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‘Sunset Boulevard’ of broken dreams

At 70 years, everything old is meaningful again



Sunset Boulevard, gay news, Washington Blade
Gloria Swanson as Norma Desmond.

“I AM big! It’s the pictures that got small.”

So goes one of many famous quotes from “Sunset Boulevard,” the 1950 Billy Wilder classic that celebrated its 70th anniversary on Aug. 10. Like many of the film’s now-iconic lines, it is spoken by Norma Desmond, the forgotten silent screen goddess (fearlessly portrayed by real-life silent starlet Gloria Swanson) who serves as the grotesque centerpiece of Wilder’s cynical show business fable; it’s a proclamation of contempt, hurled against a Hollywood that has left her behind as it moves into an era that has no room for her larger-than-life ego.

Wilder’s beloved film noir, which he co-wrote with Charles Brackett, is one of those classics that stands the test of time.

Equal parts bitter tragedy and shrewd satire, it’s a cautionary tale against the ephemeral allures of fame and fortune, as well as an indictment of an industry that exploits and then discards the very people who make it possible in the first place.

More than anything, it’s a warning against the dangers of holding on to the past in a world that moves forever forward.

With themes like that, “Sunset Boulevard” is guaranteed to have something to say for audiences in any era – but thanks to a global pandemic, it’s a film that has suddenly become particularly relevant. After all, if Norma Desmond were around in 2020, she would surely complain that the pictures had gotten even smaller.

As we try to make sense of our new COVID place in the world, splitting our time between “working from home” and binge-watching reruns on television, the images we stream have become postcard-sized or even smaller, as the computer and phone become the New Cinema. Even the medium of streaming is being shattered into ever tinier fragments by the likes of Instagram, Quibi and TikTok.

Not only that, our world itself has shrunk; the nightclubs and bars, dinners and awards ceremonies, all the red-carpet events that once defined social life in Hollywood have disappeared. Our experience of The Fabulous has been reduced to fleeting sound-bites and awkward livestreams.

For those who are part of industry itself, the impact of these changes has been swift and profound.

Even before COVID, the landscape of celebrity was already transforming. New avenues to fame had sprung from the virtual world of social media, driven by a generation of influencers who, like Norma with her fake fan-mail, could even “buy” followers to convince themselves of their own popularity by increasing the number of “likes” and “shares” they rack up.

Complicating things further, the sheer amount of content now available, coupled with the high cost of producing it, meant that an actor’s famous name was no longer enough to ensure that a new film would be a hit, no matter how much social media buzz they might have behind them; the Franchise Picture was now the only safe bet for studios – and in a world where a single well-timed tweet could shift the tide of popular opinion in an afternoon, even that was no guarantee.

Now, months into the pandemic, even the brightest stars face an uncertain future. Everyone who was famous in January suddenly finds themselves canceled, irrelevant, dimmed and unsure of their path back to celebrity.

The star machine of late-night television has become a pale imitation of itself, turning former supernova-caliber appearances into mediocre Skype calls and half-hearted attempts at staging a “feels-live” show. The exceptional has given way to the perfunctory, and it’s hard to escape the feeling that everyone involved would rather be doing something else.

At the end of “Sunset Boulevard,” Norma delivers her most famous line. “Alright, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up,” she purrs, as she prepares to slink down the stairs toward the camera for a comeback that’s never going to happen.

As COVID continues to rage with no end in sight, how many real-life stars fear that they are facing the same fate?

After all, there were few “Mr. DeMilles” left in the world even before the pandemic, and now they are virtually a thing of the past.

In any case, productions have come to a halt, and if it was hard to get that close-up before, it’s next to impossible now.

As for Sunset Boulevard itself (the place, not the movie or the Andew Lloyd Webber neo-opera based upon it), it has been decimated, like most urban haunts, by the epidemic, a place where a once-teeming urban existence has been replaced by miles-long swaths of badly boarded-up storefronts, graffitied with wheatpaste dreams of normalcy and an equality that has always been out of reach in LA.

It would be easy enough during this state of affairs to succumb to gloomy nostalgia for a world gone by, or to echo the hard-edged tone of “Sunset Boulevard” and devalue the things we have lost by decreeing that they were never worth that much to begin with.

We are, essentially, in survival mode now, locked down for the duration – and happily so, if we have adequate food supplies, a well-functioning computer, a TV and streaming services to help us pass the time.

It’s a time to be thankful for important things we still have, not to bemoan the absence of trivial things we don’t.

In the middle of an ongoing traumatic event, it’s often difficult to remember that things won’t always be as they are. The day will come when the viral danger has passed, and though there will undoubtedly be some permanent changes to the way we live, it’s reasonably certain that we will, at last, return to some version of our “normal” world.

When that day arrives, a resurgent entertainment machine will surely come back, too, eager to once more clamor for our attention (and our money) as it offers up its seemingly eternal parade of stars.

After what we are going through now, will we still be interested? Will we even be able to care?

The answer to that question is hard to see, for now, but even within the cruel universe of “Sunset Boulevard” there is room for a glimmer of hope, and yet another of its famous lines may point the way to our path forward.

Midway through the film, Joe Gillis, Norma’s reluctant gigolo (William Holden), says to her, “There’s nothing tragic about being 50 – not unless you’re trying to be 25.” In context, it’s a gentle admonition over an obsession with youth and beauty, but it can easily be seen in a broader sense.

For better or worse, we have been changed, and we can no more go back to who we were than Norma can convince Paramount to let her star in a movie about Salome.

But it doesn’t have to be a tragedy.

Instead, it can be a choice. We can retreat into the shadows to play parlor games with the other “waxworks” and mourn for our former glories, or we can pick up the pieces of our broken dreams and rebuild them into something bigger, better, and kinder.

If Hollywood wants to come with us into that new world, it will have to do the same.

John Paul King contributed to this article.

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Rodriquez scores historic win at otherwise irrelevant Golden Globes

Award represents a major milestone for trans visibility



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



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



‘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.


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.


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.


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,

• DC Center, our local community center that operates a wide range of programming,

Food & Friends, which delivers meals to homebound patients,

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

• SMYAL, which advocates for queer youth,

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

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

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

• 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,

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