In ’99, I spoke with then-badass-teen Jessica Campbell, who played Tammy Metzler — a Ross Perot-like lesbian in the holds-up-very-well comedy "Election."
Campbell's unexpected death at 38 was just announced.
Depicting an adolescent dyke
Actress Jessica Campbell on the challenges of playing a thoughtful and sensitive teenage lesbian in Election
By DANIEL KUSNER
An enormous number of recently released films depict the lives of high schoolers: Varsity Blues, Cruel Intentions, She's All That, Go, Jawbreaker, Rushmore, etc.
But Election, starring Matthew Broderick and Reese Witherspoon, has one character that'll leave queer moviegoers thrilled when leaving the theater.
Jessica Campbell plays Tammy Metzler, a rebellious teenager who challenges her brother in the race for school president when she finds out he's dating her ex-girlfriend.
Campbell, who was only 14 years old when she accepted the role, says she was uneasy about playing an adolescent dyke at first.
"I didn't know if I could do it. Because it was so beyond anything I've ever done — especially the whole lesbian thing," she says. "I live in a neighborhood where it isn't completely okay yet if you're gay. So even just to play a gay person kind of scared me."
Playing a lesbian became an easier decision when Campbell realized that her's was the most honorable character in the film.
"Once I read through the script, I realized that she was really the most stable, thoughtful, sensitve person in the whole thing. She's the closest one to a good person. So that made it okay," says Campbell.
Election is based on a novel by Tom Perrotta.
The story was inspired by two events: the 1992 Presidential Election campaign and an incident where a conservative high school principal in the South invalidated a prom-queen election because the winner was pregnant.
Perrotta found the 1992 election intriguing because of third-party candidate Ross Perot — a "wild card" who gained attention by attacking the entire system as fraudulent. So Perrotta evoked a similar outsider, third-party candidacy with the lesbian character Tammy.
Campbell says that her personality is altogether different from the rebellious Tammy — another factor that made the part challenging.
In one scene, the candidates deliver speeches.
When it's Tammy's turn, she asks the audience of students, "Who cares about this stupid election?"
"In reality, I'm really not that kind of person at all — I try to follow the rules," says Campbell. "I'm kind of a goody two-shoes. So just the thought of standing up and making that kind of speech in front of teachers and other peers was completely different from the kind of person I am."
Campbell got her start when she began taking acting classes in the second grade.
She quickly won the attention of a talent agent in her hometown of St. Louis and was cast in the lead role of the telefilm In the Best Interest of the Children, starring opposite Sarah Jessica Parker and Sally Struthers.
When asked what her family thought about her portraying a somewhat befuddled lesbian, Campbell says her mom encouraged her to accept the role.
"She was really excited about it. She really didn't care that the character was a lesbian; she was just worried about how I would take it," says Campbell. "My mom said something like, 'It would be good to do this. But if you're uncomfortable with it or feel like you may regret it later, then don't do it.'"
When her character Tammy first graces the screen, she's in a very intimate moment with her girlfriend, Lisa.
Director Alexander Payne (Citizen Ruth) wanted to make sure the scene came across just right.
"Actually Frankie [Ingrassia, who played Lisa] and I were stressing out about it. Because they saved it for the very last scene to film. We were kind of freaking out when Alexander posed us in this really close position. But after the first scene, we got over it. And it really wasn't much more than hanging out with my cousin or doing something like that," she explains. "It took a lot of takes because Alexander was like, 'More tender. More loving. I'm not convinced.' It wasn't until the fifth or sixth take that he finally decided that we got the right feeling. It took a while."
Campbell admits that, at first, she was worried her classmates would harass her about playing a lesbian. She says she only has one gay friend, but many of her friends are bisexual.
Playing a lesbian, however, has actually made her more appealing to the boys at her school, she says.
"I haven't been getting teased at all. In fact, the guys — and this is kind of sick — the guys all get off on it," Campbell laughs. "They're like, 'Oh, my God! You kissed a girl?' I'm getting more attention from guys now than I ever have in the past. I can't believe I was ever nervous about it."
Jessica Campbell's "Election" screen partner — actress Frankie Ingrassia (who plays Lisa) — let me know that a Jessica Campbell Memorial GoFundMe is up to help Jessica's 10-year-old son, Oliver.
Kate Moss and Jeff Stryker are like identical cousins.
Silence preserves their photogenic success.
Marie Claire magazine introduced Moss’ best quotes with, “She doesn’t speak very often but when she does it's amazing.”
Netflix's literary documentary “Circus of Books” names Jeff Stryker as gay erotica’s ultimate superstar.
Stryker visited Big D in the early aughts. And New Fine Arts bookstore on Mockingbird Lane promised me a meeting with him.
My thirst was unquenchable — especially since Stryker penetrated country music with his anal anthem, “Pop You in the Pooper."
Stryker's Dallas opportunity window was tighter than a virgin pooper.
When Stryker stood up to shake my hand, I said, “No matter how many times I ask to interview you, my requests are never granted."
With Jack Nicholson-like swagger, Stryker smiled, nodded and said, “That’s right.”
Polaroid froze our split-second appointment.
Stryker's elusiveness rivals J.D. Salinger.
In 2013, a podcast duo had much better luck than me.
The Rialto Report's April Hall and Laura Helen Marks did a fine job coaxing Stryker from isolation.
In 2007, Out magazine asked me to pick Big D's next "gayborhood."
I chose The Cedars and named Bill's as a main attraction.
Bill (1945-2020) was a lifelong bachelor who still wasn't ready to be described as "gay" in a media article. (Also, Bill was once bashed with a baseball bat.)
Editors cut my double-entendre explanation of the "Head for Bill's" slogan.
But a tastefully queer shoutout survived.
"Dallas' best secondhand music store, Bill's moved to The Cedars in February. Legendary proprietor Bill Wisener keeps the age of vinyl alive with aisles of LPs, though the disorganization of the CD bins can turn into a time-sucking scavenger hunt. Don't look for price tags either: Just ask Bill how much. Cute guys always strike the best bargains on imports, bootlegs, ginormous posters, and vintage T-shirts."
On Tuesday, our Supreme Court will hear about a skydiving instructor who was fired for disclosing his sexual identity.
After filing an EEOC complaint, that skydiver, Don Zarda, died Oct 3, 2014 while testing his wing-suited mettle in a BASE-jumping accident.
However, the specific work-related incident dates back to 2010.
That’s when Don — a former Dallasite — was in New York.
Don was conducting a tandem jump with a female client. To put the woman’s mind at ease — about the coziness of jumping two-to-one — Don revealed that he enjoyed intimacy with men. Like his partner, Dallas businessman Bill Moore.
After that jump, a complaint was filed against Don. And the employer, Altitude Express, placed Don on suspension.
While returning to face the ultimate decision, Don recorded the exchange, which y’all can listen to on YouTube.
During that seven-minute recording, Don repeatedly requests video of the controversial tandem jump.
At first, Don’s former coworkers dodge and evade the request.
However, Don’s lawyer, Gregory Antollino, discovered a copy.
One thing’s for sure, Don’s not the drama queen in this story.
The female client looks pretty dang happy when she smiles beside Don for a group shot after her feet land safely on the ground. (By the way, it was the female client's boyfriend who complained about Don's sexual identity...)
Texas' legal experts predict that gender discrimination will soon encompass protections for LGBTQ employees.
Like Texas Lawyer magazine's brilliant Mike Maslanka, who anticipates a wonderful outcome — even during a Trump Administration.
A few months ago in South Austin, I co-hosted a sports podcast with Chad Holt and his son.
Chad commented on the game with both his head and the microphone resting on a bed pillow.
Chad never left his bed. Instead of whining about feeling sick, Chad acted as if his mattress was a La-Z-Boy recliner.
The studio was filled with neatly stacked piles of newspapers.
Chad published Whoopsy! magazine.
Whoopsy! was like Austin’s gonzo version of Rolling Stone. And Chad was its Hunter S. Thompson.
Chad gracefully shifted opposing topics — like connecting Ann Coulter’s horse-face to an argument about evolution.
Over the past year, Chad and I hung together in Austin. Probably three times.
He wasn’t always bedridden.
We sweated it out while walking from Adam Reposa’s law office near the Texas Capitol over to Sarah Weddington's nearby leadership center and then downhill to the Colorado River. That's where we downed hot coffee while Chad inhaled home-rolled cigarettes.
On Sixth Street, we chowed on burgers at The Jackalope. That's where we snapped a selfie, above, as we vied for the affections of our favorite Texan, web-design goddess Beth Sams.
During the recent “Sports Karaoke” episode, one of the fellow podcasters cracked an off-the-cuff joke about the “need” for printed media. I raised an objection with the authority of a Texan defending the Bill of Rights.
Chad and I fist bumped.
When I wrote about biking through Austin, I consulted with Mr. Badass himself.
Here’s what Chad said.
ONE LAST THING
During one of our recent walks, Chad expressed his sincere respect for Louis Black, founding publisher of The Austin Chronicle.
Chad and Black's SXSW festival have a storied history that's stitched into the documentary "Total Badass," which is worth watching.
Rest in power, Chad.
This afternoon, two of my favorite muses Jenna Skyy and Cassie Nova lend their interpretive artistry to "Tall Tales and High Heels," a storytime event at Grauwyler Park Branch Library.
How did I find out?
A group of Catholics sent a press release saying they've organized a "Rosary Protest."
The group is called Tradition, Family and Property. Their website is ReturnToOrder.org.
TFP states, "Because the Drag Queen Story Time for 3 to 6 year-olds is a serious offense against God and scandalizes children."
The release continues, "Whatever happened to the time when the protection of children's innocence was a non-negotiable social norm?
Even rough men watched their language and mannerisms when children or ladies were around.
Vulgarity, bad habits and vice were concealed so as to not destroy the innocence of a child."
Well, Dallas. Look for yourselves.
Witness Jenna in super-heroine action at last year's story time at J. Eric Jonsson Library, named after the brilliant founder of Texas Instruments — a company that could see into the future.
Grauwyler Park Branch Library, 2146 Gilford St., Dallas, Texas 75235
Saturday: July 13 at 12:30 p.m.
VICE News deftly explores differences between Oak Cliff and Oak Lawn in the wake of Muhlaysia Booker murder
On Friday, “VICE News Tonight” requested my footage of a wounded Muhlaysia Booker speaking shortly after her attack and just before she was discovered murdered.
The skillfully produced “Civil Rights” segment aired that same day for a 7:30 p.m. broadcast.
VICE’s immigration correspondent David Noriega visits Big D. The story begins with stomach-churning clips of Muhlaysia being savagely beaten.
Then there’s my footage.
You can hear my voice chanting Muhlaysia's name along with others. I'm happy Muhlaysia got to hear that support while she was still alive.
I'm also elated with Noriega's work.
With a touch that reminds me of Truman Capote's "In Cold Blood," VICE's news-team explores the geographic and socio-economic separations between Dallas' "uppity" Oak Lawn gayborhood and East Oak Cliff — the location where the viral footage first emerged.
Muhlaysia's friend Meiko Hicks describes how Muhlaysia suffered from intense PTSD after the first attack. And how Big D's unspoken "no-snitch" policy mostly hovers over Dallas' Southern side.
However, the footage of Muhlaysia's casket being rapturously marched out of Cathedral of Hope last week is just ... gorgeous.
VICE ends the segment with a sharp cut. Leaving viewers wanting more. It’s unresolved — exactly like Muhlaysia's quest to seek to justice.
At yesterday’s "Peace & Justice Rally for Muhlaysia Booker,” I was reminded of 214 Trans4m's “Resurrection” — featuring Tommie Ross as Erykah Badu + Nefertari.
Happy Easter, y’all.
3,000-year-old Egyptian messages tell us that civilization’s greatest value was conquering the terrors of death.
Once a blockbusting attraction, the Forest Theater now reflects White Flight’s deterioration upon a progressive metroplex.
The theater’s towering neon sign is named after Forest Avenue, the crosstown spine that links South Dallas to East Oak Cliff. Until 1880, Forest Avenue was spelled with two Rs — a nod to Nathan Bedford Forrest, the Ku Klux Klan’s first Grand Wizard.
In 1930, cinema impresario M.S. White built the Forest Theatre, a $40,000 air-cooled “talking picture house.” Interstate Circuit (which managed Dallas’ Majestic, Arcadia and Highland Park theaters) took over the Forest in 1932.
That initial Forest venue perished in a fire.
Coinciding with Central Expressway’s expansion, a “new” Forest Theater opened in 1949. Catering to a white clientele, the Forest was the Southwest’s largest suburban palace. Black ticketholders were confined to the balcony.
Throughout the ’40s, blacks faced housing troubles all over Dallas. But mortgage houses didn’t vigorously oppose migration to the city’s southern side.
By 1952, South Dallas was 90-percent black.
Adhering to segregation norms, Forest Avenue High School was designated a black facility in 1956 and renamed James Madison High School. That year, the Forest Theater “reopened” as a “de lux movie house for Negroes.”
The building remained a cinema until 1965, when managers announced the Forest’s closing due to lack of patronage.
For decades, the Forest alternated between standing vacant and hosting a variety of theater-nightclubs that lured the likes of B.B. King, Al Green, The Byrds, Tina Turner, James Brown and Gladys Knight.
In June 1976, Forest Avenue was rechristened Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard. A young Erica Abi Wright could walk to the Forest from her home near Julius Schepps Freeway. On the big screen, she watched Bruce Lee’s slow-burn martial artistry in “Enter the Dragon” and Pam Grier’s brown-sugar ass-kicking in “Coffy.”
Erica later became Erykah Badu.
Badu began renting the empty and dilapidated Forest in 2003. The property wasn’t for sale, and Badu almost went bust bringing the 16,000-square-foot building up to code.
She changed the name to The Black Forest Theater and painted its front doors with a fist-handled Afro pick. The Black Forest housed Badu’s charity, B.L.I.N.D. (Beautiful Love Inc. Non-profit Development), which provided a soup kitchen, as well as youth-arts programs. The Black Forest’s marquee regularly spelled out Badu-like aphorisms preaching unity and community.
The theater experienced a scintillating revival as Dallas’ hottest after-party. At Badu’s invitation, Dave Chappelle, Snoop Dogg, The Roots and Jill Scott entertained lucky guests until the dawn’s early light. Following his 2004 American Airlines Center sellout gig, Prince headed to the Black Forest for a royal jam- session that patrons enjoyed for a mere $20 admission.
Egypt’s ancient symbol for imperishable life is the ankh. When Prince transformed into “The Artist Formerly Known As...” his name was represented by an ankh-like character that incorporated both the male and female astrological symbols. Badu titled her 2010 album, “New Amerykah Part Two: (Return of the Ankh).”
The walls of Queen Nefertari’s tomb (1290 B.C.) narrate the passage to the afterlife. Throughout her journey to the great unknown, Nefertari is depicted as wide-eyed, cheerful and wearing a bird-like cap, which represents Mut — the hermaphroditic vulture deity, who’s sometimes depicted with breasts; sometimes with an erect penis.
Badu hoped to transform the Forest into cultural landmark, much like New York’s Apollo Theater. Her noble dream proved to be unsustainable for just one person.
However, the Forest Theater — now for sale but in serious disrepair — awaits another revival.
‘QUEEN NEFERTARI + ERYKAH BADU:’ TOMMIE ROSS
LOCATION: THE FOREST THEATER, 1920 MARTIN LUTHER KING JUNIOR BLVD. | ACCESSORIES: BRIAN ALDEN | STYLING: RICHARD D. CURTIN HEADDRESS: KENT PARKER | MARQUEE DESIGN: L.C. CORTEZ | WARDROBE CONSULTANT: CHARLES YUSKO
PRODUCTION DATE: MARCH 22, 2013 | PHOTOGRAPHY: BRYAN AMANN | DIRECTION: DANIEL KUSNER
I once dragged massive muscleman Matt to Bass Hall for a swanky Sunday matinee concert with Pink Martini.
Matt’s ginger mohawk turned heads all over Fort Worth.
After a few slinky foxtrots, Martini bandleader Thomas Lauderdale broke for intermission. So Matt and I took in a moment of afternoon sunshine.
And there on the sidewalk stood a tuxedoed — and pink mohawked — Lauderdale inhaling a cigarette.
In true Portlandia style, Lauderdale also had a vintage Polaroid slung around his bow-tied neck.
Our conversation quickly drifted to the symphony’s distractingly handsome cellist, who was also enjoying a smoke break just a few feet away.
Lauderdale's swagger is oh-so-subtle.
The bandleader slightly nodded. And the cellist — a North Texan hired for the afternoon gig — strolled over to say, “Howdy.”
I hammed it up for Lauderdale, who captured Yours Truly, shamelessly photobombing while sandwiched between two bearded hunks.
Lauderdale is a class act.
He handed me the Polaroid. All while smiling at Matt...
I photographed Matt, too.
Matt was transitioning from computer design to med school. From hardcore evangelical to furry “bear-lebrity.” From single stud to relationship.
Many Oak Cliff homeowners transform their properties into microchurches.
In my neighborhood, a front lawn once glowed with a red-neon crucifix .
I pulled the car over, and Matt jumped into action.
SPIKE AND THE DYKES:
Influential black auteur goes off deep end with gayest film yet — so bring on the heat
By Daniel Kusner | 08.20.04
What’s going on inside Spike Lee’s head?
There’s never been an obvious answer to that question.
For such a prolific director — releasing 18 feature-length films since 1986 — one thing remains consistent: Spike Lee does things his way. And without trying to satisfy a broad audience.
His new film, “She Hate Me,” is certainly his gayest work.
And while Lee bravely forges into new and provocative territory, the director won’t be accused of pandering to lesbians.
The movie’s intricate plot revolves around biotech executive Jack Armstrong (Anthony Mackie), who is fired for being a corporate whistleblower.
Strapped for cash, his ex-girlfriend — now in a same-sex relationship — offers him “easy money” to impregnate her and her partner.
Soon other lesbians with a desire for motherhood — and $10,000 to spare — line up for Jack’s services. And not with turkey basters.
As his former employers try to frame him, and Jack weighs the consequences of fathering 19 children, Jack’s life becomes complex….
Lee says the film is a “parallel morality tale” — where every character is faced with choices that can compromise their ethics.
Once do-gooder Johnny finds himself in a jam, his morals are conveniently revamped.
“And it’s not that he’s impregnating lesbians. It’s that he’s become a sperm donor,” Lee explains while inside a Dallas cafe at The Crescent complex.
“He’s selling something God gave him. And it doesn’t matter that [Jack] signed a donor-waiver agreement. He brought 19 kids into the world.”
Lee knew he didn’t earn the license to include 19 lesbians in “She Hate Me.”
Past films, like “School Daze” and “Summer of Sam,” contained homophobic slurs, which Lee has had to defend.
“Using the words like ‘punks’ and ‘fags’ has gotten me in trouble. Somehow people felt that those characters’ remarks were my thoughts. And my sensibilities, which is ludicrous,” Lee says.
“It is known that black people are very homophobic. So why shouldn’t I reflect that in my films?”
Lee counts “The Sopranos” as one of his favorite video dramas.
“And every time they refer to black people, it’s ‘them shines,’ ‘them niggers,’ ‘them spades,”’ Lee explains.
“Are those [writer-creator] David Chase’s thoughts?
But for Italian-Americans, like Tony Soprano, that’s the way they think and talk about black people.”
Lee has made a few respectable choices when it comes to queer content.
He was the first director to hire RuPaul for a major film role.
She has a cameo in “Crooklyn” as the coochie-shaking transgender inside a steamy bodega.
Lee knew the lesbian content in “She Hate Me” might set off some alarms.
And like other films where his insight was lacking, Lee hired a consultant — Tristan Taormino, The Village Voice’s lesbian sex-expert and author of “The Ultimate Guide to Anal Sex for Women.”
When Taormino first read Lee’s “She Hate Me” script, she knew the job would be a challenge.
“I thought, ‘Wow … This is going to piss off a lot of people.’ So … Do I throw it across the room and say, ‘Fuck you, Spike!’ Or do I stay and try to bridge this gap between our totally different worlds?” Taormino asked during a recent trip to Dallas.
The anal-therapist decided to play.
Taormino red-flagged problems with the script. And Lee incorporated some of her suggestions.
One portion of the script provoked Lee and Taormino into disagreement — that was about the film’s overwhelming population of lesbians who opt for the traditional insemination method.
“Early on, I asked, ‘Aren’t some of them going to be using a turkey baster? Or I suggested, ‘Could some of them show up with a turkey baster ... and then change their mind?’ Spike was like, ‘No, no. This is the vision.’ And it was almost, like ... I had to go with that,” Taormino explains.
As a consultant, Taormino’s primary duties were to guide the actors in presenting a diverse array of lesbians.
So she held a weeklong “lesbian boot camp,” where the actors learned about queer culture and identity. Where they discussed "butch vs. femme,” “the ins and outs of strap-ons,” same-sex marriage and their characters’ coming-out stories.
“Spike had this idea of a ‘rainbow.’ That most of the lesbians not be white. And that not all of them were black… The script even called for a Polynesian lesbian,” Taormino says.
Word on the street about test-screenings is that “She Hate Me” horrified more than a few lesbians.
And Lee’s film packs a surprising and radical ending about an alternative family.
Many have blamed Taormino for the outcome.
“I think there are mixed messages in the film. But I don’t think there’s ever been a Spike Lee movie with a pat resolution,” she says. “And I am not the co-writer of this film.”
Taormino says her contribution may be subtle.
She says she helped add “the stripes and colors" about the portrayal of lesbians.
“Spike Lee is not making a documentary about lesbians-of-color …. Or coming out and parenting.
It’s a fantasy. It’s Spike's vision,” Taormino continues.
“People have told me, ‘I don’t understand where your voice is in this movie. My voice is in the conversations with the actors. My voice is the conversations with Spike. They take the information.
And then they go and work. It’s not like I turned to Spike and told him, ‘It should be like this. And then Spike does what I tell him…”
Tristan Taormino, author of ‘The Ultimate Guide to Anal Sex for Women,“ served as Spike Lee’s technical consultant for the film, “She Hate Me.”
08.20.04 PAGE 32 | dallas voice