The OA’s Trans Character is great

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Stranger Things might be the big pop culture hit when it comes to mystery shows but it’s not the only Netflix series worth a (binge) watch. The OA follows Prairie Johnson, a young woman who’s returned to her family after disappearing seven years prior.

Looking to reconnect with those she left behind in captivity, Prairie gathers a group of misfits to hatch a plan. One of her compatriots is Buck Vu, a transgender teen who’s been turning to the local drug dealer—another of the cadre—for his testosterone.

 The show doesn’t shy away from positive and negative reactions to Buck’s identity, especially from his family. But he’s a nuanced character, not a token representation for the sake of diversity. He might also be the first Asian-American trans character in a mainstream television series.

Ian Alexander, who plays Buck, is transgender in real life, too—a nice change of pace from Hollywood’s usual approach of casting cis people in trans roles. Raised in a conservative Mormon family, he faced rejection by his parents, who tried to force him into conversion therapy.

“I remember particularly being obsessed with FtM transition videos,” Alexander told Affinity of his earliest inklings about his identity. “I didn’t connect with it personally yet, but I still remember tucking my long hair into a hat and taking a few ’boy’ pictures.”

If he looks familiar, that’s because the high schooler became something of a viral sensation last year, when he clapped back at transphobic UCLA students.

“I was frustrated, but decided to use humor rather than waste my energy on people who clearly don’t understand what they’re against,” he told Buzzfeed at the time.

He answered an open call for a young Asian trans actor that circulated on Tumblr, and the scored the part. Ironically, showrunner Brit Marling says they were told the role was impossible to cast. She told Vulture:

“We’d always written the character as a 14-year-old transgender FTM Asian-American, and when we gave our casting director Avy Kaufman that description, she said, “We might not be able to find this person, so what are you flexible on?” We told her we weren’t flexible, so she finally took to the internet and posted some casting notices on various trans chat rooms and groups, and audition tapes came flooding in.

Ian was among them, he had shot his with his iPhone in his bathroom and uploaded it all without his parents knowing. Out of nowhere, his parents get a phone call that Netflix wants to cast their son! They’re like, “What?”

His tape was brilliant.

He told us, “I’m having a really hard time in school, because I wanted to act but it’s not like the plays that are done in high school have roles that describe a person like me. You can’t imagine what it was like to go online and see a posting for a Netflix show that describes me.”

We got really lucky.

Comparisons to Stranger Things are easy: They’re both Netflix shows about mysterious abductees who fall in with a group of young men. But while Stranger Things’ queer factor is pretty much subtext, The OA puts it out front and centre.

 

Benny’s Gym

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Alfred gets bullied. Benny is a bully. Through a series of events they become friends, but Benny keeps their friendship a secret. Benny wants to teach Alfred to hit back. But after an accident, it turns out maybe Alfred also has something to teach Benny.

Closet Monster

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Director Stephen Dunn works a delicate balance with his Closet Monster (currently streaming on Netflix), an imaginative spin on the coming-of-age tale that blends together both straightforward storytelling and recognisable emotional beats with creative flourishes. Those flourishes — including a talking hamster and a series of fantasy sequences — are treated with the same equanimity as the rest of the more reality-rooted elements, allowing Closet Monster to retain an authenticity that other, similar features may not be able to hold on to with such grace.

Young Oscar has a seemingly idyllic childhood, one that is punctuated by his father’s rich imagination, is brutally disrupted by his parents’ separation, an event that turns Oscar bitter, while his once-loving father becomes cold and distant. Already in a state of emotional turmoil, elementary school-aged Oscar witnesses a heinous crime against a classmate that compels him to further hide his emerging sexuality. Taught from a young age that being gay is something to be feared or, at the very least, concealed and repressed, Oscar internalises the crime, a reaction he doesn’t fully understand until years later.

When we catch up with now teenage Oscar he’s on the cusp of adulthood, he’s still reeling from the events of his childhood. Highly creative, Oscar spends his time crafting magnificent practical make-up effects for his over-the-top best friend Gemma, taking photos of his artistry and building inventive additions to his hamster’s cage. And about that hamster…

Alive for far longer than any other normal hamster, Buffy — who talks, if only to Oscar — acts as both a comfort to Oscar and as his conscience, going so far as to bill himself (or herself? Buffy’s gender identification is a plot point in the film) as Oscar’s “spirit animal.” The animal illustrates Oscar’s profound tenderness and his deep loneliness in equal measure. Once Oscar meets sexy Wilder at work, his carefully constructed facade begins to crumble, and the hormonally-mad teenager begins to give himself over to desire.

Oscar’s fixation on Wilder — who is attractive and mysterious, but not particularly nice, sort of the platonic ideal for a teen crush — pushes him into new modes and methods of reaction, many of which feel jarringly violent. As he begins to experience the world around him through the emotional milieu of falling in love for the first time, other things come into sharp focus and the already creatively inclined Oscar begins to blend fantasy with reality. The film’s visuals are lush and dreamy, and Dunn makes even Oscar’s tired old town look fresh. The film winds down to a fairly obvious conclusion, but that does not dilute the satisfaction it also earns along the way.

Closet Monster may feature a talking hamster and a hefty volume of very bloody flashbacks-turned-fantasy, but Oscar’s issues continually remain real and relatable. Dunn plays around with perspective and style, but all the flash doesn’t obscure the film’s emotion and heart, which are deep and true. The talking hamster is just a bonus.

 

via IndieWire

Disney delivers another Teen Coming Out & that’s great

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Earlier this week, it was reported that The Disney Channel was about to broadcast its first-ever coming out story using a recurring character in their teen drama series Andi Mack, oneof the network’s top performing shows. Well, the episode premiered this Friday (it was the first episode of the show’s Season 2 premiere) and we have a clip of the coming out scene below — it’s pretty sweet.

The context of the Andi Mack coming out scene

Cyrus is friends with the show’s titular heroine Andi Mack. Andi has a crush on the local cutie Jonah, and Cyrus has been totally supportive of her crush. Supportive, that is, until he sees Jonah and Andi actually kiss in the Season 2 premiere. Afterwards, Cyrus realizes that he’s jealous because heactually has a crush on Jonah too. Uh-oh…

Feeling odd about the entire thing (remember, these kids are teens), Cyrus goes to the local cafe to meet his friend Buffy. That’s where the scene begins….

Why the Andi Mack coming out scene is a big deal

The Disney Channel has been taking several gradual steps over the recent past to introduce gay, age-appropriate content to its young viewers, but this is the first time that they’ve had a majorly visible gay character who isn’t just a one-off.

Almost 94 million households receive The Disney Channel. That’s a lot of viewers who might see Cyrus’ coming out story and realise that having same-sex attractions doesn’t make you weird or any less worthy of your friend’s love.

Cyrus’ coming out story arc is also supposed to develop throughout the entire season, giving viewers multiple chances to see a young gay person navigate his feelings with his friends by his side.

The Babysitter

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Fresh to Netflix this week is The Babysitter from the minds of McG and Brian Duffield. While the film is a really fun watch, it at times does give a little wink and nod to the holiday classic Home Alone. Don’t be fooled though, The Babysitter is more than a slapstick romp.

At the heart of this film is a 14-year-old underdog named Cole. The script taps into the audience’s adult memories of being a socially awkward kid and finding comfort with the incredibly fun and exciting older babysitter. In the film, said babysitter, Bee, is just that.  Everything, especially for a young boy, a kid can dream of. Bee is beautiful, funny and always has Cole’s back, or so he thinks.

Cole discovers a very dark side to Bee and her satanic friends. Which sets off the terror, gore, and hilarity. The balance of executing a horror comedy without being too “jokey” is not an easy task. McG pulls it off exceptionally well with The Babysitter. The sharp wit and biting sarcasm of the ensemble cast of teenagers, along with the standout performances of the actors make the movie one the audience actually cares about. If you’re looking for a comedy to celebrate the Halloween season, The Babysitter is on Netflix now.

The Mess He Made

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A man spends 15 minutes waiting for the results of a Rapid HIV test in a small-town strip mall.

“This is a film about getting tested for HIV in 2017 — two decades after President Clinton announced that finding an effective vaccine would be a top national priority. Five years after the FDA approved PrEP for reducing the risk of sexually acquired infection. One year after my first Grindr hookup.

This is a film about queer rituals. This is a film about grappling with gay shame. And this is a film about a man who is terrified of winding up alone, but on some level thinks he deserves to be.

I feel very lucky (and terrified) to have so many of my own demons on display in this work – it has been more personal, therapeutic and creatively fulfilling than I could have ever imagined. I’ll always be grateful to my remarkable cast and crew, who stomped into Scranton, PA with me the week after the election, when the world suddenly felt so unfamiliar, and carved out a space for this fierce little film.” – Matthew Puccini, Director

Big Mouth

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Netflix’ Big Mouth takes a sharp, surprisingly joyful look at the gross time that is puberty. Also, the comedy casts puberty as a literal hormone monster.

The most common way people describe going through puberty is “awkward.” But as Netflix’s new animated comedy Big Mouth would like to remind you, going through puberty is also downright disgusting.

The series spares no gross detail as it delves into the fraught world of adolescence and all the rages, bodily fluids, and knee-jerk masturbatory instincts it brings. Adding yet another layer of weirdness is that Big Mouthpersonifies puberty by way of opposing “hormone monsters,” with the lecherous Maury (series co-creator Nick Kroll) following meek Andrew (John Mulaney) as he frets his way through his new urges, while curvaceous Connie (Maya Rudolph) tags alongside Jessi (Jessi Klein) to prod her into indulging in vicious mood swings.

The show’s 10 episodes are overall very silly, and often ridiculous just for the sake of it. Maury in particular is a walking, talking id who takes gleeful advantage of Netflix’s lack of censors; there’s no other show I can think of that would cast the role one of its young protagonists’ closest confidants as the horny ghost of Duke Ellington living in his attic. At one point, there’s a bizarre sidebar about Jay, the resident hothead of Andrew and Jessi’s school who’s voiced appropriately by comedy’s resident hothead Jason Mantzoukas, accidentally impregnating a pillow.

But what makes Big Mouth more than the sum of its many, many dick jokes is the fact that beneath its raging hormones and truly gross humor lies an enormously sympathetic heart.

Andrew, for example, is growing almost despite himself, sporting a patchy mustache while furtively masturbating to fantasies of his father’s assistant. But his best friend Nick (also voiced by Kroll) is still firmly stuck in preadolescence, barely as tall as Andrew’s shoulders, lacking the sex drive that’s slowly but surely taking over Andrew’s brain, and confused as to why his own body is taking so long to catch up.

When Andrew’s not caught up in his lustful reveries (not to mention Maury’s encouragement to indulge every last deranged one of them), his friendship with Nick is genuinely touching, and a real portrayal of how hard it can for teens to navigate relationships when they’re growing up at different rates.

If Big Mouth were just a series of jokes about how weird and gross puberty is, it wouldn’t be much more than a decent way to kill some time during a slow weekend. But the show achieves a new, deeper level of comedy by remaining hyper aware of the fact that puberty isn’t just about bodies changing, but about what it means to grow up at all.

Simon says Goodbye to his Foreskin

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Simon says Goodbye to his Foreskin”—a title as straightforward as this comedy’s charm. Twelve-year-old Simon Grünberg approaches his Bar Mitzvah in the midst of his parents’ marital separation. His recently observant Jewish father advocates for his circumcision, seeing the significance of his son’s covenant with God as a non-negotiable rite of passage. His mother, a fiery and headstrong erotica author, finds this appalling and refuses to subject her son to circumcision for the sake of pious rules. Simon, for lack of a better term, is torn.

To complicate matters, Simon’s new Rabbi, Rebecca (Catherine De Léan), is a warm, beautiful, intelligent woman—and he’s not the only one who notices. With well-meaning strategic help from his buddies Ben and Clemens, Simon sets off to win her heart before his father can. When an especially intimate tactic (that drew groans of all kinds from its North American Premiere audience) becomes public fodder for a private feud, Simon considers more drastic measures. His desperation to attract a first love twenty years his senior drives him to bond with God on his own terms.