Saturday Church is a story about self-discovery based on a real-life church program that helps LGBTQ teens.
Adolescence is a transition period from childhood to adulthood, and crossing that bridge can be a journey full of surprises, adventures, and hardships. It is a time of discovery in which we start shaping our identity, the person we want to be in the future, our dreams and goals, and of course, our sexuality. If, in addition to that, you identify as queer, gay, or trans, everything becomes even more difficult because although we've made a lot of progress as a society, LGBTQ folks still face discrimination, and in those years where self-discovery has a central role, this situation can have a negative effect on their lives. However, when there’s support and a resilient spirit, overcoming these obstacles can help create a strong identity. This is the core theme of Saturday Church, a musical film that tells the story of Ulysses (played by seventeen-year-old Luka Kain), a New York City trans teen who finds friendship and a space to be himself in a church program for LGBTQ teens.
When I first heard about the plot of this film, I thought it was quite unrealistic to depict a church program helping the LGBTQ youth, especially because extremely conservative Christian groups don't tend to support this community. However, my initial prejudice was shattered when I found out that the plot of the film was based on an actual program that exists in the Episcopal church of St. Luke in the Fields. The aim of this program is to offer shelter, activities, and psychological support, among many other services, to LGBTQ teens who come from abusive households or are currently homeless. Damon Cardasis, the director and writer of the film, spent time with the teens of this program in order to make his story as realistic and inclusive as possible.
Perhaps this is one of the greatest parts of the story, especially considering that the protagonist, besides struggling with the recent loss of his father and his ultra-religious aunt, is a trans person of color, which makes his situation even more difficult. In an interview for Deadline, Cardasis explains that one of the themes that also concerned him for the movie is how to overcome the divide that exists even within the LGBTQ community:
“A white, gay male has a very different experience and most likely a much easier experience than a trans person of color… Although we’re sort of one family, supposedly, as a community, we’re all sort of lumped into one — but not everyone is interacting. Not everyone has the same rights and privileges — even within the minority.”
The themes the movie deals with are serious, but the musical format and the rhythmic choreography fill it with a cheerful and hopeful tone that frames Ulysses' journey of self-discovery. While he struggles with being rejected by his family and his classmates, he finds a home in the group of teens that invite him to “Saturday Church” and become his new family as he embraces his sexual identity. With the help of the diverse community that shelters him, he will go through this age of transition (in every sense of the word) with pride, unafraid to be himself.
So, if you’re looking for an original story of inner growth to sing your heart out, Saturday Church is a film you can’t miss. Even if you’re not into musicals, the core of this story, the formation of an identity and the value of friendship and love, is one we all can connect with. Our life is a constant transition. It’s up to us to embrace change, be true to ourselves, and offer support to those who are having a hard time because it is perhaps in that refuge that a resilient spirit can grow even stronger.
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