Author Archives: Amos

“EN ALGUN LUGAR”— Love and Immigration


“En Algun Lugar”

Love and Immigration

Amos Lassen

Writer-director Tadeo Garcia brings us a powerful love story set against the controversial U.S. immigration system. Both Abel (Nelson A. Rodriguez), who works in Chicago in social services, and Diego (Andrew L. Saenz), an auto mechanic, have waited a long time for the love they have both wanted. After several meetings by chance, the two finally hook up and quickly fall deeply in love with each other.

However, Diego has a secret: he’s an undocumented immigrant and has tried several times to get American citizenship but has not succeeded. When he learns that his mother is dying, Diego must decide whether or not to take the risk of a trip back to Mexico, knowing that he will possibly not be able to return to America and Abel. He also worries how Abel will react when he learns that he is undocumented.

Abel and Diego discover the power of love during uncertain times. Director Tadeo Garcia chose a loose translation “A Place to Be” for his film since it reflects Diego’s journey to become an American citizen and the director’s his own journey. The film became very timely very quickly.

The film is a look at what being undocumented is like—the pressures and situations undocumented people face. People are in those situations every day, and some people get the wrong idea about the undocumented and have these stereotypes. This is a real community, with people of different backgrounds, different levels of education and it’s a very diverse community.

“Transforming: The Bible and the Lives of Transgender Christians” by Austen Hartke— Shedding Light on Gender

Hartke, Austen. “Transforming: The Bible and the Lives of Transgender Christians”, Westminster John Knox Press , 2018.

Shedding Light on Gender

Amos Lassen

For those of you who do not yet realize it, transgender issues have become the next civil rights frontier. Yet many people, including LGBTQ allies still do not have an understanding of gender identity and the transgender experience. Austen Hartke here brings us a biblically based, educational, and affirming resources that further explain gender issues.

“Transforming: The Bible and the Lives of Transgender Christians” is certainly a book I would never have thought I would see even a year ago. It takes us into the transgender community that has been so underrepresented and misunderstood community and without a doubt, about faith and about the future of Christianity. Author Hartke introduces transgender issues, language and stories of both biblical characters and real-life narratives from transgender Christians living today. In this way we can easier see and be part of a more inclusive Christianity with the confidence and tools to change both the church and the world. Now most of you know that I am an observant Jew so why would a book of this kind be important to me? The answer to that is relatively simple. The Hebrew Bible is the backbone of almost all active religions today and I am curious to see how both the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Bible can work together to give us more understanding about what we do not know. Incidentally, Joy Ladin is in the process of finishing her transgender look at Hebrew scripture and I believe that her book will be as important to Christians as Hartke’s book is important to Jews. We must remember that holy writings do not stand alone.

Hartke is a white, bisexual, committed Christian transgender man who happens to be a committed Christian yet he admits that when entering an unfamiliar church, he feels a bit nervous. The reason for this is very clear in that many churches in America are less than welcoming to the 1.4 million transgender adults in their midst. We surely cannot forget that of that large number of people , 41 percent will have attempted suicide. This is surely one of the reasons that a supportive faith community is so important. Hartke shares his own search for a place like this and also gives us how pothers have dealt with finding their places.

There is so much more discussed here as well. Hartke writes definitions of gender identities and how our gender identities are partially constructed by society and what may be biological. He finds answers to some very difficult questions in the Bible, sometimes surprising ones and one of the ways that he does this is to equate today’s transgender people with eunuchs who were the gender-nonconforming people of the ancient world. This is something I never thought of and I plan to read a great deal more about. I always have had the impression that becoming a eunuch was imposed on someone and did not arise out of the discomfort one feels with his birth gender (but that is also a hot question). Hartke then goes into something I know very little about but plan to learn more and that is the corporeal nature of Jesus and he is able to find a discussion or theology here.

Above all else, it seems to me, at least, is the way to find a community that is welcoming and accepting keeping in mind that tolerance is no longer enough. Aside from the text that is filled with information, the book also has an appendix of further reading and resources.

Let me say this—the road to finding that community is not an easy one. I know because I have walked it before and more than once. Having been raised in a strict Orthodox household, I lived in fear of discovery until I finally forced myself to come out and deal with the consequences. With my family it was not so bad but with Judaism it meant that I would have t leave the Orthodox community that I had grown up in and loved deeply but where I could not be accepted for who I am. For many years I was a secular Jew and felt like I did not belong anywhere. Then I found Reform Judaism that invited me in and where I now make my home. But it is interesting that modern Orthodox Judaism has begun to accept us and I suspect it will not be that long before we are universally accepted, at least, to a degree.

Austen Hartke has given us a powerful and deeply moving read here in his book that cries out to be read. Here is the terminology, the sociological studies, and biblical and theological perspectives that transgender Christians have to deal with along with personal stories from the real world. Hartke explores trans identity through the lens of Scripture and through real life and he brings it to us so that we can better share in the understanding. The trans person is no longer going to be the forgotten child.

“Secret Empires: How the American Political Class Hides Corruption and Enriches Family and Friends” by Peter Schweizer—Corruption and Misconduct: An Investigative Look at Politics

Schweizer, Peter. “Secret Empires: How the American Political Class Hides Corruption and Enriches Family and Friends”, Harper, 2018.

Corruption and Misconduct: An Investigative Look at Politics

Amos Lassen

 Peter Schweizer who wrote “Clinton Cash” and sparked an FBI investigation into the Clinton Foundation has now published “Secret Empires” his highly anticipated investigative follow-up. In it, he shows no favoritism for any politician and attacks them all.

The opening chapters set the background for what is to come and it is all quite shocking. The first bit of new information us about businesses set up by sons of Senators John Kerry and Joe Biden. It seems that Biden’s and Kerry’s sons might have more in common with Jared Kushner and Donald Trump, Jr.

What we read here are allegations; no evidence in the form of newspaper stories or media reports are found here. Nonetheless, this is an important read as it makes us question what we have taken for granted for way too long.

The ownership of the Rosemont entities in the United States and Gemini Investments are connected to sons of the former vice president and secretary of state and they were negotiating to secure a deal with a company whose ties could be traced back to the Chinese navy. This would be the second largest and profitable deal that the son of the vice president and the stepson and friends of John Kerry would strike with Chinese government–connected companies as both statesmen were negotiating with Beijing and were engaged in sensitive, high-stakes negotiations with the Chinese government while their sons’ companies were cutting a deal with a company connected to the Chinese government.

Kerry was criticized for being soft on China even though the country was aggressively laying claim and expanding its presence in the South China Sea. There was great alarm over his unilateral expansion, but Kerry played it cool.

Critics stated that regarding Chinese territorial claims in Asia, Beijing wanted to have negotiations with countries in the region individually and exclude the United States and Japan. This would make it easier for China to intimidate smaller regional players who questioned their territorial claims. Kerry surprised and troubled many in the region when he effectively endorsed China’s strategy to isolate countries like the Philippines in these negotiations by refusing to have the United States take a side in the territorial dispute. Kerry publicly stated that he saw no need to “contain” China and this was in contrast to his predecessor Hillary Clinton’s posture. He was praised by Beijing for his low-key approach to relations with China.

Business negotiations between the Biden and Kerry families and Chinese entities continued. Publicly, Secretary of State Kerry engaged with the very same Chinese government in diplomatic negotiations. In November 2014, Kerry even hosted the Chinese foreign minister in Boston, where they dined together.

By December 2014, Gemini was negotiating and sealing deals with Rosemont on several fronts. That month, Gemini bought out the Rosemont Opportunities Fund II, an offshore investment vehicle run by Rosemont for $34 million and larger deals followed. In May 2015, Kerry went to Asia to meet with his Chinese counterparts to readdress the difficult issues between the United States and China. Kerry told his hosts that the U.S. wanted to work with them on a range of issues, including North Korea, Iran and Syria, and the two powers shouldn’t let the South China Sea issue get in the way of broader cooperation. The Chinese interpreted this as a signal that the U.S. was not ready to confront them.

By August, Rosemont Realty announced that Gemini Investments, still run from COSCO headquarters, was buying a 75 percent stake in the company and this was the second major deal Rosemont struck with China.

This is a must read for anyone who wants to know how elected politicians make millions while in office. Schweiser has done his research and shows us what politicians are doing behind our backs. I just wish that there was more evidence to prove this.

Schweizer is evenhanded and looks at politicians from both parties. The book reveals a kind of self-dealing and suggests Obama used regulations in the education and energy sectors to depress the prices of certain stocks at which time friends of his bought the stocks and then eased pressure, allowing the stocks to rebound and enriching anyone who invested at the stocks’ low points.

Schweizer’s targets include Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, former Vice President Joe Biden, former President Barack Obama, former Secretary of State John Kerry, and President Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner.

 “Secret Empires” exposes vast corruption by top Washington figures who leverage their political power to enrich their family members and friends, often by making deals with foreign entities.

The Publishing Triangle Finalists Announced for Best LGBTQ Books of 2017

The Publishing Triangle Finalists Announced for Best LGBTQ Books of 2017

The Publishing Triangle is very proud to announced the nominees for the best LGBTQ books of 2017. The winners in these seven competitive categories will be announced at the 30th annual Triangle Awards. The ceremony will be held on April 26, 2018, at the Tishman Auditorium of the New School (63 Fifth Avenue in New York City) at 7 p.m. In addition to these prizes in fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and trans or gender-variant literature, we will be presenting the Bill Whitehead Award for Lifetime Achievement, the Betty Berzon Emerging Writer Award, and the Publishing Triangle Leadership Award that evening.

This year’s finalists are:

Finalists for the Judy Grahn Award for Lesbian Nonfiction
Abandon Me, by Melissa Febos (Bloomsbury USA)
Afterglow, by Eileen Myles (Grove Press)
Jane Crow: The Life of Pauli Murray, by Rosalind Rosenberg (Oxford University Press)
Mean, by Myriam Gurba (Coffee House Press)

Ms. Gurba won the Publishing Triangle’s Edmund White Award for Debut Fiction in 2008, for Dahlia Season.

Finalists for the Randy Shilts Award for Gay Nonfiction
Brilliant Imperfection, by Eli Clare (Duke University Press)
The Inheritance of Shame, by Peter Gajdics (Brown Paper Press)
Lives of Great Men, by Chike Frankie Edozien (Team Angelica Publishing)
Patient Zero and the Making of the AIDS Epidemic, by Richard A. McKay (University of Chicago Press)

Finalists for the Audre Lorde Award for Lesbian Poetry
Lena, by Cassie Pruyn (Texas Tech University Press)
No Dictionary of a Living Tongue, by Duriel E. Harris (Nightboat Books)
Rocket Fantastic, by Gabrielle Calvocoressi (Persea Books)
Some Say, by Maureen N. McLane (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

Finalists for the Thom Gunn Award for Gay Poetry
Don’t Call Us Dead, by Danez Smith (Graywolf Press)
Half-Light: Collected Poems, 1965-2016, by Frank Bidart (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Into Each Room We Enter Without Knowing, by Charif Shanahan (Southern Illinois University Press)
When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities, by Chen Chen (BOA Editions)

Danez Smith’s collection is also a finalist for the Publishing Triangle Award for Trans and Gender-Variant Literature.

Finalists for the Publishing Triangle Award for Trans and Gender-Variant Literature
Don’t Call Us Dead, by Danez Smith (Graywolf Press)
A Place Called No Homeland, by Kai Cheng Thom (Arsenal Pulp Press)
Prayers for My 17th Chromosome, by Amir Rabiyah (Sibling Rivalry Press)
Trap Door: Trans Cultural Production and the Politics of Visibility, edited by Reina Gossett, Eric A. Stanley, and Johanna Burton (The MIT Press)

Danez Smith’s book is also a finalist for the Thom Gunn Award for Gay Poetry.

Finalists for the Edmund White Award for Debut Fiction
Elmet, by Fiona Mozley (Algonquin Books)
Her Body and Other Parties, by Carmen Maria Machado (Graywolf Press)
Marriage of a Thousand Lies, by SJ Sindu (Soho Press)
Scarborough, by Catherine Hernandez (Arsenal Pulp Press)

Ms. Mozley’s novel was a finalist for the 2017 Man Booker Prize. Ms. Machado’s story collection was a finalist for the 2017 National Book Award for fiction, and is also a finalist for the Ferro-Grumley Award for LGBTQ Fiction. Ms. Hernandez’s novel was a finalist for the 2017 Toronto Book Awards.

Finalists for the Ferro-Grumley Award for LGBTQ Fiction
The Ada Decades, by Paula Martinac (Bywater Books)
The Disintegrations, by Alistair McCartney (University of Wisconsin Press)
The Heart’s Invisible Furies, by John Boyne (Hogarth/Crown)
Her Body and Other Parties, by Carmen Maria Machado (Graywolf Press)
Outside Is the Ocean, by Matthew Lansburgh (University of Iowa Press)

Ms. Machado is also a finalist for the Edmund White Award for Debut Fiction; her collection of stories was a finalist as well for this year’s National Book Award for Fiction

The winner in each of the seven categories above will receive a prize of $1000. Please join us in congratulating this worthy batch of nominees.

Sarah Schulman Wins Whitehead Award

ss1Sarah Schulman is the 2018 recipient of the Publishing Triangle’s Bill Whitehead Award for Lifetime Achievement, named in honor of the legendary editor of the 1970s and 1980s. Schulman is a novelist, nonfiction writer, playwright, screenwriter, and AIDS historian. Among her novels are The Cosmopolitans, The Child, and Rat Bohemia (winner of the 1996 Ferro-Grumley Award for Lesbian Fiction). Her works of nonfiction include Conflict Is Not Abuse (winner of last year’s Judy Grahn Award for Lesbian Nonfiction), The Gentrification of the Mind, and Ties That Bind: Familial Homophobia and Its Consequences. Schulman’s nineteenth book, the novel Maggie Terry, will be published in September 2018 by the Feminist Press.

She is on the advisory boards of Jewish Voice for Peace, Research on the Israeli/American Alliance, and Claudia Rankine’s Racial Imaginary Institute, and she is faculty advisor for Students for Justice in Palestine. Besides her two earlier Publishing Triangle Awards and many other prizes, Schulman has also won a Guggenheim in playwriting, a Fulbright in Judaic studies, and two American Library Association Stonewall Awards. A fellow at the New York Institute for the Humanities at New York University, she is distinguished professor of the humanities at CUNY/College of Staten Island. She also teaches in such non-degree community-based programs as Queer Art Mentorship and Lambda Emerging Writers Retreat.

The Bill Whitehead Award is given to a female-identified writer in even-numbered years and to a male-identified writer in odd years, and the winner receives $3000.

Schulman will accept this prize at the Publishing Triangle’s annual awards ceremony on April 26, 2018. It will be held at the New School’s Tishman Auditorium, 63 Fifth Avenue, in Greenwich Village, New York, starting at 7 p.m.

Sarah Perry to Receive Emerging Writer Award

The Publishing Triangle is pleased to announce that Sarah Perry will receive its Betty Berzon Emerging Writer Award. This award is given to an LGBTQ writer who has published at least one book but not more than two. In selecting her for this award, the judges said, “Sarah Perry’s personal story is uniquely fascinating and tragic. From that story, she has produced a work of art: a hybrid of literary genres and narrative strategies which compellingly explore history, grief, and sexuality.” Perry will receive a prize of $1500 with this award.

After the Eclipse: A Mother’s Murder, a Daughter’s Search, Sarah Perry’s memoir, was published in 2017 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Perry holds an M.F.A. in nonfiction from Columbia University, where she served as publisher of Columbia: A Journal of Literature and Art and was a member of the journal’s nonfiction editorial board. She is the recipient of a writers’ fellowship from the Edward F. Albee Foundation and a Javits fellowship from the U.S. Department of Education. Perry has attended residencies at Norton Island in Maine and PLAYA in Oregon. Her prose has appeared in such publications as Blood & Thunder,, and The Guardian. She lives in Brooklyn.

“Warriors, Witches, Whores: Women in Israeli Cinema” by Rachel S. Harris— A Feminist Study of Israel’s Film Industry

Harris, Rachel S. “Warriors, Witches, Whores: Women in Israeli Cinema”, (Contemporary Approaches to Film and Media Series), Wayne State University Press, 2017.

A Feminist Study of Israel’s Film Industry

Amos Lassen

Rachel Harris’s “Warriors, Witches, Whores: Women in Israeli Cinema” is a feminist study of Israel’s film industry and the changes that have occurred since the 1990s. Using a cultural studies approach, we look at the creation of a female-centered and thematically feminist film culture in terms of the structural and ideological shifts in Israeli society. Author Harris places these changes in dialogue with the cinematic history that preceded them and the ongoing social inequalities that keep women marginalized within Israeli society.

While no one can deny Israel’s Western women’s advancements, feminist filmmakers look at Israel’s less impressive underbelly as sources for their inspiration. These films have focused on sexism, the negative impact of militarism on women’s experience, rape culture, prostitution, and sexual abuse. These films also tend to include subjects from society’s geographical periphery and social margins, such as female foreign workers, women, and refugees. The book is divided into three major sections and each considers a different form of feminist engagement.

The first part explores films that situate women in traditionally male spheres of militarism and consider the impact of interjecting women within hegemonic spaces or reconceptualizing them in feminist ways. The second part recovers the narratives of women’s experience that were previously marginalized or silenced, thereby creating a distinct female space that offers new kinds of storytelling and cinematic aesthetics that are a reflection of feminist expressions of identity.

The third part offers examples of feminist activism that reach beyond the boundaries of the film and comment on social issues. Here we see how feminists use film (and work within the film industry) in order to position women in society. Of course, there are thematic overlaps between the chapters, each section marks structural differences in the views of feminist response.

We see the ways social and political power have affected the representation of women and how feminist filmmakers have fought against these inequities behind the camera and in the stories they tell.

Rachel Harris’s focus in our on the shifting representation of women in Israeli cinema post-1990. This is an academic study and not for the general reader or filmgoer. Harris asks whether a director’s gender necessarily determines the politics of a film, whether women’s stories are necessarily feminist ones, which women’s stories are represented on-screen, and how some depictions of sexual violence intended to critique rape culture are actually complicit with it. Harris provides an act of resistance to those who think that feminism can only position itself in opposition to all things Israeli.

She points out, early on, that while Hollywood in the U.S. had a women’s melodramatic film tradition to call upon, there was no such tradition in Israel. From the beginning of Israeli cinema, women were depicted on-screen as military and pioneering support staff. Their bodies were metaphors for the land and their sacrifices were for the nation. The war widow was a prominent figure, and Israeli film shows that the Zionist narrative of gender egalitarianism was really not sustained. As more leftist critiques of Israeli militarism became part of cinema, the possibility for raising feminist questions in war-related films developed. Changing modes of warfare also impacted cinema.

Harris also looks at the increasingly diverse representations of women in Israeli cinema. While religious women tended to be stereotypically viewed from a secular vantage point, including a fetishizing of their sexual oppression, now films such as “Ushpizin” (2004) and “Fill the Void” (2012) show the struggles of religious women from an insider’s perspective. Harris acknowledges that these films are sanctioned by religious authorities who define their feminist limits within the world of Orthodoxy.

For Jewish feminists interested in the intersections of film, feminism, and Israeli culture, this study asks valuable questions and gives valuable insights. It also provides a watch list and most of the films mentioned here can be streamed either through Amazon or the Israeli Film Center.

“Picasso and the Painting That Shocked the World” by Miles J. Ungar— How Picasso Became Picasso

Ungar, Miles J. “Picasso and the Painting That Shocked the World”, Simon and Schuster, 2018.

How Picasso Became Picasso

Amos Lassen

Miles J. Ungar’s “Picasso and the Painting That Shocked the World” is the story of how an obscure young painter from Barcelona came to Paris and made himself into the most influential artist of the twentieth century. In other words, this is the story of how Picasso became Picasso.

Let me get a bit personal here. Those of us who grew up in the ‘60s certainly knew the name of Picasso and certainly there were those who had seen paintings and prints but for most of us Picasso became a symbol of a period. I read about him but really never appreciated Picasso until I took an interdisciplinary graduate course on Cubism. I was very lucky to have Dr. Rima Drell Reck as my professor and she remains one of the most brilliant people I have ever met. She opened my eyes to Picasso and the effect he had on the modern world.

In 1900, an eighteen-year-old Spaniard named Pablo Picasso came to Paris for the first time. Paris was the capital of the international art world that and it was magical for Picasso. After having suffered suffering years of poverty and neglect, he emerged as the leader of a bohemian group of painters, sculptors, and poets. These artists were fueled by opium and alcohol and inspired by their own late-night conversations with each other. Picasso and his friends had resolved to shake up the world.

For many of his early Paris years, Picasso lived and worked in a squalid tenement known as the Bateau Lavoir, in the heart of Montmartre. It was here that he met his first true love, Fernande Olivier, a muse whom he would transform in his art from Symbolist goddess to Cubist monster. These early years were not easy but later Picasso looked back on them as the happiest of his long life.

Fame and recognition came slowly to Picasso. It actually began in the avant-garde circles in which he traveled, and then among a small group of collectors, including the Americans Leo and Gertrude Stein. In 1906, Picasso began “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” and it was become one of his great masterpieces. His inspiration came from the paintings of Paul Cézanne and African and tribal sculpture. In “Les Demoiselles”, Picasso captured and defined the disorienting experience of modernity itself. The painting was so shocking that several of his friends thought he’d gone mad. Only his colleague George Braque understood what Picasso was trying to do. Over the next few years they teamed up to create Cubism, the most revolutionary and influential movement in twentieth-century art.

Picasso’s story is the story of an artistic genius with a creative gift and it is a story “filled with heartbreak and triumph, despair and delirium, all of it played out against the backdrop of the world’s most captivating city”. He ushered in the birth of modernism a century ago and it was a great moment of creative disruption including Einstein’s physics, Stravinsky’s music, and the writings of Joyce and Proust and these was “Les Demoiselles”, a painting with lasting impact in today’s art world.

“Tomorrow Will Be Different: Love, Loss, and the Fight for Trans Equality” by Sarah McBride— Identity and Equality

McBride, Sarah. “Tomorrow Will Be Different: Love, Loss, and the Fight for Trans Equality”, Crown Archetype, 2018.

Identity and Equality

Amos Lassen

Sarah McBride is the first transgender person to speak at a national political convention and she did so in 2016 at the age of twenty-six. She had struggled with the decision to come out and not just to her family but also to the students of American University, where she was serving as student body president. She had known she was a girl from her earliest memories, but it wasn’t until her Facebook post announcing the truth went viral that she then understood realized just how much impact her story could have on the United States.

Now, four years later, McBride is one of the nation’s most prominent transgender activists. She advocates inclusive legislation, and addressed the country in the midst of a heated presidential election. She has also found her first love and future husband, Andy, a trans man and fellow activist, who complemented her in every way but that’s another story. . . . or is it?

I was filled with emotion as I read and I realized that McBride is the kind of hero that the trans community needs. Her story is one of love and loss and what it means to be transgender.

“Tomorrow Will Be Different” is McBride’s story of love and loss and a powerful entry point into the LGBTQ community’s battle for equal rights.  Important political and cultural milestones are also part of McBride’s personal journey into a personal journey and she reminds us that: “We must never be a country that says there’s only one way to love, only one way to look, and only one way to live.” We must agree that even with all of the freedoms that the LGBT community has achieved that the fight for equality and freedom has only just begun (especially when we see who is running this country today).

The story is touching yet it also makes us think and there were times that my eyes filled with tears. Only those who have been born into the wrong body can possibly understand what a trans person has to deal with and this book really knocked it out. In the lest few years, McBride has experienced enough for several lifetimes and she shares both the highs and the lows with us. This book is more than a memoir, it is also a thoughtful analysis of contemporary political issues including bathroom access and trans health care.” It is a brave and moving story that will inspire and galvanize readers to fight for LGBTQ rights. McBride defines what is at stake, and how we can do better.

McBride deftly balances her life story with revolutionary fervor. With a leader like her, we can believe that it indeed tomorrow will be different for not just the LGBT community but for everyone.

“Absurdimals: Lola Goes to School” by Gewndolyn Javor— Celebrating Difference

Javor, Gwendolyn. “Absurdimals: Lola Goes to School”,  illustrated by Melissa Spears, CreateSpace, 2017.

Celebrating Difference

Amos Lassen

The Absurdimals are hybrid animals that change our perception of what is thought to be “normal”. In the absurdimals, we see how society is constantly changing and that we must encourage children to embrace individuality.

Lola the Belephant goes to school for the first time and finds out she’s not quite the same as the other animals. After feeling like an outsider, Lola learns that there is no such thing as being different even though she is half bunny and half elephant.

Before Lola goes to school and meets others, Lola loves herself and her unique traits but soon the “normal” elephants make fun of her and start to bully her. Her school principal tells her to love herself first, that Lola realizes love is what holds us together. The story looks at issues that play important roles children’s lives and it gives a sense of hope and understanding that is wonderful. This is also an excellent way for parents o begin explaining what diversity means.

Today children struggle with many issues including skin color, chronic illness, special learning needs or something else, and the effect of these make can child feel different. It is interesting that I am sure we had the same issues when I was a kid but they were spoken of. We struggled silently back then.

Gwendolyn Javor is a lawyer by trade and she is a is a humanitarian whose self-appointed job is to finding ways to show how acceptance can be found and found with love. It is her goal to let children become citizens of the world who appreciate and respect one another and where differences are not important. What is important is loving ourselves and others. Hence she developed the Absurdimals and uses humor, thought and creative characters in order for us to see how different everyone is.

Our first absurdimal is Lola who is happy with her self until she goes to school and discovers that other students did nit know how to deal with someone who was so different. She tries to join a group of elephants but they excluded her because she was not an elephant and they even made fun of her. She tried to explain that she was half elephant but they laughed at her because she was an absurdimal! This really upset and frightened her and she went to talk to her school’s principal, Mr. Hooves, a moose who her that animals can play together even if they are not alike and they can become best friends. Principal Hooves explains that the key is understanding that ’absurd’ is what animals say about things that are new, different, and not understood. ‘Furthermore he tells Lola that basically we are all alike and share much in common but Lola is upset being called an ‘absurdimal’, Her principal comforts her and tells her that is a new different and that others will love her when she loves herself. In class the next day, Lola tells everyone that she is an absurdimal and loves it. Another “different” animals then spoke up and it seem they all want to be absurdimals.

I love the idea behind the book and the author carries it put so well plus it has great illustrations by Melissa Spears. It is wonderful that we can celebrate diversity here in this country. Gwendolyn Javor sees that children are basically good and that they have the power to change what is not good. Children can be taught to understand and celebrate diversity and this gives us hope for a better future.

Here is a lovely excerpt from the book.

 Lola was no ordinary animal. Half bunny, half elephant, she was what could best be described as: a BELEPHANT.

No one else could hop after butterflies while watering flowers!

 Yes, Lola was quite different and she’d soon find that out…

 So, the ABSURDIMAL found her place…away from the real animals!

 There’s no too different…there’s only NEW-DIFFERENT!

 But no matter what type of different, there’s love in all of us. That’s what connects us!

 Love yourself, and the other animals will too.

 I’m proud that I’m an ABSURDIMAL, because I’m proud to be a BELEPHANT!

 If being an ABSURDIMAL means you can be what you want, we ALL want to beABSURDIMALS too!

 Lola looked around. Instead of a room full of different animals, all she saw was a room full of love.


“HARD PAINT”— Finding Acceptance

“Hard Paint” (“Tinta Bruta”)

Finding Acceptance

Amos Lassen

“Hard Paint” takes us into the double life of Pedro (Shico Menegat). During the day he’s an awkward, disconcertingly withdrawn young gay man; by night, he is a sexually provocative webcam performer whose trademark is slathering himself in fluorescent body paint This is why he uses the handle NeonBoy. Pedro’s position in life is precarious. His career in porn is a result of a lack of job prospects in his home city of Porto Alegre. We learn that he’s been bullied to the breaking point in the past and there are legal complications that do not make his future look bright.

The filmmakers Felipe Matzembacher and Marco Reolon show Pedro’s online exploits are the result his not having a supportive queer community for him to become a part of. Online, at least, he can make connections with other gay men from the relative safety of his home, under the protective gaze of his older sister Luiza (Guega Peixoto). Pedro’s strong desire to preserve his online brand ultimately sends him down a path towards romance with rival performer Leo (Bruno Fernandes).

This is a character study that is empathetic and emotionally engaging, but unflinching and unsentimental. It is also very erotic and often exposes the essence of its characters through arresting explicit imagery. Pedro and Leo’s first sexual encounter is a compellingly and ambiguous dance in which the pair try to use their authority over one another despite mutual desire. The film is entertainingly unpredictable. Quite basically, this is a bittersweet story about finding connection in a cold, hostile world.

Life is one suffocating event after another for Pedro He has been bullied, abused and marginalized from an early age and has only been able to be himself during his impromptu video chat streams, where he ingeniously carries out an entire ritual of arousal and sexual exhilaration. His relief comes from the thickness and spunk of hard paint that he devotedly uses as a comfort blanket to perform. Unlike his day-to-day self, which is perceived by others as anti-social, lifeless and strange, his online persona is daring, glowing and completely uninhibited. As Neon Boy, Pedro ceases to be the self-conscious, hermitlike kid and he transforms into a fierce and flawlessly sensual lover who does not shun his identity and does not shy away from expressing his fantasies.

“Hard Paint” looks at the important topics of social exclusion, suicide, loneliness, abandonment and abuse. We get a genuine and painstakingly accurate account of feeling alienated from society and desperately trying to grasp at life’s “normal aspects” in order to not disappear. Pedro rarely leaves his apartment, he has not experienced the meaning of love and connection beyond artificial desire and he has no close friends to confide in about his growing unease with himself and his past. When another chat room performer named Boy25 steals his idea of incorporating neon paint in his streams, Pedro is then forced to relinquish the comfort of his sheltering home.

Pedro’s rival is Leo (Bruno Fernandes), a charming professional dancer and similarly wounded young man who’s troubled past could never be fully reconciled. With great hopes, Leo uses his website to earn enough money to pursue a career in dancing. He plans to move to Buenos Aires, eventually earn a scholarship and leave his suffocating environment. Pedro is touched by Leo’s story and frankness and allows himself to become vulnerable for the first time. Their ensuing webcam double act becomes very popular but it is only a small part of their sweet off-screen relationship. Fernandes and Menegat give heartwarming and their chemistry fuels the entire film.

At the end, we watch Pedro gracefully unleash his body in a dance of unrestricted acceptance and self-compassion. The film is all about embracing your sexuality and being comfortable in your own skin. The plot is straightforward, its performances sublime, and it is an honest representation of being LGBTQ in today’s world.

“IN THE LAST DAYS OF THE CITY” (“Akher Ayam El Medina”)— Before the 2011 Revolution,  A film by Tamer El Said

“IN THE LAST DAYS OF THE CITY” (“Akher Ayam El Medina”)

Before the 2011 Revolution — A film by Tamer El Said

Amos Lassen

Tamer El Said’s “In the Last Days of the City”) (آخر أيام المدينة , Akher Ayam El Madina) was filmed during the hectic sociopolitical climate just before the Egyptian Revolution of 2011. In effect this film is an elegiac, self-reflexive tribute to the country’s historical capital city of Cairo and its fading grandeur. We see a collage of impressions and emotions and the documentary footage of the various ideological clashes taking place on the streets of the city are fascinating in that we see the sadness and memories etched on the faces of many of the characters, We get a string sense of despair and loss in the film-within-the-film. They help him communicate a sense of loss and despair.

The protagonist (British-Egyptian actor Khalid Abdalla) is an impassive type who struggles to capture the pulse of the metropolis at a precarious moment in its evolution as he himself is dealing with his own personal issues. while battling many personal issues. El Said has filmed some 250 hours of material between 2008 and 2010. The passage of time filled with events since the revolution allows him to take a more critical stance toward his own work while giving the film a sense of melancholy and nostalgia.

The film is a haunting, lyrical chronicle of recent years in the Arab world where revolutions seemed to spark hope for change but actually create further instability. Khalid Abdalla is a filmmaker in Cairo attempting to capture the zeitgeist of his city as the world changes around him including his own changes from personal love and loss to the fall of the Mubarak regime. His friends send footage and stories from Berlin, Baghdad, and Beirut, creating a powerful, multilayered meditation on the meaning of homeland. The film’s multi-layered stories are a visually rich exploration of friendship, loneliness and life in cities shaped by the shadows of war and adversity.

Toward the end of the film, Khalid looks out of the window of his high-rise Cairo apartment and sees a man in a neighboring shantytown, roughing up a woman. Khalid grabs his camera, zooms in, and begins shooting; the subject immediately notices and begins yelling up to him. The divide between these two men is as much economic as it is physical, making for one of many moments wherein the film appears to be flaunting and bemoaning its own vantage point.

Khalid’s sense of detachment is like a privileged form of paralysis; wherever he goes, he finds material for an autobiographical documentary project, including interviews with his dying mother and telltale pieces of an ex-girlfriend (Laila Samy). We see Khalid’s endeavor as an incomplete flux, with ample scenes of him looking into the Final Cut Pro abyss on his laptop. Looking at a metropolis like Cairo from an first-person perspective, the film interrogates middle-class privilege in a time of crisis as a series of either-ors: leaving for Europe or staying in Cairo, hiding at home or protesting in the streets, filming blindly or seeking retrenchment. Cairo’s civil unrest steadily is always in the field of vision. We see protesters accusing then-President Hosni Mubarak of selling the country’s gas to Israel, yet a radio commentary     speaks about Egypt’s continued dominance of the Africa Cup (perhaps a sly metaphor for Mubarak’s unchallenged three decades in power).

Khalid obsesses over his failed romance with Laila while wondering whether he even belongs in Cairo anymore. When he checks-ins with some filmmaker friends from Beirut and Baghdad, his listless perspective changes a bit— it foreshadows that even a city as storied as Cairo could—and, in fact, did—become something of a war zone. The real-life Khalid Abdalla put his acting career on hold to participate in the Tahrir Square uprising that saw Mubarak’s ouster, only to be outflanked by Egypt’s U.S.-backed military in a 2013 coup d’etat that saw mass retribution against Muslim Brotherhood members and (eventually) stabilized the country’s lopsided, export-heavy economy. The film shows historical hindsight and free association.

To put it plainly, the film is a moody, disturbing and poetic tale about a filmmaker in Cairo documenting the capital before the revolution. Emotions are quite raw here and the city is complex. It is, at times, difficult to watch— there is no restraint in depicting the states of feeling caused by the harsh realities of lives ravaged by perpetual wars. It is the cinematography that is key here: the collage of images of cityscapes and people interviewed by filmmaker Khalid that I mentioned earlier are intense. We see vignettes of human pain and contrasting values in the other cities that are crumbling around them. An interviewee tells about being kicked out her home of 60 years by developers, a friend from Baghdad describes how a child is taught to avoid stepping on corpses in the streets.

Because the film seems slightly disjointed and even incoherent at times, reality is intensified and we see that to live in such an environment could create a disorientation of thoughts and sensations. Turmoil seems everywhere because of incongruous westernization, military tyranny and a growing fundamentalist Islamic presence. There are ominous signs of future changes with protesters shouting “Islam is coming”, increasing images of street prayers and sounds of religious chanting. Here is a heartbreaking ode to Cairo and other beloved towns in the region and it is filled with enormous affection, wistful longing, anguish and regret: “The city is alive. We live in Cairo. It’s a siren.”

“The Last Days of the City” opens in NYC on April 27 and in Los Angeles on May 4th.