Light flickers in US, fades in Thailand

Ousting of the first katoey MP is a bad sign for the future

I Told Sunset About You Part 2 will be released in March 2021. Photo courtesy of Nadao Bangkok

For a good part of November, the world was gripped by a tumultuous fanfare that is the US election. And even before the very last votes were counted, relief and joy were already felt in many communities, not only in America but perhaps across the world. For better or for worse, Donald Trump's reign is coming to an end, and the world now looks to President-elect Joe Biden in the hopes that his win will let voices from the marginalised LGBTI community become louder. Biden promised to enact the Equality Act, a civil rights law that will protect LGBTI people from discrimination within his first 100 days in office among other things.

Biden's entrance will hopefully make for a much friendlier environment for LGBTI people following four years of the Trump presidency. A ray of sunshine after a long storm cloud, so to speak. Looking back at Thailand, on the other hand, the storm has already decided to descend upon us. Late last month, news of Tanwarin Sukkhapisit being unjustly removed as a member of the parliament was a huge blow to the Thai LGBTI community. With a flick of a finger, Thailand's first katoey MP was cast out.

It's almost a curse. In 2010, Tanwarin's controversial film Insects In The Backyard, which revolves around a family with a transgender father, was banned for allegedly infringing moral decency. Legal battles dragged on for years and, eventually, Insects In The Backyard was allowed to flutter its wings after a three-second nude scene was axed. Tanwarin went on to make more (but less controversial) movies and eventually made it to parliament. Yet, the road leads back here. A life and career wronged by the country's tainted system.

Tanwarin Sukkhapisit. Photo: Amornthep Chotchalermpong

We will not forget the heroine. The legend. And Thailand will always remember the story of this MP.

Despite everything, we carry on. And while Tanwarin's removal was definitely felt, the movement to call for equal rights for LGBTI people continues. Joining a string of protests in the country was the return of "Mob Toong Ting" that previously marched around Democracy Monument. This time around, the demonstration came to Silom. As participants marched, they also passed by the Thai Red Cross headquarters and reportedly chanted "accept katoey's blood", advocating for the Red Cross to drop the stigmatisation and accept blood donation from gay men and transgender women.

Giant rainbow flags filled the street as the crowd called for LGBTI rights, marriage equality, ending sexual harassment, and others. "Love wins" placards, three-finger salutes, drag queens -- the impromptu pride parade and its colourful participants lit up the centre of the capital once again.

The festive lesbian rom-com Happiest Season stars Kristen Stewart and Mackenzie Davis. Happiest Season Twitter

RISING SUN

Last month, we introduced to you Nadao Bangkok's I Told Sunset About You, a romantic drama series that centres on the relationship between two high school boys. The five-episode series has completed its run and can now be binge-watched in one go on Line TV.

What was initially perceived as the studio's attempt to hop on the popular Boys' Love bandwagon impressively turned out to be much more. At times sensual, at times heartbreaking, Sunset was a well-rounded, coming-of-age drama with good writing, and beautiful cinematography to match. The story dives into the struggle of defining and exploring one's identity and sexual orientation. The performance of two lead actors, Putthipong Assaratanakul and Krit Amnuaydechkorn, were also praised.

Many viewers commended how the story paved its own path in this well-trodden genre and some might argue that it breaks tradition altogether. One of the most discussed aspects lies in the characterisation of protagonist Oh-aew (played by Krit) who's perceived as a little feminine. This broadens the representation within the genre that has been dominated by masculinity. There are countless shades to human sexuality and it's great to see that variety play out here.

Overall, Sunset is realistic and thoughtful, and better crafted than many of its predecessors in the same genre. Following a successful run, it was announced that a sequel is in the making and will follow the two protagonists as they go on to study at universities. This is set to be released in March 2021.

Mob Toong Ting. Photo: Apichit Jinakul

THE SEASON TO BE JOLLY

We're getting an interesting line-up of feature films on the big screens this season. Currently showing on a limited release are Tanwarin's Insect In The Backyard (back in time for Transgender Day of Remembrance earlier this month) and Wong Kar-wai's Happy Together.

More exciting still, we'll be getting two new lesbian stories coming out (pun intended) in a few weeks. One of them will be Clea DuVall's Happiest Season (set for a Jan 7 release), the first Christmas rom-com backed by big studios to focus on a lesbian couple.

Leading the cast of Happiest Season are Kristen Stewart and Mackenzie Davis as a couple going home to celebrate Christmas, but one is ready to pop the question while the other isn't even out to her family yet. While we have long known Stewart, Davis may be less familiar to some but she is definitely not a stranger within the queer circle. If you haven't already, I urge you to check out Black Mirror: San Junipero on Netflix immediately.

The fact that the film is set in the present-day is one of the things that gets many audiences excited and almost more hyped for it than Francis Lee's Ammonite (starring Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan as lovers in the 1800s), which is now delayed and set to be released in February. As beautifully made as period lesbian stories are (and there have been many), they do lack that sense of "now". An urgency. A relevance. Romantic relationships between women are as real and valid in this era as any, which makes the modern sapphic love in Happiest Season quite timely, especially considering its place in a genre that has been almost exclusively straight.

With its rom-com nature, audiences also go in knowing everyone and everything is most likely going to be fine at the end, which is arguably almost a foreign experience from the nail-biting suspense many LGBTI films put people under. More often than not, people watch and simultaneously pray tragedy won't be waiting around the corner. Happiest Season allows audiences to just sit back and enjoy which, in a way, is pretty revolutionary.

Wong Kar-wai's Happy Together. Photo courtesy of Mongkol Cinema

Ammonite starring Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan is due for release in February.

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