Outfest LA : "‘AIDS Diva,’ ‘Boulevard' offer history lessons not to be missed "
Updated: Sep 4, 2021
Two outstanding LGBTQ documentaries arrive ----
OUTFEST LA 2021: LA Blade / Washington Blade REVIEW
by John Paul King
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‘AIDS Diva,’ ‘Boulevard’ offer history lessons not to be missed
Two outstanding LGBTQ documentaries arrive
by John Paul King / Washington Blade - Los Angeles Blade It’s a great time to be alive for queer documentary fans. It seems as if every month brings a whole new crop of titles, covering a broad array of subjects and offering new insights about the LGBTQ history you thought you knew – as well as introducing you to pieces of it that you’ve never even heard of.
That’s a good thing. It reassures us that our queer cultural history, once in danger of being buried in the homophobic haze of a past that wanted to pretend we didn’t exist, is finally being recorded for posterity, and that the stories of our unsung heroes will be preserved.
One such hero is the subject of “AIDS Diva: The Legend of Connie Norman,” which screened at Los Angeles’ venerable Outfest LGBTQ Film Festival last week. Directed by award-winning filmmaker Dante Alencastre (“Raising Zoey,” “Transvisible: The Bamby Salcedo Story”) it spotlights a remarkable figure who rose to prominence during the AIDS crisis, but who would seem right at home in today’s era of “woke” activism. Indeed, she’d be front and center, teaching all of us a few things about how to keep the movement advancing ever forward.
For those who don’t know – and unless you were in Los Angeles during the early ‘90s, chances are good that you don’t – Connie Norman was a masterful spokesperson for ACT UP/LA in the late ‘80s and early ’90s Los Angeles, a self-appointed “AIDS Diva” who described herself as “an ex-drag queen, ex-hooker, ex-IV drug user, ex-high-risk youth and current post-operative transsexual woman who is HIV positive.” Above all, however, she called herself simply “a human being seeking my humanity.”
Standing proudly in her multiple, fluid, and evolving LGBTQ identities, she became a fixture in the campaign to raise awareness about the terrifying epidemic that was decimating the queer community – and the inadequate, often inhumane care afforded to its stigmatized victims. In addition to her work with ACT UP, she shared her soulful and salty rantings and intersectional politics through her local LGBTQ newspaper column and her pioneering LGBTQ cable television show – the first daily talk show about gay issues hosted by a gay rights activist on a commercial Los Angeles-area station. She charmed even the opposition with her piercing and compassionate voice, building bridges in gender issues and politics and evoking a humanitarian, neighborly, transcendent vision of life and love not just for her own queer tribe but for all. Herself diagnosed with AIDS, she continued to work tirelessly until her death from complications of the disease in 1996. A few months later, her ashes were scattered on the White House lawn as part of ACT UP’s “ashes action” in protest of government inaction against AIDS.
In Alencastre’s brisk but engrossing documentary, Norman emerges through extensive archival footage as a larger-than-life personality that nevertheless exudes authenticity and the kind of “real talk” attitude that somehow acknowledges the value in everyone, whether on her side or against it. The footage, much of it little seen (if at all) in the quarter century since her death, is largely rough by today’s standards – after all, most of it is culled from local news and cable broadcasts of the time – but that technology gap does nothing to mute her passionate voice nor dim the brightness of her light. Indeed, there’s an immediacy about her in every appearance that transcends time and seems directed entirely at our contemporary world, urging modern viewers to once more wake up, take action, and fully engage with our collective lives and our world. From an activist standpoint, it makes Alencastre’s film a powerful journalistic call to action, a reminder that the struggles of our past are connected in an unbroken line to those of the present. Just as importantly, as a filmic portrait of a one-of-a-kind icon, it introduces Norman, in all her defiantly eccentric charm and glory, to a world that will likely always need to hear what she had to say.
No release date has yet been announced for “AIDS Diva” or “Boulevard!” – but keep your eyes open, because each of them is a history lesson you won’t want to miss.