J.A. Steel is a lesbian filmmaker and actress who grew up watching cheesy sci-fi horror flicks and is now making the movies she adored as a child.
Her third film, “Denizen,” screens tonight at the LGBT geek event OutlantaCon, which begins today and lasts through May 2.
OutlantaCon, the Southeast’s largest LGBT event for science fiction, fantasy and horror fans with the mission of supporting and promoting gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender themes. Tickets are still available to the event that takes place at the Holiday Inn Select-Perimeter, 4386 Chamblee-Dunwoody Road, Atlanta, GA 30341.
“[‘Denizen’] is based on a very strange dream I had,” Steel says.
“Many of my movies come from my dreams. I have nightmares and I make them into movies. There are a lot of creepy, scary things inside my head,” she says with a laugh.
“I was raised on ‘Godzilla’ and ‘Mothra,’ the creature feature, and loved those films,” she adds.
“Denizen” takes place in a small town where a mysterious creature begins to eat the residents along the lakeshore where the monster apparently lives, leaving a bloody trail in its wake.
A small group of scientists must find a way to stop the creature before it eats its way through the entire town. The scientists must also also battle military forces that have enforced martial law and are threatening to destroy the entire town.
To make things a bit more interesting, the cigar-chomping General in the film is played by a transgender woman whose character is a cross-dressing male in the film. Steel says the character is based on Klinger from the hit TV show “M*A*S*H,” adding to the film’s cheese factor.
“I always watched ‘M*A*S*H’ and wondered what would happen if Klinger was in charge,” she says. “This is a cheesy, sci-fi, horror, comedy — just total B-movie badness.”
The main character in the film is a lesbian who has a wife, Steel adds, but the character’s sexual orientation is not a major part of the movie.
There’s just not enough time for sex scenes or to delve into romantic relationships in the movie when everyone is running around trying to save the world from some fierce, flesh-eating monster, she explains.
OutlantaCon is Steel’s first LGBT film screening event
While the movie may not be Oscar material, Steel is a one-woman powerhouse in the film industry as one of the only women making sci-fi movies. She acts, directs, writes, does the stunts, choreographs the fights and even works as camera operator. Her other films, “Third Society” and “Salvation” have won various awards at small sci-fi film festivals.
“I’ve tapped more into mainstream audiences — people say I’m not gay enough,” Steel says. “[‘Denizen’] is a mainstream film with LGBT characters. But I tend to be ignored by the LGBT community. This is my first screening at an LGBT event.”
Steel, 40, says since she started her career in the entertainment industry more than two decades ago, she has always been out. Being a lesbian has never been a hindrance to making a sci-fi horror film — but being a woman has.
“I’m always told, ‘You’re a girl, what do you know about a fight scene?’” Steel explains. All she has to do, however, to dispel that bit of discrimination is to prove she knows her stuff — Steel is one of the first western women to study the art of Muay Thai kickboxing in Thailand.
Steel readily acknowledges “Denizen” has no deep, philosophical meaning to it.
“It’s just fun. It was made cheap. Some people call the monster the Carpet Monster, which could have a double meaning,” she says, chuckling.
LGBT sci-fi, horror movies ready to change the world?
But Steel does believe society’s perception of LGBT individuals can change through media, including characters in sci-fi films.
“Through conventions like OutlantaCon, a world of change for the LGBT community can be made,” she says.
“If we ever get a gay character on ‘Star Trek,’ and now we have a gay character on ‘Caprica,’ and it’s not a big deal — in popular culture if we have lesbian or transgender characters and actors in roles and it’s not a big deal, I think society will also think it’s not a big deal,” she says.
Edward deGruy, a spokesperson for OutlantaCon, agrees.
“Science fiction and fantasy has always had a significant gay following,” he says in a press release. “But until recently the genre has had very few if any gay characters. In the past few years, we have seen not only more diversity in supporting and lead roles in film and television, but the growth of LGBT-themed sci-fi and fantasy literature as well.”
This year, OutlantaCon has partnered with Jerusalem House, an organization that helps people with HIV/AIDS and their families find affordable housing. Participants of the convention are asked to bring such items as clothes, toiletries, cleaning supplies and TV sets to be donated to Jerusalem House.
“A main theme in sci-fi and fantasy is a hope for the future,” says Scott Tatum, convention chairperson of OutlantaCon, in a statement. “By providing housing for homeless and economically disadvantaged families and individuals coping with HIV or AIDS, Jerusalem House offers these people a hope for their own futures.”
Other guests this weekend include:
• Cecilia Tan, erotic fantasy writer and author of “The Siren and the Sword” and “Telepaths Don’t Need Safe Words.” • Dariek Scott, professor of African American studies at Berkeley and author of “Traitor to the Race.” • Andrew Greenburg, founder of Mythic Imagination Institute and one of the original developers of “Vampire: The Masquerade.” • J.M. McDermott, author of “Last Dragon.” • Eugie Foster, author of “Sinner, Baker, Fabulist, Priest; Red Mask, Black Mask, Gentleman, Beast,” nominated for both a Nebula and a Hugo in the novelette category. • Kiernan Kelly, alternative romance writer and author of “Outland” and “Dancing on the Head of a Pin.” • Kayelle Allen, writer of erotic science fiction romance and author of “The Surrender” trilogy.
Entertainment for the weekend includes a show by Syrens of the South, who will present a special burlesque show targeting the geek audience, and “Match Game,” an updated version of the hit ’80s game show that will pit a panel of OutlantaCon’s guest speakers against members of the studio audience.