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John Waters teases ‘Polyester’ reissue

Baltimore native claims no children were hurt making his films



Polyester movie, gay news, Washington Blade

John Waters, Divine and Tab Hunter on the set of ‘Polyester’ in 1981. The camp classic will be reissued in a deluxe DVD and Blu-ray edition by The Criterion Collection in 2019. (Blade archives photo courtesy New Line Cinema)

“Polyester” is the next John Waters movie that will be released on DVD and Blu-ray and the Baltimore-based filmmaker is hoping an updated version of his Odorama card will go along with it.

“I want to add the 11th Odorama odor: Wig odor,” Waters told an audience in New York City at a Q&A last month. “glue and sweat.”

Appearing at the IFC Center for sold-out screenings of “Hairspray” and “Female Trouble,” Waters confirmed that “Polyester” will be restored and distributed in 2019 as part of The Criterion Collection, following re-releases of “Multiple Maniacs” and “Female Trouble.”

“They are going to do ‘Polyester’ next year, so I am excited about that,” Waters said. “They are a Class A company. I think they do an absolutely beautiful job.”

“Polyester,” starring Divine and Tab Hunter (sadly, both now dead), tells the story of suburban house frau Francine Fishpaw (Divine), stuck in a dreary marriage, and how her life changes after she meets dashing Todd Tomorrow (Hunter). Filmed in Greater Lutherville for $300,000 and released in 1981, it was part of Waters’ suburbia-based “Trash Trilogy,” along with “Hairspray” and “Cry Baby.”

“Polyester” became known for its Odorama card, which contained 10 scents that movie goers could scratch and sniff as they watched. They ranged from air freshener and roses to smelly sneakers and flatulence. Inspired by the Smell-O-Vision device from the 1960 movie “Scent of Mystery,” the Odorama card was touted with the lines: “It’ll blow your nose!” and “Smelling is Believing.”

Other original smells were: model airplane glue, pizza, gasoline, skunk, natural gas and new car smell. Glue was taken off the card when a LaserDisc version was released.

“Polyester” received positive reviews from critics such as The New York Times’ Janet Maslin.

“Ordinarily, Mr. Waters is not everyone’s cup of tea, but ‘Polyester’ … is not Mr. Waters’ ordinary movie,” Maslin wrote. “This time, the comic vision is so controlled and steady that Mr. Waters need not rely so heavily on the grotesque touches that make his other films such perennial favorites on the weekend Midnight Movie circuit. Here’s one that can just as well be shown in the daytime.”

Known as the “Pope of Trash” and “Sultan of Sleaze,” the openly gay filmmaker came to New York to celebrate the 30th anniversary of “Hairspray” and the 2018 re-release of “Female Trouble.” He had appeared the week before at a “Hairspray” screening and cast reunion in Los Angeles.

At the New York event, moderated by the entertainment writer Michael Musto, Waters was joined by Leslie Ann Powers, the actress who played Penny Pingleton; Joann Havrilla, who played Prudence Pingleton; and Holter Graham, who played I. Q. Jones. Waters said he hadn’t seen Powers in decades and thought she was hiding in the “‘Hairspray’ witness protection program.”

The filmmaker said “Hairspray,” which follows teenager Tracy Turnblad’s efforts to integrate a TV dance show in the 1960s, is “the gift that keeps on giving,” because there have been so many versions of it.

“I say it’s radical because it snuck up on Middle America,” Waters said. “Even racists like it. I’ve been paid to write the sequel two times. There’s been talk of ‘Hairspray on Ice,’ ‘Hairspray in Space.’ What’s left?”

The running joke in the movie is that the 300-pound drag actor Divine, who died in 1988 and played Tracy’s mother Edna, is actually a man but no one knows it except the audience.

In real life, Divine “had no desire to be a woman,” Waters said. “He wanted to be Godzilla. …We created Divine to scare hippies.”

Born Harris Glenn Milstead, Divine off-screen was nothing like Divine onscreen, Waters noted. “He was a kind, gentle man who was a pothead and liked to eat.”

Though he and Divine were good friends, Waters said, Divine eventually wanted to do more than John Waters movies, especially after the scene in “Pink Flamingos” where he ate dog poop.

“He got weary of being with me … because people couldn’t get over the whole eating-shit thing,” Waters said. “He got so sick of talking about that. … He wanted to get away from me and do things without me.”

During a separate Q&A session following the “Female Trouble” screening, Waters reported that none of the child actors in his movies was traumatized by the experience.

“All the kids in my movies turned out fine,” he said. “The little girl that I locked in a refrigerator (in Desperate Living)? She’s fine. … There was nothing weird or anything. They memorized their lines. They’re fine.”

“Female Trouble” focuses on Dawn Davenport (Divine), who turns to a life of crime after she didn’t get cha cha heels for Christmas, kills her daughter Taffy and ends up frying in the electric chair.

Waters said he originally wanted Divine to play both the mother and daughter but concluded it wouldn’t work because of Divine’s age. Instead, he had Divine play both the mother and the father, which means Divine rapes himself.

The famous line delivered by the late Edith Massey: “the world of the heterosexual is a sick and boring life,” had a double purpose aside from its comedic punch, Waters said.

“That was market testing. I wanted to see how many gay people were in the audience.”

Ever the name dropper, Waters said he loves the director Ingmar Bergman because “he had the first puke scene.” He said he met Elizabeth Taylor toward the end of her life and “she looked like Divine.” He said he considered casting Roseanne Barr as the lead in “Serial Mom,” back when she was “a complete liberal,” but eventually chose Kathleen Turner.

Waters said he used to visit courtrooms during criminal trials but can’t anymore “because people recognize me.” He disclosed that Dawn Davenport’s character was inspired in part by Alice Crimmins, a New York woman and Casey Anthony forerunner who was convicted of killing her two children in 1965.

Musto said he had a treat for Waters. “Big surprise,” he said. “Alice is here with us tonight!”

The conversation eventually came down, as it often does, to cha cha heels and Christmas.

Musto asked Waters if the dialogue about them — “Those aren’t the right kind. I told you cha cha heels, black ones!” and “Good girls don’t wear cha cha heels” — aren’t the most quoted lines from a John Waters movie.

Waters said the scene in which the Christmas tree falls over on Dawn’s mother was inspired by a time when a Christmas tree fell on his grandmother.

“I remember the handyman screaming, the maid crying and me being, ‘Is my present hurt?’ She wasn’t injured, but I was obsessed by it.”

He said a lot of his fans seem to have stories about falling Christmas trees.

“It’s usually dogs or liquor.”

Waters said his family always had real trees when he was growing up, never artificial, and his mother frowned on those who decorated with multi-colored lights.

“She was all white lights,” he said. “She would go around the neighborhood and look in windows” and make disparaging remarks about families with multi-colored lights.

Waters marvels that his movies are so embraced today since mainstream studios shunned them initially.

The Criterion Collection, which will distribute “Polyester,” is affiliated with Warner Brothers, one of the largest entertainment companies in America.

“Warner Brothers distributes all of mine now,” Waters said. “Who would have imagined?”

More John Waters fun!

Polyester, gay news, Washington Blade

Michael Musto, left, with John Waters in New York on July 27. (Photo by Ed Gunts)

He’s no longer making new movies but there are still ways to enjoy the John Waters sensibility.

John Waters: Indecent Exposure,” billed as the “first major retrospective of Baltimore native John Waters’ visual art,’ opens Oct. 7 at the Baltimore Museum of Art (10 Art Museum Drive, Baltimore) and runs through Jan. 6. The show will “examine the unapologetic cultural force’s influential career through more than 160 pieces of his work dating back to the early 1990s.” Details at

Waters makes his annual trek to the Birchmere (3701 Mount Vernon Ave., Alexandria) on Thursday, Dec. 20 for “A John Waters Christmas,” his comedy stand-up show. Tickets are $55. Details at


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Taste of Pride celebrates LGBTQ and allied restaurants

Weeklong event will feature local eateries and bars



Kareem Queeman, known as Mr. Bake, will headline the opening event for Taste of Pride.

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. 

From left, food from 801 Restaurant and Bar and a drink from Code Red. (Code Red photo by Michael Emond; photos courtesy of Capital Pride Alliance)

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

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Hip-Hop’s complicated history with queer representation

At 50, experts say the genre still doesn’t fully welcome LGBTQ inclusion



Rapper Lil Nas X faced backlash for his music video ‘Montero,’ but it debuted atop the Billboard 100.

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, Andr​​é 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. 

Queen Latifah dodged questions about her sexuality for years before acknowledging her partner and their son in 2021. (Photo by DFree via Bigstock)

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.)

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Cuisine and culture come together at The Square

D.C.’s newest food hall highlights Spanish flavors



(Photo by Scott Suchman)

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. 

(Photos by Scott Suchman)

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.

(Photo by Scott Suchman)
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