Queer sports history lesson time: the late Glenn Burke was a Black professional baseball player for the Los Angeles Dodgers and then the Oakland A’s in the late 1970s. He was also the first Major League Baseball player to come out as gay to his teammates during his career and, later, publicly. But he also did something else: he invented the gesture known as the “High Five.” On October 2, 1977, fellow Dodger Dusty Baker hit his 30th home run. And when he came back to home plate, Burke was waiting with his hand in the air, expecting Baker to meet it there, and he did. The event was documented in an ESPN “30 for 30” documentary short called “The High Five,” but now Jamie Lee Curtis – whose queer allyship also includes being a proud mom to a trans daughter – is teaming with Ryan Murphy to develop a limited series about Burke. It’s currently titled “Outfielder,” and there’s no deal yet, no cast, nothing. But Murphy has that Netflix deal and seems to be able to get just about anything made, and let’s just say that this seems like the kind of project Netflix could – ahem – benefit from right now. Stay tuned.
Tessa Thompson’s currently glowing in the film “Passing” alongside Ruth Negga but she’s going it alone for actor-director Steve Buscemi (“Trees Lounge,” “Boardwalk Empire”) in his latest directorial project, “The Listener.” Written by Alessandro Camon (“The Messenger”), the film has exactly one on-screen role, a helpline volunteer taking on the task of talking directly to anxious people in emotional distress. As the woman spends the evening listening to and comforting callers in need, her own story is slowly revealed and the need on both ends of the line is made clear. Projects like this are, of course, about storytelling, but also about showcasing an actor’s ability to hold the camera’s gaze for the duration (see also: Tom Hardy in the one-actor film “Locke”). As Thompson fans, this one has definitely piqued our interest. The film just wrapped production and will almost certainly be appearing at 2022 film festival lineups.
Queer director Wash Westmoreland (“Still Alice”) is working on a new film, “Helen & Teacher,” about Helen Keller, the famous Deaf-Blind public figure and political activist, and Anne Sullivan, her teacher and platonic companion until Sullivan’s death in 1936. Playing Keller is up-and-coming deaf actor Millicent Simmonds (“A Quiet Place”), with Rachel Brosnahan, star of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” as Sullivan. The film will be set in the early 1900s and deal with Keller’s time at Radcliffe College, exploring her transition to an activist worldview that would lead to conflict with the conservative Sullivan. In her life, Keller would become a socialist, a suffragist, a pacifist, a supporter of the NAACP, and a birth control advocate, all of which were considered radical at the time. So ditch what you think you know about this historical figure because she was on fire. The film has just been announced so no dates are set, nor is any other cast known, but if it moves quickly you can bet it’ll be positioned for end-of-the-year awards consideration sometime in late 2022.
If you remember the Oprah episodes where the term “down-low” came to national attention, you’ll remember a lot of handwringing about men who had sex with men who didn’t quite (OK, at all) identify as gay. But times have changed and now that subject matter is at the heart of a lighthearted comedy romp called, what else, “Down Low.” The film’s logline is a good one: “a deeply repressed man, the uninhibited young man that gives him a happy ending, and all the lives they ruin along the way.” Fun, right? Anything can be in the right hands, and this debut directorial effort from actor Rightor Doyle (“Barry”) might just be it. Written by Gage and Phoebe Fisher, it stars Zachary Quinto as, we presume, the repressed one, with Lukas Gage (“The White Lotus”) as, we’re guessing, the young and uninhibited one. Along for the ride are Simon Rex, Judith Light, Audra McDonald, and newcomer Sebastian Arroyo. How low will they go? Wait and find out.