The Royal Vauxhall Tavern has been granted a Grade II listing in London. This is a victory.
There is a lot of interest these days about “vanishing queer spaces.” In 2010 I was part of a team that was fighting for the survival of The Starlite Lounge, the only Black-owned, non-discriminating, gay-friendly bar in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. A documentary about this bar is making the festival circuit this year, and it will be playing in Scotland this month. I have questions about the filmmakers’ process in making it.
Why did they make this film? Who has been able to see it? Why isn’t this video widely available for free, immediately?
I used to go to this bar because it was fun and had really nice people there. Also, it reminded me of the bars I’m used to, because it functioned as a senior center during the afternoon, like the bars in Gloucester City do. My grandmother ran the Kit Kat Tap Room back in the day, and a person could find child care, a used car, or someone to do a favor for you at a tavern like that.
I heard about the Starlite losing their lease during one of the evenings I was there drinking. The Starlite Lounge owners, regulars and members of the Audre Lorde Project’s Safe Outside The System developed a response. The Starlite Lounge was a S.O.S. Safe Space– The S.O.S. Collective organizes and educates local businesses and community organizations on how to stop violence without relying on law enforcement.
During those days while some of us were fighting to keep the space open, the directors of “We Came To Sweat” were trying to get good shots for their film.
Wortzel and Kunath gathered the Starlite community’s stories, and are selling those compelling stories to festival audiences. The Starlite community is priced out of their own history, their own story isn’t available in their own neighborhood. I have been trying to watch their completed documentary (finished years after the fact) and can’t find it except for at festival screenings. The NYC screening was not held in Crown Heights. How can Crown Heights residents watch this film? Have the Starlite regulars been present at screenings to tell their history themselves, or have the white directors flown to festival screenings, and talked “for” the customers of this traditionally Black bar?
Brookyn had the highest percentage of enslaved people of African descent per capita in New York State. After slavery was ended, people of African descent were only legally allowed to live (not own any property) near the area that became Crown Heights. Through the years this area suffered unbelievable civic neglect. So when white filmmakers gentrify this particular neighborhood, it is eliminating the only place where Black people have ever been even allowed to subsist in Brooklyn. White filmmakers are NOT just the “the next wave of immigrants,” no matter how good their intentions are. What is the filmmakers relationship to this historical reality?
In this Vice article online, the (white) director stated that they had never heard about the Starlite Lounge until they wanted to move to an apartment in the historically black neighborhood, Crown Heights. The Starlite had already learned they would lose their lease. Was a reaction of the filmmakers “wow this would make a great documentary!”
What improvements have been made to the neighborhood, and to the state of filmmaking in the neighborhood, as a result of the film? Even if a project seems valuable, if white filmmakers are making documentaries in racist ways, white filmmakers are supporting white supremacy.