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By Ryan Mason · June 20, 2011
Twenty years in the making, director Sheldon Larry brings his loving ode of Los Angeles ball culture to the big screen with Leave It On The Floor. And if you’re not familiar with ball culture, you’re not the only one.
It all started with Jennie Livingston’s 1990 documentary Paris Is Burning, which chronicled the lives of people in the New York African-American and Latino gay and transgendered communities who competed in elaborate ball competitions, walking in drag down fashion model-like runways. Larry saw this and had the dream of turning it into a musical, celebrating those in this community. Fast forward to six years ago, Larry brought in screenwriter/lyricist Glenn Gaylord to work on the project as they both spent countless nights going out to research the Los Angeles ball community. After another three years of scripting the film and bringing on both Beyonce’s creative director and choreographer, Larry shot Leave It On The Floor in four weeks in the summer of 2010. Only finished 11 weeks ago, it debuted last night at the Los Angeles Film Festival to an uproarious crowd.
Larry described his film as “a party film that has a few things on its mind,” and while there sure are party moments, what makes the film so endearing to even people who have no experience with the ball community – or even an affinity for musicals – are those deeper things that it’s thinking about. I’m very curious to see what happens with this film because there’s so much that could easily turn off a broader audience from the get-go. First, it’s a musical. Second, it doesn’t have any big-name actors. Third, it’s about the subculture of gay and transgendered African-Americans, who come from a community that, more than others, continues to have a strong anti-homosexual sentiment running through it. Arguably, all of these elements make the film even more worth seeing.
Larry talked about how attitudes have changed in the past 20 years since Paris Is Burning first hit screen, but that the African-American community still harbors a lot of prejudice and homophobia, quoting stats that show 800 white LGBT teens on the streets compared to roughly double that number for African-Americans. His hope is that the film engenders more acceptance from both the overall community, but especially from African-Americans.
Of course, none of this would matter if it weren’t a good movie. We can’t judge films based on what they’re trying to say or how important their message is if it can’t stand on its own cinematic merits. Larry understands this and makes it, first and foremost, an excellently crafted film. Those three years spent during the script phase paid off, giving his talented cast plenty to work with.
Full disclosure: I’m not a fan of musicals. Other than Footloose, there aren’t many musicals that I’d ever want to watch for the first time, much less over and over again. So to say that I was surprised that I found myself completely attached to Brad, Carter, Queef Latina, Princess Eminence, and the rest of the stellar cast of characters, would be an understatement. Yet, there I was, in this packed theater full of an eclectic group of characters – including nearly the entire cast – thoroughly enjoying the entire experience. For me, the standout was Miss Barbie-Q, who played Queef Latina, the head of the House of Eminence and truly the heart and soul of the film, with James Alsop coming in a close second. Alsop played Eppie Durall, a drag queen who walks around with a fake pregnant belly and constantly threatens to go into labor.
Why they end up stealing the show is because they’re the ones that embody the true message of the film: that we all want to be part of a family. And when your own biological family disowns you, as is the case with these characters and even some of their real-life counterparts, it’s natural to seek out like-minded souls to form a new family that actually embraces and celebrates you for being you – which, ultimately, could prove to be more of your “real” family than anything else.