Out Run. Directed by S. Leo Chiang and Johnny Symons. Blooming Grove, NY: New Day Films, 2016. 75 minutes.

The Year We Thought about Love. Directed by Ellen Brodsky. Blooming Grove, NY: New Day Films, 2015. 68 minutes.

Reviewed by Helen Hok-Sze Leung

Out Run and The Year We Thought about Love tackle subject matters that seem to be worlds apart: a national political campaign in the Philippines and a high school student theater production in Boston. These disparate settings, however, only serve to highlight the shared struggle of LGBTQ communities worldwide to agitate for rights, recognition, and inclusion. At the same time, the documentaries illustrate the diversity within LGBTQ communities and the limits of established sexual and gender categories to represent embodiments, desires, and identities that fall outside their parameters. Both films are adept at capturing the nuance of individual stories while foregrounding the protagonists’ solidarity networks. The films also shed light on the painstaking, day-to-day process of LGBTQ activism. Whether showing the intricacies of a political campaign or the artistry of a theater production, the films succeed in portraying the joys as well as the challenges of collective action.

Out Run documents the Ladlad (or the LGBT party) in its 2013 bid to elect members to the house of representatives in the Philippines. In this country, 20 percent of house representatives are elected through the “party-list” system, which provides minority communities with an opportunity to gain representation in the government. The film follows the candidates as they strategize, raise money, and canvas districts throughout the country. These workaday political journeys are punctuated by moving glimpses into the candidates’ family lives.

Out Run offers lessons in electoral politics that will strike a familiar chord with students in a North American classroom. We hear candid debates on how to work with mainstream parties whose support Ladlad needs, whether to compromise on controversial issue such as marriage equality, and how to handle unethical political opponents who use dirty tricks. Students will also be challenged on what they may take for granted, such as the very categories of LGBT. The films’ protagonists discuss, without definitive conclusions, whether it is politically effective to self-describe as LGBT or use the historically rich and more familiar local term bakla, which refers to embodiments and identities that do not exactly translate as gay or trans.1 This negotiation with the constraints imposed by globalized sexual and gender categories, vividly portrayed by the film, is very useful for illustrating some of the academic discussions about queer globalization. I would teach the film in queer cinema courses alongside other political documentaries such as Georgie Girl, which follows Georgina Beyer’s successful election in New Zealand as the first transgender politician to hold national office, or Ke Kulana he Mahu: Remembering a Sense of Place, which documents the queer activism of indigenous Hawai’ians and their negotiation with colonial language and history.2 This film could also be paired with examples of queer Filipino cinema, such as The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros, to sketch out the social-economic context of queer lives in the Philippines.3

The Year We Thought about Love follows the incubation, rehearsals, and performance of a production by True Colors, a Boston-based theater troupe for LGBTQ young people aged fourteen through seventeen. The film opens with a dramatic moment from the production: an on-stage same-sex kiss that sends its high school audience into squeamish titters. The film then takes us back to the production’s very beginning, when the troupe’s drama teacher, who is about to marry his husband, talks about how his family has never seen him and his fiancĂ© kiss. He urges his students to create a piece that will illuminate intimate aspects of queer lives for a mainstream audience. We follow the creative process of these impassioned young people while also catching glimpses into more personal aspects of their lives, such as expressions of sexual fluidity, nonbinary gender identification, and connections and frustrations with friends and family.

The film patiently guides us through the many steps of the production’s incubation: the young actors first take an experience from their lives, such as a quarrel with their parents or an awkward first date, to create skits that their fellow troupe members act out. Through improvisations and discussions during rehearsals, the skits are revised and transformed. The process allows the actors not only to represent each other’s experiences but also to take on the roles of antagonists such as an unsympathetic family member or an unrequited crush. The creative experience forges a bond amongst the actors as well as a connection with their potential audience, whose members may occupy roles that resemble those of the antagonists. As the film concludes with the actual performance and generous interactions between cast and audience members, it highlights the power of theater to overcome tension and produce moments of grace. The film clearly intends to be pedagogical material as its website provides educators with a toolkit with specific exercises and resources to use in the classroom.4 The film is especially suitable for introductory courses on gender and sexuality because many students could easily relate to the life experiences and everyday concerns of the young people featured in the film.

1 For discussions of, respectively, the history and contemporary circulation of the concept of bakla, see J. Neil C. Garcia, “Performativity, the Bakla and the Orientalizing Gaze,” Inter-Asia Cultural Studies 1, no. 2 (2000): 265-81; Martin Manalansan, Global Divas (Durham: Duke University Press, 2003), 21-44.

2 Georgie Girl, directed by Annie Goldson and Peter Wells (Aukland: Occasional Productions, 2001), 70 min; Ke Kulana He Mahu: Remembering a Sense of Place directed by Kathryn Xian and Brent Anbe (Honolulu: Zang Pictures, 2002), 67 min. For a review of Ke Kulana He Mahu, see issue 7.2 of Films for the Feminist Classroom.

3 The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros, directed by Auraeus Solito (Manila: UFO Pictures, 2005), 100 min.

4 Educators can link to the curriculum and other resources for teaching with The Year We Thought about Love at the film's “Resources” page.

Helen Hok-Sze Leung (helen_leung@sfu.ca) is a professor of gender, sexuality, and women’s studies at Simon Fraser University. She is the author of Undercurrents: Queer Culture and Postcolonial Hong Kong and Farewell My Concubine: A Queer Film Classic. She coedits the Hong Kong University Press Queer Asia book series and serves on the editorial boards of Journal of Chinese Cinemas and TSQ: Transgender Studies Quarterly.