“I’ve said this word a million times in the last three years, and I’m gonna say it again. Unapologetic.” Vincent Martell, founder of VAM Studio, and I shared a laugh as he described his upcoming film, Finesse. In my own time, I tried to help by researching similar words to “unapologetic,” like unshakable, dedicated, and unwavering, but I came to a conclusion quickly. Vincent Martell deserves a whole new word.
Finesse is Vincent’s second narrative film starring himself as ‘Martell,’ Shea Couleé as ‘Kizer,’ and Jeez Loueez as ‘Daryn.’ The three play loveable, relatable, yet abundantly unique black, queer sex workers living together in their own chosen family. In a nutshell, Finesse is an ode to hustle culture. Within seconds, Finesse enthralls us into this loop of Martell, Kizer, and Daryn’s friendship, their love lives, and “the grind” that builds them up and breaks them down just the same. With moments that are soft, isolated, and somber, and equally moments that are vibrant and explosive, Finesse achieves what has been missing from the media’s representation of blackness, queerness, and sex work up until this point.
Finesse superbly weaves together Daryn, Kizer, and Martell’s stories with striking realness because they are real. How often do you see sex workers played by actual sex workers? How often do you see black queer intimacy in a way that isn’t tokenized or stigmatized? How often do you see black intimacy and sensuality on mainstream media without contamination from white creators and counter parts? Finesse is groundbreaking for people who aren’t used to seeing this world, but it isn’t made for those people, so imagine how groundbreaking it is for people who wish to have their stories told but haven’t. Finesse cares not to explain itself to those who live in a bubble of their own privilege. Finesse cares not to water itself down to make white people, industry people, or cis people comfortable- or uncomfortable for that matter. Finesse exists because these stories need to be told by the people who are living them, and these stories are worthy, dimensional, and moving.
Vincent describes the terrifying, yet liberating experience of creating his most personal and vulnerable work yet, and how his team supported his vision. Vincent was in a dark place, in therapy for the first time, and dealing with a lot of suppressed emotions. Pouring this onto the page catapulted Vincent into this ultra-personal project. To be so open and himself, Vincent needed to secure a team to make him feel safe. This was achieved by using an intimacy coordinator, and being very intentional about who to let in on Finesse. In addition to a wonderful crew, Jeez Loueez and Shea Couleé honor Vincent’s vision by offering a rawness only true friendship and true talent could achieve. “Jeez and Shea have seen me build my production company. I’ve seen Shea become the biggest drag queen in the world and I’ve watched Jeez become the biggest burlesque performer in the world. It’s telling to have them a part of this because they’re a part of me and everything my artistic being is,” shares Vincent. The three’s chemistry is electrifying whether they are arguing over bisexuality, checking in on each other after a busy day’s work, or smoking a blunt to Wendy Williams.
Vincent took a risk and to say it paid off would be a vast understatement. Finesse, to me, is revolutionary. I hope in several years from now, black queer sex workers don’t have to carry the weight of being a revolutionary when they share their story and art. But for now, I digress as I applaud Vincent with my entire being for his brilliant artistry, bravery, and for being so damn revolutionary. I’ll leave you with Vincent’s words: “This isn’t a story rooted in trauma. This is a story rooted in life. Love, sex, fun, drugs. I want to see us in the light more.”