Tell Agador to grab your Pirin tablets! You'll want to sit down for this.
Last year, in these pages, I wrote that a new crop of queer films was an exciting, if long overdue, development for greater and more nuanced representation in cinema. This year, Richmond's getting its own film festival where you can see five compelling, excellent narratives on the big screen at the Byrd Theatre.
During LGBT Pride Month in June, the city's grand movie palace will be just a tad more fabulous. Each Monday, the Byrd will be partnering with local nonprofits to highlight both the stories and needs of LGBT people in the area by hosting MonGays, a film series celebrating the LGBT community. The festival's Creative Director Wyatt Gordon brought the idea of MonGays back with him from Berlin where a national theater chain shows an LGBTQ-themed movie every Monday of the year.
"We rarely see the strength and diversity of the queer community celebrated on the silver screen," he says. "So I wanted to create a space where we could share our stories with the world here in Richmond. It was something I wanted for myself, so I looked for allies who could make it happen."
Each week the Byrd and Virginia Pride are working with community organizations to highlight both the stories and needs of LGBTQ people in the area. MonGays represents the latest effort by Virginia Pride to offer events and programs in June where everyone can celebrate.
"We're excited about the potential," says James Millner, president of Virginia Pride. "These movies tell stories within our community that people may not understand or be aware of. It was important to us to ensure films told stories from different parts of our communities."
In Richmond, we've always done things a little differently. Pride is officially celebrated in September, but organizers wanted to plan something this June, which represents both a milestone -- the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots in New York – and a moment of increasing concern as the struggle for equity and civil rights continues for many LGBTQ Americans. Virginia Pride, Millner says, wanted to create events in places that weren't queer-centric or centered around a bar or restaurant.
MonGays builds from previous efforts to establish a film series centering on LGBTQ themes while being intentionally inclusive.
"It's monumental," says Zakia McKensey, the founder and executive director of the Nationz Foundation, which she started in 2015 to provide education about and testing for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, offer housing assistance and even run a food pantry. "I think it's extremely important right now because of our current administration and all the rollbacks in policies that accommodate trans people." McKensey heads the only black trans-led nonprofit organization in the state.
It's hard to overestimate how validating a film festival like this can be for Richmonders who identify as LGBTQ. What sounds commonplace – a series of movies -- can be a transformative, even a holy moment, for people who may feel seen for the first time or whose only exposure to media about them has either been a bad parody of a stereotype, harmful narratives, or worse … nothing.
Projecting these movies onto a large screen is a form of activism, or slacktivism for those of us who just show up, watch and eat popcorn. It sends a message that everyone matters. Everyone's story is valued and worthy of the Hollywood treatment. At least, that's what this film lover will be thinking when he looks at the marquee in Carytown each week of the series.
Allies are not only welcome, but encouraged. The suggested donation for each movie is just $4, and all proceeds go back to the community organization supporting LGBTQ populations in Central Virginia sponsoring that week.
"I would encourage folks to come out, be entertained, and support the organizations bringing these films to the Byrd," McKensey says. "Come with an open mind and be ready to absorb so you can understand more about the issues facing LGBTQ people in our community."Schedule for MonGays at the Byrd
June 3 – "Rafiki" sponsored by Diversity Richmond
June 10 – "Tangerine" (pictured) sponsored by Nationz Foundation
June 17 – "Saturday Church" sponsored by Side by Side
June 24 – "Paris Is Burning" sponsored by Health Brigade
July 1 – "Pariah" sponsored by Black Pride RVA
Byrd Theatre (2908 W. Cary St.)
Each Monday, June 3- July 1
$4 suggested donation