BY Tony Marco
August 25 2009 10:55 PM ET
Friday, August 21
Passing Strange The Movie is having its premiere at the IFC Center in New York. It will play at this theater for a week and then become the first video on demand for Sundance Selects on August 26 before airing on PBS as part of the network’s Great Performances series in 2010. The cast and crew have gathered on the IFC stage. Stew’s goatee is indeed tight, and he’s wearing his lucky porkpie but has added black patent sneakers to the ensemble. Rodewall is carrying a cheap black umbrella to combat the rain, and Lee has swapped out his Yankees polo for a tee that reads “Defend Brooklyn” over an image that’s either a machine gun or movie camera or both. Cast member De'Adre Aziza is wearing black lipstick and introduces herself to the opening night audience as “Grace Jones.”
“This is the first night I actually cried,” Colman Domingo, an out actor who plays several gay characters in Passing Strange, says as the audience files out onto the sidewalk en route to the after-party. He explains that he’s seen the film before, but “maybe it’s just realizing that it’s out there. It’s released. It’s the end of a chapter, in a way, but also a new beginning for the whole piece. I felt so emotional about it.”
He goes on to explain that A Boy and His Soul, the one-man show he wrote before going into Passing Strange, is going up at the Vineyard Theatre next month and starts rehearsals on Tuesday. “It’s like, OK, universe, I get it,” he laughs.
“We all had such journeys,” he continues, “but it’s such a marker for me because I lost my mother during auditions for Passing Strange, and then Passing Strange helped me heal. Now that part of the journey is done and I move back on to the play about my family. It’s knocking me out what’s actually happening.” And the “family” in Passing Strange? “I think it’s fantastic,” Domingo continues, referring to the film’s gay content. “The way it’s dealt with is very open.” He then rattles off his three gay characters in the show: Franklin, Joop, and Mr. Venus. “All my characters are mentors,” Domingo says, “so it’s obvious that Stew had gay mentors. He always talked about drag queens that he’s admired. They’re such radicals in many ways, and that has influence over the whole play.”
Spike Lee, on the other hand, is often remembered by gays for the lesbian flap surrounding his 2004 comedy She Hate Me, but his gay characters stretch back 10 years earlier, to RuPaul’s turn in Crooklyn. Two years after that, he got “reformed homophobe” Isaiah Washington to utter the line, "Brother, I'm as gay as the Nile is long" in Get on the Bus and was even widely rumored to be one of the directors attached to the film version of Angels in America during its long gestation period. Still, Lee’s not talking about his timeline of gay characters. He’s just not that kind of director. He won’t even say if Passing Strange The Movie belongs in the fiction or nonfiction branch of his work. “It’s part of the body of work,” is his mantra-like reply.
But Domingo is happy to discuss the gay quotient. “We don’t make any commentary on sex, drugs, or rock 'n' roll,” he says. “There’s no moral high ground. This is what it is. Deal with it. There’s no opinion about anything. I just love the 'We Just Had Sex' song. They have a threesome and then he’s having sex with guys. And you move it along. There’s no moral to the story, in a way, and they made a point to do that. They want to raise questions and raise experiences. And it’s part of Spike Lee’s evolution as well. It makes absolute sense that he would direct this, and it does fall in line because he shows many different perspectives of African-American life. It’s part of who Spike Lee is.”