A film by Barney Cheng
Gravitas Ventures Films
Barney Cheng's "Baby Steps" will no doubt draw comparisons to Ang Lee's "The Wedding Banquet," a charming 1993 film about a Taiwanese mom trying to find the right girl for her son, who's already found the right guy.
"Baby Steps" takes this concept one step further--this time mom must not only accept her son's boyfriend, she has to deal with their decision to have a child via a surrogate mom. Ironically, the mom in both films is played by Asian actress Ya-Lei Kuei, even though there's no connection between the two characters.
While "Baby Steps" has its humorous moments, the film is far more serious in tone than "The Wedding Banquet." Danny (Cheng) and Tate (Michael Adam Hamilton) are an upscale gay couple in Los Angeles. Danny is under enormous pressure from his mom in Taiwan to marry and give her a grandchild. Danny wants to do both of those things, albeit with Tate, who's cute, blonde and very American.
With a little bit of humor, a lot of heart, and with serious insight into Taiwanese culture, "Baby Steps" tells two different stories in tandem. On one side viewers follow Danny and Tate in their search for the egg donor and the surrogate who will make them the dads they want to be. On the other side we get to know the long-widowed Mrs. Lee, an old school Asian lady who must confront her homophobia if she wants her son to remain in her life--and if she wants to get to know her grandchild.
A character driven tale, "Baby Steps" emerges as a bittersweet but ultimately uplifting fable about familial love. And the guys are adorable together!
According to the film's press release, "Baby Steps'" theatrical run in Taiwan started a conversation on LGBT rights and helped to propel the Asian nation's recent decision to legalize same-sex marriage.
A film by Sara Jordeno
Twenty-five years ago Jennie Livingston's "Paris is Burning" captured the imagination of Queer moviegoers. A feature length documentary, the film chronicled drag balls in New York City's African American LGBT community. Now, filmmaker Sara Jordeno offers what could be considered a prequel to Livingston's film: "Kiki" is a documentary about the ball culture among New York's LGBTQ youth of color—"Paris is Burning" focused on drag elders.
The balls are often held in storefronts, small church auditoriums or wherever else the promoters are able to find space. Contestants get to show off their impressive, flamboyant skills in costuming, voguing, and their fierce attitudes. For many of New York's Queer youth of color these competitions, called Kiki Balls, are the only opportunity they have to shine, to achieve some validation—the costuming and athletic dance moves which viewers get to see aren't just impressive, they're jaw dropping. These kids are gifted.
Much of the film focuses on their lives and backgrounds. Growing up in ghetto communities, many of the film's interviewees are poor and marginalized in neighborhoods where being LGBT is considered a taboo. Throughout the film we hear stories of their lives.
They share chilling and heartbreaking tales of family rejection, police harassment, addiction, mental illness, violence, suicide, and having opportunities to better their lot in life denied to them. In one heartbreaking sequence Jordeno takes viewers to an impromptu memorial service for Travis, a young "Kiki" dancer for whom life proved too difficult. Travis chose to end his life.
There are positive moments as well. Early on Ryan, a leader of the "Kiki" scene, drives to his Virginia hometown with his boyfriend. They meet with Ryan's conservative, churchgoing mother, who accepts and embraces them. Mom says that she could never not love her own child--she believes that it’s possible to be gay and to come to Christ.
Towards the end of the film Ryan and his boyfriend visit the White House and participate in President Barack Obama's LGBT Youth Summit of 2015, which took place while LGBT Americans were awaiting the U.S. Supreme Court to rule on the legality of marriage equality. Back in New York, various "Kiki" participants point out that the marriage battle was won because white gay men fought for it--people of color and trans people, they note, remain in the shadows with little hope of achieving the status that gay white men take for granted.
While the dancing and costuming in "Kiki" are impressive, it's the stories these kids share that will no doubt stay with viewers. Haunting and heartbreaking, the "Kiki" dancers remind us that we have a long way to go until true equality is achieved for all.