New doc honors owner of legendary gay bar

By : Brian T. Carney of the Washington Blade, courtesy of National Gay Media Association
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The title character in “Jewel’s Catch One” is Jewel Thais-Williams and “Catch One” is the Catch One Disco, the world-famous club she ran from 1973-2015.

During the economic downturn in 1972, Jewel started to look for a recession-proof business opportunity. She noticed that the bar across the street from her failing dress shop was for sale. Although she faced serious obstacles (her lack of bartending experience, an all-white male clientele and a California law that banned women from tending bar), Jewel raised the money she needed to buy the club.

Despite frequent raids and excessive police harassment, “Jewel’s Catch One Disco” quickly became a popular hang-out for members of Los Angeles’ black and LGBT communities. Over time, the bar grew from one room to a three-story entertainment complex and became known as the “unofficial Studio 54 of the West Coast.”

But while Jewel served as host to celebrities from Hollywood and the music industry, she also became a national model for how to fight discrimination and serve the less fortunate. During the AIDS crisis, the Catch served as a refuge for patrons who had been rejected by their families and churches. Jewel co-founded the Minority AIDS Project and served as a board member of the AIDS Project of Los Angeles to help ensure that HIV/AIDS services reached the entire LGBT community.

In July 2015, Jewel decided to close her bar to focus on her other passions. Last year, she was chosen as the grand marshall of the L.A. Pride Parade in recognition of her outstanding service to the community.
Currently, Jewel, who holds a degree in oriental medicine, serves as the founder and executive director of the Village Health Foundation (villagehealthfoundation.org), a complementary medical clinic that uses traditional Chinese medicine, herbal treatments and other methodologies of healing.

Filmmaker C. Fitz met Jewel when she was asked to film a three-minute tribute to the community leader for a charity event. Inspired by Jewel’s passion and perseverance, Fitz ended up spending six years working on the documentary, which premiered last June at the Provincetown Film Festival. A television and marketing veteran, Fitz is best known for serving as the producer behind the launch of the historic Bravo series “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” and for serving as executive producer of all 104 episodes of the ABC Family home improvement series “Knock First.”

In the movie, which has been getting rave reviews at film festivals across the country, Fitz combines a rich trove of archival footage with contemporary footage of Jewel at the bar and out in the community. Narrated by acclaimed actress CCH Pounder (“NCIS New Orleans” and “Sons of Anarchy”), the documentary also features interviews with the patrons of the bar and exclusive interviews with some of Jewel’s celebrity guests and performers, including Rep. Maxine Waters (D, Calif.), Jenifer Lewis, Sharon Stone, Thelma Houston, Thea Austin, Bonnie Pointer, Sandra Bernhard and Madonna.

The sizzling soundtrack, a lively tribute to the disco era includes songs by Houston, Austin and Pointer, as well as Evelyn “Champagne” King, Andra Day, KC and the Sunshine Band, Jennifer Holiday, Sylvester and Peaches & Herb.
The Reel Affirmations screening will be hosted by DC icon Rayceen Pendarvis of the “Ask Rayceen Show.”

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