“It would be easier . . . if assassination were possible, as those unchosen selves become the demons that bedeviled the chosen one”
Damon Cardasis’ feature film debut Saturday Church offers a glimpse into the “ballroom” scene in New York where marginalized youth struggling with their sexual identity have a “safety net in a cruel and indifferent world.” And while the film doesn’t do a lot wrong, it certainly does even less right; in the end, becoming a film barely existing without the requisite quality of cardiovascular design to perpetually re-commit the losing of the audience.
The script, if analyzed, is amateurish: making easy target of the legalist aunt with a predilection for using corporate punishment to rid the lead character (Luka Kain) from his feminine inclinations. A recycled trope about religion, which, as an artist, to weaponize, must be done without reverting to trite advocacy. The recent film, Thelma [C+], is one example of using psycho therapy in a much more impactful way. While the issue is very serious, in film, should be used with creative caution to meaningfully attack the conscience of unsympathetic viewers.
John Boswell in his work Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality perhaps said it best when he said that “careful analysis can almost always differentiate between conscientious application of religious ethics and the use of religious precepts as justification for personal animosity or prejudice.” What problems Aunt Rose (i.e. Regina Taylor) had and the corresponding behavior she displayed, I’d be remiss to disagree with Boswell when he writes that “one must suspect something other than religious belief as the motivating cause of the oppression.”
However, where the film fails on-screen, it is instructive and provides a much-needed look into a community that has struggled to “uncover” its true identity. A concept described by professor Kenji Yoshino as a sub-species of historic bigotry rooted in a form of forcing homosexual identity to comply with norms of heteronormativity, to shed the vestiges of authenticity that may (and I’ve seen this personally in my work as an employment attorney) very well get you fired.
While culture wars rage over the faith/equality divide, a repairing is not impossible. The search for identity by the main character entangled in the layers between the scenes provide a necessary learning experience apart from the surrounding incompetence of the film and its varying problems.
A learning experience for those who have never heard of the Kiki scene: “a newer subset of the original ballroom scene made up of LGBTQ youths of color.” A collective self-fashioning, in the words of Foucault, where “[s]exual behavior is . . . the consciousness one has of what one is doing, what one makes of the experience, and the value one attaches to it.”
David Sims writes about this phenomenon in The Atlantic:
Ballroom culture itself—whose participants compete in organized dance-offs, flamboyantly posing for a cheering crowd while wearing elaborate costumes—has thrived in New York for generations as a space for LGBTQ people of color. As Jordenö tries to illustrate, it’s a minority within a minority, a safe haven for gender expression and stylized femininity that might be rejected or even met with threats of violence elsewhere.
Described by Sheila O’Malley (in a review of Kiki, a must watch documentary to supplement the film) as a “marginalized community, many of whom rely on the various neighborhood clubs for support systems that don’t exist anywhere else.” One insider describes their plight in sobering detail:
[The] community is on very intimate terms with death; that comes from complications with HIV, it comes from police brutality, it comes from all sorts of health issues, it comes from suicide, it comes from hate crimes, it comes from a lot of things.
It is here where Saturday Church is useful, not to be praised for its values of production, but for its value in direction—towards the corners of our society that remain untouched by the hand of sensitivity.