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Meet The Director Behind ‘Cherry Pop,’ A Drag Queen-Starring Movie

Culture

Pop the cherry with Assaad Yacoub

They say the way to a man's heart is through his stomach. The way to a drag queen's heart is through vodka. Or at least that's what Assaad Yacoub, director of the delightful new movie Cherry Pop, says helped him get RuPaul's Drag Race's Bob the Drag Queen and Detox Icunt among many other prominent drag queens to star in his first feature film. "I basically stalked them at bars and where they would be performing," the 26-year-old says. "I was sneaky. I would go to bars and be like, ‘Have a shot.’ I would then beg them to be in the movie. Most of my cast, the story they say is: ‘We met Assaad outside at a bar, and he offered us a vodka shot.’" It worked, and they agreed, if only because "they wanted me to leave them alone."

That would explain how Yacoub first got Bob to star in the original Cherry Pop, his student film and New York Film Academy thesis on which the feature film is based, years prior. "That short film did really well in the festival circuit [when it came out]. We won quite a bit of awards at big festivals. Because of that, I got the opportunity to pitch the feature film." 

If you're surprised that a then-film student got talent of such caliber to participate in his thesis, you've never met Yacoub. With energy comparable only to a larger-than-life cartoon character, his enthusiasm is contagious and his curiosity for the unknown insatiable; in fact, he was inspired to do a movie about a failing drag queen show after seeing a drag performance for the first time in college. "I’d never seen drag queens before moving to New York; I grew up in Dubai, where there are no drag queens. I went to a drag show, and I was like, ‘Oh my god, these performers are so interesting, why aren’t they portrayed on TV more?’" says the Lebanese-born, currently L.A.-based Yacoub. He adds:

I got to become friends with them in New York, and I got to see the glamour that they portrayed on stage—they were so perfect. Then backstage, there was all this drama. And once you become friends with them is the only time you can see it. So I was like, "People need to see this. It’s like two different people." I don’t think any of the drag movies out there really show a day in the life of a drag queen. This is an honest look at one night at a drag show that’s pretty much close to reality.

Employing a first-person perspective of the protagonist "Cherry" (played by Norway's Lars Berge, who, fun fact, donned drag for the first time on the set of this movie), who's about to perform at a drag show for the first time as a means to make his dreams of performing come true, Cherry Pop peels back the curtains of the behind the scenes world of drag. When the star of the show Lady Zaza (Tempest DuJour) refuses to come out of her dressing room for her final performance after her partner passes away, mayhem and hilarity ensue among the rest of the performers, with lots of catty one-liners, miles-long fake lashes, several wig changes, and vomit. Bob—who Yacoub since directed in his "Purse First" video and Lux De Ville handbag commercials—reprises the role of Kitten Withawhip, the host of the show and the "voice of reason" amongst all the glitter and bitch slaps. 

"I think it's so cool that Bob was the winner of RuPaul’s Drag Race and he stayed humble and continues to promote the careers of others, including me. He stayed exactly the same as he was before the show," says Yacoub of his frequent collaborator and friend. "Working with him is such a joy because he brings such a unique view to the character. He’s also so much fun to work with. He brought that energy, and the other actors fed off of it and worked harder to live up to Bob’s energy."

As an extension of Yacoub's larger-than-life personality and vibrant subject matter, the movie is an explosion of color, sounds, and movement, with freeze frame shots introducing the characters and their backstories—a nod to Mean Girls, a movie that Yacoub describes as having cult status that he hopes one day to achieve with Cherry Pop. "I think now is the right time to do [a mainstream movie about drag queens], with RuPaul having won an Emmy and an MTV Movie and TV Award for RuPaul’s Drag Race," he says. "I think people just didn’t have the funding to do a movie like that. They’re like, ‘A drag movie isn’t going to make money.’ As an independent filmmaker, you need to stay afloat, so you’re not going to make a movie that isn’t going to bring in revenue. Now is the right time where drag fans are going to bring in the revenue for a movie like that, I think."

After filming the short film at NYC's iconic Stonewall Inn, Yacoub built the entire set from scratch in a warehouse in L.A. when it came time to film the feature. "It was kind of cool that we got to shoot a drag movie in such an historic gay bar, but for a feature, it’s not feasible," he says. What he didn't anticipate was a nearby train that would frequently interrupt filming of the scenes. "It got to the point where every time a train came by, we would take a shot," he says. "One day, there was a train every 15 minutes. It was horrible. I was so upset, and Detox and Mayhem kept on taking shots, and I was like, 'They are never going to remember their lines.' But Mayhem didn't know her lines ever, so it was fine [laughs]." It's those moments that added to some of the funniest improvised lines, according to the cast, and made for some memorable and laugh-out-loud post-credit scenes.

Aside from getting a glimpse into what happens backstage at a drag show, Yacoub wants to spread a message of acceptance in the current political climate. "Each character in the movie has to go through a form of acceptance, whether it’s a mother accepting her son being gay or the matriarch figure accepting that she is aging and has to move on with her career," he says. He adds: 

I think that’s what I want people to get from it—you have to accept someone no matter what they are, and you have to accept yourself. It’s an important message because a lot of people are doubting themselves and they don’t know what to do, and they’re hearing negative things in the media about who they are. No, you should stick up for yourself and be proud of who you are. I hope people can look at the characters and be like, "If they can accept themselves, I can accept myself, too."

And there was no better place to spread this message than at Monday's Cherry Pop New York premiere, held as part of NewFest's OutCinema (an LGBT film festival) and NYC Pride. "It's so cool that I am coming back full-circle. This is where Cherry Pop started, so it’s cool that we get to come and screen here for Pride," he says. "I can’t wait for the fans to see it. Now is the right time to go out and support the LGBT community more than ever."

You can catch a screening of Cherry Pop on July 10 at Outfest Los Angeles and at the Castro Theater in San Francisco on July 11, before the movie comes out on VOD in fall. 

Photos by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images

This photo proves that they are the chillest onscreen family

Sophie Turner just posted a photo of herself, Maisie Williams, and Isaac Hempstead Wright—aka the Stark siblings—to her Instagram, showing just what the three used to get up to when the Game of Thrones cameras weren't rolling.

The photo shows Wright looking quite pleased with himself while sitting on a makeshift throne, wearing no pants. As he should be, seeing as (spoiler) his character, Bran, won the Iron Throne this weekend. Williams, meanwhile, is looking way too cool to be involved in the shenanigans, wearing a pair of black sunglasses and staring absently off-camera. As for Turner, she's looking away from her onscreen brother, too, nervously smoking a Juul.

"The pack survived," Turner captioned the photo.

This photo just goes to prove that the Stark siblings are the chillest onscreen family. (It also proves, yet again, that Turner's social media is an absolute delight.)

We're actually a little sad that this footage didn't make it into the final season, considering how many modern-day objects have been spotted in the show's last few episodes.

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Photo via @mileycyrus on Twitter

Meet Ashley

Miley Cyrus shared the trailer for her forthcoming Black Mirror episode, and it's basically Hannah Montana set in a dystopian future. Cyrus is a pink wig-wearing pop star named Ashley who is rolling out an in-home virtual assistant, named Ashley Too, that looks like her and shares her voice. But, as is the case with every Black Mirror episode, this technology is not as cute and fun as it's advertised to be.

In the trailer, we get the idea that Ashley is all about wanting fans to "believe" in themselves—but underneath that pink wig, maybe she doesn't feel that same self-love. After Ashley Too introduces herself to fan and new owner Rachel, promising to be her friend, we get a look at Ashley's darker side. She's depressed and tired of the pop star life. A record label executive says to several people in the room, "She doesn't understand how fragile all this is." As they consider upping her dose of medication, Ashley's life is on a downward slope. "It's getting so hard to keep doing this," she voices over glimpses of a police car chase, performances, and breakdowns backstage.

But back to the technology: Does Ashley's breakdown also mean the breakdown of Ashley Too? Looks like it. We see Rachel's virtual assistant screaming, "Get that cable out of my ass! Holy shit! Pull it out," breathing a sigh of relief as soon as they pull it out. A title card then reveals the episode name, "Rachel, Jack, and Ashley Too."

Watch the full trailer and get a full view of Cyrus' cyborg-esque pop star look, below. Black Mirror returns to Netflix on June 5.


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Photo by Paras Griffin / Stringer / Getty Images.

Several actresses allegedly had "issues" with him

Lena Waithe's Showtime series, The Chi, just lost one of its main characters. Jason Mitchell, who was also set to appear in the Netflix film Desperados, has been dropped from both projects following multiple allegations of misconduct. He has also been dropped by his agent and manager.

Hollywood Reporter heard from a source "with knowledge" of The Chi, who says that Tiffany Boone, the actress who plays Mitchell's girlfriend on the show, is just one of several actresses who had "issues" with him. She eventually told producers at Fox21 that she could no longer work with him after filing several sexual harassment complaints. Apparently, her fiancé, Dear White People co-star Marque Richardson, would join her on set when she would shoot with Mitchell.

While news of Mitchell's alleged misconduct is just now beginning to surface, it looks like the ball started rolling on the fallout weeks ago. He was dropped from Desperados and replaced by Lamorne Morris before filming began. A source from the production team said that the producers received "specific information" that they reviewed and acted on quickly. Similarly, a source familiar with Mitchell's former agent, UTA, said the decision to drop him a few weeks ago was very quick following the allegations.

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Prior to the college admissions scandal, she said she doesn't "care about school"

Apparently, Olivia Jade wants to go back to school despite all those YouTube videos that suggested otherwise. Back in March, it was revealed that her mom, Fuller House actress Lori Loughlin, and dad, Mossimo Giannulli, had scammed Jade's way into the University of Southern California. Now, Loughlin faces jail time, and Jade lost out on plenty of lucrative ad partnerships.

According to Us Weekly, "Olivia Jade wants to go back to USC," per a source. "She didn't get officially kicked out and she is begging the school to let her back in." Another source though ousted Jade's real motivation to the publication. "She knows they won't let her in, so she's hoping this info gets out," they shared. "She wants to come out looking like she's changed, learned life lessons and is growing as a person, so she for sure wants people to think she is interested in her education."

Jade previously shared in a YouTube video she's in college for the "experience of like game days, partying" rather than the education. She also said, "I don't know how much of school I'm going to attend... I don't really care about school, as you guys all know." Though these statements were made prior to the scandal coming to light, her brand partnerships didn't come into question until her parents were indicted.

Right now, despite previous reports that Jade and her sister would both be dropping out of USC, Jade's enrollment has been placed on hold—meaning she cannot register for classes, or even withdraw from the school—until her parents' court case comes to a close. Then, the school will make its own decision as to how Jade will be affected. I think, either way, she should have to pay off a few of her classmates' loans for all the BS she pulled.

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Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

He'd previously said he wanted to punch Jackson's 'Leaving Neverland' accusers in the face

Aaron Carter has been one of Michael Jackson's fiercest celebrity advocates in the aftermath of the Leaving Neverland documentary in which two men, Wade Robson and James Safechuck, alleged that Jackson sexually abused them when they were children. In a new clip from People, however, he seems to walk back his defense.

People reveals that Carter will be joining the upcoming season of reality TV show Marriage Boot Camp: Reality Stars Family Edition with his mother. It's noted that he will be revealing more thoughts regarding Jackson following the documentary and the sneak peek specifically sees him alluding to a negative experience with the singer.

Carter, who has previously said that Jackson was never inappropriate toward him, says that Jackson "was a really good guy," though he does note that this is only true "as far as I know." "He never did anything that was inappropriate," he continues before stopping himself, as though remembering something. "Except for one time. There was one thing that he did that was a little bit inappropriate."

Carter does not provide any more detail after this statement. He has previously said that he would stay at Jackson's Neverland estate and sleep in the same bed as the much older star when he was 15 years old, though he hasn't seemed to understand then just how creepy that is. He also said earlier this year, in a clip from TMZ, that he would be telling a story of something that happened between them in an upcoming book about his life.

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