Opening night fun at Outfest Fusion 2023

(CREDIT: Brianna Oppenheimer)

The Outfest Fusion QTBIPOC (Queer, Trans, Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) Film Festival celebrated its 20th year in Los Angeles, opening its doors to a diverse and enthusiastic audience.

This festival showcases films from the LGBTQIA+ community, created by filmmakers who identify as BIPOC. The opening night of the festival was a celebration of the stories, cultures, and experiences of this community.

It was an incredible celebration of diversity, inclusivity, and creativity; and a testament to the power of storytelling and the impact that films can have on shaping our perceptions and attitudes toward each other. This festival is a reminder that everyone’s story deserves to be told and heard, and that representation matters. It was a night that will not soon be forgotten, and it left a lasting impression on all who attended.

As attendees entered the festival opening night, they were greeted with vibrance and joy at The Japanese American Cultural & Community Center in downtown Los Angeles. The festival had set up a red carpet entrance for filmmakers and actors to be interviewed and their looks for the evening to be captured in photos and video. The energy was electric as people from all walks of life mingled, laughed, and celebrated together; and an IMDB-sponsored photo booth took new headshots for QTBIPOC talent.

 I enjoyed speaking with some of these amazing creatives on the red carpet. Johaira Michelle Dilauro, the creator of RONA and a proud Outfest Alum, said she hopes that the QTBIPOC community can feel safer again.

Tai LeClaire, the Native American creator of Headdress, is over sermons and wants to bring some comedy to shine the light on cultural appropriation of his people. Eric Ulloa, writer of Mikey’s Army, hopes to surprise people with a simplistic romance. The youngest filmmaker of the festival was Emerson Basco, 12 years old and directed Can We Play.

Delila Ali Rajah, actress of Agents of Change: Project Polyrmer, prays, “that there is a mass enlightenment around the world and that people realize we are all humans.” I was most excited to speak with the star of Mean Girls, Daniel Franzese.

Franzese is now hosting a GLAAD-nominated LGBTQ faith-affirming podcast with his friend Azariah Southworth called “Yass, Jesus!” He was grateful to be at Outfest and that a space like Outfest exists in 2023.

Stars like Kat Cunning said, “I want to see myself represented – nonbinary with shades of trans-masc.” A hopeful moment for me was the conversation I had with director Snigdha. The writer/director of Look like You said, “My film is a unique perspective on queerness. Let’s come together and realize we’re more alike than different.”

The star of West Side Story, David Granados, talked about working with Steven Spielberg and how generous Spielberg was by helping everyone on set to learn how to pronounce David’s (Dah-veed) name correctly. Jordan Hull, the star of Adam Sandler’s Hustle, shined so brightly on the red carpet and spoke to me about how she hopes that there are more shows that not only represent QTBIPOC communities but celebrate the QTBIPOC communities.

Outfest board member and star of Pose, Angelica Ross, said that she hopes the filmmakers can celebrate their creations at Outfest Fusion and that there will be more Queer and Trans content programmed on mainstream television.

The Executive Director of Outfest, Damien Navarro, set the tone for 2023 by talking about abundance in the QTBIPOC community. “This is the year of abundance,” said Navarro. He gave space for Gender Justice LA, and pledged to match the first $1,000 raised that night in support of their work for gender non-conforming, two-spirit, Black, Indigenous, trans people of color in LA.

Here’s a gallery of exclusive pics:

Outfest Honorees

Outfest Fusion honored some amazing influences in the community, such as Bird Runningwater with the 2023 Fusion Impact Award and Elegance Bratton with the 2023 Fusion Achievement Award. Elegance took the stage with gratitude, vulnerability and sincerity.

He spoke about his journey from homelessness to becoming a US Marine combat filmmaker, and his first Outfest experience in 2016. On the airplane to California in 2016, he said to himself, “You are a filmmaker with a movie playing in Hollywood.”

Elegance thanked WME, A24 for green-lighting his film, The Inspection, and his partner Chester. The crowd roared with laughter as he said, “Chester is my one and only producing partner. If you know, you know.” Elegance left the audience with some inspirational words, “Write every day, read it out loud, and you’ll get better.” He dedicated his award to homeless LGBTQ youth worldwide and ended with, “You can get through this. If you find a way to get through this pain, one day a little voice inside will say, ‘I deserve more, I can do more, I am more.’ When you hear that voice inside, believe it. You might just end up here one day being celebrated.”

This festival features a variety of films, from documentaries to feature films, short films, and international cinema. All films were selected with a focus on diversity and inclusivity, ensuring that all voices were heard and represented, by Head of Artistic Development Martine McDonald and Senior Manager of Programming Sheryl Santacruz, with their team of programmers.


Opening night gave the audience a sneak preview of the fun week with some of the short films they programmed, including the I am Poem, Baba, Hex The Patriarchy, Amina, Mooncake, Hard, and Thriving. The films were unique, dynamic, and vulnerable.

Thriving addressed important issues such as self-acceptance and mental health conditions, while others, such as Baba, focused on an uplifting and empowering story of love, courage, and resilience. Hex The Patriarchy and Hard had the audience laughing and joyful. Poem brought tears of empathy and was heart-touching.

Throughout the festival, attendees can connect with each other and build new relationships in person through workshops hosted by Outfest, such as “How to Craft The Perfect Pitch,” facilitated by David Sigurani (BIPOC LGBTQIA+ Producer of Bonding). David has years of experience working with bigwigs such as Kevin Williamson and Netflix. He is graciously donating his time to help the next generation of BIPOC LGBTQIA filmmakers.

These workshops are free of charge, and I have been inspired by attending in the past.

Festival goers found that they were not alone in their experiences and that they could relate to the stories being shared. It was a safe space for people to be themselves, express their identities, and find support and understanding.

I’m thrilled to catch the short block on Sunday at 9:00 PM, “Tickled Pink”, featuring The Agents of Change: Project Polymer. Directed by Jett Garrison, the writer of 4400, and written by Shaan Dasani (known for Criminal Minds and These/Thems), the short boasts an impressive cast including Rain Valdez (Transparent/Razor Tongue), Gretchen Wylder (creator of the hilarious queer webseries These/Thems), Shaan Dasani, Michael D. Cohen (Whiplash), and Delila Ali Rajah(9-1-1). At Outfest 2019, I had the pleasure of meeting Gretchen Wylder and experiencing her talents firsthand through These/Thems, which was also directed by Jett Garrison. I’m excited to see what this all-star team has in store for us next!

Outfest Fusion is dedicated to selecting diverse, uplifting, and inspiring films that appeal to everyone. You can participate in Fusion 2023 by creating a One-Minute film about “Envisioning Abundance”, and compete for at $5,000 in prizes presented at the Fusion Finale on 1 April at the Latino Theater Co.

Looking forward to seeing you there!

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Brianna Oppenheimer is a poet, songwriter, & actress. She studied Theater at Desales University & Psychology at Marymount Manhattan College. Visit