The idea came to me in Iceland. I could tell you it was the countless waterfalls, geysers and conquering sense of nature that inspired me. But it wasn’t.
In my hotel room one night during our coach trip, I watched Julie and Julia. Meryl Streep stars as Julia Child, starting her professional cooking career in 1950s Paris. Intertwined is the story of Julie Powell (played by Amy Adams), the noughties New Yorker cooking and blogging her way through Child’s first cookbook in just one year. You’ll have to watch it yourself to find out what happens (and let me know, as I fell asleep before the end).
Since half-watching the true story film, I’ve been sleeping on my own cooking blog challenge. Almost two years later, I’m finally ready to just get on with it. I’m going to review every Walt Disney Animation Studios feature film (the ‘Disney Classics’ in order from Snow White to Moana) and bake something to go along with it. Sometimes it’ll be my own recipe, other times something I’ve never baked before.
Photo by Liz Ewbank, 2011. https://incandescentart.wordpress.com/
This Disney and Bakes series will be posted on the first Wednesday of each month. Please do share your thoughts on the films and food. As the project goes on, they’ll be guest reviewers and bakers too. Let me know if you’d like to be one of them, or a taste tester.
And it will go on. There’s 54 films to work through, so my one-a-month rate makes this is a four year project. You’ll have to wait two years to see what we bake for Beauty and the Beast and until 2021 for Frozen. I’m definitely a Disney fan: my nephew knows my best friends (apart from him) are Mickey Mouse and Tigger. But I’ve never watched every film and I’m excited to track and taste my way through film history.
My first post will be Snow White this Wednesday, 1st March. Get your apples at the ready, preferably not the poisoned ones.
Who was surprised? #45 has started rolling back transgender protection. President Obama had introduced guidelines only in May stating transgender students can use toilets and changing rooms that match their chosen, not birth, gender identity in their school. By revoking these guidelines, it’s now up to individual stats and schools to decide, creating a postcode lottery of protection.
This is the first act made by the White House against the LGBTQ communities and strengthens states like Texas and their proposed transphobic laws despite clear evidence of the economic ruin it will cause. Caitlyn Jenner, the vocal transgender Republican supporter was surprised that #45 broke his flimsy promise to the LGBTQ community. Inclusion isn’t just important, it is life saving, as shown by a decrease in young suicide attempts since same-sex marriage was legalised.
In the middle of the month, the Church of England’s governing body met. It’s made up of Bishops (senior church leaders), Vicars (local church leaders) and laity (church members). They narrowly decided not to take note of a report by the Bishops on sexuality which maintained ‘the church must stand against homophobia’, but cannot bless same sex relationships, let alone marriage. The vote sent a clear message that the report does not go far enough and church leaders have already said what they’ll do next to bring a ‘radical inclusion’ into the church.
Unity of the Church of England and global anglican communion is exceptionally important to its leaders. To those outside the church, it must look like letting homophobes block progress and prove the church is irrelevant. Whether the Church of England introduces same sex marriage in the next few decades (it won’t be quick) matters because
Some young people still go to church. They need to hear about inclusion.
Churches are pretty buildings that same sex couples may want to get married in
Many local churches run foodbanks, homeless shelters, coffee mornings. They are physical spaces at the centre of the community. What they say, and if they stay open can again be life or death.
You can watch the whole two hour debate on BBC iPlayer, which included this speech from young activist Lucy Gorman.
Don’t read Camilla Long’s review of Moonlight for The Sunday Times (it’s behind a paywall so you probably can’t anyway). I lost respect for her valid criticisms of the film for her sheer ignorance claiming the story of a young gay black man in Miami ‘has been told countless times, against countless backdrops.’ Instead, read Josh Lee’s article on the Oscar-worthy (soon to be Oscar-winning) film reflecting his own identity.
Last night I went to my first LGBTQ-anything in Southend-on-Sea, the hometown I’ve lived in for 27 year. Local performance and community artist Scottee brought queer voices together round a takeaway to discuss ‘Is Southend Homophobic?’ I was reminded that change and visibility happens when people come together and make it happen. That’s why Manchester is planning the UK’s first LGBT retirement home, why Greg Owen has saved lives with a dramatic drop in new HIV infections and why UK Black Pride started (with it turns out a trip to Southend). We didn’t achieve any of that last night, but as our town’s voices and organisations join together, let’s see what happens.
Rent is a very special musical to me. Its pretty-faithful-but-flat adaptation is the last film I watched with my Dad, on the weekend back in 2008 when my Grandma died. Standout songs including Without You stayed with me. Only now watching the UK 20th anniversary tour did the whole show, not just the songs, make sense and make an impact on me.
If all you know is the omnipresent Seasons of Love, you’re in for a shock. Based on the opera La bohème, Rent is an angry story of protest, resistance and survival that seems relevant in 2017 (I know ‘relevant in 2017’ is already a clichéd phrase). A slightly irritating group of artists struggle in 1990s New York as they face up to poverty, sex, drugs and HIV/Aids. Mark lives for his work as a filmmaker, while Roger is trying to write one last great rock song. There’s also Mark’s ex Maureen who’s now dating lawyer Joanne, drug addict neighbour Mimi and gentrification personified in landlord Benny.
It’s an intimate, human musical which offers profound thoughts on individuality, relationships, compassion and dignity. The fluid staging and exceptional choreography propels you through a marathon first half all set on one Christmas Eve, before the plot fast forwards for Act Two. Drag queen drummer Angel and her new boyfriend Collins stand out as the only truly likeable (and implausibly perfect) characters, with wonderful vocals, dancing and a tender love that will make you cry. This is a production of Rent that gives the late Jonathan Larson’s poignant and surprisingly timeless work the staging it and UK audiences deserve. Definitely worth a trip to see at a theatre near or not so near you.
I’m still not sure on my verdict on Moonlight, the much publicised film painted as the only real contender to La La Land at next week’s Oscars. Certainly the low budget and tight production time – only three days to shoot with Naomie Harris, actors who’ve not yet met speaking for the first time on screen – make the film more impressive, along with the autobiographical meshing from director Barry Jenkins and playwright Tarell McCraney. But films are judged on what we see, not how they were made. Today Mark Kermode in the Observer named it his film of 2017, while Camilla Long for The Sunday Times found the hype that calls it relevant and urgent flawed ‘because Moonlight barely has 10 minutes of plot’. My amateur film buff friends are equally divided on their verdicts. Some found it brilliant, others utterly boring.
The film shows the life of Chiron in the projects (social housing) of Miami as a seven year old black boy, a teenager and a 20-something adult. His life has plenty of plot and characters to go with it, including a heroin addict mother, a drug dealer that mentors him like a father and Kevin, a friend that he has sex with. In each of the three acts (with three physically different actors, but you never doubt they’re one character) there’s powerful moments transformation and vulnerability. It’s all scored and shot beautifully, with what’s unsaid often speaking more than the dialogue. Moonlight is a snapshot of black, gay and masculine identities painfully colliding together. It wasn’t made for it’s own hype to win Oscars. The inescapable sense of worthiness that comes with it is sincere not snobbish.
Some moments gave me flashbacks to my own experiences growing up, as I’m sure it will for most of the audience. That’s not to reduce Moonlight to universality. The wide reach and critical acclaim unquestionably makes it a ground-breaking film on black and gay identities that (as my friend Sarah has already said in her review) is so personal, you cannot escape a commonality to some part of it. I wasn’t bored or compelled watching. I was intrigued, hopeful but frustrated by Chiron and what his upbringing forced him to be. It’s not the best film I’ve seen this year (that’s probably between Manchester by the Sea and A Monster Calls for now) yet I know I’ll watch it again and feel something I missed on the first watch. Ignore the hype and go see it for yourself. I didn’t, which as usual set my anticipation impossibly high.
30 years ago yesterday (February 11th) Mark Ashton died. Founding member of Lesbian and Gays Support the Miners, and real-life hero of 2014 film Pride had been diagnosed with HIV/Aids just twelve days earlier.
It’s poignant to mark the anniversary in 2017 when there’s a genuine and growing sense of the kind of protest and solidarity that Mark led in the 1980s. And especially so in February, LGBT History Month, which started with news items that definitely show progress (progress, not perfection). The Turing Pardon came into effect and new HIV infections across England have decreased by a third in one year.
Stigma not sexuality affects your mental health
Three new reports highlight the unsurprisingly links between LGBTQ identities and mental health:
An Australian study makes it clear poor mental health doesn’t come from your sexuality, but probably the stigma and sexual trauma of growing up gay in a heteronormative world.
It’s even worse for LGBTQ people brought up religious, who are 12 times more likely to experience poor mental health.
What’s the solutions? Good support networks, GPs trained on inclusion and the end of institutionalised homophobia in the church. Expect this week’s Church of England General Synod to be all talk and no action on that one.
Transgender author Juno Dawson has been on a schools tour promoting her new young adult novel Margot and Me. At the start of the week, one parent was angry her 12 year old daughter came home with This Book is Gay. And unrelated on Friday, Buzzfeed News revealed Juno’s visit to a Catholic school had been cancelled in a transphobic shun. So that’s another two reasons to support #SREnow.
I’ll say it again: Young LGBTQ people: you deserve Sex Ed too and there is nothing inappropriate about it.
If you need a burst of internet-style hugs, look at two hashtags that didn’t mess around. #احب_المثليين_ولست_منهم (‘I’m straight and I love gays’) showed a remarkable display of rainbow solidarity from Saudi Arabia, while #BlackGaysSlay started by Mikey in Detroit is equally as empowering to scroll through.
Same-sex marriage is back on Australia’s political agenda. This week, its Parliament heard any bill legalising same sex marriage would ‘destroy the whole human race’. Enter reality TV show Bride and Prejudice. Chris invited his devout Jehovah’s Witness parents to his wedding (in Florida, where it’s legal), telling them ‘you can choose all of me, or you can choose none of me.’
The 1990s continue to be good for Disney. Aladdin and The Lion King are still London’s biggest stage spectacles, while hype around next month’s Beauty and the Beast remake is already making us revisit a tale as old as our childhoods, if not quite as old as time. Before then another 90s Disney story is back in cinemas, but you’ve probably not heard it before.
Newsies was a 1992 Razzie-winning musical film flop featuring a young Christian Bale. Through video and DVD releases, it slowly grew a cult following that convinced Disney to take it to the stage. Originally intended for a limited run, the show with a rewritten plot and additional songs stayed on Broadway for three years and won two Tony awards. On Sunday 19th February, Newsies: The Broadway Musical is in UK cinemas and earlier this week I joined some of the ‘fansies’ for a preview. Here’s five reasons why you might want to get your tickets and watch what happens.
It’s a story about protest and who controls the media
Very loosely based on the Newsboys’ Strike of 1899, Newsies pits the teenagers selling papers on street corners against Joseph Pulitizer, owner of The World. With the help of budding reporter Katherine, they form a union and strike. The plot left me with gentle and clear messages about leadership, building coalitions and social justice. It’s not as radical or angry as Rent, another NYC protest musical, but is just as rousing and timely a story for 2017.
Jeremy Jordan is stunning
Known for TV roles in Smash and Supergirl, Jeremy Jordan puts his good looks and swagger to great use playing Jack Kelly. He gives an easy, at some points emotional performance as the conflicted Newsies leader who wants to escape the downtrodden city life. Santa Fe especially shows off his natural musical theatre vocals and beautiful face with plenty of close-ups to appreciate. Steve Blanchard also makes his mark in the show as the calculated Joseph Pulitzer.
Jeremy Jordan as Jack Kelly
There’s tough guys in vests doing backflips and tap
The three-dozen male ensemble supporting Jeremy Jordan left me unexpectedly thirsty for a Wednesday morning. Christopher Gattelli’s award-winning choreography, full of blackflips, spins, leaps and a tap number perfectly matches Alan Menken’s music and Jack Feldman’s playful lyrics. While there’s no stand-out songs on first listen, I was humming the tunes on my way home and remembering the sheer joy of those dance breaks. Now I’ve got the soundtrack firmly on repeat.
It’s all filmed very well
This specially-recorded performance succeeds at placing you in the theatre as much as it can and never falls flat. In the odd moment the live theatre audience sounded like a forced laughter track, but one I was mostly laughing along with. The camera angles make you look up as if you’re there and sweeps through the stage at all the right moments, while the fight scene is cut together well to put you in middle of the action. Don’t think this is a quick or lazy recording. Disney wants everyone to experience the musical, and that’s how they’ve shot it.
It’s Disney, of course it’s a bit predictable
Yes, there’s a romance sub-plot I could do without including a boy, a girl and an Alan Menken love duet. By the end of Act One, I could see the ending coming but not how we’d get there. I cared about the characters and wanted to come back to watch more.
And ultimately, that’s why you should go see Newsies. Its exceptionally high production values brings a bit of Disney Broadway predictability, comfort and fun to your local cinema. Book your tickets and enjoy. You can watch Songs of Praise on catch-up. What else would you do on a Sunday afternoon?
Newsies: The Broadway Musical is in selected UK cinemas on Sunday 19th February, and various dates internationally. Check www.newsiesthemusical.com to find out where it’s screening near you and book tickets.
Next on My Gay Agenda is Rent, Wicked and Moonlight.