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Gay Ballroom Doc 'KIKI' Shines A Timely Light On Today's Most Pressing Social Issues

'KIKI' chronicles the harsh reliaties of the LGBT ballroom scene, and spotlights the youth who are brave enough to spurr a change. 

By 1991, New York City's queer drag balls were finally exposed. Paris is Burning, a documentary style film took a look inside of what mainstream media had swept under the rug, and what was causing a silent blazing fire of self-expression within the city’s marginalized gay community.

“Drag balls, the product of a poor, gay and mostly nonwhite culture, had been held in Harlem since the 1920's. But it wasn't until Jennie Livingston's award-winning documentary, "Paris Is Burning," was released in 1991 that anyone outside that world knew much about them,” wrote Jesse Green for The New York Times in 1993.

Viewers saw black gay men in heels and extravagant outfits. What appeared to be even more outlandish, however, was all of their larger than life personalities. There’s Pepper LaBeija, the fierce drag queen who many queer kids called mother. There was also Willi Ninja, best known for his influence in the dance world and ball scene.

“I’ve been a man and I’ve been a man who emulated a woman. I’ve never been a woman. I never had that service once a month,” LaBeija affirmed during a clip of Paris is Burning. “I’ve never been pregnant. I can never say how a woman feels. I can only say how a man that acts or dresses like a woman feels.”

Not only did the film unleash the inner city ballroom culture, it also placed a magnifying glass on the social-economical issues that engulfed those who were a part of it. It showcased the different ballroom houses that populated the community, which served as safe havens for those who no longer had a biological family but were adopted by a gay one. These houses or families were like gay street gangs all fighting for acceptance and freedom. Instead of guns and knifes, lipstick and high heels were their weapons of choice.

With time, the world began to catch up. Madonna hand picked two young Latino dancers from the House of Extravaganza, and took them on her Blond Ambition Tour in 1990. (One of the dancers, Jose Gutierez, originally appeared on Paris Is Burning.)

Now, twenty-five years later, Swedish filmmaker Sara Jordenö’s KIKI attempts and succeeds at showcasing the present day ballroom culture known as the "KIKI scene." The personalities, costumes, attitudes, strengths, struggles and vulnerabilities are all there. Jordenö partnered up with one of the documentary's subjects, Twiggy Pucci Garcon, (né Ryan White) a member of the ballroom scene and a Senior Program Officer at True Colors Fund, a non-profit that serves LGBT homeless youth, to write the film.

More importantly, the film touches on the advocacy work that many of these LGBT youth of color within the ball room scene are involved with to help make a difference. Through interviews and revealing scenes of raw conversations, the film excels at depicting the many issues that encircle this community. For Jordenö, it was imperative to get the story as accurate as possible, by representing this community in an authentic way.

"We were really attempting to make an honest project," Jordenö says over the phone, adding on that recognizing her privilege as a white woman was imperative in helping her tell this story. "I think that every person with white privilege has some work to do. A constant work that will never end to figure out their place in the world, and know what that privilege is. It’s a work that never ends."

"I always had white privilege and I grew up in Sweden, so I was never at risk," she continues. "Even though my life wasn’t always easy growing up. Of course, it can’t be compared the struggles I had to the struggles the youth in the KIKI scene have."

Those struggles include HIV, homelessness and substance abuse, among many others. For fellow cast member, Francisco Gonzalez Jr., better known as  "Mother Chi Chi Unbothered Mizrahi," his transparency about substance abuse in the film was helpful for many. "It’s all about what one watches and what one grasps from it," he told Remezcla last year. "For me, most of the time, when I talk about my issues with overcoming substance abuse, that’s what people connect to with me. I have people come up to me who are fighting their own demons. A lot of them tell me, “Wow, watching this movie really makes me feel like I’m not alone and that people care."

In efforts to highlight the many topical issues KIKI shines a light on, we've compiled a timely list of seven social issues the documentary educates the masses about. Peep the rundown:

1. Identity, Religion And Discrimination
For most people who identify as LGBT, navigating the rocky road of self-acceptance is a steep one. It’s even harder if bias religious views are involved. KIKI touches upon the subject when you see Twiggy trek back home to Virginia from NYC. There, he explains what he dealt with the church and the small-minded town he comes from. Like him, Jordenö also relates to this, as she is a queer woman who grew up in a very religious home.

2. The Police Force Against LGBT Youth 
The Christopher Street pier is one of New York City’s enclaves for LGBT youth of color— especially for those who are homeless and/or are part of the ballroom scene. Through various testimonies from the film’s different subjects, you’ll see the injustices that the NYPD serves these young people. One of the film’s main characters, Divo Pink Lady, a 25 year-old black gay man from Brooklyn, says he’s been arrested three times around the area. In the film, he admits it was a humiliating experience. He says he feels the discrimination stems from the pre-conceived notions the police have of the ballroom community.

3. HIV
Through a heart wrenching confessional style scene from Kenneth “Symba McQueen” Soler Rios, a young Latino gay man who confesses he is HIV positive—vividly remembers when hearing the news, the only thing he could think of was becoming another statistic. The Center For Disease Control and Prevention reports that Latino and African-American gay men, ages 13-24 are infected with HIV at higher rates than their white counterparts (at a 38% rate for black men in 2015) These are staggering numbers, but the more visibility the issue gets, the closer a solution is on the horizon.

4. Street Harassment And Discrimination
LGBT people are subjected to vast amounts of street harassment for simply being themselves. When Gia Marie Love, a black transgender woman and Christopher Waldorf, a young Latino gay man are captured walking through the streets of Harlem, a group of little kids start yelling anti-LGBT slurs. As the tensions rise, viewers see Gia getting flustered. While these were most likely harmless kids, the engrained homophobia and trans-phobia instilled in them at such a young age is dangerous. Nonetheless, but just as important to showcase considering how at-risk the trans population is. In 2016, 26 trans people were reportedly killed—making half of them African-American trans women. Additionally, a report by Save Dade, an LGBT advocacy organization, states that 53% of transgender people experience street harassment and disrespect in public. 

5. LGBT Youth Homelessness 
LGBT homeless youth is one of the community’s biggest problems. Essentially, it’s the entry way for the spread of other unfortunate things like, HIV infection, poverty and drug use. Through Izana “Zaryia Mizrahi” Vidal, a 20 year-old transgender woman from Harlem you’ll see the intricacies that come with being transgender and living on the street. The film chronicles her transition from the inception to its final stages. Through the process, she is forced to live on the street because of her family’s disapproval. In various clips, she talks about this and the hardships she’s endured; like having to resort to sex work for survival.

6. Sex Work And Gender Identity 
Over a discussion group about sex work, Gia Marie Love and another member explore the topic of transgender women participating in the trade. The participant, a young black gay man, says that during his time as an escort, he noticed transgender women making more money than he did. He also mentioned how many young men even go through transitioning in efforts to make more money. While this may be true, he admitted to not counting that as a real transition because of the reasons behind it. Still, Gia affirms it does not matter where an individual started for their identity as a transgender person to be validated—no matter how your gender expression in viewed.

“To people if you’re a certain type of trans-woman they place a little bit more value on your identity,” she explains over the phone. “Or if your story matches this mold or this representation of what is trans or if you look a certain way. My argument is that we need to stop placing values on people’s identity based off their narratives or how they look. At the end of the day that person is trans woman if that is how they identify, and we need to respect that.”

7. Gay Identity And Machismo
For most gay men who are black or Latino, the hyper-masculinity they are subjected to by their peers is intense. And often times, the young-gay men of color experience isn’t something that is as talked about in main stream media. Through out the doc you’ll see Christopher Waldorf’s own issues with his family, and trying to be himself. As he was growing up in a Latino household in Harlem, he had to often suppress his feelings in fear of what his family would do. It's an all too common story, yet refreshing to see an image of oneself on screen. More of these are needed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filayyyy Talks First Pro Hoops Deal, Shady Opponents, And Mogul Aspirations

Anyone who plays or watches basketball has experienced the joy of seeing a player get embarrassed on the court, and Jesse Jones has made a hustle out of that feeling. On his Instagram page, the man known as Filayyyy makes hilarious voiceover videos where he narrates, sings and laughs as athletes get their ankles crossed, their heads dunked on, and their faces knocked out in the boxing ring or MMA octagon. His videos play like watching ESPN's iconic Sportscenter show with the homies, splicing jokes with astute basketball analysis. It may sound simple, but he’s got a goldmine: he has 1.7 million followers on IG alone. It’s to the point where when you see a highlight play in real-time, you’re anticipating how he’s going to make it even funnier. Plus, Filayyyy gets busy on the court himself: he posts clips of his own play, and this October he signed his first professional basketball contract with the St. John’s Edge in the National Basketball League of Canada.

But Filayyy isn’t just making fun videos on the Internet; he’s building a branding empire. He has a sponsorship with Nike, he has his own character and unique layup package on the video game NBA Live 19, and now, he’s part of the For Professionals Only campaign with the headphone and speaker company JBL. He, along with artist Shoe Surgeon and celebrity trainer Shannon Nadj, are enlisted to showcase a new age of professionals that eschew suits and ties to handle business in their own way. Filayyy is rocking with JBL’s Free X truly wireless earbuds. In a conversation with VIBE, Filayyyy shares his origins, how his Internet celebrity impacts opponents’ play and his personal career highlights.

 

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Something’s coming. Can you hear it? 🏀#ForProfessionalsOnly

A post shared by JBL USA (@jblaudio) on Oct 26, 2019 at 1:00pm PDT

VIBE: How did you get involved in sports, and in singing?

Filayyy: I always played basketball growing up, and my pops would always sing around me, being joyful and being himself. It snuck up on me, it was a gift. Growing up, I just wanted to be my pops, he was my role model. He was the person I really looked up to. I was just following things he’d done, and I used to develop my style when I got older.

VIBE: What made you decide to start making these videos in the first place?

I was recording the Finals game between the Warriors and the Cavs. I normally record stuff on my phone and I kind of talk in the background. But I had just finished playing basketball with my boys, and we would all be in the gym playing around and saying “filet mignon.” Everybody would always say “filet mignon,” so I didn’t want to stay with the mignon part. When I was recording the video I was just talking reckless, and I started singing the moves. I was hype because Steph Curry was the biggest player in the league at that time, and he did a crazy move. So I hurried up and put the camera on the TV, and as Curry is doing the move, I’m calling out the moves and I’m singing. I posted that video, and people were just like, “this is mad funny.” I got 400-500 comments. People started commenting, “try to take out the audio from the background, so we can just hear you.” For a few weeks I was trying to find an app, and I finally found one, I used it for two years and it got me through a lot of videos. I found out how to take the audio out, and I started to do voiceovers. First I was just talking about regular moves, and then I started to think about how I play, let me incorporate myself into my videos. Once I caught on to it, I started to see what I post, started thinking of different terms I created. People ask what made me do it. It just happened, I never thought it would blow up like this.

Did you ever do commentary like that while watching with your friends?

I never did it with my friends, but I did it at home with my parents and my girlfriend. I was doing commentary way before I was doing videos, I just never recorded it. It was just that one move that Steph Curry did on Dellavedova in the Finals. I pulled my phone out. You know how someone does a dope move and you’re hype and you’re recording, but you’re talking in the back? But I’m singing. It just clicked in my mind, like, “Yo, you’ve got something.”

 

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Nah the lakers is max for this game it was literally like watching the playoffs no lie @kingjames 39 , 16 , and 12 smh nahhh that’s max 💯 #filayyyybball #filayyyylifestyle

A post shared by Mr.SkipThruDatLane (@filayyyy) on Nov 2, 2019 at 11:48am PDT

You also hoop yourself, aside from making these videos. Do your opponents ever try to mess you up on the court because of your reputation online?

Oh, yeah. It’s to the point where I don’t hoop like that around local people. I don’t really play in an open gym that much. This summer I’ve been playing with pros, I don’t play with that many people who don’t really know the game. Some people see me, and not they’re starstruck, but they say, “oh that’s Filayyy, I don’t want him to embarrass me.” So they foul me on purpose or try to mess me up in the game and try to hurt me. People don’t care, because they don’t want to be embarrassed. My thing is, I’ve got highlights. I can’t control people that record me when I play. If I’m at the gym and someone’s there recording, people think I had them there recording. No, that’s them recording on their own. So if you get crossed over and I post it, that’s on you. I just try to stay healthy and careful with who I play with.

When you follow somebody on social media and you see them in person, sometimes you don't know how to react. They’re trying to play so hard against me that sometimes they do too much, and it gets out of hand. Some people understand, some people don’t, and some people just don’t care – those are the ones that try to hurt you. It’s a few people I’ve met and they’ll say, “it’s not gonna be none of this ‘Filayyy’ stuff over here,” “this isn’t Instagram.” Bro I play basketball, it’s not about social media. But everywhere I go someone is trying to challenge me.

How did you get to the point of being able to play with pros?

A lot of work. Consistent work, accepting failure. Staying in the gym. When you work and start playing games, it’s about building confidence to do what you’re working on in the gym, in the games. I had a name before Filayyy, people knew me as Jesse, as a hard worker. To get myself where I am now, I played against people who were better than me and I had to make mistakes. Next time I played against them, I can’t make the same mistakes I made last time. When you’re playing against pros, you’ve gotta be poised, you’ve gotta be smart. There are things you can’t do because pros are professionals, they perfect their craft. At the end of the day, to go back to this campaign with JBL, professionals perfect their craft. They really don’t mess up. When you’re perfecting something, it’s hard to beat. When you plan stuff out and go after it, you can achieve it. I knew the things I had to get better at. I got to the gym, I worked on it, and that’s how I was able to play with pros now. Things like strength you can’t control, because some dudes are ten or seven feet, but you can control the small things which are IQ, skill, and stuff like that.

 

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A post shared by Mr.SkipThruDatLane (@filayyyy) on Sep 30, 2019 at 7:54pm PDT

Do you have any long-term basketball goals?

The dream since I was a kid is to play in the NBA. But as you get older and life hits you, it’s just about being happy and comfortable with what you can achieve. If I can get in a great country, make money, build my brand, continue to help others and work with brands, that’s my NBA. I’m so successful because I’m not trying to chase something that’s impossible. People thought it was, but I made it into reality. It’s just things I made visible a long time ago and I worked at it until it was made possible. I know the basketball is going to stop bouncing, but it’s a long term goal, for now, to know what I’m going to do after. I just signed my first pro deal after four years, so who knows what’s going to happen?... I haven’t even done half of the things I want to do. The Filayyy brand is the long term goal, basketball is the short term goal.

If you were hooping and you got crossed over, would you make a video of yourself?

I did already! I posted it, but it didn’t get a lot of engagement because I didn’t really get crossed. The dude crossed over, stepped back and made a shot. But because it was me, he made it a big commodity. I think it got like 200 comments. People weren’t really like “oh snap!” I would think it would be like “oh, he got crossed” and the whole world would be like “yo!” It didn’t get a lot of hits so I took it down. But people commented like, “I respect it because you aren’t just clowning everybody else. It happened to you, some people don’t do that.” But I already know that. I play basketball, so I know I’ve gotten crossed before. That’s how I’m able to joke around with others.

Would you ever consider doing commentary in real-time, as opposed to videos after the fact?

I'd definitely consider doing games in real-time. And there are a lot of favorites, but the main ones for me are Cha-Ching at Dyckman, Mr. Talk Spicy for Hoops in the Sun, and Famous Los.

You’ve done a lot with your brand. You have your page, you were on NBA Live, you have this partnership with JBL. What made you decide to make a full business out of this, as opposed to just making videos in your spare time?

I don’t remember the first dollar I made, but after I got my first DM about coming somewhere and being paid for it, it clicked in my mind, “this might go somewhere.” Just doing videos for a while, my page was really getting noticed. Then I got sponsored by Nike, I was the first influencer to be sponsored by Nike. When that happened, I took a different focus into what i posted, what I say in my videos, and how funny I got. I went from 99,000 followers to a million in one year. Being focused on the content and being consistent. When I made that first dollar, I knew, this might be a role for me. Even though I want to be a basketball player, this might be an opening. That’s when I first knew that this brand was something I had to take serious.

What have been your personal highlights so far?

My favorite part is meeting Kyrie Irving, he’s somebody I really look up to. I met Pierre Jackson, someone I look up to. Nate Robinson, John Wall. These are people that helped me grow as a basketball player. That’s the best part of my brand. My brand took me out the hood. I didn’t have nothing. Something I created in my room got me to be in front of people I’ve looked up to for a long time. Going to Greece to see the Greek Freak. I’ve never been to Greece a day in my life. Being sponsored by Nike. You know how anyone would feel to be sponsored by Nike for doing something you love to do? You created, nobody made you do this. You created it your own way, in your own style, and you’re sponsored by Nike. Those are moments I’ve always been appreciative of, and I keep them in my heart. Then working with brands like JBL. You think about these things all the time.

How did you connect with JBL, and what made this make sense for you?

My manager told me we have an offer from JBL, and I’m like, that’s dope. I had just bought some JBL headphones last year. Being honest, I thought “okay this is JBL, it’s going to be in and out.” I get there and it was the best experience with a brand I’ve had so far. Just the connection they had with me, they were knowledgeable of what I’ve done. They went on my page, they knew what I’d done, and they were fans. When you’re in a room with people who know what you do, it’s just a different feeling. The whole campaign is For Professionals Only. I’m a professional, regardless of if it’s on the court or what I do on Instagram. The amount of time I put on the court is the amount of time I put on my videos. The whole campaign is about how me and entrepreneurs are considered professionals for what we do. I feel like professionals perfect their craft. They’re perfect for what they do. It’s not that you need a suit and tie or have to talk proper, but you do things the right way. My headphone that I have is the JBL Free headphone and it’s wireless. I don’t have to worry about cords or nothing. It’s 24 hours without a charge, you can answer the phone with it, and I really like it. I’ve been using them, my mom’s been using them. When I’m in the gym and I’m locked in, it’s a great fit in my ear. First time they gave me the headphones I put them in my ear and they didn’t move, didn’t shake, nothing like that. I’m like yeah, this is something I can rock with. It’s a dope campaign. It’s showing people they don’t have to wear a shirt and tie to be considered a professional.

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Pixar Releases Trailer For 'Soul' With Jamie Foxx And Tina Fey

The first teaser trailer for Pixar’s forthcoming movie, Soul starring Jamie Foxx and Tina Fey was released today.

The latest movie from Pixar's chief creative officer Pete Docter looks to be a companion piece to his Oscar-winning film, Inside Out. In Soul, a middle-school music teacher Joe Gardner, played by Jamie Foxx, dreams of becoming a jazz pianist for a band, and after landing his first gig, he excitedly walks on down a retro-looking New York street and falls into a manhole to another world, where he meets 22, played by Tina Fey.

Docter, who's also responsible for films such as Up, and Monsters, Inc. has never shied away from examining his own personal fears through his movies. Here, in Soul, he tackles the self-absorbed artist in Gardner, who must learn to embrace a full range of experiences, wonders, and responsibilities through his cosmic journey with 22.

In a statement, Docter spoke on the inspiration behind Soul.

"It started with my son—he's 23 now—but the instant he was born, he already had a personality," Docter said. "Where did that come from? I thought your personality developed through your interaction with the world. And yet, it was pretty clear that we're all born with a very unique, specific sense of who we are."

"He's increasingly feeling like his lifelong dream of being a jazz musician is not going to pan out and he's asking himself 'Why am I here? What am I meant to be doing?' Joe personifies those questions," Docter continued.

 

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Slaven Vlasic

Trevor Noah To Produce Film On 8-Year-Old Nigerian Chess Prodigy

Trevor Noah is developing a film about Tanitoluwa "Tani" Adewumi, the 8-year-old Nigerian refugee who went from homelessness to internationally known chess champion. According to Deadline, The Daily Show host will produce the film under his Day Zero Productions imprint alongside business partner, Haroon Salem.

State Street Pictures and Mainstay Entertainment are also named as producers on the project, which was acquired by Paramount Studios.

Adewumi’s story went viral after he was profiled in the New York Times earlier this year. The third grader had only been playing chess for a year when he won the New York State Scholastic Chess Championship in 2018. He learned to play chess from a teacher at school.

The plot of the film centers around the Adewumi family’s survival story of seeking asylum only to become homeless in New York, and the lengths that parents will go to for their children.  After their story began spreading around social media, the family was able to secure permanent housing thanks to the more than $250,000 in donations that they received through GoFundMe.

The film's script will be adapted from a trio of books on the family, which will be released through HarperCollins’ W Publishing imprint next spring.

It's unclear when the film will be released.

 

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