With the end of this challenging year in sight, we asked some friends of The Queer Review, including prominent creators, performers, artists, and activists to share the LGBTQ+ culture or events that sustained, stimulated, or inspired them in 2021. The eclectic list features two deserving mentions for a Spanish-language limited TV series that was released at the end of last year—also recommended twice in our 2020 LGBTQ+ Highlights article—that continues to be discovered and make an impact, while the welcome return of in-person film festivals and the reopening of queer spaces made an impression, and one contributor even looks forward to a film series that begins in the first week of 2022. We’d love to hear your thoughts, so please get in touch via social media using the hashtags #TheQueerReview2021 and #TheQueerReview on Twitter @TheQueerReview, Instagram @TheQueerReview, or Facebook with your reaction to these selections and to share your own 2021 LGBTQ+ highlights.
Actor. Filmmaker. Founder & Editor – The Queer Review.
It’s A Sin, created by Russell T Davies, HBO Max & Outfest’s 5th annual Trans & Non-binary summit
The year began with one of the most profound experiences I’ve ever had engaging with art in any medium, watching Russell T Davies’ 1980s London-set AIDS drama series It’s A Sin on HBO Max. With its impeccable writing, directing, and acting performances, I felt so emotionally connected to the characters that I even dreamed about them after watching the first three episodes. It felt authentic, honest, painful, and nuanced, but in a series inevitably about illness and death, it was so full of life, and joy, and sex—and perhaps most powerful of all—human connection and kindness. A week after first viewing the series I felt compelled to rewatch it, and was both heartbroken and healed all over again. Hugely impactful in the UK, I believe the series will be looked back upon as a watershed moment in helping to dismantle the 40-year-old stigma and ignorance that surrounds HIV/AIDS. It was encouraging to see the discussions it began, and a thrill to see queer artist Philip Normal’s It’s A Sin-inspired ‘La’ t-shirts raise over £500,000 (as of August 2021) for the UK’s leading HIV and sexual health charity, Terrence Higgins Trust. La! Read our exclusive It’s A Sin interviews with Russell T Davies, Omari Douglas, Nathaniel Curtis, and Lydia West, and our ★★★★★ review.
In August, I attended my first in-person film festival since the pandemic began, Outfest Los Angeles. Led by Outfest’s executive director Damien S. Navarro, the programmers, volunteers, and everyone involved with organizing the festival showed determination and resilience in staging the event, that included not just a fantastic lineup of shorts and features, but opportunities for the queer filmmaking community from LA and beyond to finally gather face-to-face, plus there were some uplifting live music performances from the likes of inaugural Drag Race winner BeBe Zahara Benet before a showing of Emily Branham’s Being BeBe, and a memorable reunion gig by rock band Fanny, following the screening of Bobbi Jo Hart’s Fanny: The Right To Rock at the iconic Orpheum Theatre. Having been sequestered for so long, starved of seeing queer work on the big screen, there was an incredibly warm, effusive atmosphere throughout, with each screening and Q&A feeling special.
The standout event during the ten-day festival was Outfest’s fifth annual Trans and Non-Binary Summit, centering trans, non-binary, intersex, and gender-nonconforming storytellers on the last full day of programming, curated by Kieran Medina. A diverse, inclusive, and incredibly empowering day, with the theme of commUNITY, it was a chance to assess how far things have progressed in the last few years and how far there is still to go. Clear strategies were voiced, not just to create more work opportunities and increase representation, but to enrich everyone’s lives by building upon where we are now to tell more nuanced, complex narratives. It was an opportunity to meet so many people whom I admire like Zackary Drucker, Our Lady J, River Gallo, Rain Valdez, Candis Cayne, Alexandra Grey, Scott Turner Schofield, Jacob Tobia, Trace Lysette, and Angelica Ross, but mostly it was a day where I sat front row centre and listened, and felt moved, hopeful, enriched, inspired, and lifted up as part of our expansive rainbow family. Read a more detailed recap of the day here.
Follow James Kleinmann on Twitter @JamesKleinmann & Instagram @JamesKleinmann.
Filmmaker. Actress. (Señorita, Aparisyon, Lingua Franca)
Titane, directed by Julia Ducournau, NEON
Titane is a shapeshifting wonder, transforming itself and holding its cards close until its (incredibly moving) final moments. Straddling body horror, dark comedy, buddy movie and family drama (albeit of a most unorthodox variety) and anchored by Agathe Rouselle and Vincent Lindon in the lead roles, Titane—which in lesser hands could easily have wound up a misbegotten Frankenstein of a film—instead is held together exquisitely by Ducournau’s daring and vision.
Read our ★★★★1/2 review of Titane.
Follow Isabel Sandoval on Twitter @IsabelVSandoval & on Instagram @IsabelVSandoval. Read our exclusive interview with Isabel Sandoval.
Singer-songwriter. Frankie Goes to Hollywood frontman.
Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, directed by Jonathan Butterell, Amazon Prime Video
I have to choose Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, released globally back in September on Amazon Prime Video. I saw the live musical in London’s West End when the producers asked me to consider the role of Hugo/Loco Chanel and I loved it. I was then invited to perform “This Was Me” for the film’s soundtrack album and I jumped at the chance. It’s a great true story set in Sheffield (as was The Full Monty) about a young school boy who wants to be a drag queen, who is supported by his mother and amazing friends. It goes beyond a gay coming out story and explores his coming out as a wannabe drag queen in a tough Northern Steel Town. The music is by Dan Gillespie Sells of The Feeling, with lyrics by Tom MacRae. Do yourself a favour and watch it over the holidays. It stars a fabulous and diverse cast featuring Max Harwood, Lauren Patel, Richard E. Grant, Sarah Lancashire, Sharon Horgan, and Shobna Gulati. The Everybody’s Talking About Jamie soundtrack, featuring “This Was Me” performed by Holly Johnson, is available everywhere now, listen here.
Follow Holly Johnson on Twitter @TheHollyJohnson and visit his official website. His double album Unleashed From The Pleasuredome: Holly Johnson Live at KOKO is available digitally now. Read our exclusive interview with Holly Johnson.
Rikki Beadle-Blair MBE
Actor. Filmmaker. Playwright. Singer-songwriter. Designer. Choreographer. Dancer.
Rebel Dykes, directed Harri Shanahan & Siân A. Williams, Bohemia Media & BFI Distribution
Electrifying. Hilarious. Honest. Raucous. Tender. A vital record of 1980s and 90s working class punk squat lesbian life. Inspiring.
Read our ★★★★★ review of Rebel Dykes from its 2021 world premiere at BFI Flare and watch our exclusive interview with Rebel Dykes directors Harri Shanahan & Siân A. Williams & producer Siobhan Fahey.
Follow Rikki Beadle-Blair on Twitter @RikkiBB & Instagram @RikkiBeadleBlair. Website.
Writer. Filmmaker. Activist. (Cops and Robbers).
THEM Season 1: Covenant, created by Little Marvin, Amazon Prime Video
When two brilliant queer Black artists like Little Marvin (creator/screenwriter) and Lena Waithe (filmmaker/producer) team up, we are so fortunate to witness something as remarkable as the Amazon series, THEM: Covenant. It’s a horror anthology and its premiere season takes place in 1953 and follows a Black family, the Emorys, as they integrate an all White neighborhood in Compton, CA. The Emory family moves into a suburban home, making them the only Black family in the community. Barely there a day, the family is immediately terrorized by their White neighbors. Not only do they face the infuriating and insidious trials of racism, there are other supernatural forces haunting their house and chipping away at their sanity. This series is haunting and in many ways emotionally triggering, but well worth the watch.
Follow Timothy ware-Hill on Twitter @TimothyWareHill & Instagram @timothy_warehill. Read our exclusive interview with Timothy Ware-Hill about his Peabody Award-winner NAACP Image Award-nominated short film Cops and Robbers, streaming now on Netflix.
Playwright (Four 2021 Tony Award-winning The Inheritance).
Veneno, created by Javier Ambrossi and Javier Calvo, HBO Max
Whenever multiple performers share a role, it’s always an open question as to whether or not a consistency of performance can be achieved. The fact that Jedet, Daniela Santiago, and Isabel Torres together embody the life story of Cristina Ortiz Rodriguez (“La Veneno”) so seamlessly, so brilliantly, and so affectingly is one of the many triumphs of the miracle of television that is Veneno. If you haven’t seen this limited series on HBO Max I honestly don’t know what you’re waiting for. It is the Citizen Kane of limited series, the Sistine Chapel of LGBTQ television. I first watched it this winter and then watched it again in April of this year. I’ve never encountered something so full of life, of humor, of heartbreak on television. And the fact that this creative energy was put to telling the life story of a trans woman is just another of its miracles. I am so grateful to Javier Calvo and Javier Ambrossi as well as Valeria Vegas, Lola Rodríguez, and the life-giving force that is Paca La Piraña for this transcendent and game-changing experience. ¡Viva La Veneno!
Read our ★★★★★ review of Veneno and our exclusive interview with one of the stars of the series Lola Rodríguez.
Follow Matthew López on Instagram @matthewmichaellopez. Read our ★★★★★ review of The Inheritance on Broadway and our exclusive interview with The Inheritance composer Paul Englishby.
Nate Lemuel, Darklisted Photography
Queer Dinè Photographer.
Queer Dinè Creative/Photographer Evan Benally Atwood
I would like to highlight my dear friend Evan Benally Atwood (they/them). This year was such a great chance to learn about reconnecting with the land as well as connecting and collaborating with one another on many creative endeavors that I will never forget. From taking a road trip to document and celebrate queer joy with other folks from other tribes, to learning about our love and sharing our experiences with our creativity. I want to be more fully aware of my surrounding Indigenous communities—especially the LGBTQIA+ folks—and continue to meet and learn about many of them, as I was able to start doing this year. I want to continue to support who we are as queer Indigenous folks. Our existence is important and continuing to celebrate my queerness through my lens of experiences is what I will do. I want to thank everyone who thoughtfully created spaces for creatives like us to express ourselves. Continuing to make more opportunities like this will encourage our community (especially our youth), to help and uplift one another to succeed. Ahéhéé.
Follow Nate Lemuel on Instagram @DarklistedPhotography. Website. Follow Evan Benally Atwood on Instagram @evanbenallyatwood. Read our exclusive interview with Nate Lemuel about his experience on HBO’s We’re Here alongside his friend, non-binary Indigenous drag artist Lady Shug.
Daniel “Dusty” Albanese
New York based photographer and filmmaker.
Let the Record Show: A Political History of ACT UP New York, 1987–1993 by Sarah Schulman
Sarah Schulman’s Let the Record Show is one of the most important books to be published this year. Malicious political indifference allowed AIDS to devastate our community, yet ACT UP was able to harness rage and deep grief into a powerful and effective movement. This book compiles their actions, and contextualizes how they used creativity to effect change against all odds. For queer people, the battle is always raging. Knowing our history—especially that of AIDS activism—is one of the most powerful weapons we have to fight back.
Follow Daniel “Dusty” Albanese on Twitter @TheDustyRebel & Instagram @DustyRebel. Website.
Queer film historian. Writer. Archivist. Filmmaker.
The Longest Year EP by Chris Pureka
“It is a heavy time to have a beating heart…The longest year, we took the longest way around, but we’re still here, shoulders to the wind.” — Chris Pureka, “The Longest Year” (2021)
My top queer cultural recommendation this year is the recently released EP, “The Longest Year” from one of my favorite singer-songwriters, Chris Pureka.
I first met Chris in 2009 when we were on the TopHotButches.com list together (yeah, I was way down at #74 — she was #3!). In 2015, Chris was kind enough to let me use an instrumental version of her beautiful ‘Barn Song’ as the closing credits music for my film, The Royal Road.
Chris’s exquisite poetic lyrics and melancholy yet soothing folk guitar arrangements never fail to make me connect to my own emotions in a way that I am continually grateful for. Her new album is no exception. The early-release single of lost love and letting go, “Sky Spinning”, sent me into instant tears at about the second line (here’s the last line, to possibly make YOU cry: “ I don’t know how to save us, I just know how to let go. It’s a puzzle you can’t solve, inside a lingering bad dream, I don’t know how to save us, I just know how to save me.”)
The timely title track feels like the anthem we need in this moment – it manages to be at once wistful and celebratory in its ultimate message of optimism, triumph, perseverance, and hope.
The album blends songs about personal relationships and loss with songs about the broader concerns of the world right now. Beautiful covers of Neil Young’s aching existential ode, “Helpless” and the sadly cheerful classic, “It’s a Wonderful World” anchor the disc, while my new favorite Chris Pureka song (the rockingly sad “Songbird Blues”) is so brilliantly written and performed as a blues composition it practically seems like a cover.
Please go give a listen to the album and support Chris’s work as an independent queer artist — click here to buy the CD and find links to all the streaming services. One other idea is you could go check out my Best Of Chris Pureka personal Spotify playlist featuring a baker’s dozen of my favorite Chris Pureka songs. Ah, also, I recently got the opportunity to do a little conversation with Chris about her creative process that you can watch here on her YouTube channel.
Follow Jenni Olson on Twitter @JenniOlsonSF & Instagram @JenniOlsonSF. Website. Read our exclusive interview with Jenni Olson.
Fashion designer. Photographer.
GAY BAR: Why We Went Out by Jeremy Atherton Lin
I really enjoyed reading this book, which is like a literary (gay)bar-hop between three cities; each chapter is a different bar. Some I was already familiar with, some I wasn’t, so it was really interesting to learn the history and contexts and stories around these establishments through the lived experience of the author. It really made me miss going out, and it made me so nostalgic about nightlife after almost two years of social shutdown.
Follow @Ashish and @gazebyashish on Instagram. Read our exclusive interview with Ashish Gupta about his queer photography book GAZE. The 2022 GAZE pinup calendar is available now.
Actor. Writer. Comedian.
Flee, directed by Jonas Poher Rasmussen, NEON
I was incredibly moved by Jonas Poher Rasmussen’s beautifully haunting animated documentary, Flee. A gay Afghani refugee who has been forced to hide so many details of his personal life finally unveils a barrage of truths on the eve of his wedding. It is harrowing and heartbreaking, but its bursts of joy were even more cathartic for me. An instant true queer classic. Read our ★★★★ Sundance review of Flee and our exclusive interview with filmmaker Jonas Poher Rasmussen.
Follow Drew Droege on Twitter @DrewDroege & Instagram @Drew_Droege. Website. Read our exclusive interview with Drew Droege.
Activist. Director TheLoveTank.info. Co-founder Prepster.info. Co-director blkoutuk.com. Co-curator BlackAndGayBackInTheDay. Podcast host – We Were Always Here.
MONTERO by Lil Nas X
I came to Lil Nas X late in the day. I was impressed by how he used his platform to shake up the world, represent a Black queer experience and his support of the Black queer community and grassroots organisations that support us. But as a 52-year-old self-confessed Old School Hip-Hop head I didn’t think his music spoke to me. But when Montero dropped in September, as a Black gay activist who wants to support all the work my queer brothers create I had to give it a listen. I went in with an open mind and gave it a go. GOD DAMN!! What a debut album. Beautiful, honest, sexy, banging tunes, intimate heartbreaking ballads. It wears (quite literally) its queerness and celebration of Black queer same gender love boldly and unapologetically on its sleeve. A thing of beauty. An instant Hip Hop, pop classic. His genius is to have taken the best of the great pop stars that have a queer following (Madonna, Janet Jackson, Beyoncé), mix it with all the swag and braggadocio of Hip Hop, add in the influence of Black artists from Little Richard to Prince who have played with gender and sexuality in their performance and presentation, and inject it with his very own special mix of Black Boy Joy, and I’m here for all of it. Read our ★★★★★ review of Lil Nas X’s Montero (Call Me by Your Name) music video.
Follow Marc Thompson on Twitter: @marct_01 & Instagram @marct_01. Read our exclusive interview with Marc Thompson about creating and co-curating BlackAndGayBackInTheDay. Listen to his podcast We Were Always Here.
Artist. Director. Producer.
It was such a gift to be able to experience art in person in 2021 and I was dazzled by exhibitions from queer and trans forebearers, Ron Athey at ICA Los Angeles, Pippa Garner at Joan, and Stephanie Crawford at Rebecca Camacho Presents. Watching the cornucopia of trans phantasmagoria in Death and Bowling at Outfest was a glimpse into a utopian dreamland.
Reading Torrey Peters’ paradigm shattering, genre-establishing, and extremely brave novel Detransition, Baby. Peters’ brilliantly weaved characters touched the depths of trans experience, and her uncanny ability to infuse characters with her own incisive spirit provides for a thrilling read.
Follow Zackary Drucker on Twitter @ZackaryDrucker and Instagram @ZackaryDrucker. For more head to her official website. Read our exclusive interview with Zackary Drucker about The Lady and the Dale on HBO Max and watch our interview with her from Outfest’s Trans and Non-Binary Summit.
Author. Curator and host of London’s LGBTQ+ literary salon Polari and founder of the Polari Prize, the UK’s only book awards for LGBTQ+ writing.
It’s A Sin created by Russel T Davies, HBO Max
I managed to go to the theatre twice this year to see Singing In the Rain and The Normal Heart. Both were profoundly moving for different reasons. The first celebratory and life-affirming after the isolation and misery of lockdown, the second a stark reminder of the dark days of the AIDS crisis in America.
But my highlight of the year was It’s A Sin. I know Russell T Davies personally and met with him when he was developing the script. There are a couple of scenes that were inspired by tales I told him over breakfast in Balans in Soho about friends who died and my days as an AIDS activist with ACT UP London. He sent me a link and I watched the whole series in one sitting, crying and laughing and crying again. I spent most of this year working on a memoir, We Can Be Heroes, which covers that period of my life and will be published by Amazon Publishing. Living through the current pandemic inevitably brought back memories of that earlier one. I suspect that it also made it easier for younger audiences to relate to the anxieties and horrors depicted in It’s A Sin. I loved it because, despite all that, it’s also a reminder of how courageous and resilient so many gay men were – and how much joy they managed to pack into their relatively short lives. There are valuable lessons there for all of us.
Follow Paul on Twitter @PaulBurston & Instagram @PaulBurston1. Website. Paul Burston’s latest novel, The Closer I Get, is out now.
Filmmaker. (Frisk, Bad Boy Street, Goodbye Seventies, The End of Cruising).
The return of cruising
A funny thing happened during the COVID pandemic; cruising made a big-time comeback. I’m not talking about online hookups, but real time, in-person, outside in public spaces cruising and public sex. Much has been said about the end of cruising, that the apps (Grindr, Scruff, etc. etc.) killed it, that police crackdowns smashed it, that the puritanical Internet drew too much attention to it and blocked it, but cruising areas are sacred ground and they never really die they just lay dormant, waiting. In the summer of 2021, after being locked down and quarantined, zoomed out and zombified from having sex with flickering blue light screens for what seems like an eternity, the consecrated cruising grounds were rediscovered. The need for human contact has never been stronger or hotter. (Have hugs ever in been so sexy?) The queers took back the parks, the woods, the beaches, masked and fully-vaxxed, and cruising for sex, which is not just about an anonymous quickie, but about looking into another human being’s non-flickering eyes.
Follow Todd Verow on Twitter @ToddVerow & Instagram @ToddVerow. Website. Read our exclusive interview with Todd Verow about his latest feature Goodbye Seventies.
Caden Mark Gardner
Freelance film critic with a focus on queer & trans representation.
I’m Already Liberated: An Iconographic Talk with Zackary Drucker
Zackary Drucker had her mainstream breakthrough directorial effort with co-directing The Lady and The Dale on HBO Max this year, but with the UCLA Film & Television Archive, she helped give a platform to some widely unseen but incredible short film rarities of trans people that predate her work by decades. Through this virtual screening, Drucker’s short film on Flawless Sabrina called At Least You Know You Exist, Sophie Constantinou’s Trans, and an except from Changes by queer film icon Pat Rocco all played, but the most invaluable were the two films by the most well-known filmmaker of the bunch, Penelope Spheeris. Spheeris would follow Jenifer Michaels (previously in Changes) who has a brief relationship with Spheeris’ lesbian sister in the short ‘ Don’t Know. But the true revelation is the rarely screened Hats Off to Hollywood, that not only plants the seeds of the blurred lines of fiction and non-fiction that Spheeris would play to tremendous effect in The Decline of Western Civilization films, but Michaels proves she had star potential with her memorable facial reactions and a charismatic naturalism completely in line with 1970s New Hollywood stars. It also helped that the images of early 70s Los Angeles were captured in beautiful, vivid color. Hopefully more people will be able to see this in the future. An archive of the live conversation with Zackary Drucker and Trans (1994) filmmaker Sophie Constantinou is available to view here. Read our exclusive interview with Zackary Drucker about The Lady and the Dale.
Other choices: Detransition, Baby: A Novel by Torrey Peters, Darryl by Jackie Ess, I Wished by Dennis Cooper, Summer Fun by Jeanne Thornton, Sex Demon, LA Plays Itself: The Fred Halsted Collection (disclaimer: I did a video essay on it), Queersighted: Class Acts on the Criterion Channel (that I co-curated and participated in a talk with Michael Koresky), North by Current by Angelo Madsen Minax, the Ask Any Buddy Podcast that covers the history of all-male films, Sarah Schulman’s Let The Record Show: A Political History of ACT UP New York 1987-1993, This American Wife, Molly Shannon in The Other Two, Lil Nas X, Elliot Page, Isabel Sandoval’s Shangri-La, and No Ordinary Man: The Life and Death of Billy Tipton.
Javier Ambrossi and Javier Calvo, a.k.a. Los Javis
Writers. Directors. Producers. (Veneno) Judges – Drag Race España.
Television – We Are Who We Are, HBO Max.
Created by Sean Conway and Paolo Giordano based on an original idea by Luca Guadagnino, co-written and directed by Luca Guadagnino.
Film – The Power of the Dog, Netflix
Based on the novel by Thomas Savage, written and directed by Jane Campion
Book – Detransition, Baby: A Novel by Torrey Peters
Non-binary porn performer. Writer.
The 2021 San Francisco PornFilmFestival
Presented in-person theater showings (masked, vaxxed, and distanced!) at the Brava Center for Women in the Arts, broadcasting live to online viewers who were unable to attend in person due to health concerns or travel restrictions.
The opening program was a rare screening of Fatale Media’s classic 90s dyke-produced porn, Safe Is Desire. The film is sexy, educational, and progressive even by today’s standards. It holds up 25 years later! Accompanying the screening was a talk by Fatale director Nan Kinney, who provided historical context to the film, which was created because, despite being an adult entertainment company, its creators felt the responsibility to educate the lesbian community about sexual health during the height of the AIDS crisis. (Which is not to say it’s over, as approximately one million people die of AIDS related illnesses each year).
While not many people might expect to go into a porn screening under such serious pretext, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, the whole festival and this particular screening was received with such joy. It was exciting, historically significant, and also a bit healing, with audience and organizers alike feeling hopeful for next year’s event – which we plan to once again present in an accessible ‘hybrid’ in-person/online fashion. In the meantime, please get your vaccine and booster shots!
Follow Jiz Lee on Twitter @JizLee & Instagram @JizLee. Website.
Multi-disciplinary trans queen. Drag performer. Playwright. Comedienne. Screenwriter. Tour guide. Bon vivant.
It’s A Sin created by Russel T Davies, HBO Max
So beautiful, and an extraordinary experience that captured the fragility of life. I felt so connected to it. Not to compare Covid to the AIDS crisis, but we were all in such turmoil and I just felt that unfairness of life. The way they told that story in almost an expressionistic way talking about AIDS. The way major characters just died, like in real life. In real life we don’t get story arcs, people just die. It was all so perfectly executed.
Follow Glace Chase on Instagram and Twitter. Website. Read our exclusive interview with Glace Chase about her play Triple X playing Sydney Theatre Company’s Wharf Theatre from January 12th to February 26th 2022 (previews from January 7th 2022).
John Cameron Mitchell
Actor. Filmmaker. DJ. Queer Icon. (Hedwig and the Angry Inch)
Veneno, created by Javier Ambrossi and Javier Calvo, HBO Max
Veneno, the Spanish limited series on HBO Max is a brilliant biography of Cristina La Veneno, the Spanish trans sex worker who shot to fame in the 90s. The creators who go by Los Javis, partnered with a series of brilliant trans performers playing La Veneno at different points in her difficult life and created the best series of the last 10 years. A knockout!
Follow John Cameron Mitchell on Instagram @johncameronmitchell. Read our exclusive interview with John cameron Mitchell.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch co-creators John Cameron Mitchell and Stephen Trask perform Return to the Origin of Love – The Songs and Stories of Hedwig with Amber Martin and special guests on Wednesday December 29th and Thursday December 30th 2021 at The Town Hall, New York City.
Strictly Come Dancing, BBC One
I’m not sure that I would consider myself the target audience of Strictly Come Dancing (even though the show’s camp dial is never below 11); but on Saturday December 18th I was having dinner, watching the tail-end of the evening news. That was promptly followed by the show. None of us endeavored to change the channel (it might have been the fish and chips). It was the final and two couples were battling it out for the title. I was stunned by the representation of normally marginalized bodies taking centre stage on a capital ‘M’ mainstream TV show: Rose Ayling-Ellis, an East Enders actress, deaf since birth; and the first male same-sex couple (John Whaite, winner of The Great British Bake-Off dancing with the South African Johannes Radebe). Knowing that Radebe was South African I became tribal, rooting for him based on one pre-requisite – that we came from the same country.
When he and his celebrity partner, Whaite, came on stage to dance the rumba in fan-and-movement-blown blue, sheer outfits, merit foregrounded itself. Reader! It was steamy! Two men, so close to each other that it looked like they were about to engage in another form of cardio, for a second my heart reined in my raging hormones.
(Did I mention how fucking hot that rumba was?)
Never did I think that this kind of normalisation and visibility would exist…in front of 11 million viewers.
I thought, ‘Huh, with all the bullshit happening in the world everyday to queer and disabled people, there is hope. Maybe it’s not all so dismal after all.’
Follow Nakhane on Twitter @NakhaneOfficial & Instagram @NakhaneOfficial. Website. Read our exclusive interview with Nakhane.
Filmmaker (I Do, Leave It on the Floor). Senior Film Critic – The Queer Review.
When I think of LGBTQ+ highlights for 2021, my mind instantly goes to films I’ve seen, because I’m a film geek. Let’s face it, in these pandemic times, the closest I’ve come to anything queer has been on a silver screen, but that’s a topic best reserved for my therapist. So here goes in no particular order:
Swan Song, written and directed by Todd Stephens, Magnolia Pictures
The defiant image of the brilliant Udo Kier decked out in a fantastic green suit, legs crossed just so, slowly riding an electric scooter down the streets of Sandusky, Ohio as he proudly presents his queerness was the kick-ass, post-Stonewall image I’ve waited my entire life to celebrate. As he holds up the traffic behind him, you can almost hear the world chanting, “He’s here, he’s queer, pick another lane!” Read our ★★★★★ Swan Song review and our exclusive interview with writer-director Todd Stephens.
Spencer, directed by Pablo Larraín, NEON
When Kristen Stewart’s Diana listens as Sally Hawkins’ Maggie, her Royal Dresser, tell the Princess that she loves her in a romantic, sexual way, their relationship goes to another level. It’s a beautiful moment of levity, showing the warmth of these two women who value the closeness and the friendship above all else. Read our ★★★★1/2 Spencer review here.
Potato Dreams Of America, written and directed by Wes Hurley
Wes Hurley’s autobiographical tale of a queer Russian teen who emigrates to Seattle with his mother, who becomes a mail order bride to a conservative Christian man, has plenty of indelible LGBTQ+ moments involving bullying, admiration for a certain Gregg Araki film, and more, but the one stunning moment occurs late in the film when our hero discovers a queer, highly compassionate layer to a character who had previously been presented as villainous. It’s the best gay plot twist of the year. Read our Potato Dreams of America review from SXSW.
The Power Of The Dog, directed by Jane Campion, Netflix
A Western which explores toxic masculinity would have been interesting enough on its own, but to add queer characters into the mix enhances the experience. I will never look at a comb or a rope the same way again. Read our ★★★★1/2 The Power of the Dog review.
Follow Glenn Gaylord on Twitter @GlennGaylord & Instagram @Glebborama. Website.
Angelo Madsen Minax
Artist. Performer. Musician. Filmmaker (Independent Spirit Award-nominated North by Current).
Since I was neck-deep in finishing my film, North By Current, this year I really leaned into reading more-so than viewing. I got to read so many wonderful books in 2021 the task of highlighting one or two is impossible! So I’d love to highlight a cluster of some of my favorites. Megan Milks’ insanely idiosyncratic, genre-twisting, YA-tinged double releases of “Slug and Other Stories” and “Margaret and the Mystery of the Missing Body” are highlights for me. Milks’ twisted brain should be monitored in the coming years because they are going to keep making very compelling work. Maggie Nelson’s “On Freedom,” was gut-wrenching smarts like only she can deliver, offering a glimmer of perspective within our collective doom. JD Pluecker’s translation of Luis Felipe Fabre’s “Writing With Caca” is a gleefully anal hidden gem, and Torrey Peters’ “Detransition, Baby” will have forever changed the landscape of trans relationality in fiction.
Follow Angelo Madsen Minax on Instagram @MadsenMinax and visit his official website MadsenMinax.com. Read our ★★★★★ review of North By Current and our exclusive interview with Angelo Madsen Minax.
Actor. (Single All The Way, Netflix)
And Just Like That…, HBO Max
And just like that…Welcome back Sex and the City! This I definitely have to highlight for two major reasons. The writers are tackling subjects about gender identity, with Charlotte’s young daughter Rose, and I absolutely love Sara Ramírez in this series as podcaster and standup comedian Che. The queer representation we’ve seen so far on And Just Like That…is already breaking down barriers. We have a queer non-binary character that is on HBO Max! Read our And Just Like That… review.
Follow Philemon Chambers on Twitter @TheRealPhilemon & on Instagram @philemonchambers. Read our exclusive interview with him and his Single All The Way co-star Michael Urie.
Bright Light Bright Light
Singer-songwriter. DJ. Cat daddy.
The reopening of C’mon Everybody
My LGBTQ+ highlight of the year is the reopening of Brooklyn’s C’mon Everybody, a bar run by its LGBTQ+ owners that is so wonderfully connected to the LGBTQ+, BIPOC, and very diverse local community of Bed-Stuy, it is an absolute joy to have it open once again after COVID shut its doors. Eric, Mike, and the entire team go above and beyond to make sure that their space is EVERYBODY’S safe space. As well as managing to open and sustain their sister bar, Good Judy in Park Slope, during COVID, they have re-opened C’mon Everybody with even more diverse and LGBTQ+ forward programming which is beyond impressive. I think this is one of the most important businesses in NYC and one of the most forward-thinking live music/DJ spaces that the city has had for years, acting as a home to such wonderful talent from all over the world, and providing NYC-based creatives an incredible hub to nurture their art and community-focused endeavors.
Follow Bright Light Bright Light on Twitter @BrightLightx2 & Instagram @BrightLightx2. Website. Read our exclusive interview with Bright Light Bright Light here.
Ryan A White & Alex Clausen
Filmmakers (Raw! Uncut! Video!)
Sunny Bunny, Molodist Film Festival
Our queer highlight of 2021 was definitely Sunny Bunny, the LGBTQIA+ section of Molodist Kyiv International Film Festival, which is the biggest queer cultural event in Ukraine. We were so excited that our documentary Raw! Uncut! Video! was selected as part of Sunny Bunny, but we were totally unprepared for just how awesome their 2021 program, and the festival as a whole, was going to be. There was definitely some magic in the festival’s timing (late May/early June) because it was one of the first major in-person film events in Europe after some of the darkest days of the COVID-19 pandemic. So, even though many of the movies had premiered elsewhere, most festivals had only been running virtually, and that meant that Kyiv was the first time many of the films were actually screened in public. Every screening felt like a World Premiere! Bliss by Henrika Kull, Poppy Field by Eugen Jebeleanu, Boy Meets Boy by Daniel Sanchez, Saint-Narcisse by Bruce LaBruce, and so many other incredible queer films, were finally on the big screen for enthusiastic festival-goers to see in all their glory. The excitement at the cinema was palpable! Molodist has been running for 50 years now, and 2021 was Sunny Bunny’s twentieth year, but the re-emergence of the international film festival ‘experience’ was truly stunning to witness. And, celebrating cutting-edge LGBTQIA+ cinema in Ukraine gave us both some much needed hope in the midst of a relentless pandemic.
Follow Raw! Uncut! Video! on Twitter @rawuncutvideo and follow Wohler Films on Instagram @wohlerfilms. Website. Watch our exclusive interview with Ryan A White and Alex Clausen from Outfest.
Dr Emily Garside
Writer. Researcher. Contributor – The Queer Review
Strictly Come Dancing, BBC One
John and Johannes might not have won the Strictly Come Dancing trophy this year, but they won in my heart. It came down to two worthy finalists; both of them history-makers. Rose Ayling-Ellis being the first deaf contestant, and now winner. Both couples showed you can have representation for a community and show joy. And of course, some skillful dancing
John and Johannes certainly went all in. Not just in talent and hard work, but in being unapologetically themselves. As two gay men, instead of shying away from camp, they embraced it. They took the dancing seriously, they took the message they were able to send seriously, but they had fun, and they were fun to watch. This was no more apparent than in their final show dance. It was blissful top-tier dancing. They might not have won the competition, but that was surely the dance of the night.
It doesn’t matter that they didn’t win because for 13 weeks two gay men were allowed to dance together, on Saturday night TV. Unlike the show’s previous same-sex pairing, which included professional Katya Jones who doesn’t identify as LGBTQ+, seeing John and Johannes paired together really mattered; two people allowed to embrace their identities fully in the competition. Beyond the dancing, we witnessed two gay men express love and respect for each other and form a friendship on screen, with John’s partner included just like every other contestant’s. And of course, we saw them dance. It seems so easy now it’s done, but 17 years ago when Strictly started it was unimaginable. But just think for a second what seeing queer people dancing on Saturday night TV might have done for all the kids watching with their families 17 years ago. Just imagine what it can still do now. On Saturday they danced a dance of joy, filled with confetti, fun, and love. They didn’t win, but that dance and their partnership meant so much more than that.
Follow Emily Garside on Twitter @EmiGarside & Instagram @EmiG1984. Website. Love that Journey for Me: The Queer Revolution of Schitt’s Creek by Emily Garside is available now from 404 Ink.
LGBTQ+ Community Advocate. Queer Talk Podcast Host. Project Consultant.
Feel Good season 2, Netflix
2021 saw the second and final season of Feel Good, a semi-autobiographical drama by comedian Mae Martin. It cleverly captures the struggle many of us have with addiction, identity, and relationships in a very real and grounded way.
Often when we ask for LGBTQ+ representation we want to be visible in mainstream spaces. 2021 has served us LGBTQ+ visibility in big budget films like Eternals and traditional Christmas rom-coms like Single All the Way, all of which deserve to be celebrated.
Feel Good on the other hand is talking directly to queer people about true experiences without diluting its message for a broader audience and that’s what makes it a gem amongst a wider landscape of queer representation.
Read our exclusive interview with Feel Good’s creator-writer-producer-star Mae Martin and their screen mother Lisa Kudrow.
Follow Mufseen on Twitter @mufseen and Instagram @mufseen. Website.
Multimedia artist. Author. Activist.
The Trevor Project
One of the horrific effects of the pandemic on our community is the staggering statistic of suicide among queer and trans youth. According to the latest report from The Trevor Project, dedicated to suicide prevention and mental health awareness, “an alarming 42% of LGBTQ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year. That number includes more than half of transgender and non-binary youth who took part in the survey.” (Source: “Terrible Time For Trans Youth: New Survey Spotlights Suicide Attempts – And Hope” – Forbes.com)
Last year I lost three close friends to suicide, including my girlfriend, artist and model Maxima Cortina. So many people I know lost someone to suicide in recent years, it’s fair to say we’re dealing with a real epidemic exacerbated by COVID. That’s why I believe the work that The Trevor Project is doing is more important than ever and deserves all the praise and support.
Read The Trevor Project’s guides to Talking About Suicide, Learn how to help yourself, and others, and Preventing Suicide, and if you are able to make a donation please support The Trevor Project.
Follow Slava Mogutin on Twitter @Slava_Mogutin and Instagram @slavamogutin. Website.
Producer Riot Productions (Rebel Dykes 2021).
The UK AIDS Quilt
This year we toured our Rebel Dykes movie around the UK, visiting eight cities with Birds Eye View and BFI. During the screening in Liverpool myself, Siân, Harri (Rebel Dykes directors) and Melanie IredaleI escaped from FACT, the arthouse cinema screening our film, and we walked through pouring rain to visit a small extract from the UK AIDS Quilt that was being displayed for the first time in a club space rather than an institution or a church.
I was really struck by the young queer man who curated this event, Josiah Worth. He was born years since those terrible years in the 80s and 90s when a generation of young gay men died, but he recognises the AIDS pandemic as part of his own history. That tragic episode is my history too and is part of the story of the Rebel Dykes. Those boys who died, they were our friends. Josiah guarded the Quilt with pride and compassion for the whole time it was in the venue, visited by Liverpool clubbers.
The US quilt features in our film Rebel Dykes. I have seen the US Quilt before, and UK Quilt many times over the years. In the 80s and 90s it was always being displayed in squares during street events or in churches or community buildings. Like most of us, I find visiting the Quilt always deeply moving. It is, in the words of my Catholic upbringing, a sacrament, a sacred cloth. Into its fabric is sown grief and memories and healing.
At this visit, I was also deeply struck by the artistry in the making of the quilts, how the stories each quilt has sewn into them is carried out with such a variety of techniques and styles. The Rebel Dykes Art & Archive Show was a 3 month exhibition in SpaceStation SixyFive in Kennington. Some of the standout pieces were textile works that used textiles to reexamine archives. I saw a real through line from the AIDS Quilt to artists working right now.
I always cry at the Quilt. It’s one of the reasons why I visit it. It is crucial for us to cry and grieve. This year however, I wasn’t grieving the young men who died in the 80s and 90s, but for a friend who died a few days before. Louise Woodcock was one of the bravest artists I have met, she lived in Manchester, and I am still grieving for her. Her death filled me with grief for all the women who have died. At the end of Rebel Dykes we hold a moment to remember Rebel Dykes who are seen in the film who have died. Judy, Jill, Kirsty, Tutu, Grace, Little Julie. And many many many more not memorialised in the film. Even during the filming of Rebel Dykes, four Rebel Dykes died too young.
PrEP has been a game-changer, but there are still many HIV battles to win. But we have a pandemic ongoing, and I don’t mean COVID. From late diagnosis cancers, to mental health battles, to addictions and more, Queers and Dykes are still dying. Look after each other. We still need our community to keep us safe.
Follow Rebel Dykes on Twitter @RebelDykes & on Instagram @RebelDykes. Watch Rebel Dykes in cinemas and on demand. Read our ★★★★★ review of Rebel Dykes from its 2021 world premiere at BFI Flare and watch our exclusive interview with Rebel Dykes directors Harri Shanahan & Siân A. Williams & producer Siobhan Fahey.
Artist. Musician. Filmmaker (The Lives of Hamilton Fish, Circus of Books).
In this insane year of desperately trying to find sources of inspiration, I found some in the people that are closest to me. I hope you enjoy some of my selections.
The AIDS Memorial Project
I am in awe of the simple but profound effort of this social media endeavor which has seemingly brought the entire world together through the sharing of heartfelt, personal stories of loss. The story of AIDS and its effects on all of our lives is still a historical legacy in its infancy, and I am so grateful not just for the effort to gather the stories, but for each and every person who bravely and generously shares the memory of their loved ones whom they lost with the world. Follow The AIDS Memorial on Instagram @TheAIDSMemorial and Twitter @TheAIDSMemorial.
Wojnarowicz: F**k You F*ggot F**ker, Directed by Chris McKim, Kino Lorber
This film is a masterpiece. It is one of my favorite documentaries about any artist ever, and I wish more people knew about this film, and also the artist David Wojnarowicz, who was just reaching his prime when he was so quickly taken from this world, like so many of the most brilliant voices of his generation, who died of AIDS at the time. Chris McKim did a miraculous feat bringing the really difficult and provocative work of David Wonjarowicz into a palpable, visceral film which pulses with the same urgency of outrage that the artist himself brought to his work. I love this film so much. You can find it on DVD and digital now. Read of ★★★★★ review of Wojnarowicz: Fk You F*ggot F**ker.
World of Wonder’s Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato
While drafting my write-up about Chris McKim’s film, I was going to end with a shout out to Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato, the film’s producers, but as I was doing so, I was so grateful to them for championing the film that I realized how many underdog films they have produced. I want to take a moment to acknowledge just how special they are for their unique contribution to the entertainment industry, through their company World of Wonder (WOW). Everything they touch seems to maintain an outsider, punk ethos of artists playing music in underground clubs in 80s New York, while also managing to make the impossible seem possible in the realm of queer entertainment. They are my heroes for helping to make films like Whirlybird (another great recent doc about trans pilot and newswoman Zoey Tur, directed by Matt Yoka) and F**k You F*ggot F**ker, while also making RuPaul’s Drag Race the global phenomenon that has allowed the mainstream to participate and absorb the power of drag. Not enough can be said about all that WOW has done and continues to do for our culture.
Buck Angel’s New Products
He exists in a wide variety of categories, from activist, educator, to entrepreneur, but for me, the thing that makes his contribution to our culture in general so profound is the work he did that is hardest to talk about, and that is his work in sex. And it’s hard to talk about because we don’t talk about sex in our society. Buck is one of the few people willing to discuss it openly, and offer his experience both making adult entertainment, and also products. And he cares passionately about his products which is why I really hope anyone who is interested in experiencing something different, takes a moment to look at the variety of items in his online store, and support one of the few trans elders in the adult industry still making things for the world.
TDPS The Dinner Party Show with Chris Rice and Eric Shaw Quinn
For anyone that loves all things campy and gay—but who also loves literature (and occasionally murder)—this is the podcast for you. I have a personal connection to their wonderful irreverent show, because we both fell deeply down the same rabbit hole of research into one of the most perplexing cold cases to ever haunt the gay community of Los Angeles: that of William Arnold Newton, known by his nom de porn as Billy London. You can find multiple episodes about his story and more on their show here.
Now>Ever Artists + Rain Valdez
A few years before the pandemic hit, I happened upon an amazing short film, Hexed, by an amazing woman named Rain Valdez. She revealed to me soon after that this short film was a production of her very own artist-run production company with a majority of members being folks that identify within the LGBTQIA+ spectrum. I have been so happy to see that they have continued with their work through the hard-scrabble times we all live in, and have been so helpful with each other’s projects. Rain is a hero and an artist in her own right, and she is getting many much-deserved accolades. Watch the speech she delivered at Outfest where she was recently honored.
Follow Rachel Mason on Twitter @RachelMasonArt & Instagram @FutureClown. Website.
Actor. (Breaking Fast, Eternals)
Breaking Fast, directed by Mike Mosallam
Breaking Fast is about an openly gay practicing Muslim man. Never has this story been told before. A gay romantic comedy set during the month of Ramadan. A story about someone who’s embraced their religion after embracing their truth. It meant the world to me that I got to humanize someone’s marginalized story. Always, I’m a truth teller.
Read our ★★★★ review of Breaking Fast and find ways to watch the film here.
Follow Haaz Sleiman on Twitter @haazsleiman and Instagram @haaz.sleiman.
Filmmaker. (Edge of Seventeen, Swan Song)
Unread podcast, iHeartMedia
Chris Stedman’s Unread was my favorite podcast of the year. After getting an email from his Britney-obsessed bestie Alex that started “when you get this I will no longer be alive,” Chris goes on a journey to learn more about his brilliant friend, his own queer self, and the true identity of Alex’s mysterious online buddy “Alice” (who sounds EXACTLY like the real Britney). A tender love letter to a lost friend, Unread will make you laugh, cry, and dance while you still can. I never knew Alex, but thanks to Chris he is a piece of me forever. Take a listen for yourself here.
Read our exclusive interview with Todd Stephens about his Film Independent Spirit Award-nominated Swan Song and our ★★★★★ review of the film.
Freelance Entertainment Journalist. Podcaster.
My favorite queer moment of 2021 was the 39th annual Outfest LGBTQ Film Festival in-person.Hundreds of films, dozens of live in-person events and screenings took Los Angeles by storm in August. From stirring documentaries like Gemmel and Tim to experimental narratives like The Extinction of Butterflies to soon-to-be camp classics like The Sixth Reel, being able to celebrate these films in person showed the strength, resilience, and all-around pure joy of the queer film community.
Outfest’s fifth annual Trans and Non-Binary Summit and extensive list of shorts and TV series showed that the community is here, they’re queer, and ready to show you their creative beauty. Closing out the festival was the seminal all-female rock band, Fanny. The members, many of whom are now in their 70s, cemented their legacy as ancestors who were revolutionary simply by being who they were.
This year’s festival set the stage for much more to come, and Oufest LA’s 40th anniversary in 2022 has some mighty big heels to fill.
Follow Stacey Yvonne on Twitter @StickyKeys & Instagram @StickyKeys. Read some of her work here.
Contributor – The Queer Review.
Making Gay History and Cerebro
Two LGBTQ+ podcasts cut through the noise for me this year...
Firstly, Eric Marcus’ always excellent Making Gay History took a deeply personal turn as Marcus switched up the podcast’s format. Instead of bringing us interviews with LGBTQ+ pioneers and elders, he turned the spotlight around onto his own story of living in New York through the AIDS crisis. Instead of an exercise in self-aggrandizement, we got a tale of fear and frustration and the slow genesis of a queer historian. Gripping stuff.
Secondly, and on the other end of the spectrum, is Cerebro, where Connor Goldsmith explains the messy world of X-Men comics through a hilariously queer lens. Joined by friends, academics, fans, and comic creators, each episode dives deep into a single X-Men character. Highlights range from praising the thirstiness of Alan Davis’s artwork and the coked out appearances of Dazzler, to inventing its own unit of time (the Zaladane), and spending more than four hours discussing X-Men side character Candy Southern.
Cerebro has been a weekly burst of queer, nerdy joy. And the podcast’s catch-phrase has become something of a personal mantra, DWAI – Don’t Worry About It!
Follow Chad Armstrong on Twitter @ChadLDN & Instagram @ChadLDN.
Oscar-nominated filmmaker. (Coming Out Under Fire, Licensed To Kill, Family Fundamentals)
Pioneers of Queer Cinema, January 7th – February 27 2022, Billy Wilder Theatre, Los Angeles.
“To be queer is to find power in remaking oneself. The art of filmmaking presents a canvas where this journey can unravel” writes May Hong HaDuong, Director of the UCLA Film & Television Archive, in her opening statement for the catalogue of the films series, “Pioneers of Queer Cinema”. Years in the planning, complicated by pandemic restrictions, I’m excited that the launch of this remarkable 12-part series of 33 films has finally been announced and will premiere at the Billy Wilder Theater in Los Angeles for free in-person screenings starting January 7th 2022.
The earliest film programmed is the experimental short, Fireworks, produced in 1947 by Kenneth Anger. With scenes of gay cruising, its first public screening at the Coronet Theater in Los Angeles caused the theater owner to be arrested on obscenity charges. As HaDuong points out: “‘Pioneers of Queer Cinema’ celebrates the groundbreaking achievements born from visionary artists who have powerfully illustrated identities pushed to the margins.”
Like my first film, Public, an animated short about sexuality and violence that I made at age 16 in my bedroom at my parents’ home in 1970, Anger made Fireworks at age 17, also at his parents home. I’ve only recently discovered this correlation, and it’s a revelation to see how our creative efforts were not produced in isolation, but with a perhaps unspoken, but nevertheless communal purpose. Film critic Ernest Hardy writes in his “Pioneer of Queer Cinema” catalogue essay: “These are the building blocks that made possible Pose and the slew of queer characters and storylines on TV and across streaming platforms”.
I’m honored that my film Coming Out Under Fire (1994) has been selected for the series. Based on pioneer community historian Allan Bérubé’s book by the same name, the documentary tells the stories of World War II veterans who were targets of the U.S. military’s first anti-gay policies. Rather than remain victims, however, they survived and became members of the first LGBTQ communities in America. The film’s screening on February 20th 2022 will be the theatrical premiere of a newly restored 4K version produced by IndieCollect and UCLA Film & Television Archive, and supported by the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts. It’s also programmed alongside Marlon Rigg’s revolutionary 1989 film Tongues Untied — a film that altered my understanding of the documentary form — how splendid is that?! Head here for full details of the series.
Follow Arthur Dong on Twitter @arthurdongfilm & on Instagram @arthurdongfilm. Website. Read our exclusive interview with Arthur Dong about the seven film retrospective, Stories of Resistance: Documentaries By Arthur Dong, chronicling the filmmaker’s focus on the Asian American experience and LGBTQ stories, now playing on CriterionChannel.com.
The Queer Review 2021 – LGBTQ+ highlights of the year compiled by James Kleinmann, Editor – The Queer Review
Get in touch via social media using the hashtag #TheQueerReview2021 on Twitter @TheQueerReview, Instagram @TheQueerReview, or Facebook to let us know what you think of these selections and to tell us your own favourite LGBTQ+ culture and events of the year.
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