By Sascha Brodsky
A new film is taking a look at the lives of the young, gay community of color on Christopher St.; that has been the source of so much local controversy in recent years.
“Life on Christopher St.” began as a project two years ago when producer Kimberly Gray and director Maria Clara were driving by the street’s pier on a Saturday night.
“I was riding up the West Side Highway and there was a lot of seedy activity one night,” Gray recalled. “I said it looks like there is a story in this. “We went back on a scouting mission and I was shocked by some of the things I saw. There were young boys getting in cars with old men. It was a side of Christopher St. that hadn’t been exposed. And the black and Latino community hasn’t had a lot of exposure so I thought it was an important story to be told.”
Local residents have complained that the young lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth who hang out along Christopher St. have been the source of a rising crime problem. But the teenagers, many of whom are black or Hispanic, say that they are being unfairly targeted as minorities.
“It’s a very touchy situation,” Gray said. “The kids feel like this is the only place they have to go. Historically Christopher St. has been a white hangout but now it’s mostly black and Latino. The locals feel that it is a quality of life issue and that the kids are lowering the property value. Some of the teenagers may have been turning tricks.”
Gray said that in months of interviewing she saw both sides of the issue.
“I have sympathy for those who are complaining,” she said. “But I am kind of for the kids. They are still kids. The majority of the kids are out there are on Christopher Street because it’s where they feel comfortable being themselves. They have a great sense of pride. These children are the future of the gay community. Instead of attacking these youths they should be looking for ways to help them. I can understand the point of view of those who are complaining but Christopher St. has always been a place where transsexuals, gays and lesbians can go.”
The filmmakers said they had no difficulty in finding subjects to interview.
“They were very eager to talk and to tell their story,” Gray said. “No one had given them the ability to speak out about culture. They come from the Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens but this is where they come to celebrate their sexuality and their lives. Luckily most of the people we interviewed were just hanging out. So we just approached the people we were interested in.”
Gray said she was particularly interested in a female rapper they interview by the name of Thiyah, who also sings on the soundtrack of the film.
“She has so much energy and her vibrant personality makes her the centerpiece of the film,” Gray said. “She tells it like it is and says flat out what is going on down there. She has a sense of pride that is so strong. She comes across as tough but sensitive. She is like the queen of Christopher St.”
Thiyah expresses some anger at joggers and bikers on the Hudson River Park bike path who she blames for getting her busted for smoking pot.
Relatively short at 28 minutes, the film focuses on the gay hip-hop culture that spills over onto staid Christopher St.
The filmmakers write in an introduction, “The film exposes the lives of the youth that maintain the aggressive hyper-masculine image and attitude, yet they are gay. Through the eyes of these males, known as homothugs, we see gay rappers, ‘Blood’ gang members, pimps and prostitutes. This gritty documentary unveils a new subculture of youth that are apart of the hip-hop generation.”
In addition to gangs, topics like prostitution and drugs are also dealt with.
The film has been screened at film festivals all over the world since its release a year ago. Gray said she was in talks to have the film released to movie theaters but in the meantime it can be purchased on DVD through the Web site www.ubo.com. Videocassettes can be purchased by e-mailing Gray at [email protected].
The film is the first installment in a three-part series on gay culture in New York. The other two films will be released next year.
“The other film deals with the New York City gay community as a whole,” Gray said. “We were working with groups like the Stonewall Veterans Association about the history of the movement. The third films is about the boys of Chelsea. Chelsea, it’s the opposite of Christopher St. It’s about all the people who make Chelsea, but mostly white, upper middle-class men — the gay utopia.”