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Top 10 pop culture moments of 2021

A gay Playboy cover boy, a Satanic lap dance, the ‘Pose’ finale, and Colton’s drama



It was a memorable year for pop culture, as productions resumed after COVID lockdowns. Here’s our list of the top 10 pop culture moments of 2021.

#10: Lesbian nuns get it on in ‘Benedetta’

(Photo courtesy SBS Productions)

Director Paul Verhoeven (“Basic Instinct,” “Showgirls”) delivered his latest film “Benedetta,” which tells of an Italian nun in the 1600s who receives erotic visions of a nude Christ as well as stigmata before having a lesbian relationship with a novitiate in her convent. 

The title character (played by Virginie Efira) plays “a randy nun whose religious visions and lustful cravings are rolled into a single ball of blasphemy,” as the New York Times wrote. “Verhoeven might have aged, but his love of the lurid has dimmed not one bit.”

The Times also said the movie “presents lesbianism as a middle finger to church power.” 

A modest release, it gained steam on the festival circuit and screened in competition at Cannes. 

#9: Sapphic love in ‘Squid Game’

(Photo courtesy Netflix)

(SPOILER ALERT) It was subtle but the relationship between players 067 (HoYeon Jung) and 240 (Lee Yoo-mi) on the “Gganbu” episode of “Squid Game,” Netflix’s monster K-drama, was embraced by fans as a tale of doomed lesbian love.

While other teams use the 30 minutes allotted for a nerve-wracking series of marble games, the two young women spent all but the final seconds of their time telling each other their life stories. Player 240 loses intentionally, sacrificing her life for her partner’s. She expresses her love just before getting shot.

The show has been deemed Netflix’s “most watched series.”

#8: Olly’s big year

Olly Alexander in ‘It’s A Sin.’ (Photo courtesy WarnerMedia)

It was a big year for Olly Alexander, the Years & Years singer. He drew raves for his role in the five-part British series “It’s a Sin” as Ritchie, one of a group of gay U.K. men dealing with AIDS in the ‘80s. 

In March, Alexander announced that his band was now a solo venture. Kylie Minogue showed up as guest artist on a remix of single “Starstruck” in May. In October, Years & Years guested on Minogue’s song “A Second to Midnight.” A full album is expected in 2022. 

Alexander performed a sensuous cover of the Pet Shop Boys’ “It’s a Sin” with Elton John at the BRIT Awards in May. 

#7: Bretman dons bunny ears

(Photo courtesy Playboy Enterprises)

Bretman Rock, the 23-year-old Filipino YouTuber and beauty influencer known for his makeup tutorials and MTV reality show, made history as the first openly gay man to make the cover of Playboy magazine.

Aside from Playboy’s late founder, Hugh Hefner, Rock is only the second man to appear on the cover (in July, 2020, Puerto Rican rapper Bad Bunny was the first). 

Sporting a nipple-baring bustier and the famous bunny ears, Rock called the historic moment “so surreal” on Instagram. Sadly, the issue is digital only as Playboy suspended its print product in 2020 after 66 years citing COVID “disruption.” 

Model Ariel Nicholson became the first trans person on the cover of Vogue in September. She was featured with seven other models dubbed “Generation America.” 

#6: Ewan bends over for ‘Halston’

(Photo courtesy Netflix)

Straight actor Ewan McGregor drew strong reviews for his portrayal of late gay designer Roy Halston Frowick (who died of AIDS in 1990) in the Netflix miniseries “Halston,” which premiered in May.

Another Ryan Murphy-produced project, “Halston’s” five episodes follow the designer’s work with Liza Minnelli, booming business, drug use and comeback. 

McGregor, no stranger to screen sex scenes and nudity (he even filmed one with Jim Carrey in “I Love You Phillip Morris”), gets pounded by soon-to-be-boyfriend Ed (Sullivan Jones) in the first episode, though ultimately, the series focuses more on drugs than sex. He won an Emmy for the role in September.

#5: ‘Pose’ wraps

(Photo courtesy FX)

The groundbreaking FX series “Pose,” wrapped in June and was lauded for being the first show to center on trans women of color and cast trans actors in its roles.

The show, which depicted New York City drag ballroom culture of the ’80s and ’90s, only ran for three seasons (26 episodes) but followed the characters over the course of a decade. 

Created by Steven Canals, Brad Falchuk and Ryan Murphy, the New York Times called the show “a celebration, a juicy soap and one of TV’s most kinetic and dance-intensive shows.” 

Star Billy Porter told the Hollywood Reporter in May he’s been HIV-positive since 2007. 

In September, Mj Rodriguez, who plays Blanca, was the first trans actor to receive an Emmy nomination.

#4: JoJo makes ‘Dancing’ history

(Photo courtesy ABC)

YouTuber JoJo Siwa, 18, one of Time’s “most influential people in the world” last year, came out as pan (she’s also comfortable with “queer” and “gay,” she said) in January.

In September, the dancer/singer made history on the 30th season of “Dancing With the Stars” as the first contestant to compete with a same-sex partner. She and Jenna Johnson came in second. 

#3: Marvel depicts gay superhero

(Photo courtesy Walt Disney Studios)

“Eternals,” the 26th movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, was released in November, features the franchise’s first LGBTQ superheroes with Phastos (Brian Tyree Henry), a genius inventor, who’s married to Ben (Haaz Sleiman) and father of Jack. The couple even gets an onscreen kiss.

Though the movie itself drew mixed reviews but solid box office, the inclusion was widely praised.

“Seeing a powerful gay superhero kiss his husband and feeling the reaction in that theater was a real-life example of why it is important for our stories to be told – especially in films that travel to big cities and small towns around the world,” Variety noted.

Several countries in the Middle East — Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, et. al. — denied release; others only agreed to a version that edited the love scenes. 

“It made these Arab countries look so ignorant and pathetic,” Sleiman told Variety. “I have no respect for those governments.”

#2: Colton Underwood comes out — and it gets messy

(Photo courtesy Netflix)

The 29-year-old former NFL linebacker, whose alleged virginity gave him a novel angle on “The Bachelor” two years ago, came out in April on a “Good Morning America” interview. This month, a six-episode reality show dubbed “Coming Out Colton” arrived on Netflix in which he comes out to family and friends and learns gay culture. 

In November, an online petition with more than 35,000 signatures asked Netflix to cancel the series because of stalking and harassment allegations that Underwood’s ex-girlfriend, Cassie Randolph (his choice on “The Bachelor,” though they didn’t end up marrying), claimed in a 2020 restraining order. The order was dropped, but the incident as well as the docuseries raised gay eyebrows. 

“To some, that appears more like a monetized career move than an unvarnished emotional reckoning,” the New York Times wrote. 

#1: Lil Nas X scores big with ‘Montero’

(Photo courtesy Columbia)

Out rapper Lil Nas X proved he’s not a one-hit wonder when his single “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)” debuted atop the Billboard Hot 100 in April.

Its video, which depicts the artist giving Satan a gay lap dance, won “Video of the Year” at the MTV Video Music Awards and People’s Choice Awards and three Grammys are pending. 

The accompanying album, “Montero,” dropped in September at No. 2 to solid reviews and featured two other Hot 100 top-10 hits.

Nas shot to fame in 2018 when his song “Old Town Road” became the longest-charting No. 1 song in Hot 100 history.



New book explores why we categorize sports according to gender

You can lead a homophobic horse to water but you can’t make it think



‘Fair Play: How Sports Shape the Gender Debates’
By Katie Barnes
c.2023, St. Martin’s Press
$29/304 pages

The jump shot happened so quickly, so perfectly.

Your favorite player was in the air in a heartbeat, basketball in hand, wrist cocked. One flick and it was all swish, three points, just like that, and your team was ahead. So are you watching men’s basketball or women’s basketball? Or, as in the new book, “Fair Play” by Katie Barnes, should it really matter?

For sports fans, this may come as a surprise: we categorize sports according to gender.

Football, baseball, wresting: male sports. Gymnastics, volleyball: women’s sports. And yet, one weekend spent cruising around television shows you that those sports are enjoyed by both men and women – but we question the sexuality of athletes who dare (gasp!) to cross invisible lines for a sport they love.

How did sports “become a flash point for a broader conversation?”

Barnes takes readers back first to 1967, when Kathrine Switzer and Bobbi Gibb both ran in the Boston Marathon. It was the first time women had audaciously done so and while both finished the race, their efforts didn’t sit well with the men who made the rules.

“Thirty-seven words” changed the country in 1972 when Title IX was signed, which guaranteed there’d be no discrimination in extracurricular events, as long as “federal financial assistance” was taken. It guaranteed availability for sports participation for millions of girls in schools and colleges. It also “enshrine[d] protections for queer and transgender youth to access school sports.”

So why the debate about competition across gender lines?

First, says Barnes, we can’t change biology, or human bodies that contain both testosterone and estrogen, or that some athletes naturally have more of one or the other – all of which factor into the debate. We shouldn’t forget that women can and do compete with men in some sports, and they sometimes win. We shouldn’t ignore the presence of transgender men in sports.

What we should do, Barnes says, is to “write a new story. One that works better.”

Here are two facts: Nobody likes change. And everybody has an opinion.

Keep those two statements in mind when you read “Fair Play.” They’ll keep you calm in this debate, as will author Katie Barnes’ lack of flame fanning.

As a sports fan, an athlete, and someone who’s binary, Barnes makes things relatively even-keel in this book, which is a breath of fresh air in what’s generally ferociously contentious. There’s a good balance of science and social commentary here, and the many, many stories that Barnes shares are entertaining and informative, as well as illustrative. Readers will come away with a good understanding of where the debate lies.

But will this book make a difference?

Maybe. Much will depend on who reads and absorbs it. Barnes offers plenty to ponder but alas, you can lead a homophobic horse to water but you can’t make it think. Still, if you’ve got skin in this particular bunch of games, find “Fair Play” and jump on it.

The Blade may receive commissions from qualifying purchases made via this post.

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An exciting revival of ‘Evita’ at Shakespeare Theatre

Out actor Caesar Samayoa on portraying iconic role of President Perón



Caesar Samayoa (center) and the cast of ‘Evita’ at Shakespeare Theatre Company. (Photo by DJ Corey Photography) 

Through Oct. 15
Shakespeare Theatre Company
Harman Hall
610 F St., N.W.

When Eva Perón died of cancer at 33 in 1952, the people’s reaction was so intense that Argentina literally ran out of cut flowers. Mourners were forced to fly in stems from neighboring countries, explains out actor Caesar Samayoa. 

For Samayoa, playing President Perón to Shireen Pimental’s First Lady Eva in director Sammi Cannold’s exciting revival of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Evita” at Shakespeare Theatre Company is a dream fulfilled. 

As a Guatemalan-American kid, he had a foot in two worlds. Samayoa lived and went to school in suburban Emerson, N.J. But he spent evenings working at his parents’ botanica in Spanish Harlem. 

During the drives back and forth in the family station wagon, he remembers listening to “Evita” on his cassette player: “It’s the first cast album I remember really hearing and understanding. I longed to be in the show.”

As an undergrad, he transferred from Bucknell University where he studied Japanese international relations to a drama major at Ithica College. His first professional gig was in 1997 playing Juliet in Joe Calarco’s off-Broadway “Shakespeare’s R&J.” Lots of Broadway work followed including “Sister Act,” “The Pee-Wee Herman Show,” and most significantly, Samayoa says, “Come From Away,” a musical telling of the true story of airline passengers stranded in Gander, Newfoundland during 9/11. He played Kevin J. (one half of a gay couple) and Ali, a Muslim chef.  

He adds “Evita” has proved a powerful experience too: “We’re portraying a populist power couple that changed the trajectory of a country in a way most Americans can’t fully understand. And doing it in Washington surrounded by government and politics is extra exciting.” 

WASHINGTON BLADE: How do you tap into a real-life character like Perón?

CAESAR SAMAYOA: Fortunately, Sammi [Connald] and I work similarly. With real persons and situations, I immerse myself into history, almost to a ridiculous extent. 

First day in the rehearsal room, we were inundated with artifacts. Sammi has been to Argentina several times and interviewed heavily with people involved in Eva and Peron’s lives. Throughout the process we’d sit and talk about the real history that happened. We went down the rabbit hole.

Sammi’s interviews included time with Eva’s nurse who was at her bedside when she died. We watched videos of those interviews. They’ve been an integral part of our production. 

BLADE: Were you surprised by anything you learned?

SAMAYOA: Usually, Eva and Perón’s relationship is portrayed as purely transactional.  They wrote love letters and I had access to those. At their country home, they’d be in pajamas and walk on the beach; that part of their life was playful and informal. They were a political couple but they were deeply in love too. I latched on to that. 

BLADE: And anything about the man specifically? 

SAMAYOA:  Perón’s charisma was brought to the forefront. In shows I’ve done, some big names have attended. Obama. Clinton. Justin Trudeau came to “Come From Away.” Within seconds, the charisma makes you give into that person. I’ve tried to use that.  

BLADE: And the part? 

SAMAYOA: Perón is said to be underwritten. But I love his power and the songs he sings [“The Art of the Possible,” “She is a Diamond,” etc.]. I’m fully a baritone and to find that kind of role in a modern musical is nearly impossible. And in this rock opera, I can use it to the full extent and feel great about it.

BLADE: “Evita” is a co-production with A.R.T. Has it changed since premiering in Boston? 

SAMAYOA: Yes, it has. In fact, 48 hours before opening night in Washington, we made some changes and they’ve really landed. Without giving too much away, we gave it more gravity in reality of time as well as Eva’s sickness and the rapid deterioration. It’s given our second act a huge kind of engine that it didn’t have. 

BLADE: You’re married to talent agent Christopher Freer and you’re very open. Was it always that way for you?

SAMAYOA: When I started acting professionally, it was a very different industry. We were encouraged to stay in the closet or it will cast only in a certain part. There was truth in that. There still is some truth in that, but I refuse to go down that road. I can’t reach what I need to reach unless I’m my most honest self. I can’t do it any other way.

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Out & About

HRC’s National Dinner is back

LGBTQ rights organization’s annual gala features Rhimes, Waithe, Bomer



Actor Matt Bomer will be honored at the HRC National Dinner.

The Human Rights Campaign will host its annual National Dinner on Saturday, Oct. 14 at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center.

The dinner’s honorees include world-famous producers, actors and entertainers whose work spotlights the fight for civil rights and social justice, including Shonda Rhimes, Lena Waithe and Matt Bomer.

A new event, as part of the weekend, — the Equality Convention — will take place the night before the dinner on Friday, Oct. 13. The convention will showcase the power of the LGBTQ equality movement, feature influential political and cultural voices, and bring together volunteer and movement leaders from across the country to talk about the path ahead.
For more details about the weekend, visit HRC’s website.

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