Raven-Symoné, Jane Fonda and Lee Daniels shine at the Outfest Legacy Awards

What is a legacy worth?

A great deal, according to members of the Outfest UCLA Legacy Project. Last night AE Editor Karman Kregloe and I, your humble Hollywood correspondent, trekked through downtown LA to cull the Legacy Awards for sapphic snippets, moving presentations, and free booze. The Outfest UCLA Legacy Project is the only project in the world dedicated to preserving LGBT moving media for current and future generations of the LGBT community. As you’ve probably noticed, history has not been kind to gays and lesbians. For centuries, we have been rendered invisible, save for the occasional salacious incident and the few instances of persecution that historians bothered to document. The mainstream media has largely ignored LGBT heritage and culture unless it somehow collides with our occasionally benevolent heterosexual overlords.

Seeing the gaping hole in LGBT cultural preservation, Outfest partnered with the UCLA Film & Television Archives in 2005 to protect LGBT film from loss or neglect. In eight short years, the Project has restored 19 films, preserved over 150 videos, collected 30,000 works, held 75 public screenings, and created nine filmmaker education initiatives. The Legacy Project doesn’t just preserve our past, it sustains our present and builds our future. We were here.

Before the award ceremony honoring out director Lee Daniels and showcasing the work of the Legacy Project, Karman and I hit the red carpet for brief celebrity interrogation. As we lurked in waiting for celesbians, beautiful gay men flounced past with wide smiles and nifty cufflinks. Finally I caught sight of our mark: Kirsten Schaffer, Executive Director of Outfest. Wearing an elegant blue dress and wide smile, Schaffer exuded serene warmth and happily answered my barrage of questions.

Kirsten Schaffer
2013 Outfest Legacy AwardsGetty Images

AE: What are the biggest challenges you face in getting lesbian films from Outfest to the world?

Kirsten Schaffer: It’s all about distribution, the films need to get picked up. Every year there are dozens of lesbian films screened at Outfest and all are excellent films that should be seen by gay and straight audiences alike. Some of them are getting out there. Concussion did well and obviously there’s been a lot of talk about Blue is the Warmest Color.

AE: What did you think of Blue is the Warmest Color and the controversy surrounding it’s depection of lesbians?

KS: To be honest, I haven’t seen it yet!

AE: What would be your advice to lesbian filmmakers who want to get their film in Outfest? What are you looking for?

KS: We’re looking for films that tell fresh stories, have a unique point of view, and really come from the heart. Also, we’re looking for films that appeal to a variety of audiences.

AE: Do you think straight audiences have a tough time relating to gay characters?

KS: I think that sometimes straight audiences need a way to connect. If there’s someone they recognize in a movie they’re more likely to go see it, and once they see it they love it.

AE: Last week I spoke with director Adam Shankman at the Go Go Gala, and he said that indie films are really for gay protagonists but major studio movies are not. Do you agree with that observation?

KS: I think that mainstream audiences and big budget movies are ready for gay characters. We’ve seen them before.

AE: What about gay actors in Hollywood? Do you think major studios are ready to cast a gay action hero or lesbian rom-com starlet?

KS: Definitely!

Karman and I were dismayed to discover that Raven had skipped the red carpet to sneak through a hidden back entrance. The actress hasn’t discussed her sexuality at any length with press, so it was disappointing but not surprising to learn that she’d be unavailable for our questions. However, when Raven took the stage later that evening to introduce a Legacy Project clip from the film Jewel And The Catch, she gave a cheeky “I know you want to know more” smile when pointedly stating that LGBT history is “our history.” Wink wink. Jewel And The Catch is the powerful story of African American LGBT activist Jewel Thais-Williams. Jewel’s Club, Catch One–affectionately referred to as “The Catch”– became a vital hub for the queer African American community of Los Angeles.

Raven-Simone. Credit by Pascal Halim.Photo by Pascal Haim

The focal point of the night was celebrating the career of Lee Daniels, the first openly gay African American to earn an Academy Award Nomination for Best Picture. Daniels directed critically acclaimed films The Butler, Precious, and The Paperboy, as well as producing Oscar-winning movie Monster’s Ball. In Precious and The Paperboy, Lee fearlessly brought multidimensional queer characters to American and international audiences. Gabourey Sidibe, who Lee discovered and cast in Precious, was scheduled to present Lee’s Visionary Award. But when Sidibe couldn’t get away from the American Horror Story set at the last minute, a surprise Lee Daniels fan and co-worker stepped in: the irrepressible and incomparable Jane Fonda.

Jane Fonda. Credit by Pascal Halim.Photo by Pascal Haim

Fonda, who Daniels cast as Nancy Reagan in The Butler, sauntered on stage to a standing ovation in a glorious and glittering jumpsuit. “Still hot,” I muttered to Karman as she nodded appreciatively. Our fabulous fifth row seats were close enough to properly admire Fonda’s still banging bod.

Lee Daniels with Cuba Gooding, Jr.

2013 Outfest Legacy Awards - InsideGetty Images

Daniels, visibly moved, accepted The Visionary Award from Fonda and turned to the crowd and said, “Being a filmmaker is very, very, very hard. Being a black filmmaker is really, really hard. Being a gay black filmmaker is close to impossible.”

But not impossible.

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