Southern comfort 

A critically acclaimed new film is headed to Oklahoma City, tackling sensitive topics as religion, homosexuality and suicide. In spite of the somber tone, Southern Baptist Sissies is billed as a dark comedy, and writer-producer Del Shores said Oklahoma is one of the states that needs to see the film the most.

“After talking to my fans and friends in Oklahoma and performing my standup there several times, I can honestly say if ever there was a city that needs to see this film, it is Oklahoma City,” Shores said.

It screens 7 p.m. Friday at Mayflower Congregational United Church of Christ, 3901 NW 63rd St.

Shores is a Texas native whose other works include Daddy’s Dyin’ ... Who’s Got the Will? and the cult favorite Sordid Lives.

Sissies recently screened at the Red Dirt International Film Festival in Stillwater, where it earned Best Feature Drama and Best Lead Actor awards, despite only half the film being shown.

“This was certainly the most bizarre thing that has happened to one of my films,” Shores said. “Unfortunately, those who attended the festival did not get to see the film because the owner of the Oklahoma venue where it was being shown pulled the plug halfway through the screening. It happened just as two boys kissed on screen.

“I mean, what did he think the movie was about with a title like Southern Baptist Sissies? It shows me we are not there yet, but this is a great example of the dichotomy going on in this country as we march toward equality and fight against homophobia.”

Sissies follows the journey of four young gay boys who grow up in a rural Texas Baptist church, not unlike Shores himself. It has a theme of religion clashing with sexuality, and the characters often move the audience from hysterical laughter to tears, Shores said.

Originally written for the stage, Sissies opened to outstanding reviews during its original Los Angeles run. The new film version is now making its way across the country and is selling out theaters and receiving rave reviews.

“There are so many people damaged by the teachings of churches, especially in the South,” Shores said. “I can’t tell you how many people see this film and say, ‘This is my story!’ It offers hope. It shows that love, acceptance and understanding are really the teachings of Christ — not hatred spewed in the name of the Lord.”

Shores said the film is not intended solely for gay audiences and everyone finds it interesting.

“We have invited pastors in every city we have played, but none have showed up,” he said. “We want to have a dialogue. I honestly believe if those who are justifying their own homophobia by cherry-picking scriptures would see this film, many of them would have a change of heart. I know we are preaching to the choir, but in this case, the ‘choir’ is Oklahoma, and audiences there need to see it.”

Shores grew up “rigid Southern Baptist” and said his rural Texas hometown isn’t far removed from Oklahoma. While Oklahoma City’s gay and lesbian community fights for equality, Shores has a message for it, too.

“Stay strong,” he said. “As equality marches forward, unfortunately, the haters have been activated again, especially in states like Oklahoma. But we must face them, challenge them and trust the next generation will take care of this. If it gets too hard, move to a state where gay marriage is legal. Take your tax dollars elsewhere.”

An upcoming play by the OKC Theatre Company was met with opposition from some state leaders, and its funding was withdrawn because of the homosexual theme. Shores said he is familiar with the controversy, but is doing what he can to promote awareness.

“Bringing my film to Oklahoma is a small way of showing my support and helping to further equality.”

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