SATURDAY CHURCH: A Colorful Tale Of Belonging
Saturday Church is a story of hope and redemption and yet another "need to see" tale, of a group of people deemed "different" by society, that ends up proving how alike we all actually are.
Saturday Church, written and directed by Damon Cardasis, follows Ulysses (Luka Kain), a 14-year-old questioning his gender and place in life. It is a colorful, musical catharsis, not just for the LGBTQ community, but many others who exist constantly on the “outskirts” of society.
Hiding In Plain Sight
Ulysses is a quiet, androgynous, intelligent young man who, like most teens, is struggling to figure out who he is and where he belongs. After his father dies, his mother, Amara (Margot Bingham) is forced to work double shifts to pay the bills. Ulysses and his younger brother Abe (Jaylin Fletcher) are forced to spend much of their time with their conservative, overbearing, Aunt Rose (Regina Taylor), as they aren’t old enough to fend for themselves.
His world is very bleak, save for his colorful imagination, shown beautifully in pieces of fantasy throughout the film. Ulysses is bullied at school, and chastised by his family because he loves to wear his mother’s clothes. Though he doesn’t wear them prominently out, he is still castigated for looking feminine by the jocks at school. He feels forced to hide his preferences and his sexuality from everyone.
When he swipes a gay porn magazine from a convenience store, he notices an ad for a gay adult store in NYC, a subway ride away from where he lives. Out of curiosity, he goes there, notices a couple of people coming out of the store, and proceeds to follow one.
The journey leads him to a pier, where he meets Heaven (Alexia Garcia), Ebony (MJ Rodriguez), and Dijon (Indya Moore), three trans-gendered prostitutes. They and their friend Raymond (Marquis Rodriguez) convince Ulysses to join them at “Saturday Church”, a local church that feeds homeless LGBTQ youth every Saturday night.
When Ulysses enters the church he is blown away. He is introduced to a whole spectrum of LGBTQ people in this eclectic group and you could feel the elation wash over him. All of his lackluster days turn into lively nights with the bright, flashy people he sees there. He learns about “Vogue”-ing, hears first hand stories of others like him and gets to see his first drag show at a gay club.
I felt the same sense of belonging once I joined a theater and realized “my people” were artists. It is amazing, when you feel odd and left out, to finally come upon others like you. Regardless of race, gender or sexuality, finding where you belong is a human necessity that helps us find our purpose and value in life. Ulysses makes his first friends AND meets his first love at Saturday church.
Beneath the joy of his awakening, there is also the dark side. Abuse, prostitution, abandonment and rape are just a few of the things that LGBTQ runaways deal with. Ulysses himself, faces rejection, bullying, abandonment, and sexual assault. The dark elements of the film are a harsh element of what could have been a very uplifting, hopeful film. The trans characters talk about beatings they have endured; bullying is seen; Aunt Rose is clearly disgusted by Ulysses and favors his younger brother; there is even a scene of assault and manipulation involving Ulysses and a stranger on the street, which seemed a bit extraneous to me. Though I understand that life can be incredibly harsh for LGBTQ people, I wondered if this film couldn’t have been more of a beacon of hope for those suffering by focusing, mostly, on the joys. The LGBTQ population sorely needs more celebration and positive representation in media.
A Bit Incomplete
Director Damon Cardasis is a white, gay male, writing and directing a film on LGBTQ people, mostly of color. He has admitted his privilege in other articles, and is said to have spent many hours in real programs for homeless LGBTQ youth. He made sure to interview and speak with many who truly understood the lifestyle and the things that happen in the real world. He also cast real trans actresses, but is that enough to realistically portray their stories?
The cast is overwhelmingly beautiful. Luka Kain, as Ulysses, is delicate, shy and refined. He presents the innocence of youth and budding sexual curiosity exceptionally well. We consistently feel his emotions, without him saying a word. In fact, the best part about this film is its ability to show rather than tell. There is no unnecessary dialogue or narration. Instead, there are plenty of brilliant clips of Ulysses imagination, through the use of colorful flowers, confetti and musical sequences, reminiscent of Glee. After his first kiss, he airily springs up stairs covered in multi-colored flower petals. We didn’t need any explanation, after seeing that, for how the kiss made him feel.
However, I felt the rest of the characters needed more development and depth. I wanted to know a little more about each of them, other than the few things they say and the songs they sung. Though the film is told through Ulysses’s eyes, what does he learn about the supporting characters? Who are they, other than trans prostitutes and other LGBTQ people?
There wasn’t much room left for the other characters to become, other than nondescript stereotypes. How can they help transform Ulysses without a more complete story? Perhaps the problem lays in the script. There were a couple of scenes that seemed extraneous and forced, and the way those scenes were edited – seemed choppy – interrupting the flow of the film. I couldn’t quite grasp exactly what overall message Cardasis was trying to send.
Saturday Church: Conclusion
In general, Saturday Church opens up a necessary conversation. It is a story of hope and redemption that had me crying by the end scene. Its use of visuals and color cleverly convey emotions without saying a word. Ulysses is a character that is relateable to many and you do root for him throughout.
Though there have been musical films before, this one does have its own unique pieces that help it stand out from the rest – it would even make for a great stage production. It is yet another “need to see” tale, of a group of people deemed “different” by society, that ends up proving how alike we all actually are.
Do you think this story was complete? Why or why not? Let us know in the comments below!
Saturday Church was released in the USA on January 12, 2018 and is currently available for VOD streaming on iTunes/ Amazon. For all international release dates, see here.
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