There’s a moment in the Netflix film “The Old Guard” where Marwan Kenzari is sitting, handcuffed in a car, surrounded by guards, next to his partner passed out. And a shitty cop says “what is he, your boyfriend?.” All the cops giggle like morons. And then, Marwan proceeds to give one of the most beautiful speeches about love, ending in, “he’s not my boyfriend, he’s all and he’s more.” And then they kiss. And oh, what a kiss. The next time you see them, they are walking out of that armored van having knocked out all the guards. Not only did that monologue make me cry, but I was so overwhelmed to finally see two openly gay characters in a superhero movie wax poetic about love and then kick major ass. It made me realize that that’s what I’m craving in cinema. I want us to be the superhero, the villain, the man having a mental breakdown, the captain of the Starship Enterprise, everything. I want every queer kid growing up now to have a hero they see themselves in like I did in Luke Skywalker. I want everything to be queer.
And hey! That’s what I did in my small part. I made a movie about my mental breakdown called “Hypochondriac.” Since we premiered at SXSW, I have had the pleasure of witnessing some of the best queer genre films that are doing exactly what I want: existing in spaces we haven’t existed before.
Before I talk more about “Hypochondriac,” I need to make you aware of the following movies: “Sissy” (directed by Kane Senes & Hannah Barlowe), “Huesera” (directed by Michelle Garza Cervera), “Swallowed” (directed by Carter Smith), “Something in the Dirt” (directed by Justin Benson and Aaron Morehead), and “The Cow who Sang A Song into the Future” (directed by Francisca Algeria). All these movies feature prominent queer characters existing both because of and independent of their sexuality. And they’re all going to be in theaters and/or on demand within the next year. A lot of people have been telling me they love my movie because it’s not about being gay, it’s about mental health. But if I have to be honest, that’s a little like telling me “oh wow I had no idea you were gay” as if I’m supposed to take that as a complement. And look, I get it, but what I think they’re trying to say, is that they were able to identify with the characters despite the fact that they don’t identify with their identity. And that’s absolutely wonderful! I did that as a kid too (re: Luke Skywalker).
Which brings me to our current landscape. To make a queer movie is an act of bravery in today’s world. While myself as a gay white-passing Puerto Rican isn’t necessarily under attack, our trans and non-binary family very much are. And as much as I used to hesitate saying this: art changes lives. The sheer act of putting the LGBTQIA+ into narratives that they normally haven’t been included in — leads to normalization. It saves lives. I yell to anyone who will listen that that’s what “Glee” did in 2009. Watching a gay character go through being bullied on network television is very much a part of why gay marriage was legalized. It was a touchstone and something for which I am forever grateful to Ryan Murphy.
And I think the beautiful thing about horror is it has the capacity to talk about things in extremely creative ways that other genres can’t. “Hypochondriac” talks directly about inherited trauma and mental health. “Huesera” talks directly about the conflicting ideas of pregnancy and how not admitting the truth to yourself leads to destruction. “Sissy” is a sendup of Instagram culture and the toxicity it brings into the real world. And the list goes on. But also — they’re queer! Not to say horror always needs to be about something — but when it is? **chef’s kiss** Art has power. It’s extremely evident now in year three of the pandemic. What did we do when we couldn’t leave our house? We opened up Netflix and watched their entire catalogue. That’s what I did. And I found every queer genre movie that existed in the world and watched it.
The more we get to exist in genre spaces, especially in cinema, the more audiences can empathize with the queer community’s plight and maybe, just maybe, we can bring a little more humanity back into our world.
“Hypochondriac” is now playing in select theaters and on demand and on digital on Aug. 4.