A Soulful Whimsy: Outfest Los Angeles Short Collection Epitomizes The Strength of Chosen Family and Unconditional Love
Outfest’s 2023 Los Angeles LGBTQ+ Film Festival screened ‘Soulful Whimsy: Shorts,’ a mix of narrative and documentary shorts that embody the blessings of acceptance, affirmation, and found and chosen families.
By Kayla Thompson
August, 9, 2023
Two Black women hold each other slow dancing in their living room. A still from Wonders, courtesy of the filmmakers.
Outfest’s 2023 Los Angeles LGBTQ+ Film Festival ‘Soulful Whimsy’ short film collection offered glimpses into the varied experiences people across the LGBTQ+ community have. While watching, I was struck by the way each of the eight films is infused with equal parts humor, solemnity, heartbreak, and triumph, and are at times bittersweet. Perhaps most importantly, the category showcases films that specifically feature LGBTQ+ people of color.
The collection, programmed by Outfest Fusion Storytelling Artist-in-Residence Dalila Ali Rajah, included the films Beth Warrian’s Adore, Twiggy Pucci Garcon’s MnM, Stacy Jill Calvert and Jaclyn Chessen’s Her Curve, Maite Bonilla’s I Am Poem, Anne Brasher’s Hex the Patriarchy, Nicolas Keller Sarmiento’s El Dance-Off, Miranda Haymon’s Sis, and Huriyyah Muhammad’s Wonders. Bound together by themes of connection and communion, the films impart heartwarming messages surrounding the strength and resiliency of the LGBTQ+ community.
Muhammad’s Wonders centers the relationship of two Black women and their love through tender moments of care and slow dancing in their living room. While showcasing their love the film simultaneously demonstrates the economic instability and inequity that many Black LGBTQ+ individuals and couples experience, as the couple faces an impending eviction.
In Warrian’s Adore, viewers explore the relationship between a young queer adult as they navigate their own protective instincts and experiences when their nephew wants to wear a sequined dress at a family party.
While Warrian faces hard truths and orchestrates a heartbreaking conflict with the confession of “We’re both cursed, Carlos. They can’t see me either,” the film also shows how safe, affirming, and inclusive spaces can be forged by biological family and older generations of LGBTQ+ adults through the encouragement of imagination and expression.
A young Latine person with short black hair wearing white face makeup sits against a wall covered in stars. A still from Adore, courtesy of the filmmakers.
Similar to Adore, but with a slightly more bittersweet ending, is Maite Bonilla’s I Am Poem. A ramifying narrative short, I Am Poem explores the journey of a young child named Poem coming to terms with their gender identity. While the child’s mother is unaccepting of their child, dismissive and abusive, Poem’s father, who is initially framed as potentially unreliable, shows up at the end of the film equipped with an affirming outlook, completely accepting their child and taking Poem’s chosen name in stride.
One film of the ‘Soulful Whimsy’ series which is perhaps most emblematic of the unparalleled power of LGBTQ+ love, even if that love is not romantic, is Twiggy Pucci Garçon’s MnM. The short documentary, which recently earned the title Best Documentary Short at the Provincetown International Film Festival and BlackStar’s Shine Award, is centered around Milan Garçon and Mermaid Garçon, two members of the House of Garçon.
Over the course of the film, Milan and Mermaid reflect on finding each other as sisters. Their connection and love for each other is apparent, and their joy and laughter is infectious, even through the screen.
Milan and Mermaid’s connection and the importance of their bond as chosen sisters is representative of the family that is often found within the ballroom scene and houses.
The ballroom scene as we know it today originated in New York City as an underground LGBTQ+ subculture led by Black and Latine LGBTQ+ people. Ball culture emerged as a critical act of resistance, as LGBTQ+ people of color built their own events and spaces after facing racism, discrimination, and ostracization in mainstream competitions and drag pageantry. House balls typically present numerous categories for competition, and MnM showcases scenes from some of those categories, including “Butch Queen and Drag Runway.”
A Black non-binary person with brown braids leans back as another person off camera does their makeup. A still from MnM, courtesy of the filmmakers.
Ball houses, such as the House of Garçon, offer the opportunity to find not only community, but family. The tight knit structures of houses, in addition to the warmth of ball culture more generally, offer shelter and love for all, and are especially important for LGBTQ+ people of color whose traditional support systems may have failed or rejected them.
Twiggy Pucci Garçon’s MnM highlights the unique joy and light of finding a chosen family within the ballroom scene. Both Milan and Mermaid share the ways they’ve found not only family, but validation, unconditional acceptance, and their own essence through ballroom and drag. The documentary clearly manifests the way LGBTQ+ people of color find refuge with each other through ball culture.
While watching MnM, I can’t help but connect it to Miranda Haymon’s Sis, another short in the ‘Soulful Whimsy’ collection. While having drinks together, Michelle and Sadie agree that “It’s hard to feel seen, singular.” MnM makes clear the ways in which Milan and Mermaid so clearly see and understand each other.
The ballroom community at large, and the relationships and family it fosters, enables LGBTQ+ people of color to feel seen, singular, and empowers us to be entirely and defiantly ourselves in a culture that would relegate us to invisibility.
A Black woman with short white hair looks lovingly at a Black person in the foreground. A still from Sis, courtesy of the filmmakers.
One of MnM’s closing sentiments is if “You have a sister, you feel like you can take over the world.” It is reflective of the way our chosen families, communities, and sisters are the driving forces in our lives, lending us the energy and license to do the work, to, as it is, take over the world.
All the films in the series explore, to varying degrees, themes of connection, communion, and the healing power of unconditional love. The touching and uplifting force of the ‘Soulful Whimsy’ shorts lies in their ability to explore the way love shows up for LGBTQ+ people in manifold ways and in various forms. While some shorts, such as Her Curve, Sis, and Wonders, feature romantic love and relationships, an equal number showcase the energy and weight of familial and platonic love given wholeheartedly and unabashedly.
The shorts series is a testament to what LGBTQ+ love, in all its forms and iterations can offer us, what possibilities for connection it can open up, especially when that love and acceptance is given by other LGBTQ+ people.
Kayla Thompson (she/they) is a writer, advocate, and community consultant who recently graduated from New York University (NYU) cum laude.
Thompson is also an Outfest Inclusive Press Fellow for the Outfest Los Angeles LGBTQ+ Film Festival. Learn more about the program here.
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