Born under the name of Aaron Payne, Jason Holliday (as himself) was originally an African-American houseboy who loved art, dancing and entertaining people. Describing himself as “a stoned whore”, the man is a quipster with an obsession for self-deprecating humor. Growing up with an ironhanded father, Jason enjoys using comedy to make light of painful memories or unflattering situations. Even before deciding to pursue a career in cabaret, he is a master performer who constantly tells witty, amusing stories based on his life experience. The man pokes fun at his fairly tragic childhood and even at his path to homosexuality and coming out.
With Clark and Lee behind the camera, the documentary follows Holliday around over a 12-hour period. The evening reveals much more than the artist’s hard-shell exterior, as Jason becomes increasingly drunk during his interview and loses some of his knee-jerk bravado. The man opens up about his troubled past as a hustler and giggles his way through stories of homophobia, parental abuse, racism, sex and drug use. Although at first he seems proud of his work and sexual experiences, Jason discloses that many of his decisions were taken out of necessity. The documentary includes an intimate interview with Holliday, in which he narrates his entire life, as well as his perspective on what it meant to be a person of color in 1960s America.
“A drunken night in the life of an African American, gay hustler who claims aspirations of cabaret stardom.”
— A Classic Movie Blog
“What starts off as an insight into one man becomes one of the most interesting documents on race and sexuality from a time before gay rights as we currently know it, and when civil rights for African Americans were only just making headway in the US.”
— Big Gay Picture Show
“Jason Holliday is a remarkable individual. And also a nobody. For him, this film is an opportunity to be immortalised.”
— Eye For Film
Did You Know?
Portrait Of Jason is the director’s fourth feature film, part of the widely-known Project Shirley series. Although it is one of the most notorious and well-regarded LGBT films, Shirley Clarke had a very difficult time with receiving further funding for her projects after the release of the documentary. The movie was shot in Clarke’s own apartment and the director decided to include the footage of her and Lee only after reviewing the full interview with Holliday. Review our Gay Themed Films Here