingly mobilized market due to the rise of digital media, social networking platforms, and streaming services.”
“More importantly, Black queer Hip-Hop artists are historicizing LGBTQ+ contributions and perspectives in documentaries, films, news specials, public forums, and podcasts. Ultimately, queer people engaging in Hip-Hop is a revolutionary act, and it remains vital for LGBTQ+ Hip-Hoppers to highlight their cultural contributions and share their histories,” he added.
(Hip-Hop pioneers Public Enemy and Ice-T will headline The National Celebration of Hip-Hop, free concerts at the West Potomac Park on the National Mall in D.C. on Oct. 6 and 7.)
Cuisine and culture come together at The Square
D.C.’s newest food hall highlights Spanish flavors
Downtown got a bit tastier when “the next generation of food halls” opened its doors on Tuesday near the Farragut West Metro stop. Dubbed The Square, its half-dozen debut stalls are a Spanish-flecked mix of D.C. favorites, new concepts, and vendor-collaborative spirit.
After two years of planning – and teasing some big-name chefs – the market is, according to the owners, “where cuisine, culture, and community are woven together.”
Behind this ambitious project with lofty aims are Richie Brandenburg, who had a hand in creating Union Market and Rubén García, a creative director of the José Andrés Group who also was part of the team of Mercado Little Spain, the fairly new Spanish-themed Andres food hall in Hudson Yards.
Food halls have come a long way since the new Union Market awakened the concept a decade ago. Instead of simply rows of vendors in parallel lines, The Square has a new business model and perspective. This food hall shares revenue between the owners and its chef partners. Vendors are encouraged to collaborate, using one software system, and purchasing raw materials and liquor at scale together.
“Our goal was two-fold: to create a best-in-class hospitality offering with delicious foods for our guests; and behind the scenes, create the strong, complex infrastructure needed to nurture both young chefs and seasoned professionals, startups, and innovation within our industry,” says Brandenburg.
The Square has embraced a more chef-forward methodology, given that the founders/owners themselves are chefs. They’re bringing together a diverse mix of new talent and longtime favorites to connect, offer guidance to each other, and make the market into a destination.
The first phase of The Square premiered this week. This phase encapsulates a selection of original concepts from well-known local chefs and business owners, and includes:
• Cashion’s Rendezvous – Oysters, crab cakes, and cocktails, from the owners of D.C. institutions and now-closed Cashion’s Eat Place and Johnny’s Half-Shell (Ann Cashion and John Fulchino).
• Jamón Jamón – Flamenco-forward food with hand-cut jamón Iberico, queso, and croquetas, sourced by García himself.
• Brasa – Grilled sausages and veggies are the stars here. Chef García oversees this Spanish street-food stall as well.
• Taqueria Xochi – Birria, guisado, and other street tacos, plus margs. Named after the ruins of Xochitecatl in Central Mexico, and from a Jose Andres alum.
• Yaocho – Fried chicken, juices, sweets, and libations.
• Junge’s – Churros and soft serve ice cream. Brandenburg and García both have a hand in this stall.
• Atrium Bar – The central watering hole for drinks. Atrium Bar serves cocktails, wine, and beer curated by The Square’s Beverage Director Owen Thompson.
“Having been part of Jose Andres’s restaurant group and getting to know Ruben and Richie, it’s amazing to see how their values align with ours at Taqueria Xochi. Seeing all these incredible chefs heading into Square feels like a full-circle moment,” said Geraldine Mendoza of Taqueria Xochi.
Slated for fall 2023, the next round of openings includes Flora Pizzeria, Cebicheria Chalaca, KIYOMI Sushi by Uchi, Shoals Market (a retail hub), and more. Additionally, chef Rubén García’s Spanish restaurant, Casa Teresa, will soon open next door to The Square.
The Square is just one of a handful of new food halls blossoming in and around D.C. Up in Brentwood, Md., miXt Food Hall is an art-adjacent space with tacos, a year-round fresh market, coffee, and beer. Across from Union Market is La Cosecha, a Latin marketplace with everything from street food to a Michelin starred restaurant and a festive vibe. Closer to The Square is Western Market by GW University, which opened in late 2021 with a buzzy, relaxed style.
For now, the Square is open Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. The Square plans to open on weekends and extend hours to offer dinner service in the coming months. A few alfresco seats will accompany the hall.
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