If you can in some way identify with being a "gender obliterater," then you need to watch the first trailer for Freak Show. Based on the eponymous novel by iconic club kid James St. James, the movie follows self-proclaimed gender-obliterating teenager Billy Bloom, as he traverses the difficulties of attending a Red State high school as a radical non-conformist. Bloom strikes up even more controversy when he decides to run for Homecoming Queen. Featuring a phenomenal cast including Laverne Cox, Abigail Breslin, Willa Fitzgerald, and Bette Midler as Bloom's extravagant yet distant mother, Freak Show looks to be a proudly queer dramatic comedy (emphasis on the drama). And whether you've in some way lived this experience or know James' work already, you will definitely recognize something vital within the trailer.
For instance, you're likely already familiar with James as a result of the 2003 cult-classic, Party Monster, which was based on his memoir, Disco Bloodbath. The book documented his own life in the New York City club scene, as well as the rise of his peer, Michael Alig, the infamous club kid upon whom Party Monster is based. Though Alig was notorious in his own right, it was his drug addiction and subsequent shocking murder of Andre "Angel" Melendez (for which Alig plead guilty) that officially made him the subject of tabloid headlines and media attention. Though Alig's crimes were the focus of Party Monster (which starred Macaulay Culkin as Alig and Seth Green as James), it's worth noting that the movie brought queer club culture back to the attentions of the mainstream at that time.
The lead character of Freak Show might be fictional, but from the looks of the trailer, Bloom feels like a younger version of what we see of James in Party Monster. Proudly queer, fabulously dramatic, and tenacious in his knack for subverting gender norms, the character will be immediately recognizable to anyone who falls within the extensive LGBTQ+ spectrum. These are qualities that were also recognizable on a personal level to James, too.
In an interview with Punk Globe, James revealed Freak Show was written specifically for teenagers after he was approached by an editor about potentially following up Disco Bloodbath with a Young Adult effort. "My first response was: 'Usually they try and keep me AWAY from the teens,'" he joked, "I have a rather Satanic reputation among parents, after all," but then revealed that this is what ultimately inspired him to move forward with it. Particularly, as he knew how much his younger self would appreciate such a book. James explained that Freak Show reflected his "high school experience" and said, "it's all me," before elaborating:
"Little drag queen in a cruel, cruel world. I wanted to tell the freaks out there who are suffering that it DOES get better. It will always be a fight, being different. But it's the GOOD FIGHT. It's where your art comes from, and your strength and your character... never back down. Never give up."
Though Party Monster provided a generation of teenagers who felt "different," a hopeful glimpse that there was a world where they could be themselves and still belong, it still did so under the encroaching doom of Alig's personal demons. It was inspiring for the "freaks" among us to feel validated in some way by being able to identify ourselves within the kaleidoscope of queerness that Party Monster presented. But Alig's story presented a darkness that was also completely at odds with that feeling.
This makes Freak Show all the more appealing. The trailer makes the movie look as though it features the same rich depth and proud subversion that Party Monster had, but with far more of an optimistic, uplifting spirit. For those of us who survived the battleground of being unable to hide our respective LGBTQ+ identities in high school, that will no doubt feel extremely cathartic to see on screen — and hopefully with a hero who can say and do the things that we may not have has the courage to back then. And for those who are still surviving that high school battleground, it should serve the glorious reminder, as James put it, to never back down and never give up.
If that's a sentiment that you desperately need reminding of right now, however you identify, then you might want to check out Freak Show when it arrives in theaters and VOD on Jan. 12, 2018.