Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Reverend's Reviews: Love & Denial

As Saturday Night Live's self-help guru Stuart Smalley (played by now-Senator Al Franken) regularly declared back in the 1990's, "Denial ain't just a river in Egypt." It didn't matter whether he was addressing addiction, codependency, emotional inadequacy or sexuality, Stuart called his celebrity guests on their dirty little secrets.

Two new DVD releases out today, Kawa(Wolfe Video) and This is What Love in Action Looks Like(TLA Releasing), effectively illustrate the life-sapping power denial has when it comes to homosexuality. The first, which is also available via download and Video on Demand, is a visually-stunning family saga set in seaside New Zealand. Billed as "a coming out drama," it depicts the title character's struggle to keep his attraction to men a secret from his wife, children, co-workers and father, whom Kawa is destined to succeed as leader of the local Maori community.

Straight New Zealand superstar Calvin Tuteao (Once Were Warriors) imbues Kawa with a sense of nobility and yearning integrity that makes his dilemma that much more palpable, especially when he falls for a handsome actor. Of interest, Kawa was made primarily by women, notably writer-director Katie Wolfe (adapting a novel by Witi Ihimaera, who also wrote the movie-inspiring Whale Rider). Wolfe balances well the film's other characters and the impact Kawa's denial has on them, especially given its slender running time of 77 minutes. Also of note is the movie's moody, sensual music score. And though the plot may seem somewhat dated to us somewhat more open "westerners," there are still many men and women around the world who will no doubt identify with Kawa's plight.


This is What Love in Action Looks Like, meanwhile, is a documentary by activist-filmmaker Morgan Jon Fox that exposes the reprehensible tactics used by organizations and facilities that claim to be able to cure homosexuality. When 16-year old Zack Stark told his parents he was gay in 2005, he quickly found himself sent to Refuge, a fundamentalist-Christian youth program based in Raleigh, North Carolina. Before going, though, Stark blogged about the program's anti-gay agenda which espoused, among other untruths, "A homosexual lifestyle leads to an early death." A nationwide protest ensued, which was covered at the time by CNN, Good Morning America and many other outlets. As a result of the controversy, Refuge was thankfully shut down in 2009.

Unfortunately, the ministry that ran Refuge, Love in Action (LIA), remains in operation. Founded in 1973 -- the same year that homosexuality was removed as a mental disorder by the American Psychological Association -- LIA and its larger "parent organization," Exodus International, continue to try to convince GLBT people that our sexual orientation can be changed, despite few if any of their past clients acknowledging success in this effort. LIA's former director, the Rev. John Smid, ultimately disavowed the ministry he led for 18 years and allowed himself to be interviewed extensively for this film.

More than a few commentators, several of them former LIA clients, in This is What Love in Action Looks Like reference the comedy But I'm a Cheerleader in their description of Refuge. As Stark and now Fox reveal, though, such programs are no laughing matter. The documentary moves along briskly and subsequently doesn't allow for much nuance, but its potency can't be denied.

Reverend's Ratings:
Kawa: B+
This is What Love in Action Looks Like: B

Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Rage Monthly Magazine.

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