Disco began in clubs like Jewel’s Catch One, where Black, Latinx and LGBTQ community members could celebrate their cultures outside of discriminatory White-owned venues. Filmmaker C. Fitz (“ShowGirls, Provincetown, MA”) explores the decades-long legacy of this Los Angeles club, the country’s oldest Black-owned disco venue, in new documentary ”Jewel’s Catch One.” Array, the film distribution network founded by Ava DuVernay (“A Wrinkle in Time”), released the first trailer yesterday (April 26).
Club founder Jewel Thais-Williams explains in the trailer that the club’s name came from a term gay men used for “[going] out on the the prowl and [trying] to pick somebody up.”
The film follows Thais-Williams, who identifies as a lesbian, from her founding the club in 1973 through 42 years of success mixed with hardship. Jewel’s Catch One became a banner-name nightlife spot for the entertainment elite, with the likes of Chaka Khan and Whitney Houston performing during its heyday. It simultaneously earned a reputation as a site for Black, LGBTQ and AIDS-impacted peoples to safely party and build community. For instance, KCET noted that the club hosted the United Fellowship Church of Christ, a congregation for Black LGBTQ individuals, in 1986.
This fame also bred opposition, and the club endured financial setbacks as many White prospective patrons abandoned the venue or tried to buy it out. Jewel’s Catch One burned down in 1986, the same year it opened its doors to the church, and KCET reported that the fire department didn’t open an investigation despite the community suspecting arson. The club reopened after two years and eventually closed with a blowout party in 2015. Thais-Williams then committed herself full time to the Village Health Foundation, a healthcare organization she created to serve Los Angeles residents with HIV and AIDS.
“Jewel’s Catch One” illuminates this history through original interviews with personalities like Jenifer Lewis (“Black-ish”) and U.S. Representative Maxine Waters (D-Calif.). The documentary premieres May 1 on Netflix. Array kicked off a nationwide screening tour in Atlanta on April 22.