I sat down with gay film makers Israel Luna and Toni Miller of La Luna Entertainment earlier this week to get their reaction to Jarrett Barrios’ resignation from GLAAD. Why would these two horror filmmakers give two shakes about his, and then the subsequent 8 board members’ resignation over GLAAD’s endorsement of AT&T and T-Mobile’s proposed merger?
Well, back in March of 2010 Luna’s campy horror film, Ticked off Trannies with Knives, became a GLAAD Call to Action for its use of the word “tranny”, which is often considered a pejorative within the trans community. The film basically features hot transgendered women who seek revenge after being attacked by a group of red necks a la “I spit on Your Grave”. The film is bloody, funny, sexy, trashy, exploitive, and pretty much everything else you’d ever want in a horror film. And GLAAD hated it.
Prior to the film’s release, Luna reached out to GLAAD for education about transgender terminology and issues facing the transgender community because they had received their first negative reactions about the film’s title. Miller, Luna’s long time producer and partner at La Luna Entertainment, gave a copy of the film to the GLAAD rep. A fact that was later denied by GLAAD via press release. Long mud-slinging boycott and protest-filled story short, TOTWK struggled to be selected by GLBT festivals because of GLAAD’s Call to Action. Almost no one within the gay community wanted to touch the film for fear of pissing off GLAAD. Todd Camp, Executive Director of the Q Cinema Film Festival of Fort Worth wasn’t afraid though. Not only was TOTWK selected for the fest, Camp organized a community panel discussion that had people in tears (the happy ones) and educated people right smack dab in the middle of the Bible Belt.
Luna reached out to mainstream festivals and horror festivals and was even an official selection for the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival. The film continues to see success well in to 2011 and definitely began a dialogue that continues today. Most recently TOTWK was an official selection for the 2011 Tel Aviv LGBT Film Festival and it will air on Showtime 10 times in July starting on the 2nd. Talk about an international dialogue.
After I reached out to Luna, he invited me to the set of his upcoming horror film The Ouija Experiment . Here’s a bit of our conversation, which took place underneath a blood spattered ceiling.
EAJ: So, since Barrios was forced to resign this week are you feeling sort of “ding dong the witch is dead”, or what?
IL: “I feel vindicated because I know when we were going through all of the controversy back during Tribeca the communications on the phone were so mean-spirited coming from him. He would never fess up to having a copy of the movie and lied in GLAAD’s press release. I got a lot of criticism for calling him out on that. People got upset with me. “How dare you say that about GLAAD? How dare you say anything negative about such a great organization?” And I wasn’t bashing GLAAD. I was bashing this idiot that was the head of GLAAD. Now that this has happened I hope that people don’t just immediately trust an organization that is supposed to be helping you. It’s like parents; there comes a point in your life where you realize they aren’t perfect.”
EAJ: Since many GLBT fests wouldn’t touch TOTWK, what did you do?
IL: It got into a lot of international festivals and horror film festivals, where a large percentage of the attendants are straight males. I think by making this film it has educated straight men that wouldn’t know very much about transgendered women. I hope by the end they walked away saying you know what? They were hot. They were sexy.
EAJ: Do you think it’s a sign of progress within our own community when we can make light of some things that happen to us that are very serious, like violence against gay and transgendered people. When we make those things fun and campy, are we not sort of owning those things and saying we control the story that we send?
IL: Right, no absolutely. Let’s take a documentary about a transgendered woman who is going through her transition and it’s all about her emotional stress and inner struggles and what she and her family are going through and how they feel about it. A straight man is not going to watch that. No one is going to watch that at the film festivals except for the LGBT community and it will probably be a smaller portion of the LGBT community. Straight men don’t know anything about it and you know what, they don’t want to. It’s sad, but it’s true. My film, because I threw in some fun horror and made it campy, reached a lot more straight men.
EAJ: You mentioned earlier that you had transgendered women in front of the camera and behind it while shooting in Dallas, Texas. Do you have any interesting stories to share?
IL: We had transgendered women on the crew who were working alongside these corn-fed, po-dunk country guys who had never met a transgendered person. In the first few days of shooting they were like “So, is that a boy or a girl? Do I call them a he or a she?” And I just told them, you know what? Ask them. And they did. A week later they were flirting with them, asking them for their numbers wanting to go partying with them. And the guys saw them as women. And the crew had a great time.
EAJ: So, you created an unlikely dialogue. A needed dialogue. [At this point I can tell that the actors have been fed and are out of hair and makeup] Ok then, last question. Since Barrios is unemployed now, what job do you think he should have next?
IL: Let’s see, he wouldn’t make it as a dick dancer. He’s horrible at customer service. He’s probably going to be working at returns and exchanges at WalMart. He’ll probably do pretty well at that. Until he starts stealing money from them.
At this point Luna leaves to direct the still photographer. It’s their second to last night of shooting and the cast and crew are very thrilled. I catch up with Producer Toni Miller while the lead actress screams in the other room to create that perfect terrified face.
EAJ: Going back to the 70’s exploitation B horror films, do you think that they got any push back from the heterosexual community for portraying women in a negative light?
TM: Probably not. Maybe from some extreme groups, yeah, I wouldn’t be surprised if they did. Again, TOTWK paid homage to that type of movie both in style and marketing. We had pictures of all of the lead actors in bodacious hot looking outfits.
EAJ: And they looked hot!
TM: Yeah, and they looked totally hot! Was it exploiting their image? Absolutely. They knew full well it was going to.
EAJ: I find it hysterical that the GLBT community has an agency that tells us exactly how we’re supposed to talk about ourselves.
TM: I never had really thought about that before, but you’re right… I support the HRC and am on the local board for the Black Tie Dinner. Social activism is very important and near and dear to me. So when this whole thing came up in a controversial way it just shocked me. I was just very taken aback.
EAJ: You also didn’t want to damage your existing relationships with some of the nonprofits that are also doing great work.
TM: No, I certainly didn’t want to damage any organization by going against them. I respect them and didn’t want to do any damage to them.You know, Israel is more creative, more of the John Waters kind of guy, he just puts things out there for fun and if you’re offended get over it. So what, who cares. I’m not quite to that extreme. We’re able to find our balance with the way that we work together. I sometimes have to pull him in a little bit.
EAJ: You wanna push the edge but you don’t want to marginalize anyone.
TM:Yeah. I realize what an incredible benefit we have all gained from people like John Waters, where they push us, we need to have those types of people. If Israel can become the new John Waters, then I support him. I think that benefits us all. It’s not me, it’s not my role in life, but I sure can appreciate it.
So, if you have Showtime record TOTWK and invite a few friends over to watch it. Laugh, wince (at the gore) and have a conversation. Oh, and if you’re a little lost about why Barrios resigned this week, here’s an excerpt from GLAAD’s press release about his resignation. Towleroad has a great article that goes in-depth about the merger, net neutrality, who resigned, and when. Check it out.
“I have been pained by the difficulties that have beset GLAAD over the last three weeks. As you know, they concern GLAAD’s endorsement of the AT&T / T-Mobile merger–and inaccurate but effective characterizations that suggest GLAAD has supported this merger because of our relationship with them as a corporate sponsor. As many of you have observed to me, this entire situation is wrought with miscommunication and assumptions. Be that as it may, I respect the function and responsibility of my position, and know this is the right course of action.” – Jarrett Barrios via media release