Jun 17

Unorthodox, Little Fires, Mrs. America: Oppression

Although the following three TV series aren’t primarily about LGBTQ+ themes, each deals with oppression and other related issues. All of these—Unorthodox, Little Fires Everywhere, and Mrs. America—are recommended viewing.

Rather than describe and review, I’m simply providing some pertinent background. Warning: some spoilers ahead.

I. Unorthodox (Netflix)

Bethonie Butler, Washington Post, notes that this excellent four-parter is “loosely based on Deborah Feldman’s best-selling memoir, ‘Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots.’ The series diverges widely from its source material, which was published in 2012, but there are several nods to Feldman’s story.”

One of the truer facets is that lead character Esty (Shira Haas) was indeed left behind as a child by her mother, who left the Hasidic community and later came out as a lesbian. However, says Caitlin Gallagher (Bustle), facts regarding her relationship with her mother after Esty leaves her husband were significantly altered.

II. Little Fires Everywhere (Hulu)

Little Fires is adapted from a novel by Celeste Ng, who wrote both female leads as white. But showrunner Liz Tigelaar decided on a big switch—the series focuses on white financially well-off Elena (Reese Witherspoon), married and mother of four teens, and black and struggling single mom Mia (Kerry Washington) of teen Pearl.

States Riese, Autostraddle:

This adaptation heightens the narrative into a more wide-reaching interrogation of the actual racial dynamics of a Cleveland suburb initially and proudly created by an integration-focused coalition of black and white families in the 70s. Little Fires is unsparing and exacting in its portrayal of a specific time and place — the late 90s, the midwest —  when brutish racism (and sexism, for that matter) had been somewhat hidden from view, replaced by a facade of We Are The World multiculturalism, whitewashed fantasies of ‘not seeing color’ and what Ta-Nehisi Coates describes as ‘elegant racism’ — ‘invisible, supple and enduring,’ underpinning every aspect of American life.

Shirley Li, The Atlantic, tells us that Tigelaar had her writers study Robin DiAngelo‘s book White Fragility (subject of a recent post here) in order to be able to effectively address racial disparities.

Another characterization shift is about sexual orientation. Issues of concern to Elena’s daughter Izzy as well as Mia aren’t so evident in the book but become quite important in the series. Furthermore, it’s Izzy’s growing connection to Mia (as sort of a mother substitute) that helps her find herself.

III. Mrs. America (Hulu)

Cate Blanchett plays 70’s-era Phyllis Schlafly (1924-2016), famed political conservative who fought against the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA).

Katie Baker, The Ringer:

What stands out most about Mrs. America is how thoroughly, depressingly modern all of its most retrograde aspects, from the battle over abortion rights to the weaponization of women against one another, are. One of the through lines of the show is the plight of the Equal Rights Amendment, which to this day has still not been ratified nationally. ‘We did often sit around on set,’ [Rose] Byrne told reporters at the start of the season, ‘going, ‘Wow. We’re still talking about the same things in 2019,’ when we shot it, ‘as we are in the show, which is in 1970 to 1979.’

Some of you may know that one of Schlafly’s sons is gay. John (Ben Rosenfield) is a focus in one particular episode that “ended with Phyllis’s veiled comparison of quitting smoking to resisting his sexual attraction. ‘The mind is stronger than the body. You just have to exercise willpower,’ she told her son…” (Daniel Reynolds, The Advocate).

However, as Reynolds points out, this likely never happened. Additionally, John’s gayness wasn’t known to the world until 1992, when he was outed for political reasons. Both he and his mother proceeded to publicly defend their conservatism regarding lesbian and gay issues.

Apr 25

Adult Child of a Therapist: Richard Socarides

I don’t think my coming out to my dad was harder or easier than anyone else’s. I didn’t come out to the founder of conversion therapy. I came out to my father. Adult child of a therapist Richard Socarides

Richard Socarides is an adult child of a therapist—he’s the son of Charles Socarides, the now deceased psychiatrist who famously advocated that homosexuality is a mental illness long after others concluded it isn’t.

One of the founders of conversion therapy, he laid claim to hundreds of successful “cures” via psychoanalysis. What was the so-called cause of homosexuality in these patients? An overbearing mother and an absent father.

Nathan Manske, the Director of I’m From Driftwood, a site where the LGBTQ community can read inspirational true tales, states, “While everyone’s coming out story is different, Richard Socarides’s might be one of the most unique.” It’s Manske who encouraged Socarides to reveal on video how he came out to his father:

Dr. Socarides died in 2005, never having backed down from conducting so-called reparative therapy. Below is an excerpt from an obituary written by his colleague Dr. Sander J. Breiner.

As it became more and more difficult socially and professionally to explore homosexuality as an expression of unresolved conflicts, he stood even taller and more forthright in communicating his understanding. In the later years of his life when other psychoanalysts would reduce their activity, he increased his in this important therapeutic activity…

Thus, long past his son’s coming out and involvement in activism, including serving as advisor to President Bill Clinton on gay issues, Socarides had maintained his contrarian position.

Dec 19

“Beginners”: Late-Outed Father and Romance-Lacking Son

You may have missed it due to limited release in theaters, but if you’re currently looking for a movie rental during the holiday season, particularly near New Year’s, the semi-autobiographical (written and directed by Mike Mills) and award-winning dramedy Beginners (2011) is a good place to start. (Pun intended.)

Starting over and beginnings, you see, are what it’s all about. It’s the sweet story of a 38-year-old man named Oliver (Ewan McGregor) who’s dealing with both the recent death of his father (Christopher Plummer in a highly praised performance) and the difficulties of finding romantic love that lasts.

Beginnings:

  • Oliver gets a fresh chance to try romance again when, dressed as a Freud lookalike at a costume party, he meets Anna (Mélanie Laurent), who becomes his mock “patient.”
  • Oliver takes in Arthur, his father’s adorable Jack Russell terrier who’s enchantingly capable of revealing some of his thoughts to us.
  • Hal, Oliver’s dad, is seen in flashbacks coming out as gay at the age of 75, after his wife has died. A restart of sorts for both him and his son.

Below, the trailer:

David Edelstein, movie critic, New York Magazine:

Mike Mills’s marvelously inventive romantic comedy Beginners is pickled in sadness, loss, and the belief that humans (especially when they mate) are stunted by their parents’ buried secrets, their own genetic makeup, and our sometimes-sociopathic social norms.

Lisa Kennedy of the Denver Post further explains both the particular social norms in question and the effects on adult children of our parents’ secrets:

Mills has described his film as a contrast in obstacles: the cultural, external ones that might lead a gay man of the Greatest Generation to marry and be a dedicated husband and father; and the internal ones that leave his son with plenty of opportunities to be ambivalent and tentative about romance.

If you like indie films that offer up some quirky realism about families and the individuals who are shaped by them, I strongly encourage you to consider Beginners.