“The Starlite Project is a feature-length documentary film titled Starlite and an interactive website based on the making and the taking of the historic Starlite Lounge- the oldest black-owned gay bar in Brooklyn. The goals of the Project are to preserve the historic memory of the Starlite and to counteract the forces which contributed to its closing. See how we are engaging with the community to identify critical issues at play in Starlite in this excerpt from a recent rough cut screening and discussion at the Guggenheim Lab. We are also committed to working with the Starlite owners to throw the first Starlite Reunion and Benefit Extravaganza which we invite you to be a part of…details to come…
Why should you join the effort?
The Starlite is the legacy of visionaires in the community. We are thankful to those individuals such as founder Mackie Harris and previous owner William King a.k.a. DJ Butch, who worked tirelessly leading the way to provide safe, non-discriminating, and supportive spaces (with kick-ass parties) for the LGBTQ community, and its allies. This film is dedicated to them.
The film has already started a provocative conversation about place, race, sexuality and gentrification. And perhaps the film asks as many questions as it answers, but we believe that these conversations should continue in our communities to better prepare folks for the onslaught of development dollars, and to continue to challenge the powers that will have places like the Starlite be no more. We also believe that the film has a long life to live in the classroom as the education sector begins to treat seriously LGBTQ history in America.
It is possible to bring the Starlite back to the Crown Heights neighborhood and this film has the potential to activate that process. The community was disempowered by the taking of the Starlite. Our Project seeks to retool that energy by reflecting the Starlite back the community through the process of filmmaking.
In reaching concrete fundraising goals for the film through community and network support we will activate our collective power. That’s why Kickstarter is such a great place for us to fundraise. Also, as support for the film grows so does the support for the re-establishment of the Starlite in Crown Heights. And we are working diligently with the owners towards this goal.
The Starlite is emblematic of resisting physical and historical displacement, and crossing boundaries to build strength. So let’s do this together. Help us spread the word.
The incentives for the pledges are to get folks excited about the Project and raise money for the film but we see the supportive community as a family-style network. We are asking you to pledge but we are also asking you to participate in the community. And that’s why we are extending an invitation to our contributors to attend the Fall Starlite Reunion & Benefit Party.
If you’ve never been to the Starlite in Crown Heights, Brooklyn then we may have a harder time convincing you that a place like the Starlite is worth the effort and money it takes to make a documentary. But if you put your faith in us, and help us get this film made, we will deliver on our promise that it is a very special place which deserves its legacy in film.
Synopsis of the film and The Starlite Project
Starlite the documentary (previously We Came to Sweat): SYNOPSIS
Just a decade prior to Manhattan’s Stonewall riots, across the bridge in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, Mackie Harris had a vision for his neighborhood. He wanted to create a safe non-discriminating establishment for him and his gay Black community. Opening its doors in 1959, the same decade as Brown vs. Board of Education, Harris became one of New York’s first gay black business owners and is credited with starting a safe space that would endure for generations.
Founded on a principle of non-discrimination, the Starlite Lounge was a cherished meeting place for people of all walks of life and famous for being the oldest Black-owned bar in the heart of Brooklyn. Throughout enormous social change over five decades from civil rights to gay liberation to AIDS activism, the Starlite Lounge has been a fixture and central space in these movements. Just as the Starlite community has been deeply affected by these waves of change, the bar has also felt the impact of rapid gentrification in central Brooklyn.
But last summer his bold experiment came to an end. Hundreds of fans from eras past gathered in an all night celebration to bid their final farewell. How does an institution like the Stonewall survive, but the Starlite cannot? Who decides what cultural and historic landmarks are preserved and what memories can be erased? By following the eviction of Brooklyn’s oldest black owned non-discriminating establishment, Starlite illustrates the importance of social spaces in marginalized communities, examines the complexities of gentrification, and demands that the needs and desires of these communities are represented in the redevelopment of their neighborhoods.
Starlite follows Linda and Dennis, the bar owners, and their cousin, longtime community activist, Debbie, as they mobilize support for the bar to remain in their current location. Though the impending displacement weighs heavy, life inside the bar continues as usual. In the face of controversy, the bar continues to provide a vibrant and celebratory social space for a diverse community. During the day, the old-timers, straight and gay, spend their days sipping drinks and socializing with friends both old and new. In the evening as the old timers slip out, the bar transforms night by night into multi-racial crowds at karaoke, intergenerational drag shows, or packed gay house parties sweating it out on the dance floor.
Starlite explores the intersections of race, sexuality, and gentrification through the documentation of a historic and cultural institution on the verge of disappearance. The closing of the Starlite Lounge means not only the loss of a neighborhood meeting place. For patrons city-wide the Starlite is a family, a legacy, a safe haven, and a living history of the LGBTQ community.
The Starlite Project seeks to remobilize the existing community through a documentary film and interactive website. While creating a participatory living history of one of America’s most important and overlooked landmarks the Project also creates enormous potential for social change by mobilizing, expanding a diversifying the Starlite Social Network. Actionable user generated content and documentary film vignettes will encourage users to comment, share and discuss the multiple issues at play in their community, which led to the closure of their beloved meeting place, such as institutionalized homophobia and racism, and a lack of representation in urban development. By engaging the community in identifying their own issues the Project advances its objective to empower the people.
The Starlite community is a network characterized by trust, love and intimacy, composed of patrons, employees, friends and family. In the language of social networking these connections are called strong ties. While these are crucial for mobilization and identifying issues, weak ties- friends of friends, visitors and strangers- are best at focusing on those issues, such as educating small business owners on how to monitor urban planning bodies, and finding the most innovative ways to prepare them for when the rush of “redevelopment” dollars floods their community.
The Starlite Project is a networking strategy which joins the dense Starlite Network with weak-ties to produce the coordinated action that leads to social change. As the tertius iungens (or “third who joins”), The Starlite Project throws a bridge over the river from the Starlite’s strong-tie network to crucial weak-ties by facilitating network expansion. In unlocking this potential online, it becomes possible to build a more engaged and active movement to defend and expand non-discriminating institutions offline, advancing a more just and tolerant society.”
For more information, go to their kickstarter page and give your support.