Outfest Fusion’s First Family Day Celebrates Queer Childhood
As controversy circulates throughout the United States on banning drag queens and children’s books with QTBIPOC representation, Outfest Fusion Family Day acts as an essential safe space.
By Kelsey Brown
April 14, 2023
Two young people look onward at two drag queens reading a book on stage at the Outfest Fusion Family Day. Photography by Kelsey Brown.
The laughter of children wearing paper crowns and rhinestone-studded face paint echoed in the Los Angeles Theatre on April 1 during Outfest Fusion QTBIPOC Film Festival’s first Family Day, a celebration of queer joy and childhood.
As controversy circulates throughout the United States on banning drag queens and children’s books with QTBIPOC representation, creative space for young queer and trans people and their families, like Outfest Fusion Family Day, is symbiotic to safe space.
For Channing Powell, a queer parent, Outfest Fusion Family Day offered a space to introduce their children to families like theirs and connect with other parents. The possibility for QTBIPOC representation within children’s media flourished through the Children’s Short Program, which screened six short films varying from a mixed-media documentary to a magical musical. Powell found out about the day from an Instagram post and was intrigued by a day that included a Vogue Masterclass, Drag Puppet Craft Time, Rainbow Variety Hour hosted by the Bob Baker Marionette Theatre, and Drag Story Hour.
“With everything going on in the country and the drag queen ban in Tennessee, it was important for us to come out and show that we are supportive of these spaces,” Powell said while waiting for her daughter to get her face painted. “We need spaces like this. I want our kids to be inclusive and open-minded, and know that there are places that will be kind to our community and make them feel less alone in this world.”
Leo Sheng, an Asian man with short dark black hair, paints a little girl with brown pigtails face at Outfest Fusion Family Day. Photography by Jen Pirante.
Rows of children kept their eyes glued to the stage for Drag Story Hour. Under an arch of rainbow balloons, Amber Crane and Pickle the Drag Queen asked the kids for their experiences while sharing about their own. When the book discussed emotions, the queens asked the kids what emotions they like to feel; even encouraging them to be comfortable feeling scared because it builds courage. Crane spoke to the fact that kids are inspired by imagination—whether it be princesses or magical creatures—saying, “What better person to represent that than a drag queen?”
“Drag is in the public discourse a lot. There’s a lot of back and forth about the validity of drag,” Pickle says. “Drag is about joy. Drag is about self expression. Drag is an art form, as much as ballet, or painting, or theater. The arts are so essential to a functioning and happy society.”
The joy and self expression cultivated by Drag Story Hour was evident as the hour concluded with a group photo. One kid in the crowd, not older than ten, wearing a bright blue pair of thick-framed glasses, excitedly snapped a photo of the queens with a baby blue Poloroid, exclaiming, “Got it!”
Amber Crane, a Black drag queen with poofy brown hair wearing a bright shinny green dress, and Pickle the Drag Queen, a white drag queen with poofy blonde hair wearing a floral pink dress, read to a crowd on stage at Outfest Fusion Family Day. Photography by Jen Pirante.
“Queer parents, parents of queer kids and chosen family members need spaces that are safe and friendly to them. In the climate we’re in right now, it’s even that much more important to have excitement and joy. Joy is really a powerful gift and a way to harness how to get through difficult times,” says Martine McDonald, Outfest Fusion’s Director of Artist Development.
It was important for the programming of the shorts to truly embody inclusion, McDonald says, explaining that the “future of independent film festivals and art spaces depends on making inclusion really mean inclusion across ages.”
The focus on queer youth expanded beyond just the programming of Outfest Fusion Family Day festivities. At 13, Emerson Basco was the youngest filmmaker to screen at the 2023 Outfest Fusion Film festival with her film Can We Play?. Basco’s interest in filmmaking started when she was five years old. Basco would pick up an I-Pad and record her family and friends, quickly interpreting filmmaking as a mode of translating emotions.
Outfest Fusion Family Day creates space for emergent filmmakers like Basco, as well as queer kids and families, to celebrate the wholesomeness of queer joy and to create the inclusive representation that is needed yet often neglected by children’s media.
A group of filmmakers and actors from Outfest Fusion Family Day Children’s Shorts Program, including Emerson Basco, an Asian girl with dark pigtails standing in the middle of the group, conduct a Q&A on stage. Photography by Jen Pirante.
This year’s Children Short’s Program ranged from imaginative animations to lighthearted comedies about love. The films, all created by QTBIPOC filmmakers, speak to the power that representation holds in children’s media. Below are the films that played as part of the program:
Can We Play?
Emerson Basco’s film Can We Play?, which she directed at 11, was inspired by her own experiences with gender-enforced roles during playtime. Basco was four and fed up playing superheroes with her best friend Ryder, instead suggesting they play princesses. Ryder was content playing in his princess dress and tiara, until his dad came home.
“This was a very big moment when I was little,” Basco said. “I just thought it was playing, but the dad thought it was more.”
Mama Has a Mustache
Mama Has a Mustache from director Sally Rubin is a colorful collaboration of interviews and animation that cultivates a dynamic way for kids to discuss gender and identity, and to speak about their own queerness or their family’s. The Q&A is curious and insightful, holding space for real conversation for and by kids. The film shows the openness and understanding nature of children, for which acceptance seems simple and innate.
The ten-minute doc speaks to the power of representation, showing how empowering it is to give kids the space, terms, and knowledge to speak about identity and gender. One kid mentions how they like rainbows and to play with Transformers, and that’s okay. It is an evolving space, with plenty of indefinite and open-ended answers.
The Girl Behind the Mirror
The Girl Behind the Mirror is an honest but imaginative animation that tells the story of a young transgender girl who locks herself in her room to escape what threatens her outside. After escaping through the mirror, she is free to live her life as she wants. The film, by director Luri Moreno, shows the joy that comes for children able to live as their true selves, providing relatable representation for trans youth.
An animated image of a young Latinx trans girl with short brown hair looking out the window. A still from Luri Moreno’s The Girl Behind the Mirror.
While waiting at the bus stop with her grandma, a girl dressed in rainbows and sequins entertains herself with her doll in Averi Israel’s Sequin. The girl is in awe when a transgender woman who looks like her doll, complete with beautiful brown skin, long purple hair, a sparkly outfit, waits at the same stop. The woman finally notices, the kid fawning over her and offers her a sequin. Before the girl can grab it, the grandma tears her away. Without words, the four-minute film leaves you heartbroken at the bus stop, amazed at the emotional impact that a single sequin left at a bus stop can make.
Zoey Martinson’s Cupids is a wholesome comedy following three kids’ pursuit to find a date for their bus driver. After thinking about possible options–the principal, the food vendor– one of the kids suggests that maybe she isn’t interested in men. The film lightheartedly challenges how children imagine love and partnerships, while also illustrating that love is more than superficial interests.
Bertie the Brilliant
The musical Bertie the Brilliant by director Gabriela Garcia Medina teaches the magic of hard work, chosen family and community. With songs reminiscent of disco, the musical follows Bertie’s journey to see his favorite magician Maya the Magnificent. His abuela encourages him to save money for his ticket, teaching him the value of money. The film leaves kids with a magical sense of belief in themselves, “Nothing is impossible if you believe.”
Bertie, a Black boy with long brown hair and purple sparkly face paint resembling facial hair, makes a “wow” face into the camera. A still from Gabriela Garcia Medina’s Bertie the Brilliant.
Media is at the forefront of imagining an inclusive future. While children went home with temporary tattoos, face paint, and paper bag drag puppets, they also left enriched by experiencing robust QTBIPOC representation.
“Media isn’t only meant to be an educational resource for young people, but to be inspirational, aspirational, inclusive and able to represent being a small complex person,” McDonald says.
Kelsey Brown (she/her) is a freelance journalist and photographer based in Long Beach. Her words and photography have been featured in publications like Documentary magazine, Tagg magazine, and INTO More.
Brown is one of the eight 2023 Outfest Inclusive Press Initiative Fellows for the Outfest Fusion QTBIPOC Film Festival. You can learn more about them and the program here.
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