OPINION: The new documentary, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival, highlights not only the star’s 2022 debut tour but also explores why he decided to come out and how his authenticity has inspired young fans around the world.
Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.
Not many artists have the impact and audience to sustain an entire documentary on their rise to fame with only one studio album out. Add that to the list of improbable feats Lil Nas X has achieved in his four-year career. Premiering at the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival, the documentary “Lil Nas X: Long Live Montero” solidifies why the artist, born Montero Lamar Hill, deserves everything he’s achieved.
In March 2019, at just 19 years old, Lil Nas X officially released his TikTok megahit trap-country single, “Old Town Road,” through Columbia Records. A month later, just days before he turned 20, Lil Nas X got Billy Ray Cyrus to hop on the remix, which extended the single’s success to a record-breaking 19 consecutive weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart — the longest in the chart’s 60-plus year history. That alone would’ve made the Georgia native notable. But he didn’t stop there. Just as his career soared to unprecedented heights, Lil Nas X risked an international homophobic backlash by coming out as gay. Still, the haters could not stop his rise.
The “Long Live Montero” documentary highlights not only the star’s 2022 debut tour from North America and Europe to Sydney, Australia but also why he decided to come out and how his authenticity has inspired young fans around the world and shifted his family relationships.
Co-directed by Oscar nominee Carlos López Estrada and Zac Manuel, “Long Live Montero” captures Lil Nas X’s most vulnerable moments while on tour as he struggles with imposter syndrome and with dressing and dancing in a way that embraces his femininity. In confessionals akin to the TikTok videos and Twitter posts that fueled his rise, Lil Nas X shares his career crossroads: Either be an “acceptable” gay artist who isn’t “noticeably” gay or continue to explore and explode his sexuality all over his music, fashion and public image. Obviously, he’s chosen the latter. Having a Black queer choreographer and backup dancers on tour, he shares, has helped him embrace queer fashion and dancing even more — not just on stage but in real life.
The documentary also features intergenerational queer fan confessionals detailing just how Lil Nas X living his queer truth has helped to liberate them as well. The most heart-wrenching part of the documentary is Lil Nas X discussing how his family is receiving his queerness — and though they love him, as apparent in the documentary, he still feels like he can’t be his full self around them just yet. He pushes boundaries — wearing a skirt to a family function, kissing his backup dancer on stage with his dad and step-mom in the audience — but he’s still reeling from some negative comments his family made when he first came out. In a beautiful moment in the film, however, one of his many siblings shares how Lil Nas X’s authenticity inspired him to embrace his bisexuality.
At only 95 minutes, “Long Live Montero” still feels a bit too long as the much-needed commentary on his impact and personal struggles is dragged down by too many moments that mirror his social media videos. The documentary shines when it’s showing Lil Nas X’s performances on tour. It is, after all, a concert documentary, and those scenes also highlight just how talented this young Grammy winner is. The mic is on, the body is bodying, and with guests like Saucy Santana on the stage doing a twerk-off, you’ll wonder what in the world you were doing instead of going to see Lil Nas X when he was in town.
Dismissed as a gimmick, a one-hit wonder, a stunt queen, Lil Nas X — with his undeniable talent and his multiple record-breaking accolades — has proven the slander wrong. “Long Live Montero” ensures that there’s a record and proves that there are multiple reasons why he’s here to stay.
Brooke Obie is an award-winning critic, screenwriter and author of the historical novel “Book of Addis: Cradled Embers.”
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