SCAD Works: Professor Stephen Stanley’s Pride Pics

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June 17, 2021 · By SCAD

Stephen Stanley (M.F.A., film and television, 2007) is a prolific producer, writer, filmmaker, and since 2018, professor of film and television at SCAD. In April of this year, he racked up a #1 hit on Netflix as producer of What Lies Below, a feature film directed by Braden Duemmler that was test-screened for SCAD students before its general release. Professor Stanley is highly esteemed at SCAD for his popular classes covering production, direction, and the business of film.

Steve Stanley:

A key to visibility is having agency in how your community is depicted in media. Growing up in the 1980s, it was virtually impossible for me as a young gay boy to see other Queer people on TV or in movies, primarily due to FCC regulations and studio prejudices. The few LGBTQ+ characters who did show up were typically either troubled souls or outlandish stereotypes, most often created by straight writers and directors.

With some notable early—and mostly coded—exceptions, it wasn’t until the emergence of New Queer Cinema in the early ’90s that Queer directors and producers were able to shape their own image on screen. The result was revolutionary. Audiences were able to see fully formed LGBTQ+ characters who reflected the diversity of our community. While visibility exposes us in a way that can feel uneasy, it also helps connect, unite, and protect us.

This Pride month, I want to recommend five films from that period made by LGBTQ+ filmmakers of enduring power.

1. Mala Noche, Gus Van Sant (1986): While 1991’s My Own Private Idaho is justifiably Van Sant’s most lauded work from this period, Mala Noche offers a look at the auteur as he developed his signature style. Set, like Idaho, in a world of street hustlers, Van Sant delivers a raw look at urban Queer life and the uneasy coexistence of gay people alongside vulnerable populations.

2. Poison, Todd Haynes (1991): Anticipating the breakthrough of his tour-de-force Safe, Poison captures Todd Haynes at his best:  thoughtful, audacious, and visually stunning. Haynes explores power, male sexuality, and the sensationalizing of the AIDS crisis in this richly provocative triptych.

3. I Am My Own Woman, Rosa Von Praunheim (1992): A bold and experimental hybrid of narrative and documentary about trans woman Charlotte Von Mahlsdorf, who lived through Hitler’s Third Reich and the Communist East German regime. Mahlsdorf plays herself and narrates this remarkable look at joy and bravery in the face of constant danger. 

4. Go Fish, Rose Troche (1994): A fun, funky look at the diversity of lesbian culture at a time when Queer female characters lacked agency in Hollywood (except as villains). Troche embraced her budget limitations with a raucous approach to experimentation that enchants, most notably in her deconstruction of classic Hollywood love scenes. 

5. The Watermelon Woman, Cheryl Dunye (1996): Dunye wrote, directed, edited, and stars in this landmark film about a young African-American lesbian who, after watching a film where a black actress in a Mammy role is credited as simply “The Watermelon Woman,” decides to investigate her identity. Using comedy, drama, and behind-the-scenes intrigue, Dunye shatters traditional storytelling boundaries while examining issues of race, sexuality, and media.

Read more of Stephen Stanley’s writing on LGBTQ+ films in his contribution to professor Lubomir Kocka‘s book Left or Right? Directing Lateral Movement in Film (Vernon Press, 2021).