West Hollywood, California, is widely known for its large and visible LGBTQ community. Gemmel “Juelz” Moore, a young African-American man originally from Texas, found a new home in the colorful neighborhood nicknamed “WeHo”. He was a member of the ballroom community and had a close-knit group of friends. On July 27, 2017, Moore died from a crystal meth overdose in the West Hollywood home of Ed Buck, a well-known Democratic donor. The death was immediately ruled an accidental methamphetamine overdose by the coroner. The Sheriff’s Department did not investigate. Moore was 26 years old.
Timothy “Tim” Dean was originally from a small town in Florida. He moved to L.A., in the words of his friends, “to be somebody”. Dean was a basketball player whose team actually went to the Gay Games in Paris. One of his teammates noted, “We might not have been that good, but we were L.A!” Tim was affectionately nicknamed “TMD” (“Too Much Drama”) by his friends. On January 7, 2019, about eighteen months after the death of Gemmel Moore, Tim– also an African-American man– died of a of a meth overdose at Ed Buck’s apartment. Dean was 55 years old.
Moore and Dean may never have met in person, but their tragic destinies come together in Gemmel and Tim, an extraordinary documentary directed and produced by Los Angeles filmmaker Michiel Thomas which enjoyed its World Premiere at the 2021 Outfest Los Angeles LGBTQ Film Festival. Much has been written and discussed about the untimely fates of these two black men, almost entirely in the local L.A. media. However, much of the coverage focused on the more salacious details of their stories: the drug use and the sex work. (Naïve viewers should be prepared to learn the terms “chemsex” and “PNP”.) However, the young men’s family and friends, many of whom are interviewed in the film, were determined to prove that there was more– MUCH more– to their stories. Thomas’ film indeed captures the human sides of the titular Gemmel and Tim, through personal stories from the men’s biological and chosen families. (Gemmel’s friend Gia, in particular, is the epitome of grace.) Courtesy of the men’s journals, we also get to hauntingly hear from Gemmel and Tim themselves. Their stories are not always pretty. The documentary does not shy away from exploring the spectre of drug use that plagued both men– as well as the gay male community at large: The film noted that L.A. County experienced 1260 meth overdoses in 2020. One participant compared crystal meth to “that clown from It who lures you into the sewer.” Both men also dabbled in sex work, ostensibly due to economic hardship.
We also learn the backstory of Ed Buck, a political activist (His early claim to fame was working to make West Hollywood first city in the U.S. to ban the sale of fur.) turned Democratic political fundraiser who became a “name” in WeHo despite a long list of prior scandals. Even the most “unshockable” of viewers (this reviewer included…) will likely squirm in disgust at Buck’s exposed outré sexual fetishes that overwhelmingly relied on the exploitation of younger, economically challenged black gay men. But what’s ultimately far, far more disquieting is the Herculean task faced by Gemmel’s and Tim’s family and friends, LGBTQ community activists of color, and allies such as journalist/activist Jasmyne Cannick to find some level of justice. Thomas’ documentary honors their efforts, while exploring such parallel cultural issues such as economic disparity, race, the stigmas of drug use and sex work, and the inequality of justice that goes along with all of the above. By the time the audience learns of a THIRD man who overdosed at Ed Buck’s apartment (on September 11, 2019), the frustration level is so high that it makes you want to pound your fist into the wall while screaming, “ENOUGH ALREADY!” Will justice eventually be served?
Gemmel and Tim is a fine documentary, artfully combining actual news footage, the aforementioned interviews with the subjects’ family and friends, and provocative animated segments. The film is mandatory viewing for anyone who wants an honest look inside a segment within our LGBTQ community that does not get as much representation as they should. Best of all, it finally gives a voice to two men whose voices were sadly silenced long before they should have been.
Stay posted to the film’s official website www.GemmelandTim.com, coming soon, for news about future screenings and more.