Being Clay In America

While an older short, “Clay Pride: Being Clay In America” was added to my list of queer shorts to review because it’s not only quite poignant, but it stands out because it’s done with claymation. The entire queer short is a metaphor for being gay. It shows how is has not been easy to be clay throughout history and having to face the ostracisation and homophobia from the normal plasticine community. While the story is short and succinct, it’s not a perfect short. Let’s break it down and find out why not.

Still from “Clay Pride” – a young Steve plays with blocks on his desk at school

Synopsis of “Clay Pride: Being Clay In America”

Told in a documentary style, the camera is interviewing Steve (Trevor Lissauer) who starts off by admitting, “I’m clay.” Sad saxophone music begins while we transition to an interview with Steve’s Dad (Leonard Termo) who talks about how they always knew that Steve was different. While Dad continues talking in voiceover, we watch as Steve goes through school as the awkward kid, being teased and picked on by the other kids. “Clay” is spray painted across his locker. Steve notes that he always knew he was different, but thought it was something wrong with him. Continuing onward documentary style, Steve’s dad talks about how it’s hard as a single parent to watch Steve struggle. Meanwhile, he walks past a restaurant displaying a sign that reads “No clays allowed.”

Showing some archival footage, Steve talks about how it has never been easy to be clay in America because of hatred, persecution, and groups like the Clay Clay Clay. Sitting in a clay bar, Steve mentions how the few clay bars in the city were a refuge. He would hide away inside the bars trying to feel normal. “Mr X” (Ronald White), who doesn’t show his face, gives an interview about how in the 70’s it was “cool” to be clay – but how today, it’s not. Steve’s dad chimes back in talking about how proud he is of his son. Meanwhile, we watch images of Steve and his dad at Clay pride marches. Lastly, we’re at a Clay Okay meeting where Gary (Joel Michaely) and everyone else are introducing themselves. Steve mentions how he’s finally learning to accept that he’s different – and that it’s ok. How he’s hopeful that one day everyone will be able to stand up and admit who they are. Finally proud of who he is, Steve stands up and introduces himself to the group: “Hi, I’m Steve. And I’m clay.”

Still from “Clay Pride” – Steven speaks to the camera while at school, with school lockers behind him
Still from “Clay Pride” – a group of clay persons walk as part of a protest, Steven and his father at the front. His father holds a sign saying "I go the clay way"

The Critique

I’ll have to admit that I only partially enjoyed “Clay Pride”. We have some really strong positives: the script is actually well written and adequately captures the thoughts and feelings of growing up gay (or different) anywhere from the late 80’s up through the early 2000’s. For anyone who grew up within this timeframe or older, this film becomes quite relatable on a personal level; and that’s quite impressive given that the short is only about 4 min long! (While homophobia and issues still have persisted since then, the overall situation isn’t quite as dreary and closeted as it was before; it’s more acceptable to be gay even though we have a long way to go still towards full acceptance.) There’s even a slightly secondary parallel with the Black community, which was a nice inclusion. With the reference to the Clay Clay Clay (KKK) and persecution, along with Steve’s dad having a darker clay skin tone, the reference can also be inferred. And I actually thought the slower pace helped drive home the struggles Steve faces on his journey to self-acceptance.

However, there are some issues with “Clay Pride” as well. While I loved the animation and certainly give kudos to the team who helped bring this time-consuming process to life onscreen, it didn’t “Wow” me like other animated films. There are scenes where there’s actually little animation; it’s just a scene formed of clay while a voiceover provides narration. When we do have animation, it’s often simple things such as eyes blinking or body movement. But some motions are a bit awkward, like mouths that barely move and move in an unrealistic way. Going back to the narration, a LOT of this short is told via narration from only one person at a time. The cast doesn’t really interact, and since we don’t see them on screen because it is claymation, I can’t give a full star rating for the Acting.

Still from “Clay Pride” – Steve, a clay figurine sitting under a "Clay Okay Meeting" banner, admits to the group that he is clay

Even though I only partially enjoyed watching “Clay Pride: Being Clay In America”, I welcome it’s addition to the queer oeuvre. It perfectly highlights and showcases the struggles of growing up in America until relatively recently. Yet it does so in a novel way via claymation and the metaphoric vantage of being clay in a plasticine world. I highly encourage you to find five minutes and give this queer short film a watch!

Queer Relevance of “Clay Pride: Being Clay In America”

Obviously “clay” is equivalent to “gay” in the metaphorical plasticine world of “Clay Pride”. But there’s a load of queer-relevant references including many historical ones: Gay bars back when they were the safe haven to escape and let our pride flag fly; being picked on at school with homophobic slurs; even that feeling of having to remain anonymous to keep your identity safe. Oh, and let’s not forget the nod to biker daddy at the very end! “Clay Pride: Being Clay In America” is certainly a queer short film.