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Outfest Trailblazers on Creating a Legacy of LGBT Films and Television

Outfest Legacy Awards Honorees 2018
Pose: Courtesy of FX;Simian/Sony Pictures: REX/Shutterstock

The cast and creators of “Pose,” along with “Dear White People” writer-director Justin Simien and Sony Pictures Classic will be honored at Outfest’s Legacy Awards on Oct. 28. The event is a key fundraiser for the organization’s Outfest UCLA Legacy Project, dedicated to preserving LGBTQ movies.

Cast and Creators of ‘Pose’
Trailblazer Award
Outfest executive director Christopher Racster credits the cast and creators of the FX show about New York’s LGBT ball scene in the 1980s with turning TV on its head. “To me, it’s revolutionary,” he says.

But co-creator Steven Canals recalls a time not long ago when he struggled to get “Pose” off the ground.

“I was in and out of executives’ offices where I was being told, ‘This show just doesn’t have legs. You’ll never find an audience,’” he says. “To be in a place where the show is now being honored is beyond. It’s so overwhelming.”

Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk co-created the series with Canals. The series features trans performers including Mj Rodriguez, Dominque Jackson, Indya Moore, Hailie Sahar and Angelica Ross. They are part of a diverse group of stars that represents “the largest recurring cast of LGBTQ actors ever for a scripted series,” according to the network.

“We’re in a time right now where LGBT people’s lives as a whole, and specifically trans people’s lives, are constantly being contested and questioned and politicized,” Canals says. “How subversive of an act for us to say we’re going to craft a narrative around trans lives and have trans people actually portray their own experience.”

Justin Simien
Rising Star Award
Justin Simien’s sharp sense of humor is everywhere to be seen, from his film and television work, to his reaction to earning Outfest Legacy’s rising star honor.

“I love receiving awards from festivals I was not able to get into in my youth,” he jokes. “That’s a little nice marker that you made it.”

He made it, first with “Dear White People,” a 2014 satirical comedy about students of color — gay and straight — at a fictional Ivy League school where the atmosphere is anything but post-racial, and again with a Netflix series based on the film.

The show’s first season in 2017 triggered some angry reactions from conservatives online.

“Going through the crucible of releasing something called ‘Dear White People’ during Trump time has put me on a fast track of figuring out, oh that’s not [about] me,” he says. “I try not to take it seriously.”

He’s now at work on season three. “We’re just a couple months away from starting shooting. I’m also in post-production on my second feature film, which is a horror satire called ‘Bad Hair’ about a girl whose weave is possessed. I’m just chomping at the bit to share it with the world.”

Sony Pictures Classics
Corporate Trailblazer Award
Long before most Hollywood executives saw value in LGBTQ-themed content, Michael Barker and Tom Bernard were backing gay stories and “out” directors. In fact, the long-time leaders of Sony Classics were doing so before they even co-founded the specialty label in 1992, and have continued to embrace gay storytelling. Last year SPC released Luca Guadagnino’s best picture Oscar nominee “Call Me by Your Name” and recently it released the Rupert Everett-directed film, “The Happy Prince.”

“Tom and I started with Rainer Werner Fassbinder,” says Barker, recalling their days at UA Classics. “And here we are now with Rupert Everett and Luca Guadagnino.”

“We have Pedro Almodóvar’s entire filmography in our library,” Bernard adds.

Despite contributing so many films to the LGBTQ canon, the Sony Classics co-presidents disavow targeting a specific audience.

“We don’t pursue a movie because it has a certain message to a certain group,” insists Bernard. Barker says they look for “stories that speak not just to the LGBTQ community, but way beyond. They’re universal in their appeal.”

Still, there’s no doubt their films have resonated deeply with LGBTQ people yearning to see their experience reflected on screen.

“We see the longevity of how these movies play and how the word spreads through these various communities and that to us is the satisfaction, to know that we’ve reached a large number of people with this story we set out to put out into the zeitgeist,” Bernard says. “It’s one of our goals and it’s important to us. That means we’ve done our job.”