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‘Rise of Skywalker’ gets a pass from Chinese censors – but not from toxic fans



Joonas Suotamo, Oscar Isaac, John Boyega, and Daisy Ridley in “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” (Image courtesy of Lucasfilm/DIsney)

The opening weekend for “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” brings a mixed bag of news – some of it good, some not-so-good, depending on how you look at it.

In the former category, as reported in Variety, a same-sex kiss between two female characters slipped by censors in China, allowing the film to be released uncut in a country where government censorship has been historically strict about LGBTQ content, despite the decriminalization of same-sex sexuality and the declassification of homosexuality as a mental illness.

The kiss, which takes place late in the film and could easily be described as a “blink-and-you’ll-miss-it” moment between minor characters, was teased by the film’s director and co-writer J.J. Abrams a few weeks ahead of the movie’s release, when he told Variety he has always wanted the people of “Star Wars” to look “more the way the world looks than not,” and that, regarding the LGBTQ community, “it was important to me that people who go to see this movie feel that they’re being represented in the film.”

The representation can be seen an important step in the struggle for global advancement of LGBTQ acceptance, indicating an erosion of a key roadblock that traditionally serves as an excuse for major studios to balk on featuring LGBTQ characters or storylines – the accepted notion that such material would be denied release in lucrative international markets, resulting in the loss millions of dollars in profits.

Speaking with the Blade in 2018, GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis questioned the validity of this argument, saying, “I’ve never seen the science or the methodology behind that and I think if they ever did those studies, they probably did them decades ago,” Ellis says  “There are these false narratives that live within the entertainment community that we all buy into and we’ve all taken them on as the truth.”

The moment in “Rise of Skywalker” is the first time in “Star Wars” history that a same-sex romantic relationship has been depicted in one of the franchise’s films, though a 1999 comic book, “The Bounty Hunters: Aurra Sing,” featured the first LGBTQ character within the “Star Wars” universe, and several LGBTQ characters have since been depicted in “Star Wars” video games.

Onscreen, 2018’s “Solo: A Star Wars Story” featured the character of Lando Calrissian, who was confirmed by both screenwriter Jonathan Kasdan and actor Donald Glover as pansexual. More recently, Justin Ridge, executive producer of the kid-friendly “Star Wars Resistance” TV series, said on a podcast that two fan-favorite characters from his show are “absolutely a gay couple,” and Queerty published a story reporting on rumors that an upcoming “Star Wars” series on the Disney+ streaming service will “feature an out-queer lead.”

While most commentators have acknowledged the historic importance of the lesbian kiss in “Rise of Skywalker,” many have also expressed a less-than-positive perspective. An article in Variety lamented that the brief onscreen moment has “zero impact on the story” and features “characters who barely register within the vast tapestry of the ‘Star Wars’ creative galaxy.”

The Hollywood Reporter went even further, publishing an article that characterized it as “a step back for LGBTQ representation” and called out Disney for a history of “queerbaiting” LGBTQ fans, citing as an example this year’s earlier “Avengers: Endgame,” which included a similarly brief and non-essential scene as its sole nod toward LGBTQ inclusion.

Critical response to the film, which is the final installment of the so-called “Skywalker Saga” which originated with the first “Star Wars” film in 1977, has been mixed; audience reactions have been predictably divisive, reflecting a trend in fan culture that was explored in a recent essay in Esquire, which suggests the aggressively hostile reaction of some fans over the newer installments is a response to their frustration “that heroes in ‘Star Wars’ – and in other massive properties – are no longer exclusively straight, white, and male.”

Earlier this month, former Trump advisor Sebastian Gorka made comments on his “America First” radio show decrying Abrams’ hinted revelation of an LGBTQ moment, saying, “Well, you know, if you couldn’t destroy the franchise already, let’s destroy it a little bit more. The last installment of the ‘Star Wars’ saga would include a member from the trans — is it trans? Let’s just say the alphabet soup community.”

His derisive comments echo many of those made by angry fans around the franchise’s most recent rebooted trilogy, which have each featured an increased number of prominent characters who are female or people of color; the backlash reached a peak with the release of “The Last Jedi” in 2017, when disgruntled fans mounted campaigns to have the movie removed from the “official” canon, and some even calling for it to be remade.

In addition, Vietnamese-American actress Kelly Marie Tran was driven to delete her social media accounts when she was beset by sexist and racist insults by “a legion of trolls,” as detailed in a 2018 Yahoo article which describes the increasing trend toward virulent grassroots activism as “toxic fan culture” and links “ the vile online behavior of a vocal minority” of fans to “elements of the far-right and the misogynist ‘incel’ men’s movement.”



PHOTOS: DCGFFL 25th Anniversary Party

Gay flag football league marks milestone at Penn Social



The D.C. Gay Flag Football league held a party celebrating their 25th season at Penn Social on Saturday. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The D.C. Gay Flag Football League (DCGFFL) held a 25th season anniversary party at Penn Social on Saturday, Sept. 23. Proceeds from the event benefited the LGBTQ youth services organization SMYAL as well as the D.C. Center for the LGBTQ Community.

(Washington Blade photos by Michael Key)

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New book goes behind the scenes of ‘A League of Their Own’

‘No Crying in Baseball’ offers tears, laughs, and more



(Book cover image courtesy of Hachette Books)

‘No Crying in Baseball: The Inside Story of ‘A League of Their Own’
By Erin Carlson
c.2023, Hachette Books
$29/320 pages

You don’t usually think of Madonna as complaining of being “dirty all day” from playing baseball. But that’s what the legendary diva did during the shooting of “A League of Their Own,” the 1992 movie, beloved by queers.

“No Crying in Baseball,” the fascinating story behind “A League of Their Own,” has arrived in time for the World Series. Nothing could be more welcome after Amazon has cancelled season 2 of its reboot (with the same name) of this classic film.

In this era, people don’t agree on much. Yet, “A League of Their Own” is loved by everyone from eight-year-old kids to 80-year-old grandparents.

The movie has strikes, home runs and outs for sports fans; period ambience for history buffs; and tears, laughs and a washed-up, drunk, but lovable coach for dramady fans.

The same is true for “No Crying in Baseball.” This “making of” story will appeal to history, sports and Hollywood aficionados. Like “All About Eve” and “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” “A League of Their Own” is Holy queer Writ.

Carlson, a culture and entertainment journalist who lives in San Francisco, is skilled at distilling Hollywood history into an informative, compelling narrative. As with her previous books, “I’ll Have What She’s Having: How Nora Ephron’s three Iconic Films Saved the Romantic Comedy” and “Queen Meryl: The Iconic Roles, Heroic Deeds, and Legendary Life of Meryl Streep,” “No Crying in Baseball,” isn’t too “educational.” It’s filled with gossip to enliven coffee dates and cocktail parties.

“A League of Their Own” is based on the true story of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL). From 1943 to 1954, more than 600 women played in the league in the Midwest. The league’s players were all white because the racism of the time prohibited Black women from playing. In the film, the characters are fictional. But the team the main characters play for – the Rockford Peaches – was real.

While many male Major and Minor League Baseball players were fighting in World War II, chewing gum magnate Philip K. Wrigley, who owned the Chicago Cubs, founded the league. He started the AAGPBL, “To keep spectators in the bleachers,” Carlson reports, “and a storied American sport–more important: his business afloat.” 

In 1943, the Office of War Information warned that the baseball season could be “scrapped” “due to a lack of men,” Carlson adds.

“A League of Their Own” was an ensemble of women’s performances (including Rosie O’Donnell as Doris, Megan Cavanagh as Marla, Madonna as Mae, Lori Petty as Kit and Geena Davis as Dottie) that would become legendary.

Girls and women  still dress up as Rockford Peaches on Halloween.

Tom Hanks’s indelible portrayal of coach Jimmy Dugan, Gary Marshall’s depiction of (fictional) league owner Walter Harvey and Jon Lovitz’s portrayal of Ernie have also become part of film history.

Filming “A League of Their Own,” Carlson vividly makes clear, was a gargantuan effort.  There were “actresses who can’t play baseball” and “baseball players who can’t act,” Penny Marshall said.

The stadium in Evansville, Ind., was rebuilt to look like it was in the 1940s “when the players and extras were in costume,” Carlson writes, “it was easy to lose track of what year it was.”

“No Crying in Baseball” isn’t written for a queer audience. But, Carlson doesn’t pull any punches. 

Many of the real-life AAGPBL players who O’Donnell met had same-sex partners, O’Donnell told Carlson.

“When Penny, angling for a broad box-office hit chose to ignore the AAGPGL’s queer history,” Carlson writes, “she perpetuated a cycle of silence that muzzled athletes and actresses alike from coming out on the wider stage.”

“It was, as they say, a different time,” she adds.

Fortunately, Carlson’s book isn’t preachy. Marshall nicknames O’Donnell and Madonna (who become buddies) “Ro” and “Mo.” Kodak is so grateful for the one million feet of film that Marshall shot that it brings in a high school marching band. Along with a lobster lunch. One day, an assistant director “streaked the set to lighten the mood,” Carlson writes.

“No Crying in Baseball,” is slow-going at first. Marshall, who died in 2018, became famous as Laverne in “Laverne & Shirley.” It’s interesting to read about her. But Carlson devotes so much time to Marshall’s bio that you wonder when she’ll get to “A League of Their Own.”

Thankfully, after a couple of innings, the intriguing story of one of the best movies ever is told.

You’ll turn the pages of “No Crying in Baseball” even if you don’t know a center fielder from a short stop.

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Rupert Murdoch’s powers on full display in ‘Ink’

Media baron helped pave the way for Brexit, Prime Minister Thatcher



Cody Nickell (Larry Lamb) and Andrew Rein (Rupert Murdoch) in ‘Ink’ at Round House Theatre. (Photo by Margot Schulman Photography)

Through Sept. 24
Round House Theatre
4545 East-West Highway, Bethesda, MD 20814

Yes, Rupert Murdoch’s loathsome traits are many, but his skills to succeed are undeniably numerous. 

In the first scenes of John Graham’s West End and Broadway hit drama “Ink,” an exciting year-long detail from the life of a burgeoning media baron, Murdoch’s powers of persuasion are on full display.

It’s 1969 London. Over dinner with editor Larry Lamb, a young Murdoch shares his plan to buy the Sun and rebrand the dying broadsheet, replacing the Daily Mirror as Britain’s best-selling tabloid. What’s more, he wants to do it in just one year with Lamb at the helm. 

Initially reluctant, Lamb becomes seduced by the idea of running a paper, something that’s always eluded him throughout his career, and something Murdoch, the outsider Australian, understands. Murdoch taunts him, “Not you. Not Larry Lamb, the Yorkshire-born son of a blacksmith, not the guy who didn’t get a degree from Oxford or Cambridge, who didn’t get a degree from anywhere. Not you.”

Still, Lamb, played convincingly by Cody Nickell in Round House Theatre’s stellar season-opener, a co-production with Olney Theatre Center, remains unsure. But Murdoch (a delightfully brash Andrew Rein) is undeterred, and seals the deal with a generous salary. 

Superbly staged by director Jason Loweth, “Ink” is riveting. Its exchanges between Lamb and Murdoch are a strikingly intimate glimpse into ambition involving an ostensibly average editor and a striving money man who doesn’t like people.  

Once on board, Lamb is trolling Fleet Street in search of his launch team, played marvelously by some mostly familiar actors. He makes his most important hire — news editor Brian McConnell (Maboud Ebrahimzadeh) — in a steam bath. The remainder of the Sun’s new masthead falls handily into place: Joyce Hopkirk (Kate Eastwood Norris) the women’s page editor whose forward thinking is marred by her casual racism; Zion Jang plays Beverley Goodway, an awkwardly amusing young photographer; persnickety deputy editor Bernard Shrimsley (Michael Glenn) who learns to love ugly things; and an old school sports editor who proves surprisingly versatile, played by Ryan Rillette, Round House’s artistic director. 

At Lamb’s suggestion, the team brainstorms about what interests Sun readers. They decide on celebrities, pets, sports, free stuff, and —rather revolutionarily for the time —TV.  Murdoch is happy to let readers’ taste dictate content and the “Why” of the sacred “five Ws” of journalism is out the window. 

Murdoch is portrayed as a not wholly unlikable misanthrope. He dislikes his editors and pressman alike. He particularly hates unions. His advice to Lamb is not to get too chummy with his subordinates. Regarding the competition, Murdoch doesn’t just want to outperform them, he wants to grind them to dust. 

Loewith leads an inspired design team. Scenic designer Tony Cisek’s imposing, inky grey edifice made from modular walls is ideally suited for Mike Tutaj’s projections of headlines, printed pages, and Rein’s outsized face as Murdoch. Sound designer and composer Matthew M. Nielson ably supplies bar noises and the nonstop, pre-digital newspaper clatter of presses, linotypes, and typewriters.

From a convenient second tiered balcony, the Daily Mirror’s establishment power trio Hugh Cudlipp (Craig Wallace), Chris Lee Howard (Chris Geneback) and Sir Percy (Walter Riddle) overlook all that lies below, discussing new tactics and (mostly failed) strategies to remain on top.   

Increasingly comfortable in the role of ruthless, sleazy editor, Lamb is unstoppable.

Obsessed with overtaking the Daily Mirror’s circulation, he opts for some sketchy reportage surrounding the kidnapping and presumed murder of Muriel McKay, the wife of Murdoch’s deputy Sir Alick (Todd Scofield). The kidnappers mistook Muriel for Murdoch’s then-wife Anna (Sophia Early). Next, in a move beyond the pale, Lamb introduces “Page 3,” a feature spotlighting a topless female model. Awesta Zarif plays Stephanie, a smart young model. She asks Lamb if he would run a semi-nude pic of his similarly aged daughter? His reaction is uncomfortable but undaunted. 

For Murdoch’s purposes, history proves he chose well in Lamb. By year’s end, the Sun is Britain’s most widely read tabloid. Together they give the people what they didn’t know they wanted, proving the pro-Labour Daily Mirror’s hold on the working class is baseless and paving the way for things like Brexit and a Prime Minister Thatcher. 

“Ink” at Round House closes soon. See it if you can.

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