As a network executive for Open TV, an online platform for indie arts and artists, Aymar Jean Christian would rather promote the careers of others than worry about himself. But even he admitted that the network's latest pilot, Nupita Obama Creates Vogua, which he wrote and directed, was influenced by his own affairs.
The episode ( player.vimeo.com/video/134807299, vimeo.com/134807299 ) explores a queer love triangle, and features a few original performances. In the beginning, it's revealed that Reyes and Curtis are former lovers, but Curtis ended things when Reyes fell in love with Gia, who moved into their apartment. Curtis finds himself in a difficult position, because he can't afford to move out. Tensions eventually ease between the three of them through dance, as Reyes and Gia encourage Curtisa vogue dancerto bring out his alter ego "Nupita Obama," before teaching a vogue class. The three of them end up giving a final performance together that combines Reyes' specialty, yoga, with Curtis' talent for vogue to create "vogua."
Based on what Christian was going through during the writing process, it's clear how the relationship dynamics in the episode loosely mimic his own reality.
At the time, he was in an unstable place in his relationship with his partner of eight years, Derek McPhatter. Christian was living alone in Chicago while Derek was in L.A. on a writing fellowship for television. While Derek was gone, Christian developed many relationships with other queer people in Chicago, and so it took a while for Christian to adjust to living with Derek once he returned from L.A. after two years.
Christian emailed that he "took parts of his relationshipbeing in a committed relationship like Curtis/Reyes but having that person be new to my home like Curtis/Giaand split it up amongst the characters."
Christian's personal story aside, he believes that the show will surprise viewers in a couple of ways. For one, the three starsChicago-based dancer and hip-hop artist Erik Wallace ( Curtis ); yoga and performance artist Kiam Marcelo Junio ( Reyes ); and drag performance artist Saya Naomi ( Gia )are all queer people of color. Second, all the actors embrace their femininity in the episode.
"When we look at TV representations of gay people generally, but especially gay people of color, you don't necessary see a lot of gender nonconforming people of color on television," Christian said. "In the world that I live in there's people of all gender expressions and they are all very different and interesting and creative so I wanted to showcase that."
Another goal that Christian had in mind with this episode was to highlight what non-normative relationship configurations look like today. He felt that in 2015, at a time when a post-gay marriage America is a reality, it's time for networks to start representing same-sex configurations that aren't monogamous, because there are many couples who choose to live differently than that.
In fact, a 2013 study by San Francisco State University discovered that approximately 50 percent of gay male couples were deciding to be in non-monogamous relationships.
Aside from being Christian's brainchild, Nupita Obama Creates Vogua also happens to be the first pilot in the Open TV Presents series about artists exploring alternative relationships.
The inspiration behind this series is the show High Maintenance, created by Emmy-winning casting director,Katja Blichfeld and her husband, Ben Sinclair. Each High Maintenance episode features a different person who's buying weed from a nameless drug dealer. Christian liked this idea of featuring different actors one show after another, and that's what he originally intended to do with the first pilot; instead, the Open TV Presents series quickly morphed into a series of shorts. The next one on deck is Zackary Drucker's Southern for Pussy, and they are also scheduled to shoot Rashida Khanbey's pilot, Let Go and Let God, at the end of the month.
As Christian put it, he's "planting seeds on the Internet," and would eventually like to make more episodes of each show as long as more money heads Open TV's way.
And, if that happens, Christian doesn't see an end in sight.
"We're going to keep going until we can't go no more," he said.