JEREMY: Do you have a queer movie that really resonated with you or that you remember in your life?
VOX 1: The Incredible Adventures of Two Girls in Love.
VOX 2: It was But I’m a Cheerleader.
VOX 3: Umm...Brokeback Mountain.
VOX 4: I really liked My Beautiful Laundrette.
VOX 5: Imagine Me & You.
VOX 6: All the Law & Orders are my seminole TV shows.
VOX 7: Inappropriate Behavior. I have to put in a good word for The L Word, which is incredibly imperfect, but I feel like it just hasn’t been replaced yet. I think we need The Q Word.
[THEME MUSIC STARTS]
VOX 8: From WNYC Studios, you’re listening to Nancy.
VOX 9: With your hosts, Tobin Low and Kathy Tu.
[THEME MUSIC ENDS]
KATHY: Okay Kai…
TOBIN: Hi Kai.
KATHY: ...colleague at WNYC...
KATHY: ...tell us this story.
KAI: Well...I sat down one day, me and my boyfriend had a new friend who was over at our house, you know, and he’s in his early 20’s, and he is sort of newly gay. And he’s a person of color, and he was like, “Oh, let’s watch a movie.” And we were like, “Oh yeah there are all these gay movies that you need to be educated on,” that he didn’t know about. So we started talking about the gay 90’s, and he’s like “What’s that? What’s that? What’s that?” We were like, young man, sit down, we are going to show you. You know where you need to start? Particularly as a young man of color, you need to see Punks. And I go to the television, and we’ve got all these apps and all of these streaming services, and I thought certainly, I could just pull up any of these movies. And I couldn’t find Punks anywhere. I couldn’t find it.
KAI: Punks was a movie made by a black gay man, full of black gay people, about being black and gay and in love and the foibles thereof.
[CLIP] PUNKS - TRAILER
VOICE: The Sistahs!
KATHY: This is the trailer for Punks and I’ve now watched it online about 7 times...
[CLIP] PUNKS - TRAILER
DANTE: Well if upon meeting me, a man is not instantly bowled over by my beauty, then he’s clearly heterosexual.
KATHY: And as trailers go, it gives very little plot away, actually no plot. From what I can gather it involves some drama with drag queens and photography and modeling and other things.
TOBIN: Uh, Kathy, this is not helpful.
KATHY: I know…
TOBIN: Kai, can you help us out here? What is Punks about?
KAI: You know, here’s the thing, I couldn’t tell ya.
KAI: I do not...so this is sadly a great many years ago in my life. It’s one of those things where I have an emotional memory of it more than I do a factual memory of it, right? And so basically I remember it as Sex and the City with black, gay men. And there’s one of each. You know, there’s like the sassy queen, there’s the hot muscle boy, there’s the, like, butch guy, you know there’s four of them. And they’re best friends and they’re in Los Angeles, and they are sorting out life and love. And I’m pretty sure one of them starts dating a straight boy I wanna say, um, and hilarity ensues from there. But I honestly cannot tell you what it was about.
KAI: When I was a young gay in my twenties, I had come out, I lived in Washington, DC, and I was diving in...I mean I dove in headfirst into being gay. I was like I’m going to figure out how to be gay, this is gonna be fun, this is gonna be wonderful. I moved to a gay neighborhood. It was a largely white gay neighborhood. I became a professional homosexual, I went to work for a gay newspaper. And I was in it, I was loving it. And sort of at the peak of that, this thing started where all these movies started coming out that were like romantic comedies about gays. And they were like being played in theaters.
[SFX: FILM ROLL]
[CLIP] IN & OUT - TRAILER
CAMERON: To Howard Bracket from Greenleaf, Indiana.
WOMAN: Oh my god!
NARRATOR: A bombshell is about to drop.
CAMERON: And he’s gay.
[MUSIC] First I was afraid, I was petrified...
KAI: And I was loving that and I got to a point where I looked up and I was like these movies, while wonderful, I mean are just relentlessly white. Just relentlessly white.
[CLIP] BILLY’S HOLLYWOOD SCREEN KISS - TRAILER
BILLY: Do I look like a straight man to you?
FRIEND: I need to meet him before I dare subject him to my gaydar.
KAI: I mean they’re not just any old white, but you know I mean, just like the white boy.
[CLIP] TRICK - TRAILER
NARRATOR: Trick. A story about two guys trying to make it in the big city.
KAI: And it just started to turn for me. What was wonderful became really alienating. And in the middle of that, along comes Punks. And it just...it changed a lot for me about my relationship to the gay community at that time.
KAI: My most striking memory of Punks is that when it played, again I live in D.C. which like was this really, you know, I mean it was a big gay town in the ninety's still is but really was then, but quite segregated. You know I mean there was like the black gay community like the white gay community. And then when Punks came out and it was the at the gay film festival that year, and again I just have a emotional memory of this room full of this just rainbow of black queer people, you know, of classes and styles and walks of life. And we were all there.
TOBIN: So that night, when you couldn’t find Punks with your friend...
KAI: I got alarmed, you know, that this history has disappeared. Like I literally blurted out “they’re erasing us. Our history is being taken off of the internet.” I don't know what that meant intellectually but I immediately was convinced there was some kind of conspiracy. And then I assumed it was the economy of it, you know, that like we didn't register meaningfully enough to like count, to get streamed somewhere. You know, like who cares about this movie? You guys aren’t a market. So no one did the thing you gotta do to serve this market.
KATHY: Tobin, when Kai told us this, I was like, we’ve got to figure this out.
TOBIN: Uh huh, I think I see where you’re going, we’re on the same wavelength.
KATHY: Uh huh.
TOBIN: Kathy, you love to dig into the corners of the internet, get on your hands knees and do an army crawl under the barbed wire of improbability…
KATHY: Oh wow.
TOBIN: ...as you search after the golden idol of finding the thing you’re looking for. I’ve gotten lost in this metaphor.
TOBIN: You love a hunt.
KATHY: All of those things are true.
KATHY: And if something important to me, like say Xena, disappeared, you better believe I’d go out there and I would find that thing.
TOBIN: You would freak the hell out and you would find it.
KATHY: Oh Kai, I am going to find this movie.
KAI: I have nothing but faith. I have nothing but faith.
KATHY: Alright so, here’s some preliminary intel: Punks was written and directed by Patrik-Ian Polk. You may know him as the guy who created Noah’s Arc, which was like the black, gay, L-Word. Anyway, Punks was produced by Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds.
TOBIN: Like, the Babyface? Like, uh, [SINGS] Every time I close my eyes...
[CLIP] BABYFACE - EVERY TIME I CLOSE MY EYES
BABYFACE: Every time I close my eyes, I thank the Lord that I got you.
TOBIN: ...that Babyface?
KATHY: Yes, that Babyface! And fun fact: Mariah Carey and Kenny G are both on that song.
TOBIN: Oh my god, it’s like the 90’s in a blender.
KATHY: Okay anyway…
KATHY: I started by checking all the streaming sites—not that I didn’t believe Kai, but you know, we gotta check. I even checked some illegal streaming sites and NOTHING. Then I scanned Amazon and Ebay and Craigslist to see if anyone was selling a copy. Nobody was. I then emailed film festivals that screened Punks at some point to see if they kept a copy. And they did not.
TOBIN: What about ye old video store?
PHONE: Hello, Videotech. Videogram. Cinefile Video, can I help you?
KATHY: I’m wondering if you have this movie called Punks available...
PHONE: Nah, I’m not seeing it, I’m so sorry.
PHONE: Nah, we don’t carry it.
KATHY: Next, I turned to libraries, and I mean all kinds of libraries.
PHONE: GLBT Historical Society Archives.
KATHY: Hi Patricia, my name is Kathy…
PHONE: Reference, how can I help you?
KATHY: Library of Congress…
PHONE: No, we don’t have it…
PHONE: Yeah, not at all.
KATHY: And USC’s One Archive.
PHONE: Huh...was it Urbanworld Films? Does that sound...
KATHY: Urbanworld? Oh yes I think they were the distributor.
PHONE: Okay then we do have it.
KATHY: [GASP] you have it?
KATHY: Is it possible to check it out?
PHONE: No...you can come here and view it. We’re a non-lending library.
KATHY: I see. Okay.
KATHY: How would I get a copy of that?
PHONE: I wonder...let’s see, hold on one second, let me go a little deeper here. Here's the filmmaker. Duh duh duh duh duh duh… Oh there’s his personal website...oh nope, his personal website doesn’t exist anymore. Poor dude, where he is? Oh he’s on Instagram.
KATHY: Oh is this Patrik-Ian Polk you’re talking about?
PHONE: Yeah. I would try contacting...go on Instagram and send him a message.
KATHY: I will do that.
PHONE: Stranger things have happened by doing that.
KATHY: All right thank you so much.
PHONE: Okay good luck.
TOBIN: Coming up, Kathy is on the hunt for Patrik-Ian Polk. Because if she finds him…
KATHY: We find out what happened to Punks!
KATHY: And hopefully find a copy that’s not stuck in a library in Los Angeles.
KATHY: So I’m at the ONE Archive at USC in Los Angeles. It’s a bright, two-story building with stacks and stacks of LGBTQ materials. And Mike, the archivist, takes a break from tending the front desk to take me upstairs into a room that looks like a storage closet.
MIKE: 3146. We’re incredibly lucky today…
KATHY: [GASP] Oh my god, here we go.
[sound of Mike pulling a VHS out of a box]
KATHY: Oh my god. Oh. My. God. I am holding a VHS of Punks in my hand right now.
TOBIN: You did it! You found Punks!
KATHY: There’s no way for me to borrow this?
MIKE: There’s no way for you to borrow this, unfortunately. Sorry!
KATHY: So I failed. But, at least I got to watch the movie at the library.
TOBIN: So you can at least answer what Punks is about.
KATHY: I can!
KATHY: Punks is about a group of friends.There’s Marcus, Hill, Dante, and Chris. Marcus is a photographer. He’s a really sweet guy who becomes friends with his new neighbor Darby, who’s straight, but you know, there’s like a crush situation.
TOBIN: Oh no.
KATHY: It’s cute. And Hill is single again after his boyfriend cheats on him so he’s sort of sleeping around. Dante is sort of the playboy of the group. And Chris does these amazing drag shows as Crystal, the head of an ensemble called “The Sisters.” And they do performances only to Sister Sledge songs.
[CLIP] SISTER SLEDGE - WE ARE FAMILY
SISTER SLEDGE: We are family. I got all my sisters with me. We are family. Get up ev'rybody and sing.
KATHY: And now the trailer makes sense.
TOBIN: Gotcha. Okay, okay, there’s a lot happening in Punks.
KATHY: And I wanna say, like, I think the movie holds up. I mean, it’s still a romantic comedy, so it’s got all the awkward romantic comedy vibes, like, you know, the music…
[CLIP] PAULO PASCOAL - BUT I FEEL LOVE
PAULO: But I feel love, when I’m with you. Out of my head, I’m so confused.
TOBIN: I love a harmony that’s just up a third.
KATHY: I don’t know what that means.
TOBIN: It’s a very 90’s thing. It’s like [singing] just up here.
[SONG FADES OUT]
KATHY: That’s lovely, Tobin.
TOBIN: Thank you.
KATHY: But like, in the world of rom coms, I think Punks is a solid film. And the fact that it’s disappeared from the world is pretty unfair given all the other rom coms in the world get to survive, you know? Like, why not Punks?
TOBIN: Right, and I’m guessing Patrik-Ian Polk has the answer to that. So, did you find him?
KATHY: Okay so, Patrik is not the easiest person to find in the world. He’s very busy being a writer on TV shows like Being Mary Jane. So like, he’s got stuff to do.
TOBIN: But like, isn’t his info like a single Google search away?
KATHY: No. No, Tobin, that’s not how that works. I had to email a few different companies to see if anyone had his contact info. They did not. So finally, I did resort to sending him a message on Instagram like that librarian suggested.
TOBIN: So what happened?
KATHY: He didn’t get back to me.
TOBIN: Wap wap.
KATHY: I did find an article written about him from a couple years ago during the #Oscarssowhite backlash. So I reached out to the reporter who wrote the article—his name is Tre'vell Anderson—and he passed along Patrik’s email address. So I sent over a carefully crafted, non-stalky email. And FINALLY…
PATRIK: My name is Patrik-Ian Polk. I’m a filmmaker, writer, director.
KATHY: So it’s taken me awhile to find you and I’ve found you, and I’ve pulled you into the studio with me because I’ve got some questions for you.
KATHY: Okay, so just to start, how did Punks come about and how did Babyface get involved?
PATRIK: So Punks was my first film. I was hired by Babyface and his wife Tracey Edmonds at their production company. But I was also quietly kind of writing and working on my own stuff.
KATHY: So this is the late 90's, and at some point, Patrik got the opportunity to pass along the script for Punks to Babyface and Tracey.
PATRIK: So I gave them the script and they went off on holiday, and I thought, I kept thinking, they're going to read the script and then they're going to say no ‘cause it's you know, they're going to just...no this is never going to happen.
PATRIK: But they came back and they said that over the course of this holiday vacation on this boat, the script had changed hands. Everyone had read the script: the grandmother, the aunt, the cousin, the brother, the whole family had read the script, they loved it. They thought this is the funniest thing so they were in. So we shot the film, they financed the film. And you know, 35mm film. And then we submitted to Sundance and we got in. And so all the gay film festivals wanted the film. We opened and closed almost every film festival we were in, so it was like everywhere. I went all over the world.
KATHY: So that’s when Kai saw it, when it was this celebrated gay film. It won a few awards, like at LA Outfest and the Black Reel Awards. But then, for reasons I will get to later...the film pulled a disappearing act.
TOBIN: Ooh suspense!
KATHY: So the film right now is sort of in a limbo…
PATRIK: The film is in a vault. Just sitting in a vault.
KATHY: [LAUGHS] And, do you personally have a copy of Punks?
PATRIK: I do have a copy, yeah.
KATHY: What are the chances that I can borrow a copy from you?
PATRIK: [LAUGHS] I’ll have to figure out how to make that happen. I’ll figure it...it’s not gonna be necessarily the easiest thing to do because...
PATRIK: Well, the copy that I have, I have like a film copy.
PATRIK: Like big, heavy, film copy, but I'll figure it out. We can definitely make it happen.
TOBIN: So, did we get a copy for Kai?
KATHY: After we talked, I felt like Patrick was starting to ghost me a little bit. But also he’s busy being a writer and producer and I’m just here bugging him about this old film.
TOBIN: I feel like you're preparing me for disappointment, like you didn’t get a copy from him.
KATHY: Hi, Rachel? Kathy.
RACHEL: Come on in.
KATHY: Nice to meet you.
KATHY: I meet up with Rachel, Patrik’s assistant, at this incredible building in LA.
KATHY: This looks like a hotel.
RACHEL: There is a William Randolph Hearst suite from when he had a suite here. Okay now you just have to bear with me while I pick through his keys.
KATHY: Okay, sounds good.
KATHY: And from Patrik’s storage room, Rachel pulls out…
RACHEL: It’s not not heavy.
KATHY: ...something that was apparently very heavy.
KATHY: The master film copy of…
TOBIN: You did it! You found Punks!
KATHY: Thank you…
KATHY: Thank you, Tobin. This means that Kai is about to see Punks again for the first time in in almost two decades.
[VOICES IN A THEATER]
KATHY: We tell him to meet us at this theater in the East Village called Anthology.
KAI: I’m a little nervous, if the truth is told. It’s a trip to my past. Like, I don’t know, what if it sucks?
KATHY: I don’t think it’s gonna suck.
KAI: Like, why was I so into that? I think it’s kind of gangster that you guys found the original.
TOBIN: Truly when we started this, I was okay, oh well she’s going to find like 20 promotional DVDs or something. But truly, we are in a rented theater with the one 35mm copy.
[SFX: FILM REEL STARTS]
KAI: The lights are going down!
KATHY: Here we go!
TOBIN: Oh my god, this is so exciting.
KAI: Oh, please don’t suck.
KATHY: For the next hour and a half, whenever I look over at Kai, he is nothing but delighted throughout.
[MUSIC] I’ve got muscles...muscles…muscles...
KAI: Aww. Yes! It’s the Sex and the City but black and gay.
KATHY: He’s telling us little tidbits about the film.
KAI: I feel like there were a lot of like photographer themes. I think it’s just an excuse to have half naked people…
KATHY: And generally just loving it.
COUNSELOR: A hand job? Get out of here. Marcus...
KATHY: And the music is amazing! There’s just Sister Sledge hit…
[CLIP] SISTER SLEDGE - WE ARE FAMILY
KATHY: ...after Sister sledge hit….
[CLIP] SISTER SLEDGE - HE’S THE GREATEST DANCER
KATHY: ...after sister sledge hit….
KAI: Ohhh wait, did he not pay for any of this music?
[MOVIE CUTS OUT]
TOBIN: Wait, is that the key to what happened to Punks?
KATHY: Yeah. So this is what Patrik told me:
PATRIK: You know, it was a gay black film, we’re talking about the year 2000. I mean you know how kind of it's still kind of taboo in certain things in pop culture but back then it was a different time. So no major distributors made offers on the film. We got no sort of major offers. Ended up signing a distribution deal with a small black distributor. We found out that the distributor did not pay for the music clearances for the Sister Sledge music, the seven songs that we used. And like the producers who paid for the film are like we're not going to put any money, you know. And then time goes on, and people forget, and then you move on and do other things.
KATHY: I called the founder of Urbanworld Films—they were the distributor—and he said that those music rights would’ve cost millions of dollars. And they just couldn’t afford it. So the film never got real distribution.
TOBIN: Oh my god, that’s so frustrating.
KATHY: I know.
KAI: It’s a nice soundtrack though!
KATHY: It is!
KAI: Quick reactions: My thoughts are this is a really funny movie. This is a very, very funny movie and I'm glad that it is still very very funny movie. This is a movie full of really good looking people.
TOBIN: Oh yes.
KAI: And also, like, it still resonates with me as a unique thing. For me personally, I'm not even talking about like in the world and what's necessary and what we should have out there, I’m just talking about for Kai Wright personally watching it, still resonated with me emotionally as something I need to see and don’t.
KATHY & TOBIN: Mmhmm.
KAI: That like there were all of the black gay men who were in community and who I could, who I can relate to, who live lives like I lead my life you know. I mean with less attractiveness and you know not quite as fabulous, but like, that are just doing normal stuff and falling in love and having fights and being hoes when they feel like it. And sometimes being positive, you know, and like none of it being a thing. And that still hit me as something...as a breath of fresh air, as something I needed to see on a screen in 2018.
TOBIN: Hm. I'll tell you what stuck out to me: for like 0.5 seconds I was annoyed with the fact that the lead was so attractive and everyone was treating him like he was a dumpy nerd. And then it was like…
TOBIN: ...but wait, this gets to be problematic in the same way that all rom coms are problematic.
KAI: Right! Right! That's exactly it. It gets to be problematic. It’s...the genre of rom coms has many built-in problems and that is one of them. That's right.
KATHY: That’s great. So how do you feel now knowing that the real reason why Punks isn’t around anymore is kind of silly? It’s like...it has to do with music rights.
KAI: I'm trying to figure out how to feel about it because…
KATHY & TOBIN: [LAUGHS]
KAI: ...on one hand I feel a way ‘cause I’m like “really girl?” Like, I mean, come on. Like, that was the long range vision here, was like built it failure? So I feel that way about it, to be honest. But then I also am like, you know, I'm thinking back to that era, I'm thinking back to that time. And like the way like we have to just make our own stuff, you know? And I have friends who have made movies—they didn’t think about those kind of things maybe...maybe they did, I don't know. But you know I also like it's kind of punk, as it were, that they were just like, “Look we're making the movie we're going to take these tracks and that's what's gonna be great.”
TOBIN: There is like a funky moral of the story here which is that none of us would be in a studio right now agonizing over music rights and stuff if they just made more of them.
KAI: That's right. That's true. If this wasn't the last one in 1999, you know, then maybe we wouldn't have this issue.
TOBIN: That’s WNYC’s Kai Wright, most recently the host of a really great show called Caught. Before we go, we have some really exciting news for you.
KATHY: We loved Punks so much, we could not keep it to ourselves. So, we’re planning a special one-night-only screening with director Patrik-Ian Polk in attendance. It’ll be on May 30th here in New York.
TOBIN: You can be among the first to find out about how to get tickets by signing up at nancypodcast.org/newsletter.
KATHY: Alright, credits!
KATHY: Matt Collette!
TOBIN: Sound designer…
KATHY: Jeremy Bloom!
KATHY: Jenny Lawton!
TOBIN: Executive Producer…
KATHY: Paula Szuchman!
TOBIN: I’m Tobin Low.
KATHY: I’m Kathy Tu.
TOBIN: And Nancy is a production of WNYC Studios.
[CREDITS MUSIC ENDS]
KATHY: But great music in this film, though, I mean come on!
KAI: I know.
TOBIN: One would say too great.