Friday, July 18, 2008

Reverend's Report from Outfest: Gay Muslims & Porn Stars

In the tradition of Trembling Before G-d and For the Bible Tells Me So, which have screened at Outfests past, comes this year's documentary centerpiece of the festival, A Jihad for Love. Those earlier films explored, respectively, Jewish and Christian attitudes toward homosexuality. A Jihad for Love, produced by Sandi DuBowski (who made Trembling Before G-d) and directed by Parvez Sharma, turns the lens on the experiences of GLBT Muslims.

What the film reveals is by turns disturbing, encouraging, horrifying and hopeful. Some Muslim leaders and predominantly-Muslim countries speak unapologetically of their desire to behead, burn, hang or otherwise execute gay men and lesbian women in their midst. They cite a small number of passages in the Qur'an (or Koran) as authorizing such punishment for homosexual behavior. A Jihad for Love partly focuses on the effort of four gay citizens of one hostile country, Iran, to immigrate to Canada.

However, the documentary reveals that other Muslim leaders and countries are more tolerant. They appreciate the spiritual struggle, or jihad, that virtually all GLBT people undergo in reconciling their personhood with their faith. Just as not all Christian or Jewish communities condemn GLBT people, and some openly welcome them, neither do all adherents of Islam.

Watching the powerful A Jihad for Love as a gay American, I couldn't help but be thankful for the considerable acceptance we've found and advances toward equality that have been made in the US as opposed to many other nations, Muslim or otherwise. Globally, we still have a long way to go.

Turning from the sacred to the profane, Outfest also premiered Wrangler: Anatomy of an Icon, about 1970's gay porn icon Jack Wrangler. Born into a successful Hollywood family, Wrangler set out to become a legitimate actor. Both attractive and talented, he found himself in demand as a model, which soon led to modeling for gay publications, which then led to appearing in gay adult films. He subsequently became the most popular gay porn star of his time.

But Wrangler's success didn't end with gay porn. He was one of the few openly gay actors to cross over to straight porn and become equally popular. In time, he retired from adult films and became a sought-after theatre actor/director. Most surprisingly, he fell in love with and married a woman, singer Margaret Whiting. He did so without renouncing his homosexuality, which confused and angered more than a few of his fans.

Since Wrangler's film success was before my time, I wasn't familiar with him and so found Wrangler: Anatomy of an Icon fascinating as well as entertaining. Well-directed by Jeffrey Schwarz and featuring interviews with both Wrangler and his wife, the film re-enforces the truth that when it comes to sexuality, career success and, most significantly, love, there is little that is black and white.

Watch the trailers here: A Jihand for Love and Wrangler: Anatomy of an Icon.

UPDATE: A Jihad for Loveand Wrangler: Anatomy of an Iconare now available on DVD from

See NSFW pictures of Jack Wrangler in The Back Room.

Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Orange County and Long Beach Blade.

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