Though it bloomed in the '40s, long before the rainbow flag became the symbol of the LGBT community, Club Jewel Box was still a colorful place. There were irreverent artworks, lots of alcohol, and drag queens — then called "female impersonators" — wearing bedazzled outfits while performing songs.
In terms of American history, the Jewel Box — particularly through its traveling revue — helped promote the idea of an art-driven queer space during a time in history when it was still illegal to have sex with someone of the same sex. The club left an indelible mark across the nation, especially in the progressive Miami community where it was created.
In fact, the crowds at last week's Miami Beach Gay Pride events owe a debt to those few queer folks in the '40s who refused to be anything other than themselves. This Friday, a special, one-night event — Club Jewel Box: A Night of Queer Performance and Cinema — will celebrate the Jewel Box's legacy through poetry, films, and performance art.
Trae DeLellis, the director of the Bill Cosford Cinema and an organizer of Friday's event, says the artsy affair will highlight the mingling of desire and eroticism. "[Their intersection is] probably where individuals are the most queer," DeLellis says. "The films of the night reflect that. They reflect a lot of contradictions — they are about restraint, excess, tenderness, violence, sex, love."
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DeLellis curated the films along with New Times film writer Juan Barquin, with whom he developed Flaming Classics, a series that pairs films from the queer canon with performance acts. Flaming Classics is hosting Friday's event in partnership with O, Miami Poetry Festival.
"With every event that Flaming Classics does, we hope that it manages to expose each person in the audience to something new, whether it be the film itself, the performance, or a new way at looking at something," DeLellis says. "O, Miami was a perfect partner for this project since this form of cinema has a very poetic element incorporated into it."
The event, which fittingly will take place at the Jewel Box Building on the YoungArts Campus, is poised to bring a much-needed sense of historical context to the Magic City's modern-day avant-garde art scene. "There is such a vibrant queer scene going on right now in terms of performance artists," DeLellis says. "With this particular event, we love the mix of cinema, poetry, and performance. We hope that it really makes people engage with the versatility and power of the label 'queer' and all its modes of expression."
Club Jewel Box: A Night of Queer Performance and Cinema. 8 to 11:55 p.m. Friday, April 13, at Jewel Box Building on the YoungArts Campus, 2100 Biscayne Blvd., Miami; flamingclassics.com. Tickets cost $5 via eventbrite.com.