“Frida” / Publicity photo

‘Frida’ and ‘Love Lies Bleeding’ Explore Queer Protagonists Justice Smith Discusses New Film, ‘American Society of Magical Negroes’

The fascinating new documentary, “Frida,” directed by Carla Gutierrez, paints a picture of the legendary painter and queer icon, Frida Kahlo. It’s told largely in Kahlo’s own words and writing (as well as the words of those around her), using a wealth of archival and personal material. Gutierrez, making her feature directing debut, has long been a fan and feels Kahlo was very straightforward about being bisexual.

“She was very open about it — she put it in her paintings,” said the director. “She sent out letters and talked about it in her private closed community. There is some film of her where that attraction is shown publicly. We wanted to express that in the same way — just put it out there. She didn’t shy away from it, but she was also not trying to explain it or defend it in any way. She was expressing it very naturally. That is a beautiful thing that we wanted to capture in the film.”

In doing her research, the director discovered much more about the artist, including her parents’ acceptance of her.

“The pictures that you see of her with men’s suits and her hair back looking very masculine — those pictures were taken as family pictures,” Gutierrez said. “She dressed like that and the pictures were taken by her father. She had that space to really show herself.”

Her work is revered now, but Kahlo was in an era where her work was not widely appreciated.

“She was not known,” Gutierrez said. “She was known as a figure in Mexico, but it was not because of her art. She was a celebrity and a figure being Diego Rivera’s wife and being who she was in public and how she presented herself. But her art really was not well known. Even after her death people that were studying her were looking for the people who owned her paintings because they were in private collections and people did not know where her paintings ended up.”

The new comedy, “The American Society of Magical Negroes” is a satire about Aren, a young man who unexpectedly finds himself recruited into an organization of magical Black people who are dedicated to disrupting the lives of white people. It’s based on the trope of the “magical negro” character, generally a supporting character who comes to the assistance of a white character. Performer Justice Smith, known for work in TV’s “Generation” and films such as “Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves” and “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom,” plays Aren. Smith came out as queer in 2020, although he doesn’t like the framing of coming out.

“It puts a lot of onus on the individual rather than the society that makes people feel like they can’t be their full selves,” he said. “I understood what I was doing when I ‘came out,’ but I saw it more as an invitation in — like I am inviting the public into my personal life.”

Smith feels “American Society” is a work that will resonate with an LGBTQ audience.

“I think the film is talking about being a marginalized person,” he said. “Anyone of marginalized experience has been in environments where they have had to compromise themselves in order to fit in and stay alive, either socially or physically, and I think obviously as queer people we know that experience. There is a lot of code-switching we have to do as queer people in a straight society. I think race and queerness are very different and move in different ways, but systems of oppression usually use familiar tactics, so queer people can identify with this.”

After a splashy debut at Sundance, writer and director Rose Glass’ thriller, “Love Lies Bleeding” is now in theaters. In it, Kristen Stewart plays Lou, who manages a run-down gym in New Mexico. One day, she notices Jackie (Katy O’Brian) in the facility. Jackie is on her way to Las Vegas for a bodybuilding competition, but an immediate attraction develops between the two women. When Jackie begins working for Lou’s father (Ed Harris) and gets to know Lou’s abusive brother-in-law (Dave Franco), matters get complicated. “Love Lies Bleeding” is an erotic film that has a noirish and gritty feel. It can be rather violent at times. Glass, who made the disturbing 2021 film, “Saint Maud,” has stacked a deep ensemble. Stewart and (especially) O’ Brian are both quite believable, and their attraction and feelings for each other drive the narrative. Like “Saltburn,” the last 20 minutes go a little batshit crazy, but it’s nonetheless inspired filmmaking and a potential cult classic, balancing laughs with some shocking moments.

“Frida” is now streaming on Prime Video

“Love Lies Bleeding” and “The American Society of Magical Negroes” are now in area theaters