For those of us that grew up closeted, many will recall having a poster in our bedrooms of the pop star whose music we adored—but, when asked about it, we claimed it was because she was “so hot, right?”
Instead, we had eyes for the hunky actors on the covers of magazines. Of course, when our parents found those under our pillow, it’s just because we were reading up on the upcoming action movie they’re in. *wink, wink*
It was a strange time, that’s for sure. And all we really needed was someone we knew we could talk to about it, judgment-free.
Well, in the charming new short film Mikey’s Army, a teen finds exactly that when the heroes he’s been idolizing—the glamorous singer, the ripped silver-screen actor, and a fierce drag queen—magically appear in his room and give him a much needed pep talk.
Sixteen-year-old Mikey Alvarez (newcomer Mark Aguirre) has a major thing for his classmate and is even getting ready for their date night at the movies. But he still hasn’t found the right opportunity come out to his parents.
Enter Mikey’s favorite pop star Autumn Jones (Better Nate Than Ever‘s Krystina Alabado), the Hollywood hottie he ogles in magazines Chad Hartman (The Gilded Age‘s Claybourne Elder), and the queen whose shady web videos always make him laugh Lady Slay (RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 11’s Shuga Cain). Together, they’re all the reinforcement he needs to find the courage within himself—you know, once he can get over the fact that all of his heroes are standing right in front of him.
Directed by Broadway icon Andrew Keenan-Bolger and written by Eric Ulloa, Mikey’s Army is a sweet, funny, and affirming story of growing up and coming out. Speaking with Queerty, Ulloa reveals it was inspired by a trip to his childhood home in Miami, Florida amid the early days of the “Don’t Say Gay” laws, which pushed him to create something so LGBTQ+ youth could have “proof that they were perfect and wonderful just the way they were.”
After premiering at Outfest Fusion this past spring, Mikey’s Army now heads to its 10th festival (and New York City premiere) at the 35th annual Newfest this weekend. Coincidentally, its screening also coincides with the end of Hispanic Heritage Month, a moment which Ulloa does not take lightly considering his film—about a gay Latin teen, created with a predominantly Latin cast and crew—speaks directly to his historically underrepresented community.
Check out a teaser for Mikey’s Army, and then scroll down below for our full Q&A with writer Eric Ulloa:
QUEERTY: When did the first germ of an idea for Mikey’s Army come to you? How and why did you decide to run it into a short film?
ERIC ULLOA: The beginnings of Mikey’s Army came to me when I was at my parents home in Florida a few years back and we had just started to hear rumblings of these “Don’t Say Gay” laws, and Ron DeSantis’s ongoing persecution of the LGBTQ+ community in Florida. As a Cuban born in Miami, Florida, I felt an obligation to create something that young LGBTQ+ kids in my state, in this country and around the world could have as proof that they were perfect and wonderful just the way they were.
I’ve always been drawn to Nina Simone’s quote about an artist’s duty and how we need to reflect the times we live in, and this was the perfect opportunity to do just that.
Given it’s such a personal story, what gave you confidence that the multi-talented Andrew Keenan-Bolger was the right person to be in the director’s chair? What did he bring to the project?
Andrew Keenan-Bolger and I met as performers in the play 7 Deadly Sins directed by Moises Kaufman. This was the first play to premiere in New York City coming back from the pandemic, and I think we were both hungry to create and tell stories, as we had all been away from our craft for sometime. It was pretty immediate after a few conversations in our dressing room that we were both passionate storytellers and that we wanted to start creating together.
Andrew encapsulates everything one wants in a director. He’s intelligent, he’s creative, he’s empathetic, and to be quite frank, he has impeccable taste. I’m not letting him go anytime soon. Haha.
Mikey’s “army” is made up of these three archetypes, who all speak to young queer men in different ways. How did you decide who/what these three characters would be?
So, the idea of these three kind of spirit guides that take Mikey through the film were born of my own crazy imagination as a child. They also very much come from the idea of the three fairies from Sleeping Beauty that arrive to help Aurora—just, in this case, it’s a drag queen, an action movie star, and a pop icon.
All three of them have attributes that Mikey needs in order to overcome this conflict he’s going through and are why I chose these archetypes. They each offer him something he can’t get find within himself, even though they all live inside of him, because they come from his own imagination. Not to mention, what young gay teen doesn’t have a drag queen, a pop icon, and an action star that they idolize/have a crush on/sing along with at full volume in their bedroom.
Are there any fun stories you can share about working with the cast on set?
There’s a moment in the film that called for a large explosion of confetti. Andrew had ordered these large confetti cannons on Amazon that were to be filled with quarter size paper confetti for this moment. As we were about to shoot the scene, I stepped outside of the room because there were too many people, and the air had to be shut off while we were filming in the dead heat of summer. I remember hearing Andrew call “action,” a few beats of silence, the loud explosion of the confetti cannon, followed by an immediate “Oh shit,” from Andrew. What he thought was large quarter size paper confetti actually turned out to be extremely small bits of glitter confetti that had gone absolutely everywhere. So, after the shoot we were there for quite a few hours, picking up small glitter confetti from this rented Airbnb to avoid a very large fine. In the end, we all had a great laugh.
In your view, why is it significant that the short premieres at Newfest on the last day of Hispanic Heritage Month? Why is it important to have queer Latin stories and representation in media?
Here’s the thing: Latin’s represent almost 20% of this country‘s population, and yet we find ourselves with the lowest percentage of representation on or behind the camera in TV and Film.
Having Mikey’s Army have its New York City premiere on the final day of Hispanic Heritage Month goes to push against the limitations that the industry continues to hold against us. I also hope it goes to show young Latin creatives who have a voice and who have stories to tell, to just get out there and tell those stories and make their art. I promise you, this film was not made extravagantly. It was small and scrappy and made on the backs and the talents of an incredible little army of our own.
The last part, and the one that probably means the most to me, is that when you have the opportunity to elevate someone in your community who is talented and who you know is a rising star, it just feels incredible to be able to offer a platform to showcase that. Our Mikey, Mark Aguirre is a damn star and came to us like a miracle. The day before we began filming, our original Mikey got Covid and had to decline the film. With less than 24 hours notice, Mark was off book, fully living in the character and shooting scenes like the pro that he is. He is someone that I can’t wait to watch, like a proud older brother, as his career continues to skyrocket.
Mikey’s Army makes its New York City premiere at Newfest as part of the “Queer Teen Magic” short film program, and is available to stream via the festival now through October 24.