They are at it again in West Hollywood. It is hard to believe after the recent race debacle there over white entitlement. Does WeHo never learn the lesson, a lesson most of the country seems to be comprehending now?
The LGBTQ community and the entire nation has just been through a historic and critically needed consciousness-raising regarding systemic white racism in the U.S. instigated by the Black Lives Matter Rebellion of 2020. An important, once in a lifetime generational shift is occurring demanding structural, political and behavioral changes—not business as usual.
In West Hollywood, a documentary film is moving toward completion titled “Studio One Forever” about a popular disco which was in WeHo during the 1970’s and 1980’s. The film, as shown in its preview, paints a false picture that tries to make us believe the popular disco was a part of Gay Liberation revolution in Los Angeles. It was not.
Instead it was just the opposite of Gay Liberation and the pioneering gay community building in which responsibility was being assumed by gay people for each other—everyone—for the first time. Studio One was anti-Black gay men and anti-woman. It was a large, techno-glitzy dancehall, where 1,000 could party at one time. In the 1970’s, for politically aware gay men and women with a moral conscience it was also an embarrassment.
Here’s the problem, as I explained in my 2016 essay “Jim Crow Visits West Hollywood”: At the door at Studio One, “White men did not have to show age/photo ID if the doorman knew them and one piece if he didn’t, a driver’s license sufficing. African-American men had to show two pieces of age/photo ID — a driver’s license alone was insufficient. When Black gay men quickly got hip to the racist jive going on, they would show up prepared with two pieces of age/photo ID. On the spot, they then were suddenly required to show three pieces of required age/photo ID, an almost impossible task for any of us. The ID scam was also used on women.”
Women were also refused entrance arbitrarily on the basis of the clothing and shoes they were wearing.
Numerous protest demonstrations were held outside Studio One by Gay Liberationists, gay and lesbian community organizations, and Black and women’s rights advocates. Hardly a weekend passed without at least some protesters being outside Studio One handing out informational leaflets about the disco’s discriminatory racist and sexist practices.
Historically, West Hollywood has had a de facto policy of white preference with under the radar discriminatory practices in housing and other services, which continues right into the present. Today only 3% of its residents are Black.
The owner of Studio One was Scott Forbes, a white gay man, a USC-trained optometrist. It would be a smidgen less damning if Forbes had been willfully ignorant of the discrimination against Blacks and women but it was worse than that—he was willfully aware.
He set the racist and sexist policies and kept them going in spite of the protests because he could get away with it in WeHo. The power elite in West Hollywood in the 1970’s knew all about these discriminatory practices and did nothing to stop them, indeed, many were investors in the club or were personal friends with Forbes.
I forcefully confronted Forbes with Sheldon Andelson, a West Hollywood power broker, refereeing. Forbes’ feeble, excuse was that if too many black gay men and women show up it would scare the white gay men away, an important observation itself on racism in WeHo. In fact, he wanted only white gay men at the disco. He made lukewarm promises to change but never followed through with them.
Shamefully, knowing all about these Jim Crow practices, every weekend a thousand gay men continued to patronize the disco. Partiers at Studio One became a textbook intersectional example of how the oppressed can also become the oppressor.
At the same time as Forbes’ racist and sexist door policies were occurring, further east on Santa Monica Boulevard, a mere mile away from Studio One, Gene La Pietra’s Circus disco, and other gay dance clubs in Los Angeles, had no problem with all races and sexes dancing harmoniously together.
Also, about the same time Studio One was opening in the early 1970’s, Jewel Thais-Williams was creating Jewel’s Catch One disco in the Pico/Crenshaw area, a largely black club with a friendly open-door policy—everyone was welcomed and everyone came. It was like a Black Noah’s Ark—everybody was represented.
In hearing about the “Studio One Forever” documentary, Thais-Williams, a pillar of and respected elder in the L.A. LGBTQ community, said, “I urge people to boycott and have nothing to do with this film project. I took Studio One’s racism and misogyny personally, and picketed myself at Studio One numerous times with my brothers and sisters. It was wrong then and it’s wrong now.”
Circus and Catch One became models of multiculturalism in the Los Angeles gay and lesbian community and their racial and class diversity widely known and lauded—and they were financially successful as well. Studio One, on the other hand, represented a white, monocultural gay reality with non-white people and women unwelcomed.
In the trailer, it is surprising to see WeHo City Councilmember John Duran, comedian/writer Bruce Vilanch, and film historian David Del Valle, among others, involved with the documentary, mindlessly singing hosannas in the highest to Studio One without any reference to its racial and sex discrimination past.
The whole community knows about its infamous history. Why would the producers and participants of the documentary, white gay men of that generation, pretend like they do not know? The Advocate, the national gay newspaper at the time headquartered in L.A., ran continuing news stories about the protests. The Los Angeles Times ran a front-page article about Studio One’s abhorrent discriminatory practices.
Today, most gay men of any race, particularly in this time of a BLM sea change in L.A. and the country, would have the moral and political intelligence not to associate their names with such a racist and retrograde enterprise.
“Studio One Forever” is being produced by Lloyd Coleman (founder of Rocket Entertainment), Chris Isaacson (a producer), Gary Steinberg (Hollywood Hills realtor) and Marc Saltarelli (film director), who is the documentary’s director. Stephen Israel (independent film producer) is executive producer. Its fiscal sponsor is The Film Collaborative, who I am sure would love to hear your opinion about its involvement with the Studio One Forever documentary.
With its well-documented Jim Crow consciousness and practices, I feel it is unconscionable to glorify Studio One. It was an essential part of the problem a younger generation currently is dedicated to change and transform. The title of the documentary should be changed from “Studio One Forever” to “Studio One Never Again.”
The white, wealthy, monocultural “WeHo Bubble” is increasingly becoming a problem and an embarrassment to the progressive Los Angeles LGBTQ community.