Stonewall focus: The vivid and relatable short film ‘Salacia,’ by Tourmaline, offers a haunting allegory for LGBTQ+ persecution
Editor’s note: I took both sections of my MCJ 2 (Media Writing) class to the Fresno State exhibition “Nobody Promised You Tomorrow: Art 50 Years After Stonewall,” which traveled here after opening at the Brooklyn Museum in 2019, and asked my students to write about it. For some, it was the first time they’d ever been to an art exhibition. The responses were varied, thoughtful and inspiring. I’ve selected two of those articles, by Arianna Dominico and Tyler D’Errico, to publish as a sort of valedictory wave goodbye to this remarkable and prestigious exhibition. It’s my way of tipping my hat to the efforts of those who brought it to campus.
By Tyler D’Errico
We could be anything we want to be.
That is the message of “Salacia,” a short film by American filmmaker Reina Gossett, commonly known as Tourmaline, on display in “Nobody Promised You Tomorrow: Art 50 Years After Stonewall.”
Pictured above: Courtesy of the artist and Brooklyn Museum; Co-commissioned by the Brooklyn Museum and High Line Art, presented on the High Line by Friends of the High Line and the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation, and gift of the artist with support from the Mary Smith Dorward Fund, 2019.39 Photograph courtesy of the artist.
The exhibition opened on Aug. 19 at the Phebe Conley Art Building and runs through Oct. 31. It has garnered widespread praise and attention from the Fresno community. The exhibition initially opened in 2019 at the Brooklyn Museum to mark the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots. The Fresno exhibition has been very well attended, according to Meghan Cartier, the programming coordinator for the Center for Creativity and the Arts at Fresno State.
“We expected an upswell of community support, but this we could not have expected,” Cartier said of the strong turnout. The exhibition deals with the legacy of the Stonewall riots and frames them from the perspective of the Black, brown, and trans people at the center of it.
The idea behind “Nobody Promised You Tomorrow” is simple: The fight must go on, even if by tomorrow, nothing will have changed. Tourmaline’s film shows us that the impacts of the Stonewall uprising are still keenly felt across the country.
The exhibition is divided into four themes — revolt, heritage, care networks, and desire. “Salacia” is on display in the “Heritage” section of the exhibition.
The film opens on a woman in a prison cell as voiceover narration references magic plays. This serves to make the film relatable amid a growing barrage of movies these days. This is why the film resides in the “Heritage” section of the exhibition, as the narration discusses the magical nature of the protagonist’s African ancestors.
Before long, we cut to a woman searching for a missing person. She gets arrested by police officers, in an obvious reference to Stonewall that also serves as a knowing wink to viewers in 2021 who have witnessed a changing stance nationwide with regards to police brutality.
She returns to her cell that we saw in the first shot.
We then cut to three men, one of whom is explaining to the others about the River Jordan.
Our next cut is to a split-screen of the woman in the cell and a group of children in a different cell. Here we are accosted by a cacophony of disorienting sounds. Birds fly across a sky that is an uneasy orange.
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Following this, we see the woman interacting with the children in the other frame, and then fleeing the cell. She reunites with a man that we saw earlier as well.
Throughout the film, we see “Wanted” posters referring to the protagonist as a “monster,” an obvious allegory for how members of the LGBTQ+ community are persecuted and seen as different still today. At the end, the man is also referred to as a “monster,” which cements the idea that even if society treats you differently, you can find people that accept you.
The film uses vivid imagery to convey the story of a woman searching for her identity in a turbulent, and often hostile, world. But more than that, it also uses the full extent of the audio-visual medium to make the audience uneasy through its sound editing.
Through works such as “Salacia,” “Nobody Promised You Tomorrow” tells a powerful story of inclusivity and acceptance, one that we need now more than ever.
Tyler D’Errico is a sophomore geomatics engineering major at Fresno State. He wrote this story for Donald Munro’s MCJ 2 (Media Writing) class in the Department of Media, Communications and Journalism.
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