Documentary “Starlite” Featured at the Center
Guest Post by Richard Allen
“If you need my bra, my shirt, my weave, my lashes, I’m going to give it to you. That’s just the kind of person I am.” – Lady Jasmine
On the most recent World AIDS Day, filmmakers Kate Kunath and Sasha Wortzel screened the rough cut of their documentary film Starlite at the Center. The Starlite Lounge was a gay bar in Crown Heights, Brooklyn that closed in 2010, due to the location being sold and the subsequent rent hike –one which, it is suggested by the film, was as much a choice based in moralism as in commerce. The Starlite lounge was the oldest black-owned gay bar in New York, and the oldest black-owned business on Nostrand Ave., and the film makes a compelling case for the importance and centrality of it to the history of gay life in New York, black life in New York, as well as simply the history of New York itself.
The documentary, which looks fantastic—the colors are crisp and clean, and avoid many of the problems of shooting in digital—seeks to tell the history of the Starlite, from its beginnings in 1959 on through to the community efforts, ultimately unsuccessful, to keep it open. In between, it tells the story of the owners, bartenders, customers, and performers of the Starlite, and the uniquely welcoming community that sprang up around it. As one of the filmmakers said, this story lies “at the intersection of race, orientation, gentrification and AIDS awareness,” but it is truthfully about a place that rose above cultural differences. Ittruly became a safe space that was welcoming to all, and sought to be more than just a place that served alcohol or had a dance floor, but instead a hot spot for community activism, AIDS activism, gang deterrence, and racial and sexual reconciliation. Along the way, the film makes manifest the impact of AIDS on everyone who is even marginally connected to the LGBT community.
Following the screening, there was a question-and-answer session with the filmmakers; the owner, Linda King; a former bartender, Dennis Parrott; the former resident drag queen, Lady Jasmine; as well as several customers. They all continually discussed the impact of the Starlite lounge and the hole created in the community, as well as their hopes and attempts to reopen in another location. Their warmth and openness towards the audience, and their easygoing affection for each other were the best advertisement for what New York is now missing, and one hopes that they are ultimately successful in re-establishing this crucial safe space.