Netflix Discoveries: Saturday Church

Here we have a classic example of a movie made on a shoestring budget and featuring (then) mostly unknown players, a movie that made its debut at both the Tribeca and Montclair Film Festival. While I don’t doubt Saturday Church was well-received, movies like these tend to make next to no noise when officially premiering in an extremely tight, limited release, which if I am correct, was at the IFC Center sometime in 2018.

Damon Cardasis and producer Rebecca Miller have created a profound (albeit too brief) movie about a 14-year-old boy named Ulysses (Luka Kain) who is questioning his identity. When we meet him, it is through the death of his father. Luka’s father was considered to be a man of greatness, and his absence now lands Luka in the unwanted position of the man of the house.

His mother (Margot Bingham) works long hours and can’t manage the house, so she brings in Aunt Rose (Regina Taylor), an ultra-conservative woman who already seems to know Luka’s secret. She immediately begins to impose her rules in the house, rules that don’t sit well with Luka, who is merely trying to figure himself out as he transitions from boy to young adult.

Increased pressure at home finds Luka at Christopher Street through the subway, and it’s there that he (accidentally, while on the Piers) comes upon Saturday Church. Saturday Church is a non-profit outreach program for marginalized LHGBTQ+ children and young adults, run by Joan (trans activist Kate Bornstein). Ulysses meets a small group of trans-women and a young gay man (Marquis Rodriguez) who take him in openly as a new family member. Needless to say, Ulysses, who now knows there are more people like him, still can’t, for obvious reasons (Aunt Rose) express it at home.

Cardasis has constructed his movie like a musical, with snippets of what seem to be longer tunes taking center stage when characters begin to express thoughts and emotions that perhaps words just can’t. It might look a little jarring — and some numbers land gracefully, while others don’t — but they serve a purpose, which is to illustrate these people’s inner world, their loves, their losses, their pain, and their hopes for something better.

On the plus side, the casting of trans-women in trans parts is a major asset to Saturday Church. Far too often cis-women have been cast in these parts, so to use women like MJ Rodriguez, Alexia Garcia, Indya Moore, and Bornstein is a massive score for true diversity as opposed to diversity in intention, but not in execution.

Cardasis also navigates some rather queasy waters late in the movie when Ulysses finds himself at the mercy of a sexual predator. It is an uncomfortable scene to watch, but it is a sad reality that still exists for the homeless who need a meal and maybe some quick change to live. I almost didn’t want to see it but realized later, it had to be shown if at all partially and with enormous taste, to show the ugly reality trans-youth face.

Saturday Church is on Netflix and for free. It is a must-watch.

Grade: B+

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