A New Type of Rom-Com: The Half of It

Like many other queer young adults, I was exalted upon learning of last spring’s Netflix film, The Half of It. The titular phrase, “the half of it” is derived from the Platonic myth of soulmates that proposes that each person is half of a whole soul, and the two halves search through life for their counterpart. Director Alice Wu (known for Saving Face) presents a refreshing take on the teen rom-com–this time, with a queer Asian female lead. Perhaps this is old news to some, but I couldn’t resist writing about this film. It’s the type of movie with substantial representation I wish existed when I was a teen.

The plot follows Ellie Chu, a bookish teen living with her widowed father in a small town in Washington. Ellie, a gifted writer who takes on her peer’s coursework for payment, starts writing romantic letters to a girl named Aster, posing as the goofy jock Paul. As Ellie and Paul’s friendship blossoms, so does Ellie’s romantic feelings for Aster.the loyal and playful Paul develops a strong bond with Ellie, an unexpected but delightful pairing who support each other in an honest way. Meanwhile, Ellie’s snail mail and text correspondences with Aster show Ellie’s witty, romantic nature–drawing upon book and film references and deep thoughts. I won’t spoil the ending in case you haven’t watched it yet, but I will say that the writing, although rushed at the end, isn’t demeaning or tokenizing, but portrays its characters in a realistic and nuanced way.

I admire this film not only for its complex writing and characters, but for its representation as well. As a queer woman of color, I was so excited to see representation that I could somewhat relate to. Viewers see scenes of Ellie and her immigrant father enjoying dinner together and watching classic movies, a part of the story that is surprisingly touching. Furthermore, Wu handles themes of race, sexuality, and religion in a thoughtful but not overbearing way.

The Half of It’s cinematography is beautiful as well, with tranquil shots of small-town life and semi-nostalgic high school drama. It’s warm and feel-good. Overall, it’s a brief but pleasant look at young adulthood, full of awkwardness and tension but also true friendship. Wu argues that romantic love isn’t everything in life, but perhaps only the half of it.

“what is art?” #15 – Ariel Friedlander, “Queer As In”

As an art student, it is inevitable to meet people with different art practices and messages. As an art student at the U of M… this theory is further expanded because the art school is within a larger university. There is an infinite amount of opportunity here and one of my favorite parts about being a student in Ann Arbor is getting to see others use art as a form of discussion and watch them grow at the same time as myself. 


One of my favorite artists I’ve had the pleasure of meeting is Ariel Friedlander. I met her in my 2D Studio course that we were both taking as a requirement. I learned that she is both an art and art history major and I grew to like Ariel not only because of her personality and artwork but also because of her innate ability to constantly challenge our assignments and professor. Her confidence with what she was creating inspired me and continues to inspire me and how I create my own work.

In class I watched Ariel make art pertaining to her Jewish, queer, and diabetic identities. I loved watching her connect these ideas and start discussions about intersectionality as well as also focusing on pushing boundaries of other topics. My favorite moments were when she made individuals in our class and our professor question what something meant and then hear her educated and organized response back. 

Ariel is always churning out a multitude of work at a time and is constantly updating her social media with the work she creates. It is great to watch her build a community with her art especially when she posts about her travels.  

She recently has been working on curating a portrait photography and text series, “Queer As In”. In this project, she explores, “the nuances of queer identity through collaboration with self-identified queer individuals.” Ariel had noticed banners and pickets with slogans like “Queer as in fuck you” or “Queer as in abolish ICE” from activist experiences. This inspired her to create this series and have the model she photographed “fill in the blank with a
word they feel is important to their LGBTQ identity.” The color on the portraits are chosen by the model as the color they believe connects the most with their word. The final arrangement shows the photos creating one large pride flag. 


Tonight from 7-9pm in the Michigan League’s first floor lobby is the opening of her “Queer As In” art exhibition on campus. The show will be up from February 11th until March 13th and is sponsored by Spectrum Center and RC.  

As a community, it is important to show up to events and art shows like this to show support and interest. The effort of trying to learn and have an open mind is what sometimes is the most important part of the shows themselves. Ariel’s work is 110% worth the time to check out and I recommend you all go either tonight or within the next month to see her stunning curation. 



Hope to see you there! 🙂

P.S. Check out her cool ass earrings on her Etsy account!

P.P.S. Photo creds to her Instagram!


Out @ the A2 Film Festival

Under the beautiful umbrella of the Spectrum Center, I was able to attend the Ann Arbor Film Festival’s “Out Night,” which showcases short films that focus on LGBTQ identities. Donning my all-black apparel and tapestry-turned-scarf, I was sufficiently visually prepared to enter the space. After getting through the initial sausage-fest reaction (all the non-university Grindr men in Ann Arbor seemed to be in attendance) of entering the space, I was ready to watch some weird shit.

I love weird shit.

But, for better or for worse, there was no weird shit present besides myself.

The films were brilliant and took me to many different locations, many different emotional states, many different lives, many different bodies. What surprised me the most, besides the non-experimental nature of the films (which is a partly misleading generalization because all the films were experimental in their own right since the representation of queer bodies and, particularly, queer bodies of color are experimental in the visual register in-themselves) was the relatively un-in-your-face-queerness, which I did not expect.

Most of the films had some very poignant remarks about identity but it also seemed that all the LGBTQ folks were more or less real normal. A couple took a roadtrip to an amusement site, a rapper told his story, a musing on an author’s stay in Istanbul, a mother and son reminiscing, etc. While there were definitely parts of the films that spoke to LGBTQ identity in its visceral, raw form, there was nothing too out of the ordinary, at least not for an audience mainly comprised of LGBTQ folks.

What was shown, then, were beautiful meditations on LGBTQ life and what it means when identity isn’t just identity but bodies, experiences, and ways of living in the world. A topic that can particularly be unpacked in the short film.

Glimpses and moments were captured. Plots were developed or left out entirely. Emotions were given in their raw form before they could be turned into some metaphor for queer existence. Connections could be made and hinted at, but nothing clear came in conclusion. The short film, while transgressive to real life, has an interesting way at really holding moments that I have experienced and that I wish could be untainted by the continuity of life and my endless goal to make or unmake meaning.

In short, the film festival offers what most movie theatres, televisions, and computers cannot: a real film. Something that doesn’t fit into the pre-made notions of what movies can do, what they are, how they are, and why they are.

Music . . . wait for it . . . that makes me *gyrate*

So: I’m a hot mess.

Over the past 4 years I’ve been that gay boy who prides himself for wearing the “legalize gay” t-shirt, who loves gay marriage like its creme brulee that people are giving out for free when you’ve run out of money for the week, and I’ve projected myself to mature in a suburban wet dream of picket upon picket fences. HOWEVER, no more. My queerness, thankfully, disrupts these dreadful past faults of mine. I’m wary of all institutions (particularly marriage), I hate the normalization of my sexuality and how its being co-opted into moderate liberal agendas, but I still love creme brulee. That thick, hard, sugary crust of joy on top of the most deliciously creamy and sensuous tasty yum-yum is something I dream about.

Or listen to.Recently released, new music has really made me feel like I become a creme brulee.

Two cd’s, in particular, have really got me moving. I listen to both of them every day: when I wake up, at the gym, on my way to class, on my way home from class, when I study, cook, eat–they are on almost 24/7.

(Shamefully:) Lady Gaga’s Artpop;

and (Pridefully:) M.I.A.’s Matangi.

I admit. Gaga is someone I have grown to hate, to love, to hate again, and (shhhh) love again. I saw one of her earliest mainstream performances on the TV show, “So You Think You Can Dance,” where I was solidly NOT a fan–this was 2008. Her album, The Fame appeared, I resisted. She got more famous, I resisted. And then one moment later I was doing the full choreography from “Bad Romance” at my High School Prom (#dark). When Gaga traps you, you find yourself in an unavoidable love game. Years went by and I fought for Gaga, even through that bullshit song, “Born this Way.” EVEN THROUGH THAT. But then when she (or someone) leaked “Aura” and I found her all over tumblr traipsing around the world in a burqa (for fashion) I almost lit all of my Gaga things on fire. I was offended and outraged and so confused. And then Artpop came out.

There is something so brilliant about this album–it’s so weird. I am and am in the process of becoming more and more eccentric everyday and so this space-sounding, electro heavy, sexual album of glory speaks to my soul. “G.U.Y.” is not only catchy but fucks with gender insofar as she reverses the gender of her and her male partner while affirming certain aspects of her identity: “I (Gaga) wanna be your ‘Guy’/’G. U. Y.’” includes her being both a guy and being a “girl under you” while, at other points of the song, she calls her partner a “G. I. R. L.” Now, there is nothing too exciting about this as a concept but that gender confusion, mistaking, crossing, etc., happening in this song is so refreshing. (Or acts a justification for me to like it, whatever . . . ) Similarly, “Sexxx Dreams” (the current song I wake up to) is talking about Gaga more or less seducing the girlfriend of some guy. I love that Gaga talks about her sexuality and her attraction to women in a sexual way (rather than some oblique reference). “Donatella” makes me want to dance on a table while champagne/sweat/glitter is pouring from a disco ball. Yes.

And then there is M.I.A. I first did not like or understand M.I.A. “Paper Planes” came out in 2007 when I was a sophomore in high school. But as I got older I rediscovered her and heavily listened to her Maya album. M.I.A. fully entered my life (she’s here to stay), again, this past July. A friend offered to drive me, and some friends, to the M.I.A. concert in Royal Oak and I thought, “yeah, should be fun.” When I left the concert I couldn’t because I was a pile of love, feelings, and desire for M.I.A. and her music to never stop.

M. M. M. I. I. A.

When Matangi came out I was instantly hooked. Every song is perfect. “Y.A.L.A.” and the line, “bombs go off when I enter the building,” is what I listen to on repeat when I do interval sprints at the gym. “Double Bubble Trouble” is my everything song. “Bad Girls” and “Bring The Noize” will be my anthems for years to come. Every song pushes the boundary of what music is supposed to do and so I don’t see her music ever going out of “style/fashion.” At least not for me.

But not only is M.I.A. aesthetic perfection embodied. She is spot on with her politics, in my opinion, about life, which can be summed up in this beautiful article (http://noisey.vice.com/blog/mia-matangi-ayesha-a-siddiqi). She is ironic, she is direct, she is everything she needs to be about discussing the global south, western hegemony, feminism, etc.

Now, while Gaga’s album might be good for those stereotypical “rage” nights, parties, even days, M.I.A.’s album clearly wins and has me dancing as I party, burn structures of oppression, fight for liberation, write my thesis, and forge a future for myself and others outside of the void of undergrad life.

Sight, Sound, and Stir

An academic talk, I assume, will have a standard format: “Here’s what I’m going to do, here’s me doing it, here’s what I did, questions?” The do/did/done is usually particular research, lots of (beautiful) jargon (#HomoNationalism, #Schizoanalysis, #FungibilityAndAccumulation), and a take away that blows something (my mind, not something (just blows), etc.). I am used to this format. This format gives me comfort. There is a certain formula/art, if you will, to the standard talk.

When the normal academic talk is disrupted, however, by queer-black-dance identity, I know this talk isn’t just an art form but art itself. Here are some signs:
1. There is a Wii controller that, when it moves, adjusts sounds that I’ve never heard before–whirrs and chants and whizzes and vhroooooongs.
2. Every so often the mouse on screen ventures into the unknown, seemingly jumping from the screen onto the board to drag another window (invisible) into plain sight. As if all computer windows are always open but invisible to the naked eye, all information like atoms, tucked away into the smallest depths of reality, the mouse dragged j-stepping videos into plain sight. J-step over here and over there, and all of a sudden the talk stopped to only watch a video (all with accompanying Wii controller controlled sound).
3. Before long all windows flashed away from the screen and a lone Word document lay in our midst. The cursor blinks in a terrifyingly regular way, more steady than my own heart or the internal metronome keeping the Wii controller controlled. Words, fragments, phrases, and identities appear. Are corrected. Disappear. Move on.
4. There is silence. Between words, sentences, remarks, sounds. He stares back at our staring eyes.

Some talks have audio-visual components, but again–”I’m playing this for you, here it is, wow, I just played that–cool.” “OH MY, I’m going to play this video for you, BAM, here it is, AH! it just played.”

This academic talk was less talk more performance art. Hinging on creative interests and experiences as an artist, dancer, queer person of color, it was no surprise that Tomm(ie/y) would disrupt our notions of an academic talk to center himself along the edges, cracks, and space in order to create something that was original and unique. Something that wouldn’t just talk about “Dancing [Black
|Queer] Diasporas” but be dancing, black, queer diasporas.

Blackness and Queerness disrupt most things in civil society, if not all things. In my experience they (it, since I identify as Queer) do so in a beautiful way by allowing for more possibilities than first realized.

The talk finished, the questions answered, and then we danced.

We were to dance Black dance insofar as Black dance is an aesthetic style appropriated by some, embodied by some, and rendered (un)intelligible by some. The beat to 212 (by, yes, Azealia Banks) started to play and I knew that this was some pivotal moment in my life. We were beckoned to stand up (if able) and an individual led us through several dance moves that involved hip and bum movement, dropping it low, and sidestepping. We laughed and danced and became community all while the beat beat beat beat beat.

Coming back to campus, coming (back) to academia, and coming back to beloved spaces, it was nice to have a Monday night interrupted with dance, art, performance art, and a big queer audience of which to be a part.

The world said “welcome back” to Ann Arbor and we replied “I guess that . . . gettin eatin.”

I am a professional.

I came to werq.

Cat eyes? Check. Heels? Check. Hair did? Check. Necklace? Check. Lipstick? Check. Bitch face? Check. Now I sat that Catwalk Extravaganza like I had got the day on to perform. Like I had planned the song, the mood, the scene. But baby that is next year’s tea.

There are a few things you learn at a drag show that you cannot learn anywhere else.

1) How to put it all out on the line: Wigs fly, nips slip, heels break, but you know what? That’s not the point. These ladies strut and vogue and break their ass till it can’t break no more. There is an air of confidence in whatever they do that I have not found anywhere else. There is fierceness in one twitch of the eye all the way done to the point of the toe. And I live and die for that one performance that takes your breath away.

2) How to fail in the right way: Lines get forgotten but faces never do. As long as she strikes a pose, no matter the length, the werq is being done. Every move counts and if things don’t work—and sometimes they don’t—who care? She still has the stage, she still has the audience, she still has the music. Just being with hundreds of people that support her is amazing. Time isn’t over until . . . it never stops. The curtain never falls. Because when it falls she’s done.

3) How to walk like a straight man: There is nothing more ridiculous than the girl that does not do. Her shoulders slump, her legs quake, and all of a sudden I feel like I’m watching hundreds of straight men walk around campus (the horror!). My average party trick is failing to walk in the straight way, honey, but it comes and it goes but it is at the drag show. It . . . can werq too. As long as you own it—success, failure, straight, camp, queen, diva. Plus, it allows for some great social commentary and analysis. The show is a show is show is a performance is theory is everything.

4) How to choose the right drag song: It. is. an. art. form. Science? It can’t be too fast because mmhmm legs do not gyrate well in 7-inch platform stilettos. No they don’t. Can’t be too slow, unless it’s meant to, because the vibrato jaw has to be practiced, there is no winging it ( . . . there’s tape for that . . . ). It can’t be too new because girl is not at Necto and she is definitely not country unless it’s Dolly and she can read poetry, she can just pose, she can dance in silence, but. There’s always one song where you wish you could just turn back time.

Drag shows at the U happen infrequently (cough cough @ the Catwalk Extravaganza, only?). This is a place for everyone. Inclusivity is where it’s at. Children, adults, students, teachers, the whole gamut shows up because entertainment happens at a drag show. It is a time and place to be ridiculous and fabulous and not give a care. Plus, there is some great dancing, lip-syncing, and (t)werqing that is not at the clubs nor the classroom nor the diag.

This is my type of cultural event. These are my people. This is it.