Earlier this year as awards season was in full swing, there was considerable criticism directed towards La La Land, particularly for using a white man to spotlight jazz music, which was created and sustained by Black musicians. The discussion over whether or not La La Land is overrated seemed to reach its head with the Academy Awards’ Best Picture snafu, which initially and mistakenly was awarded to the film only to be awkwardly taken back and given to the true winner, Moonlight.
So why am I bringing all of this up again? Because Saturday Church, currently screening at the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival, was originally pitched to me as Moonlight meets La La Land, which admittedly is an oversimplification but one that piqued my interest and led me to screen the film this afternoon.
Saturday Church follows Ulysses (Luka Kain), a teenage boy trying to navigate life following the death of his father, while also trying to explore and accept his burgeoning sexuality. Ulysses is picked on at school by other students who target him for being queer, while at home, he is unable to explore his curiosity without consequences. When his younger brother catches him trying on his mother’s high heels, Ulysses is confronted by his abrasive Aunt Rose (Regina Taylor), a highly religious woman who dotes on his brother while targeting Ulysses for his identity. Likewise, his mother, Amara (Margot Bingham) also confronts Ulysses about stealing her pantyhose, which he wears under his jeans, demanding he stop this behavior and act “normal.”
Ulysses eventually seeks an escape from the oppression he faces at home and school and finds himself wandering the West Village, eventually winding up on the piers where he meets a group of older gay and transgender teens, who take him under their wing. The group introduce Ulysses to “Saturday Church,” a program at a local church where the LGBTQ community is fed and given a safe space off of the streets to congregate, socialize and vogue. From here, Ulysses splits his life, finding refuge, freedom and love at Saturday Church, until the two finally come into conflict, culminating with Aunt Rose’s discovery of a pair of high heels Ulysses has purchased. Ulysses then finds himself on the streets, highlighting the vulnerable situations that LGBTQ youth can find themselves in when there is no support to be found at home.
In addition to being a poignant queer coming of age story, Saturday Church is also a musical and sprinkled throughout the film are songs that lend the film a slight fantasy element but also speak to the struggle for acceptance and the joy of love. While some of the darker side to life on the street is explored, the film also showcases the strong bonds between the youths and revels in the beauty of queer love. In short, Saturday Church is a beautiful film that spotlights, celebrates and centers the transgender community of color and is one that should definitely be on your radar this year.
Header Photo Credit: Anna Kooris