"I am a role model simply because I'm here," Mr. Leather Ottawa announces from his wheelchair in Michael Skiff's “Kink Crusaders,” a documentary shot during the 2008 edition of the International Mr. Leather contest, held annually in Chicago for the past 30 years. Moving back and forth from archival footage and talking-head interviews with IML founder Chuck Renslow, past winners, and current hopefuls, to the contest itself, Skiff's rote filmmaking is fortunately topped by his eye-opening subject matter. Within the LGBT community, leather men (and women) have always been marginalized—which, ironically, has allowed IML to slowly expand even as the gay community itself has narrowed its focus to chasing once exclusively hetero dreams. "We are inclusive. That's one of the things that made us grow," Renslow emphasizes, recalling the first black man to be named International Mr. Leather. Indeed, the latest incarnation of IML is a microcosm of true diversity, with a skinny WWII vet (returning soldiers were the fathers of the leather scene), a pierced German with a voice like Werner Herzog, an Asian top skilled in the rope bondage used on prisoners brought before Japanese emperors, and even guys from unlikely locales such as Iowa and Oklahoma, all duking it out with the cosmopolitan, gay white male base. When you've got straight guys proudly competing in a contest that started in the back of a frequently raided bar (Renslow reminisces about the early days of paying off local policemen during the earliest days of Mayor Richard M. Daley's reign), this is progress.
To read the rest of my review visit: The House Next Door at Slant Magazine.