Miami’s Official Pornographer: The story of Donald Chauncey and his battle against censorship

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When Donald Chauncey took over for the late Mike Anguilano as Miami-Dade Public Library System's Film Librarian in 1982 he never dreamed that he'd one day be labeled “Dade County’s official pornographer," by a local Miami pastor. 

As film librarian, Chauncey, a self-proclaimed gay man, his job was to find ways to grow the library system's film collection and give it exposure.  In the 1980s this was quite a job.  With over 5,000 film reels, Miami-Dade's film collection was among the largest belonging to a public library in the country.

During this week in 1987, Chauncey felt he would put a modern spin on the American Library Association's Banned Books Week and screen a series of banned X-rated films.  He chose La Cage aux Folles, a Franco-Italian comedy about a gay couple that runs a drag show club and later influenced the popular 1996 film The Birdcage.  He also chose to screen Last Tango in Paris, which was controversial due to its very explicit content which include a graphic rape scene. 

Once the library system began promoting the series of screenings, which were to take place after library hours and only those above the age of 18 were to be admitted, Jesus Fellowship Church of Miami pastor Rick Patterson stepped forward arguing that films depicting “pornography” or “homosexuality” should not permitted inside a publicly funded tax paying facility. 

Chauncey argued that the films were not being screened to the masses but rather shown on the context of censorship.  He said that each film was chosen for its “artistic merit,” and for its reason for censorship, whether that be homosexual themes or sexual/moral reasons.  He also went on to add that the library system had received a private grant for the program and tax payer monies were not being used.

Despite this, it wasn’t long before one publication quoted Patterson as calling Chauncey “Dade County’s Official pornographer,” Patterson argued to a Miami News reporter that “there was no purpose in showing the movies. The idea that by showing a previously banned movie to endorse its position against censorship is ludicrous.” He went on to say that if he didn’t stop it now Miami could find itself full of pedophiles by 1990.

Patterson was stunned when not only did county commissioners side with the library system, but the film screenings ended up being complete sell outs. He was indeed successful in raising awareness, but not the opposition he was hoping for.

Patterson can probably inadvertently be thanked for creating the appreciation for some of the controversial cinema displayed here and paving the way for more.  It was this appreciation that likely allowed Chauncey to go on to create the Queer Flickering Light (QFL), Miami's first LGBT film festival in 1993. The festival, which happened twice and took place at The Colony Theater in Miami Beach, featured films such as "Raising Heroes" which touted being the first LGBT action hero film and David Schimmer's gay portrayal in the 35 minute short "Party Favor."  Screenings later at night featured sexier films such as Mel Chionglo's "Midnight Dancers," an erotic Filipino thriller about three brothers who consider themselves straight, but work as gogo dancers (and more) at night.

While the film festivals were fairly well received, Chauncey said he had hoped to have David Schwimmer present, but he claimed to have a prior commitment.  Chauncey said in an interview with Barron Sherer in the Miami Rail magazine that "...we [the LGBT community/advocates] could fill the Colony Theater with a film about lesbian body piercing, which everybody thought six people would go to. Whatever we screened at QFL was near capacity. There was a hunger for this programming. I wanted to replicate the conversations that were going on in gay communities across the United States." 

Now living the retired life, but still active in Miami's film scene, Chauncey told me he was not interested in putting on annual festivals, but simply wanted to "prime the pump" for someone else. 

It did eventually morph into OUTshine, South Florida's current LGBT film festival.  Chauncey still thinks it was a fantastic experience for him and it allowed him to meet his all time hero, Quintin Crisp. 

Maybe once being labeled Dade County's Official Pornographer wasn't such a bad thing after all.  In the end we all seem to crave, what we're told we can't have.


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