Those who knew Gemmel Anthony around the L.A. house and ballroom scene knew him only by the name he’d chosen: Juelz Carter.
According to his friends and house family interviewed in Michiel Thomas’ award-winning documentary Gemmel & Tim (★★★☆☆), Gemmel didn’t hold back when walking ballroom categories like Schoolboy and Pretty Boy, but, privately, he kept parts of himself hidden.
“I don’t ever want nobody to know my shit,” Gemmel jokes in a home video included in the documentary’s introductory montage. He liked to be mysterious, as his friend Sammy puts it. Sammy is among the few people in Gemmel’s life aware of the disturbing, drug-fueled liaison between Gemmel and Ed Buck, the man who ultimately would kill him.
In one of the film’s more harrowing sequences, Sammy is among the friends who recite a passage from Gemmel’s journal foretelling his own death at Buck’s hands.
Buck, a prominent Democratic donor and activist, had given Gemmel his first injection of crystal meth, Gemmel wrote. Drawn into a dangerous spiral of pain, fetish, fantasy, and addiction, Gemmel feared Buck, but couldn’t resist his manipulation. “I felt as if I sold my soul to the devil.”
Friends of Timothy Dean interviewed in the film say that he, too, referred to Ed Buck as the devil. He, too, died at Buck’s hands, in Buck’s West Hollywood apartment, overdosing on drugs Buck injected into his system — although the L.A. County coroner initially classified both his and Gemmel’s deaths as accidental.
Through news footage, home videos and photos, fresh interviews, and expressive animation, the film lays out the timelines of Gemmel’s and Tim’s separate paths toward doom, while also recounting the ensuing crusade for justice on their behalf.
As shown in the film, it took relentless pressure from loved ones and activists just to get the authorities to open a concerted investigation.
Two gay Black men, who admittedly did drugs — and, in Timothy’s case, sex work and porn — OD’ing under the same circumstances in the home of a purportedly wealthy white politico were treated by the police like statistics rather than murder victims. Foul play is not suspected, read the police report.
Gemmel’s mom LaTisha Nixon, journalist and activist Jasmyne Cannick, and, particularly, Gemmel’s best friend Jerome, made stirring appearances at demonstrations and speaking to the press to keep the focus on holding the unrepentant killer accountable.
While lightly examining the role Buck’s well-placed political allies possibly played in shielding him from scrutiny in both cases, Gemmel & Tim doesn’t add anything about Buck’s past or vague financial dealings to what’s been reported elsewhere.
Thomas, who directed, edited, and shot the film, instead structures the storytelling so that Gemmel and Tim stay front-and-center, if not entirely three-dimensional. Both are characterized primarily by their struggles and addictions.
We do get Timothy’s hiking buddy wistfully recalling how the two would shoot the breeze while marching up the canyon, and hear of their trip to the Gay Games, where Timothy competed as a member of the basketball team. But Tim’s nearly decade-long career as a porn actor is reduced to a single, scant mention.
It feels as if the filmmakers chose background details that would reinforce the most sympathetic portrayal of their subjects, or apologize for their unfortunate choices. That’s reasonable — though the truth is, Gemmel and Tim were brutalized by a monster. His unfortunate choices are to blame for their deaths.
“You have no idea how many boys are scared of this man,” someone declares in the aftermath of the second murder. The tireless determination of activists like Jerome and Gemmel’s mom eventually uncovered other men victimized by Buck.
We hear their horrifying descriptions of entering Buck’s lair, walking past a curtain designed to resemble a wall of flames, like passing through the gates of hell.
The survivors bravely sharing their stories about dancing with the devil helped finally bring justice for those no longer alive to share their testimony. “We won’t stop till he’s in prison,” Jerome vowed, and that promise to Gemmel and Tim was fulfilled.
Gemmel & Tim is available on VOD and Digital through iTunes, Apple TV, Google Play, YouTube, and Amazon. Visit https://www.gemmelandtim.com
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