October 21, 2021

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The “Port Authority” Cast on Putting Ballroom Culture Onscreen

It feels like Pride has finally progressed. This year has been marked by significant film and TV works and performances by queer people of color who have taken possession of their identities and presented a multidimensional vision of themselves. The ceiling is cracking, but there’s a lot of work still to do until it shatters.

A prime example of this sea change can be seen in the new Danielle Lessovitz-directed, Martin Scorsese-produced film Port Authority, which tells the love story of a Black trans woman, Wye (Leyna Bloom) and a young Midwestern New York transplant, Paul (Fionn Whitehead). A gritty romantic drama, the film subverts the long-suffering character narratives we too often see when it comes to POC queer people in cinema, instead showing the strength in love, support and growth found in a ballroom community built on the chosen family dynamic. It also explores the duality of the cis white male construct, as seen through a push and pull of toxic male fragility, classism and the anxieties that come with houselessness.

To cap off Pride month, PAPER spoke with the film’s lead Leyna Bloom and the kiki ballroom fam Christopher “Afrika” Quarles, Aden Carpenter and Eddie Plaza AKA Miggy about their involvement with the ballroom community, collaborating on the film, as well as the ultimate exposure this project will have on future generations of people looking to simply to see themselves represented onscreen.

What house do you rep and how did you get involved with this film?

At the moment I am a 007. I am formerly the mother of Miyake-Mugler’s New York City chapter. I might start my own house or go back to Mugler. My whole ballroom career I have always been in a house, and this is the first time I’ve been a free agent. So I’m really looking forward to the next chapter.

How I got involved with the film is that I was actually at a ball in Philadelphia and the casting directors Damian Bao and Kate Antognini were scouting talent. Fresh faces and untrained actors at the ballroom scene, ’cause they wanted to make sure that the actors actually came directly from the community. For me, this moment represents the idea that our community is in a position in society where we can tell the stories and we can honestly do it raw and real.

What experience did you take with you into the project and how did you relate to the vantage point of the other characters?

When I first read the script I immediately started thinking of Romeo and Juliet and West Side Story, all these different movies which talked about the complexities of different people coming from different parts of the world. I wanted this film to pay homage to the trials and tribulations of someone navigating themselves and also finding love in the process. I think we live in a society where love is hard to come by and when you find it you just hold on tight, regardless of gender regardless of sexuality. There’s something really human about people just being humans getting to know each other outside all those things. The world is having this a-ha moment about the stupidity based around racism and bigotry. There is something that’s very real about people of color, that we don’t need power, we create love, we create community, we create opportunity without these forms of white superiority.

How do you see voguing and ballroom culture move into this new mainstream sensibility in the world?

It’s extremely important and extremely imperative that we have imagery in music, television, movies, branding and advertising that are wrapped around people that are from these communities. It doesn’t necessarily have to be ballroom, but to be represented in everyday society. I’m tired of having these qualifications and certifications to do certain things, to have a sense of power in society. I just want people to understand the realism of the culture that I come from and what is really happening in the world. It’s not just in New York City — it’s happening all over the world. Boredom is a phenomenon that is teaching people how to love themselves, love their bodies and love the bodies next to them.

Christopher “Afrika” Quarles

How did you get involved in Port Authority, and what specific life lessons did you bring to your role?

I actually auditioned for Tekay’s role as Wye’s protector, but I actually had my role written in. I was explaining to them ballroom culture, the background, and how there is a parental figure always embedded into ballroom. My role within my ballroom life career is like being a parental figure, being a leader within my community and my house. Having that meeting with Danielle was magical because I was written in a year later — she felt like my voice needed to be heard. My conversation with Fionn was a very in-depth conversation that I didn’t know was so important until the film debut. The lesson I brought was me! Someone who can be a nurturer and guide at the same time also gives you realistic views. Realistic segues to just being a better person and understanding the faults that come with life.

What house do you rep? What category do you walk?

I am Afrika the legendary Juicy Couture but I’m also Afrika Saint Laurent in the mainstream scene. Juicy is my Kiki house. My category is runway. I walk European runway.

How do you plan on celebrating Pride?

I honestly didn’t plan to celebrate Pride. Covid made me want to focus on just seeing where these avenues of entertainment will take me. I didn’t get too involved in any of it, ’cause I’ve been working on my game plan and what life will look like for Afrika in the next five years.

Devon Carpenter

Gloves: Wing & Weft, Tights: Wolford, Dance belt and boots: Capezio

What house do you rep? What category do you walk?

I’m currently not in a house! In the ball community that’s called being a 007, but I’m weighing out my options. My last house was the House of West, who I will love forever so deeply. I walk Legendary Butchqueen Vogue Fem!

How did you get involved in Port Authority, and what specific life lessons did you bring to your role?

I was cast by Kate and Damian at the Mattel ball in Brooklyn after I finished walking my category. I was running to the back to change out my outfit, which was a black catsuit and a black bob, when they stopped me to let me know they were interested in casting me. I gave them my info, but didn’t believe they would call back. The life lesson I brought to my role is to live life unapologetically and never really worry about what anyone thinks of you, because at the end of the day the only opinion that matters about yourself is yours.

Eddie Plaza (AKA Miggy)

Beret: Gigi Burris, Bodysuit: Intimissimi , Trousers: Agent Provocateur, Shoes: Fluevog

What house do you rep? What category do you walk?

I represent the new and up-and-coming house of Wang. I am a 007 in the mainstream but I’m looking forward to joining one.

How did you get involved in the film?

I got involved with the movie by literally being myself. I was out on the street for a festival at Pride in 2018 and Damian Bao literally cast me in the streets. He thought my personality was really dope. He was very transparent about the whole thing and he let me know the information.

What do you think is the most relatable part of Paul and Wye’s relationship? Do you feel it has reflected relationships you have had?

Paul and Wye’s relationship was very relatable because it was such a transparent thing to see. The LGBTQA+ community goes through trials and tribulations, anyway you put it, within trying to find ourselves and trying to find love. It’s such a hard and rocky road, it’s very unlikely to happen honestly. It’s a rare thing to find true love. Through this movie you can definitely say you can’t see things through the surface level, you have to love straight past it.

Do you feel LGBTQIA+ identities are finally getting the exposure we need? What do you want to see more of on screen that would reflect the community?

I do agree that the LGBTQIA+ community is finally getting exposure and I commend all platforms that are bold enough to go against the norm. And actually give us as the talent an opportunity to be seen. Being able to celebrate and live comfortably through yourself and everything else within the community on its own — not only ballroom — is a great way to celebrate Pride. Pride for me is the celebration of being alive this year.

Port Authority is now available on digital and on demand.