“Historically I’ve seen Outfest centered around white folks,” Eve Xelestiál Moreno-Luz said, a Los Angeles native who first learned of the Los Angeles-based queer film festival in 2013 while Googling for trans media outlets. Five years later, Moreno-Luz attended the festival for the first time during Latinx Night, a new event in the predominantly Latinx region of East L.A., which featured local queer vendors and performers alongside a screening of the new film Skate Kitchen.
Outfest Latnix Night was just one of many attempts by the film festival to change the representation narrative in Hollywood. This year, the 11-day festival — which ended Sunday night with a showing of The Miseducation of Cameron Post — broadened screening locations and content to include underrepresented groups as part of their new initiative We’re In Your Neighborhood. Two-thirds of the directors of the 234 feature films, shorts, and TV episodes were female, trans, and/or people of color.
“Much in line with the #MeToo movement, we chose to bring these underrepresented voices to the forefront and be as inclusive as possible,” Lucy Mukerjee, Outfest’s director of programming, told EW.
Mukerjee says increased representation on screen spurred equally diverse audiences. Nearly three-fourths of Outfest Latinx attendees had not been to other events of the week. “We need to go to them and not expect them to come to us,” said executive director Christopher Racster, who also helped program a screening of Queeroes, a short film web series elevating queer, trans, and POC storytelling and curated by Transparent creator Jill Soloway for Time’s Up 50/50 by 2020 mission.
Across town, Footloose choreographer Jamal Sims premiered his directorial debut When the Beat Drops, which won the Grand Jury prize for Best Documentary Feature at Outfest. The film, out August 9 on Logo, explores bucking, a dance form popular among black gay men in the South. Sims says his perspective as a black, gay dancer made the outsider-resistant community trust him enough to allow him to film them. He recalls saying: “If you guys don’t allow me to help you tell your own stories, somebody is gonna tell it for you, and it’s going to be incorrect.”
The call for accurate LGBTQ representation dominated the festival’s numerous panels on various sectors of the community. During the panel Bi in the Biz, speakers struggled to think of TV’s bisexual characters and actors — Brooklyn Nine-Nine‘s Stephanie Beatriz and Grey’s Anatomy‘s Sara Ramirez were mentioned, but Full Frontal with Samantha Bee writer Travon Free remained stumped: As a black bisexual male, he routinely feels invisible. “We’re so far behind in terms of getting us even to where the amount of representation bi women have on TV,” said Free, who’s developing an HBO comedy based on his experiences with Insecure’s Issa Rae.
A few days earlier, during the LGBTQ+ women in Hollywood panel, former BuzzFeed Motion Pictures producer Ashly Perez lamented sexist press questions. “We are limited to talking solely about our identity instead of our process — What cameras we use? How do you pick that angel? — things that other filmmakers get to talk about when their identity is taken for granted,” she said.
Outfest featured appearances by high-profile actors including Miseducation’s Chloë Grace Moretz, Wild Nights with Emily’s Molly Shannon, and U.S. Narrative Feature winner We the Animals’ Raul Castillo. Having played a series of queer characters — including Richie on HBO’s short-lived series Looking — the actor, who identifies as straight, told EW he takes it project by project when signing on to play a gay character. “A great script is a great script, but I also would hate to take a role away from someone who deserves to be represented,” Castillo said.
Transgender representation took center stage for a second year with the Trans Summit. Yance Ford, who recently became the first transgender man to be nominated for an Academy Award, gave a keynote speech, addressing Scarlett Johansson’s recent controversy. Yance credited the actress for stepping down from a trans male role in the film Rub & Tug, while noting the project has seemingly stalled. He then called for the queer community’s Hollywood gatekeepers to uplift its most disadvantaged members. “Please help stop the cannibalization of our stories,” Ford said.
Out of the roughly 1,500 films submissions Outfest received, only 10 percent feature a trans lead, and even then, most are documentaries. It’s one of many discouraging statistics Mukerjee hopes to change. With this year’s festival now over, she’s focused on continuing year-round outreach and seeking to increase content on disenfranchised communities at next year’s festival. She added: “While every year we become more inclusive and reach more and more voices, there’s always more work to do and people to embrace.”