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Interviews & Reviews

The Queen: AWFJ review of a documentary essential to queer history

So proud to have posted this review of documentary The Queen on the anniversary of Stonewall. It is absolutely required viewing for those interested in both queer history and film history.

See the trailer here:

“Before queer was cool, or even fully legal, first-time director Frank Simon created The Queen, a 1968 groundbreaking documentary chronicling one of the original and quintessential competitive drag events in history, the 1967 Miss All-American Camp Beauty Pageant. Featuring iconic queen Flawless Sabrina aka LGBTQ activist Jack Doroshow as narrator, and a must-see jaw-dropping bitch-fest scene courtesy of Crystal LaBeija, who was later indelibly captured in 1990’s Paris is Burning, this film is truly a priceless cinematic artifact of LGBTQ and film history.”

Click on the link below to read the rest of the review:

and because it’s fascinating, here is a review from the New York Times in 1968:

“THE QUEEN” is an extraordinary documentary about the Miss All-America Camp Beauty Pageant held at Town Hall in 1967. The contestants were transvestites from all over the country—some of them winners in regional contests—judged for walking, talking, bathing suit, makeup, hairdo and, of course, beauty. The star and the winner was Harlow, a frail, blond, pouting young man, formerly Miss Philadelphia. The director was Frank Simon (his first feature film), and the movie itself is funny—not tactless—and inspired the way “The Endless Summer,” of surfing, was inspired. It shows us another America.It is good to watch for about an hour these colorful human beings whose entire self-image is a put-on, in their Atlantic City of Genet, in their Forest Hills of drag. The drag queens are, of course, perfectly aware that they are not women, and even their mannerisms—the flatted vowels, the relaxed wrist, the gait of the homosexual who wants it known—are not female imitations at all, but parodies. Very witty, detailed parodies at that. The question of invasion of privacy does not arise; one is watching actors, very conscious actors, at work. They may be absolutely miserable (like others) in their private lives, but in their costumed appearances they enrich the landscape enormously.At times, Miss Sabrina, Miss Crystal and Miss Harlow and the rest seem to have taken Hollywood’s old message very much to heart: Both the two-fisted gunfighter and the sex queen could find stardom, but the sex queen really had all the lines. The cosmetic idea was bound to spill over a bit. So here are all these gentlemen in bras, diaphanous gowns, lipstick, hairfalls and huffs—discussing their husbands in the military in Japan, or describing their own problems with the draft. One grows fond of all of them. They are much more entertaining than the conventional Miss This or Miss That.Two shorts opened at the Kips Bay Theater yesterday with “The Queen.” One, French, about a factory where plaster mannequins are molded, filed, hammered and repaired, is about the most extreme, laconic anti-female movie since Dean Martin last starred in anything, and the other, called “2” and spoken in American-accented Italian, is hilarious.Written by Renee Taylor, it is about a couple of people about to make love on the beach, who start confessing to each other. He tells the most outrageous things. She pardons him. She tells the most outraegous things. He pardons her. (“I have been with all your friends, Irving, Lewis . . .” she begins. “So have I,” he says.) It is a fine program altogether.

You can read the rest of that review HERE.

Interviews & Reviews

Mouthpiece AWFJ review

Even as an adult, there is never a good time to lose a parent. More challenging is losing a mother unexpectedly on the heels of a falling out. This experience is the basis for the new film Mouthpiece, which is based on a Canadian two-woman show of the same name, starring the two actresses, Amy Nostbakken and Norah Sadava, who created the play together. There’s a twist, though. The story approaches the idea that in socialization, there are multiple aspects inside every woman; the one that follows rules, the one that takes the heat, the one that suffers in silence, the one with a chip on her shoulder, and so on. These aspects blend together, as none are exclusively one-dimensional, but they exist so women can live in relative safety while walking through the world. Because it’s exhausting to be a girl, yo.

For the complete review, go here on

Interviews & Reviews

Late Night: Great Broad-cast News

More a strongly femme Broadcast News and less The Devil Wears Prada, new comedy Late Night offers a look at the challenges of working on a comedy talk show while female, and to hilarious effect. Written by Mindy Kaling, directed by Nisha Ganatra, and starring Kaling and Patron Saint of Smart Women in Film Emma Thompson, the female gaze is all over this cast and crew, and it shows.

Late night talk show host Katherine Newbury (Thompson) has been coasting on stale jokes crafted by her all male staff of writers for so long, it has effected her ratings, and threatened her future with the show. Enter hyper-earnest fledgling comedy writer, and longtime Katherine Newbury fan Molly Patel (Mindy Kaling), a diversity hire who can’t help but shake things up.

She is a young woman of color making suggestions and speaking truths to both the entrenched boys club that is the writing team, and the older, wasp-y Brit Katherine. Sparks both good and bad ignite. Will she fearlessly help raise the bar, or go down without a fight? The answer is both.

The representation in Late Night of the hostility a woman of color faces working with an all male, all white staff probably doesn’t show just how bad it can be, even today, but it certainly gets the point across. It’s a miracle Kaling could bring humor to making that point. Interviews of female filmmakers in advance of my Women Rocking Hollywood panel at San Diego Comic-Con often go no further than one-on-one conversations. They are too dark. We choose to focus on women’s future projects, rather than the daily abuse heaped on them by men and even some women in the film industry. Kaling’s writing captures spot-on the frequency of micro-aggressions, and the almost pervasive condescension inherent in being a woman working in that environment.

Writer Kaling and director Ganatra create and mine the beats that lead to comedic success, with no small help from Thompson’s deadpan delivery, and commitment to Newbury’s emotional arc. As portrayed, she is not wholly good or bad, but certainly completely formed as a character. This is more impressive than it sounds. How often can that be said about lead female characters over 40? The answer is not often enough.

One interesting aspect of this film is the idea that Newbury is a successful woman who hates women. There is an old paradigm of women in business taking their walking and talking points from the misogynistic men they work for, or that hired or inspired them. Within the context of this comedy, Newbury, a successful businesswoman who has played the game the old way as often as necessary, redefines how she operates. She does so with the help of a woman who believes it is possible to be collaborative, inclusive, and supportive and still succeed. This is a powerful message that will resonate with working women, who haven’t seen themselves or their philosophies reflected nearly enough onscreen.

Did I mention it’s funny? So funny, indeed, that Amazon Studios bought the rights for it for $13 million, the most ever for a US-only distribution deal, at the Sundance Film Festival. They know a winner when they see one, and so will you.

4 out of 5 stars

Interviews & Reviews

Booksmart: Funny, Fearless, and Feminist AF

Olivia Wilde is proving to be the blueprint for successfully segueing from acting into directing with the buzzy new coming-of-age comedy Booksmart, releasing wide this weekend through patron saint indie studio to female filmmakers, Annapurna. If any film should bring the indie studio solidly into the black, this hilarious, heartfelt celebration of feminist teenage badassery deserves to do so.

Focused academic overachievers and BFFs Molly (Beanie Feldstein) and Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) have worked their brains to mush to get into the best colleges, forswearing all things social and party-related. On the eve of their graduation, they discover a bunch of their peers have been able to find both fun and academic success. They realize they’ve done high school all wrong, and commit to making four years of memories in one night. Along the way, they bump into classmates and school officials of all stripe, from luxe party girl Gigi (Billie Lourd) and her aim-to-please Richie Rich sidekick Jared (Skyler Gisondo), drama king George (Noah Galvin) and flamboyant performer Alan (Austin Crute), skater girl Ryan (Victoria Ruesga), popular hottie Nick (Mason Gooding) and cynical clique floater Hope (Diana Silvers) to easygoing Principal Brown (Jason Sudeikis) and cool school counselor Miss Fine (Jessica Williams). If you know anything about high school or high school movies, things don’t go according to plan.

By far the best and most endearing aspect of the film is the relationship represented between Molly and Amy, who not only have each other’s back, but raise each other up at nearly every turn. On departing the screening, my little sister Coco and I started imitating what we call their ‘flattery duels’. If even some of the groups of friends that see Booksmart together follow suit, that will be one of the delightful byproducts of the film. So, too, is the reaffirmation that friendship and acceptance have a huge influence on teen experience.

Thank goddess a film following two smart, funny young ladies, speaking authentically, which includes, among other things, raunchy conversation, expressions of emotion, whip smart quips, and deep thinking not related to boys, is executed with such great dialogue, editing, production design and acting prowess. Kudos to Olivia Wilde, writers Susanna Fogel, Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins, and Katie Silberman, and production designer Katie Byron, who enhance the immense appeal of actors Feldstein and Dever. Notice what all those names have in common? All hail women in film!

Rarely has there been a more quotable movie than Booksmart, but that’s just one reason fans will go back to see it over and over, and why it will have a long life beyond theaters. The mix of raucous fun and hilariously bad choices backed by two friends that truly love each other makes Booksmart a teen comedy that will become a classic for this generation, though comedy lovers of all ages, though old enough to view sexual situations, drug use, and liberal use of profanity, will put at the top of their 2019 favorites. It is a love story in the purest, sweetest sense of the word.

This surely places Olivia Wilde as a director to watch. Here’s hoping the mix of her fame and talent bring her offers a-plenty for her future directorial projects, and help break the cycle of lauded female filmmakers who make classics only to be placed on the Hollywood sidelines. For now, Wilde, you’re a winner. To quote the film, ’take a take a deep breath, visualize the mountain of your success, and look down at everyone who has ever doubted you.’

5 out of 5 stars

Interviews & Reviews

Tell it to the Bees: AWFJ review

Tell it to the Bees, an independent British drama released in 2018, is finally having its release in American art house cinemas, though it reaches theaters in the UK in June. The film is adapted by director Annabel Jankel (co-creator of Max Headroom) from the novel of the same name by Fiona Shaw (the writer, not the actor), with a screenplay by sisters Henrietta and Jessica Ashworth (Dixi, Killing Eve). This love story, which happens in a small town, in post-war Scotland, speaks to the judgement and fear of imprisonment same-sex couples had at the time, since homosexuality was only decriminalized in England in 1967. It also exposes the lack of agency, and often suffocating restrictions and expectations set for women, while showing that love, and the falling into it, is always beautiful.

For the rest of the review, please go to

Interviews & Reviews

Wine Country: Raise a glass to these funny women in film

In a world where we are so busy that Facebook has become a poor stand-in for quality time with those we are close to, the new gal pal comedy Wine Country pours itself into our cinema-loving lives like a light-bodied, approachable chardonnay after a bad day at work. A feature directorial debut for Amy Poehler, it stars friends Amy, Maya Rudolph, Ana Gasteyer, Paula Pell, and Rachel Dratch in a story based on a real-life weekend trip to Napa in celebration of Dratch’s 50th birthday. Writers Liz Cackowski and Emily Spivey are also part of the close-knit group, and built the screenplay by blending events and conversations that have occurred on vacation, with elements various members of them have experienced in their own lives. The result is a funny, snarky, and thoroughly enjoyable cinematic trip worthy of a toast, and an impromptu viewing party made from your own crew.

Anyone who has longterm friendships they cherish, especially with women, will relate to the closeness they crave, the conversations and easy laughter that recharge them, sometimes even as it drives them crazy. Even the little digs and resulting resentments that go unsaid, leading to tension and a need for airing will resonate. That these women know each other so well off camera feeds into the believability of how their characters interact, anchoring connection to the audience. Clearly they used improvisation, and my guess is some of the funniest moments are born from them. Lines by Dratch like “park your pooter” and “put me in my finest muumuu” flow naturally from the character she plays, as do a number of quirky lines from the other characters. There are several catch phrases they use as a group, just as many other close girlfriends do, and indeed some of them are actual expressions these women use with each other when they hang out in real life. I know I have a number of them with my oldest female friends, and most would make no sense to anyone outside of us.

There are guest stars that add considerably to the fun. Tina Fey plays Tammy, the no-nonsense loner who rents them their swank digs. Cherry Jones (always, always wonderful) is “Miss Sunshine”, the darkest, bitchiest, and possibly the most expensive tarot card reader you’ll ever see. She is apparently based on someone they actually hired on another vacation. Jason Schwartzman is Devon, who “comes with the house”, and is forever making paella. One visit to an art gallery is particularly amusing, and this is speaking as someone who has owned an art gallery for 26 years. The skewering of the habit lowbrow artists have of co-opting pop culture for financial gain while looking down their noses at it, and the representation of a younger generation working overtime to fit in with each other, while declaring themselves unique and simultaneously bored and engaged, is the funniest part of the film.

At times Wine Country feels like it’s trying too hard, reiterating the fear of getting old and losing relevancy a bit too much. It’s also pretty easy to imagine the cast could have just improvised the entire movie, creating more laugh-out-loud moments. Still, there’s no denying these women are entertaining to watch, and are speaking to an entire segment of population that is too often neglected onscreen. It’s time to get your squad together, as big or as little as it may be, grab a few bottles of wine, park your pooter, and enjoy.

4 out of 5 stars

*streaming now on Netflix

Interviews & Reviews

Knock Down the House Review: An Inspirational Documentary for Irrational Times

The new documentary Knock Down the House is the sort of inspiring, invigorating film that will remind those in the existential funk created by all things Trump-related that there is hope. In this film, hope comes largely in the form of four working women, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Amy Vilela, Cori Bush, and Paula Jean Swearengin, all of whom we see running for office for the first time, with grassroots campaigns that refuse corporate donations.

The film is directed, co-written, and co-produced by Rachel Lears, who committed herself to the project the day after the 2016 election. She contacted Brand New Congress and Justice Democrats, two organizations who had plans to find “extraordinary ordinary” working people to upset the status quo in congress, by running against incumbents who had become complacent, or were clearly dependent on and beholden to corporate or lobbyist financial support. Though Lears didn’t originally plan to highlight only female candidates, she knew those she chose not only resonated with her own experience, but would strike a chord with the populace as well.

Each woman featured in the movie has a unique perspective. Ocasio-Cortez had had to work several jobs at once to save her family’s house from foreclosure after her father, the sole breadwinner of the family, died of cancer. This brought home to her the challenges for families to have, among other things, decent housing, healthcare, and education. Cori Bush, a registered nurse and single mother, was called to action by the events in Ferguson, where she was as a protester, clergy, a medic, and victim of police assault. Amy Vilela decided to run for office when, during her activism working towards healthcare for all, the sitting congressman told her she was wasting his time. A grieving mother who lost her daughter to a preventable health problem, she had come to tell him her story of loss, and of the importance of healthcare for all as a fundamental right of citizens. Paula Jean Swearengin ran in West Virginia. As a coal miner’s daughter, she had lost family to black lung, and the streams and rivers around her had become toxic from runoff from the mines.

The point of the film is not how many of these women win their races. Most know that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, or AOC as she is called now, was successful. How the other candidates fared is less important to the film and the optimism it shows, than the fact that communities organized and more ordinary people became engaged in the political process.

Although the future should be in the hands of the everyday people that democracy is, at its core, meant to champion, just the fact that anyone would even try, or come close to unseating the pale, male, moneyed folk in power makes for an inspirational watch. This film shows it can be done. Let’s hope some extraordinary ordinary people who watch it will be inspired to they themselves run.

3.5/5 stars

Interviews & Reviews

Rafiki Film Review by Cinema Siren for

This captivating coming-of-age love story affirms Wanuri Kahiu as a filmmaker to watch.

In 2018, filmmaker Wanuri Kahiu discovered her film Rafiki was going to premiere at Cannes Film Festival, a first for Kenya. Meanwhile, in her own country, where anyone found engaging in same-sex sexual activities can face up to 14 years in prison, the Kenyan Film Board banned Rafiki, for what it said was “legitimizing lesbianism”. A court battle brought by Kahiu, who argued the ban limited her freedom of expression, led to worldwide press attention to the case that eclipsed the film itself.

To read the full review, go to

Interviews & Reviews

Little: These Actresses Bring the Fabulous to a Flawed Film

Frustrating pacing nearly derails superior performances and great co-star chemistry in the new film Little, a sweet confection still great for a night out with your gal pals. Though it proves itself uneven, it is also a nice reminder to stay anchored to your true self.

Comedies celebrating black girl magic are all too rare. Even rarer is one written and directed by women. It also boasts the youngest executive producer in Marsai Martin, who dreamed up the idea at 10 after seeing the movie Big. Martin is also one of the stars, playing Jordan Sanders at 13. Film fans who root for and support diversity in films made by major Hollywood studios, (Little is being released through Universal Studios) can feel justified in heading out to theaters to see it, so magnetic are the leads as they perform, whether alone or as with each other.

Tech company mogul Jordan Sanders (Regina Hall) runs her business with not only an iron fist, but an unforgiving one. She has her beleaguered assistant April (Issa Rae) measure the distance between the bed and her slippers in centimeters. She disallows any carbs in the office. She shoots down anyone else’s ideas in meetings, cuts in line for her morning cappuccino, and cuts off people in traffic. She may be cruel, but she’s successful. When she magically reverts to her 13-year-old self (played by Marsai Martin), she is confronted with the bullying that led her to being a bully herself.

It is in the scenes with Martin as the younger Jordan that the film is at its most entertaining. Rae lights up the screen in her every scene, and there is an honesty and authenticity when she and Martin play off each other that brings more heft to what would otherwise be feather light. The audience can’t possibly get behind Jordan until she changes to her younger age and starts getting some of her own back from the cruelest girl in middle school. As an adult in a child’s body, Martin plays up the sophistication and entitlement, which at times strikes as off-putting, but she is altogether believable. As we start to see the cracks in her armor, and watch her reach out to April for help, the audience is pulled in and finally connects with her fragility. Unfortunately, several scenes have editing and pacing issues which turn awkward what might have been highly memorable moments in film.

Still, together these women have such star power, they are a joy to watch, regardless of the film’s issues. We are reminded that any of these three, and no doubt countless other women of color out there wishing to headline a studio film, could benefit from more scripts and better, more frequent representation at the multiplex.

3 out of 5 stars

Interviews & Reviews

Mapplethorpe Movie Review: Matt Smith Makes Art

Whether you know his work or not, Robert Mapplethorpe remains an important, iconoclastic figure in the histories of both LGBTQ rights and contemporary art. So much so, in fact, that in 2017, Belgian designer Raf Simons built a couture collection, in collaboration with the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, around the famous photographer’s images. Now in theaters, when art in our country is more and more subject to censorship, Mapplethorpe, directed and co-written by female filmmaker Ondi Timoner, examines the artist’s life, with Matt Smith starring as the mercurial, brooding genius.

Actress Eliza Dushku and her brother Nate had been fascinated by the artist and his life since learning of him early on from their mother. They began working to get a narrative film made about him in 2002, and spent over a dozen years committed to getting it to theaters. Timoner herself had known Mapplethorpe’s work since her youth, and vividly remembers having a calendar with his flower photography as a twelve-year-old.

I lived in the Washington DC area during the controversial cancellation of “The Perfect Moment”, Mapplethorpe’s retrospective planned for exhibit at the Corcoran Gallery. For those of us in and around the DC art scene, it ignited our passion about guarding against censorship, and guarding the art and artists most vulnerable to it. Mapplethorpe sexualized his images of flowers and created gorgeous, sculptural, and artistically compelling images of sexuality representing gay sex, BDSM, and other experiences seen as taboo by the general public. I was a fan from the time I was a teenager, and his art fascinates and draws me in to this day. I’m not alone. For example, in 2018, auction prices for purchases of his art were above 3.5 million dollars.

The film Mapplethorpe works best as art when viewed as a platform for actor Matt Smith’s talent. His mesmerizing portrayal of the complicated, often unlikeable personality comes closest to embodying the work of the artist himself. He is all sharp shadows, showing the audience glimpses of emotion, and blunt outbursts meant to keep imperfections hidden. In Mapplethorpe’s photographs, there is often this compelling balance of in-your-face fearlessness and insecurity hidden behind bombast. Smith captures that dichotomy so well that we find the all-too-straightforward biopic storytelling more palatable. I was expecting a film with a far less traditional way of revealing his life, more experimental like Kenneth Anger (now that would have been SOMETHING!) and less like James Marsh of The Theory of Everything. For those who already know about the chronology of his life and the many relationships, especially those with women, that were integral to his success, there are few revelations beyond Smith’s performance, which is nearly as provocative as Robert Mapplethorpe’s famous Calla Lily.

Still, longtime fans of Mapplethorpe’s work will appreciate how much the making of his art is woven into the story, while those new to the artist will get a good first sense of the deeply flawed, inspired artist, and his continued importance to art history. He was and is essential to expanding acceptance of both photography as a collective art form, and gay love and sexuality as beautiful. Though it reveals that in ways that play it a lot safer than it could have, as a narrative film, Mapplethorpe ably brings that truth to the screen.

3 out of 5 stars