The evolution of New York City’s ballroom scene over the past three decades has led to a plethora of stories about the fabulous-nightlife event created by Black and Brown LGBTQ youth.

We saw it in Paris Is Burning, a little in ‘Too Wong Foo’ and more recently in KiKi. But Damon Cardasis’ debut film, Saturday Church, delves into how religion and family cross lines for a young man trying to figure out his sexuality in an ever-conservative world.

“My initial interest was when I was volunteering for a gay organization in New York, trying to pass marriage equality —which is very important but it’s a lot of white gay guys doing it,” said Cardasis, whose mother runs an Episcopal church in the Bronx. 

“When marriage equality passed everyone was euphoric, but then they were trying to pass a bill called GENDA, which I still believe has not been passed. It’s a bill about non-discrimination in the workplace if you are trans or gender non-conforming. In New York State you can get fired solely on the basis if you are trans or gender non-conforming. And no one had an interest in taking up for that one.”

Adding, “We’re lumped in as the LGBTQ community, but there are divides within in the community. And my experience as a white gay man is not the same as a person of color. And so while marriage equality was important for me, there are still trans people that can’t even get a job —for them, marriage equality might not be at the top of their list because they’re trying to survive. 

Starring newcomer Luka Kain, Margot Bingham and Regina Taylor, the film focuses on Ulysses (Kain) who is grieving from the loss of his father and also trying to understand his growing desire to wear women’s clothing. For 17-year-old Kain, the role was a challenge he was excited to take on.

“I was completely ignorant,” Kain said about the ballroom scene. “In terms of professionally working in the business, there was a learning curve for me, but also I was taught a lot about the ball scene and the importance of the community in general. I had a one-hour-crash-course lesson on voguing with our consultant Kia LaBeija who’s amazing… It’s really just a beautiful form of self-expression, it’s amazing.”

Premiering last Friday (Jan 12) in select theaters, the film that took 20 days to shoot hopes to create discussion around socio-normative gender assignments, loss, family, safe spaces, the church, bullying and the journey many LGTBQ youths go through. 

“It was an incredible experience,” said Cardasis about meeting actual LGBTQ youth in a New York shelter. 

“It was tragic and horrifying and if we had put some of the kid’s experiences into the movie it would have felt like we were being a bit dramatic —people would say that’s a bit much— of people being tortured, physical abuse and sexual abuse. Some of the worse things you can possibly think of. But it was also really inspiring because you would see these people who had gone through so much abuse or were homeless, struggling with addiction. But yet, they found community and persevered.”

To find out more about Saturday Church or see the film, go here.