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Oscars so safe

Fraser wins for playing gay in ‘Whale,’ but night belonged to ‘Everything’



Oscar winners celebrate on Sunday night. (Photo courtesy of ABC)

It must be said that the 95th Annual Academy Awards were doomed to be a letdown before they ever started. After all, last year’s ceremony included a physical assault on a presenter by an A-lister – who then proceeded to win the Best Actor award! Even by rewarding an indie underdog for becoming a populist hit by giving it a record-setting sweep of the major categories, how could this year’s Oscar broadcast hope to top that?

Snarky digs aside, the Academy had already squandered a lot of its good will by announcing a slate of nominees that seemed a step backward in its recent efforts toward diversity. While 2022’s honors included overdue recognition for Asian American talent, the notable shortage of people of color or LGBTQ individuals among the nominees had already led many observers to write off this year’s Oscars as just another backsliding return to the all-too-familiar status quo; and when the broadcast itself finally happened, the Jimmy Kimmel-led ceremony played it so safe that the proceedings seemed dull even in comparison to other Oscar shows – and as anyone who’s ever watched one will certainly attest, that’s saying a lot. It’s almost as if, after a few years of pushing the boundaries, controversy, and conservative backlash over a perceived capitulation to “woke” sensibilities had pressured the Academy into a return to business as usual.

In fairness, that assessment feels a little unreasonable, considering that “Everything Everywhere All at Once” – a movie in which the survival of multiple universes hinges in no small part on a mother’s acknowledgment and acceptance of her child’s queer sexuality – had enough critical and popular momentum going into the ceremony to make its claiming of the top prize all but inevitable. The popular surprise indie sci-fi hit claimed that prize and more – including Best Actress for cinema icon Michelle Yeoh and supporting honors for co-stars Ke Huy Quan and Jamie Lee Curtis, as well as wins in the Direction and Original Screenplay categories for filmmakers Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan – to take home an impressive seven of the 11 awards for which it was nominated; child-actress-turned-celebrated-filmmaker Sarah Polley, while shut out of the Best Director category for “Women Talking” in favor of an all-male roster of nominees, took the prize for Best Adapted Screenplay nevertheless; Best Actor winner Brendan Fraser, while himself not gay, earned his victory for a deeply humanizing portrayal of a gay man and is a very public survivor of alleged same-gender sexual harassment in the workplace – a reminder that #MeToo is not just a “women’s issue” but a cause encompassing even those in positions most seemingly insulated from such abuses.

All these winning films – as well as numerous others among their fellow winners and nominees –are queer-inclusive, if not directly queer-focused. Though other queer nominees – like Belgian director Lukas Dhont’s “Close” for Best International Feature and Laura Poitras’ Nan Goldin profile “All the Beauty and the Bloodshed” for Best Documentary Feature – failed to take their respective categories, the overall queer presence represented in this year’s nominated films is too widespread and deeply integrated to be ignored.

Still, in today’s very divided cultural atmosphere, such equivocating overtures toward a more equitable Oscar playing field can undeniably feel like hollow, insincere tokens, convenient to bestow on their non-LGBTQ recipients thanks to the more universal appeal of the movies that earned them a place at the table; and while the wins for Yeoh and nostalgic Gen X fan favorite Quan represented historic firsts for Asian American inclusion, nominations for Viola Davis in “The Woman King” and “Till” star Danielle Deadwyler as Best Actress, or for Jeremy Pope and Gabrielle Union of “The Inspection” as Best Actor and Supporting Actress, respectively, would have gone a lot further toward proving the Academy’s commitment to true diversity than its loading of the stage with an ostentatiously multi-ethnic roster of presenters – an overcompensation tactic that becomes increasingly obvious every time they deploy it.

As for the ceremony itself, there were some highlights, such as Lady Gaga, with a face freshly scrubbed of her red carpet makeup, passionately delivering a performance of nominated song “Hold My Hand” from “Top Gun: Maverick,” or fellow pop diva Rihanna’s rendition of “Lift Me Up” from “Wakanda Forever” – not to mention the wildly entertaining production number staged to the eventual Best Song winner, “Naatu Naatu” from the Indian blockbuster “RRR.” So, too, were there memorable moments from among the presentations, like the infectious wave of authentic joy that met Quan’s and Curtis’ early wins or Fraser’s genuinely choked-up, self-effacing acceptance speech, as well as a few polite-but-pointed barbs and zingers aimed at various low-hanging political targets – and, of course, at Will Smith – along the way. Even so, the atmosphere of the evening was decidedly contained, marked by a frankly uncharacteristic effort from Hollywood’s elite to remain on their best behavior and avoid ruffling too many feathers – and while that may have made for an evening relatively free of controversy, it also resulted in an Academy Awards show arguably far less entertaining than some of the notoriously embarrassing debacles they’ve produced in past years.

With all that in mind, it’s easy to see Sunday night’s Oscar ceremony as just another validation for people who loathe the Oscars. Yet while the Academy might seem to be some monolithic organization handing out decrees, its awards are bestowed by a voting body made up of individual film professionals, each with their own opinions about who the winners should be, and many of whom likely feel no obligation toward following whatever cultural or political agendas the organization itself may be hoping to advance. That means that whatever good intentions it proclaims itself to have, the Academy will always be little more than a barometer – and, perhaps, a convenient scapegoat – for an industry that perpetually drags its feet. After all, can we really blame the Academy for failing to recognize queer-centric and queer-friendly content – or content centered on any demographic that isn’t white, male, and heterosexual – when there is still so little of it to choose from among the award-worthy movies the mainstream continues to offer us?

There’s no right answer to that question, perhaps, only food for thought as we continue to press Hollywood to do better; that’s the only way we’ll ever see wider inclusion on the big screen. In the meantime, it’s important to remember that deciding the “best” of anything is always an entirely subjective exercise, which means that the Oscars are ultimately less about gauging quality than they are about measuring cultural attitudes toward the content – and the way that content is presented – that the movie industry produces. That makes awards like the Oscars an invaluable tool, perhaps, but does that mean it’s worth putting up with all the shallow, facile, tribalistic conversation that inevitably happens around them?

In a year like this one, when the Academy honors films that uplift and celebrate outsiders, underdogs, and ordinary people, that emphasize kindness and compassion, that allow for resolution and redemption without destructive conflict or violence, then it feels like the answer is yes.

The complete list of winners is below:

Best Picture: “Everything Everywhere All at Once”

Best Actress in a Leading Role: Michelle Yeoh, “Everything Everywhere All at Once”

Best Actor in a Leading Role: Brendan Fraser, “The Whale”

Best Director: Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert,“Everything Everywhere All at Once”

Actress in a Supporting Role: Jamie Lee Curtis, Everything Everywhere All at Once”

Actor in a Supporting Role: Ke Huy Quan, “Everything Everywhere All at Once”

Best Animated Feature Film: “Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio”

Best Original Song: M.M. Keeravani and Chandrabose,“Naatu Naatu,” “RRR”

Best Original Screenplay: Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert,“Everything Everywhere All at Once”

Best Adapted Screenplay: Sarah Polley, “Women Talking”

Best International Feature Film: “All Quiet on the Western Front”

Best Documentary Feature Film: “Navalny”

Best Cinematography: James Friend, “All Quiet on the Western Front”

Best Visual Effects: “Avatar: The Way of Water”

Best Costume Design: Ruth E. Carter, “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever”

Best Makeup and Hairstyling: Adrian Morot, Judy Chin, and Annemarie Bradley, “The Whale”

Best Production Design: Christian M. Goldbeck and Ernestine Hipper,“All Quiet on the Western Front”

Best Film Editing: Paul Rogers, “Everything Everywhere All at Once”

Best Original Score: Volker Bertelmann,“All Quiet on the Western Front”

Best Live Action Short: “An Irish Goodbye”

Best Animated Short: “The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse”

Best Documentary Short: “The Elephant Whisperers”

Best Sound: “Top Gun: Maverick”



PHOTOS: Jackie Cox and Jan at Pitchers

RuPaul’s Drag Race alums join local performers at gay sports bar



Jan performs at Pitchers on Wednesday, March 29. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

RuPaul’s Drag Race alums Jackie Cox and Jan performed at Pitchers DC on Wednesday, March 29. Other performers included Cake Pop!, Venus Valhalla, Brooklyn Heights, Jayzeer Shantey and Logan Stone.

(Washington Blade photos by Michael Key)

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Arab-American playwright delves into queer themes in ‘Unseen’

Mosaic production entwined with heartbreak and humor



Mona Mansour at first rehearsal for Mosaic's production of ‘Unseen.’ (Photo by Chris Banks)

Through April 23
Mosaic Theater Company at Atlas Performing Arts Center
1333 H St., N.E.

New York playwright Mona Mansour is best known for exploring her Arab-American identity, but with her most recent work “Unseen,” now playing at Mosaic Theater, she delves into queer themes, shining a light on her own sexuality. 

“Doing a gay-themed play had been nagging at me for a while,” explains Mansour via phone from a cozy coastal town in Connecticut where she’s taking a short break from the city with her girlfriend, a children’s book author. “So, when I started writing about a woman with a camera, it just seemed to fit.” 

Entwined with heartbreak and humor, “Unseen” focuses on Mia, an American conflict photographer who wakes up in her off-and-on girlfriend Derya’s apartment in Istanbul with no idea of how she got there. In a cross-cultural, time-shifting journey, Mia, neither sanctimonious nor self-congratulatory about her work, wends through Istanbul, Gaza, Syria, and an art gallery in Philadelphia, confronting personal and professional challenges. 

At turns, the women’s relationship can be described as estranged, fiery, adversarial, sexy, and romantic. 

“With each rewrite I increasingly stacked the deck in Mia and Derya’s favor,” says Mansour “Early on, one might have said, ‘boy, I don’t know about these two.’ But now, there’s love along with the contentiousness.”

But will the women make it as a couple? Mansour suggests an after-play thing where the audience makes bets. 

“What’s clear is that Mia can’t keep going on as she has been, and though the play doesn’t take us to this, what I think personally is that we as a country can’t keep going in the way we have either. Those are things I think are around the play, but for me as writing, putting those ideas into a play into a character’s mouth, I feel like I shut down. It’s tricky. 

“Theater is a tough business and kicks your ass but there’s a reason we all do it,” she continues. “I’m a cynical person in a lot of ways, but I’m definitely not interested in writing plays that when the lights come up, the first thing people say is ‘where are we going for cocktails?’. Those are fine too, and I’ve done silly plays in the past, but just not now.”

Mansour likes a Washington audience. Her play “The Vagrant Trilogy,” a stunning piece about a displaced Palestinian family in exile, debuted at Mosaic in 2018 before moving to New York’s Public Theater last year. She credits the play with her having recently received the prestigious Arts and Letters Award in Literature from one of the country’s foremost cultural bodies, The American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Growing up in a Southern California suburb, the daughter of a Lebanese immigrant father and an American mother from Seattle, Mansour was obsessed with Patty Hearst’s kidnapping and battles of World War II. She says, “We weren’t the rich family who took off for a week in Tahoe, though sometimes I would have liked that. We had a stream of cousins coming to stay with us during the Lebanese Civil War.”

For Mansour, coming out to her parents shortly after meeting her first girlfriend in the mid-90s was a mixed bag: “It was a thing for my ‘moderny’ Lebanese dad,” she says. “But my mother accepted it instantly.” She recalls a gay friend at the time saying “I’m gay for 14 years and haven’t told my mom. You’ve been gay for five minutes and have already come told your mom and hugged it out.” 

Before writing, Mansour acted, including a stint studying at Second City Chicago and improvising with the Groundlings Sunday Company: “I was good enough to know when I wasn’t good. I write way above what my own punching ability was, but I always feel like someone else can do it.”  And with “Unseen,” she has written three meaty tracks for three women, here played by Katie Kleiger, Dina Soltan, and Emily Townley. Directed by Johanna Gruenhut.

“As the bringer of images, Mia is part of a system, a system that I, Mona, think about all the time. But you can’t address a system of endless wars in 90 minutes,” she says. 

Without spelling it out, Mansour’s work makes audiences think about the big questions. “That’s my hope,” she adds. “I want them to come to that same psychic space without literally leading them there and plopping them down in a chair. You know, even when I agree with someone, I don’t like to be lectured.”

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This Zurich bar was once a meeting place for a secret gay society

Barfüsser is now Kweer and attracting a new generation of diverse patrons



Kweer in Zurich has a long history as a gay-friendly bar.

In 1942, as the Nazis were bombing their way around Europe, a quiet revolution was forming in Switzerland. The Swiss government decriminalized homosexuality that year, and the legal victory emboldened a group of gay men who had been secretly publishing a magazine. Der Kreis, a.k.a. The Circle, featured news, sexy stories and artwork, all about gay life in Switzerland, and most importantly there were details for upcoming parties at a nightclub in Zurich. With pages published in German, French, and English, The Circle was a lifeline for its subscribers, perhaps serving as their only glimpse of life beyond their oppressive reality. 

With the absence of anti-gay laws in Switzerland, and the social scene created by The Circle’s publishing team, Zurich became one of the gay capitals of the mid-20th century, where bands played for raucous parties and attendees dressed as their gender of choice. Just to the north in Germany, the Nazi regime arrested suspected homosexuals and imprisoned them in concentration camps, but gay Germans could take trains to Zurich and spend the weekend, dancing and drinking and engaging in taboo activities of the night.

Zurich’s police tolerated the publishers of The Circle, on the condition that members had to be at least 20 years old. But social attitudes in Switzerland were still predictably conservative, and any public exposure of a homosexual lifestyle was grounds for immediately losing your job and eviction from your home. The Circle’s parties were cloaked in secrecy. Attendance was restricted to registered members, and those registration lists were stored in a member’s home, in an oven filled with wood, ready to ignite should the police invade looking for evidence for blackmail. 

Those blackmail attempts began in the 1960s. Several gay men in Zurich were murdered by male prostitutes, but the killers claimed the “gay panic” defense, as if they had been coerced into being paid for sex by predatory older men, and the Swiss courts set them free. Mainstream press jumped on the story, also portraying the killers as the victims, and painted an image of Zurich as a pit of debauchery, which riled up the public. The police, embarrassed by the city’s distasteful image, interrogated The Circle’s publishers and threatened them with exposure if they did not disclose the names of their members. The publishers never caved to the threats, but the harassment led to the demise of The Circle, which ceased production in 1967, and those legendary parties disappeared.

All is not lost to history, however. In the 1950s, a bar opened in Zurich’s Old Town historic district; called Barfüsser, it was owned by a liberal-minded husband and wife couple who defiantly hired a waiter who had been fired from his previous job for being gay. That bit of gossip spread quickly, mostly among the waiter’s gay friends, and business flooded in, leading to Barfüsser quickly becoming one of Zurich’s first gay bars. Women sat in the front, and men congregated in the back room, and it was in that back room where The Circle held meetings, amid the antics of dancing boys and drag queens and other shenanigans occurring around them. 

Barfüsser soldiered on for decades and eventually closed in the early 2000s after the owners retired. The space was leased to a new business, a sushi restaurant, but in 2022 the restaurant moved out, and two local nightlife impresarios claimed the historic building. Marco Uhlig, who owns the nearby nightclub Heaven, a hotspot for Zurich’s twink scene, and Sam Rensing, who owns restaurants outside of the city, worried that “the space might be occupied by a big gastro-chain,” as explained by Rensing, and they wanted to return to its roots in European gay history. So they opened a bar there once again, now with the new name in the German spelling, Kweer.

The new Kweer is a beautiful lounge, with long serpentine couches and a small stage for shows, and the space opens early in the day as a coffeeshop, then changes to a posh cocktail bar in the evening. As progressive as it was in the 1950s when they hired their first gay employee, the bar is just as progressive now: instead of the self-imposed split of women in one room, men in the other, the crowd is entirely gender-friendly, with young patrons embracing their chosen pronouns and giving the place some fresh energy.

“We made sure to pivot the place as a queer space,” said Rensing. “We really thought that it was imperative, that this place became a thriving queer space again, as it had been in the second half of the last century.”

Kweer exterior (Photo courtesy of Dan Renzi)
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