We love the Mother of Black Hollywood.
We love the Mother of Black Hollywood. Jackie's Back/Lifetime

Unstreamable is a weekly column that finds films and TV shows you can't watch on major streaming services in the United States.

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JACKIE'S BACK
USA, 1999, 120 min, Dir. Robert Townsend
That's a lot of celebrities.
That's a lot of celebrities. CB
I first heard about Jackie's Back on RuPaul and Michelle Visage's good-but-retired podcast, What's the Tee. Jenifer Lewis was a guest on an episode—listen here—and RuPaul gushed about how much he loved Jackie's Back, a Lifetime TV movie starring Lewis and directed by Robert Townsend that RuPaul herself calls a cult classic. The basic premise is that '70s diva Jackie Washington (Lewis) is making a comeback, and the mockumentary follows her as she stages her revival.

Lewis says the whole movie was inspired by a Shirley Bassey documentary called Have Voice, Will Travel (I haven't seen it, but it's on the list), where the great diva hyperbolically tells her own legend—until the camera cuts to her crew, who go, as Lewis describes it, "Well, no, it didn't... quite happen like that, Ms. Bassey." That tension, between the overblown diva and her crew, underlines much of the jokes in Jackie's Back.

In her What's the Tee episode, Lewis says her audiobook producers never let her be "JENIFER LEWIS!! JENIFER LEWIS!! JENIFER LEWIS!!" only "Jenifer Lewis"—meaning she had to tone it down. In Jackie's Back, we get full JENIFER LEWIS!! JENIFER LEWIS!! JENIFER LEWIS!! CHASE BURNS

Available for rental on DVD at Scarecrow Video and Seattle Public Library.

***

ALMA'S RAINBOW
USA, 1994, 85 min, Dir. Ayoka Chenzira
Criminal that this movie didnt get a wider release.
Criminal that this movie didn't get a wider release. Courtesy of Red Carnelian Home Video
My mind immediately goes to Leslie Harris's Just Another Girl on the I.R.T. when I watch Ayoka Chenzira's film Alma's Rainbow. Both films were directed by Black women during a time without many Black female directors. Both chart girls as they navigate their way to womanhood in New York City. Both feature incredible costumes. And both films still have not received their due, decades after the fact.

But while Just Another Girl confronts weightier issues like abortion, Alma's Rainbow is lighter, concentrated on puberty's beginning stages. The film follows Rainbow (Victoria Gabrielle Platt) as she rebels against her mother Alma (Kim Weston-Moran), which starts after her sexy Aunt Ruby (Mizan Kirby), a performer, unexpectedly camps out with the family for a while. Though it doesn't necessarily break the mold in terms of plot, the characters (and their bright costumes) are what give it life.

The film gives as much attention to the relationship between Alma and Ruby as it does to Rainbow. The result is a film that unspools the complex relationships between two generations of women—it's fucking refreshing. Watching Alma's Rainbow today makes me wish I had access to it as a teen when I was craving stories featuring fully-fleshed out awkward Black girls. I'm just glad I found it now.

Also, keep your eyes peeled for '90s-era hot-boy Isaiah Washington. This is his third Unstreamable appearance. JASMYNE KEIMIG

Available for rental on VHS at Scarecrow Video. There's no trailer for Alma's Rainbow since it only had a limited released on VHS, but here's director Ayoka Chenzira talking about the making of the film.

***

HELL ON HEELS: THE BATTLE OF MARY KAY
Canada | USA, 2002, 120 min, Dir. Ed Gernon
I was going deep into MacLaine's filmography and found... this.
I was digging deep into MacLaine's filmography and found... this. CB

One of the pleasures of doing this column is finding the trash. After watching hundreds of these picks, we've established a few standard Unstreamable genres. There are the big blockbuster types that make people clutch their pearls when they find out they aren't streaming. Then there are the indie gems that deserve more recognition. The foreign films that aren't streaming, mostly because they're foreign. And then, the trash.

Sometimes that trash is good trash, supreme trash, and other times the trash is mediocre trash, which is the worst type of trash. This pick lands somewhere between mediocre and supreme, although, if I'm honest, it's probably just mediocre. But it was nominated for two Golden Globe awards, for its two top-billed ladies: Parker Posey and Shirley MacLaine.

Hell on Heels: The Battle of Mary Kay is a TV movie biopic, of sorts, about Ms. Mary Kay (MacLaine) and her makeup empire. It starts at a cult-like Mary Kay gathering, complete with gay musical theater dancers and Mary crowning her yearly sales queen. It runs like a beauty pageant from top to bottom and Parker Posey plays a rival makeup lady. I'll watch anything with Parker Posey in it. CHASE BURNS

Available for rental on DVD at Scarecrow Video. There's also no trailer for this one. You'll have to close your eyes and imagine the Mary Kay.

***

SWEET MOVIE
France | West Germany | Canada, 1974, 98 min, Dir. Dusan Makavejev
This is chocolate, but it still made my stomach queasy.
This is chocolate, but it still made my stomach queasy. Courtesy of the Criterion Collection

Sweet Movie absolutely annihilated my appetite, but at least I was engaged. Was it the poop-filled re-birth that made me almost dry heave? The people shitting on trays? The woman seducing three children? That messy supper with induced vomiting? It was hard to keep track. Because of its perverse nature, this feature from Dusan Makavejev was banned in several countries, virtually impossible to watch before Criterion Collection re-released it in 2007.

Sweet Movie follows two different women. One is Miss Monde 1984 (Carole Laure), the winner of a "most virgin" contest who was married off to a masochistic milk capitalist. When she tries to run away from him, she's pulled into increasingly absurd and sexual situations. The other is Anna Planeta (Anna Prucnal), the captain of a ship and a communist revolutionary, who traps a wayward sailor and unsuspecting children on her vessel as it weaves through the canals of Amsterdam. Both storylines spin out into extreme debauchery.

But for all its depravity, the movie can be gorgeous. The scene where Anna stabs her lover to death after fucking in a pile of sugar is lovely. And the dusty, glittery look of El Macho (Sami Frey) just before his penis gets stuck inside Miss Monde 1984's vagina is forever etched in my brain. JASMYNE KEIMIG

Available for rental on DVD at Scarecrow Video and Netflix DVD.

Unstreamable means we couldn't find it on Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, or any of the other 300+ streaming services available in the United States. We also couldn't find it available for rent or purchase through platforms like Prime Video or iTunes. We don't consider user-generated videos, like unauthorized YouTube uploads, to be streamable.

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