‘Strange Fruit’ films, discussions continue this weekend at Speed Cinema


“Kiki,” a look at NYC’s underground ballroom scene, is screening this weekend at Speed Cinema. | Courtesy of IFCFilms

Two films showing this weekend at Speed Cinema offer an intimate look at the culture and history of people of color in the LGBTQ community that often is not fully reflected in the national conversation.

Kiki,” which documents New York’s LGBTQ underground ballroom dance scene, and “Jewel’s Catch One,” the history of a gay disco that became a cultural institution in Los Angeles, examine aspects of life in the gay community that ultimately became part of the broader national culture.

Both screenings will be accompanied by panel discussions facilitated by Jaison Gardner and Dr. Kaila Story, hosts of WFPL’s “Strange Fruit” podcast.

“These movies illustrate the creativity and resourcefulness of the community and how marginalized communities have reacted and pulled together to support themselves before or without the presence of  other structures,” says Story, a professor in the University of Louisville’s Department of Women and Gender Studies.

“Kiki,” directed by Sara Jordenö, revisits the NYC ballroom scene that broke out as a broader cultural phenomenon 25 years ago with the release of Jennie Livingston’s “Paris is Burning” and the popularization of the “voguing” dance craze.

Gardner notes the pageantry and glamour of the gay ballroom scene actually dates back to the 1920s, and “Kiki” — which both Story and Gardner describe as “joyous” — offers a fresh update on the scene from the perspective of gay youth of color.

“When people watch and enjoy entertainers like RuPaul, ‘Kiki’ gives them a sense of where that creative energy is coming from,” Gardner tells Insider.

The career of activist Jewel Thais-Williams is chronicled in “Jewel’s Catch One.” | Courtesy Dancing Pictures

C. Fitz’s “Jewel’s Catch One” chronicles the career of Jewel Thais-Williams, who for more than four decades operated the oldest black-owned disco in the United States. The club served as center for community activism and, during the AIDS crisis, served as a safe space and hub of support.

The film features numerous celebrity testimonials about the “unofficial Studio 54 of the West Coast,” but keeps its focus on Thais-Williams’ activism.

“There is a lot of important, unknown history covered in this film,” Story says.

Dean Otto, curator of film at the Speed, says he wanted to offer ongoing screenings and discussions moderated by the “Strange Fruit” hosts following similar programs for the films “Daughters of Dust,” “Moonlight” and “I Am Not Your Negro,” in which both Gardner and Story participated.

Otto says when he contacted them about scheduling more “Strange Fruit at the Speed” films, Gardner and Story both immediately suggested “Kiki,” and “Jewel’s Catch One” emerged as an obvious additional choice. “Kiki” and “Jewel’s,” both released in 2016, will be getting their first theatrical screening in Louisville this weekend, Otto notes.

Audiences at previous “Strange Fruit” screenings have been a diverse mix of people who are already engaged in the issues being addressed, film lovers and people who just want check out an event at the recently expanded museum.

Gardner and Story say the discussions following films vary based on the specific audience mix, but they have been consistently engaging. The discussions tend to last 30 to 45 minutes, but Gardner says he and Story also continue the conversion with specific audience members after the discussion closes.

“Kiki” screens Friday, April 28, at 7 p.m., and “Jewel’s Catch One” screens Sunday, April 30, at 3 p.m. Tickets are $7 for Speed members or $9 for the general public.