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Finesse (2021)
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Finesse: the must-watch series capturing the beauty of queer Black intimacy

Director Vincent Martell’s latest project stars Shea Couleé and follows a group of Black artists and sex workers through the trials and tribulations they face

In the two years since director Vincent Martell dropped his web series Damaged Goods – the fast-paced six-parter following a young group of POCs in Chicago – he’s come a long way as a creative. Moving from his birthplace of Chicago to Los Angeles, his final farewell to the city that shaped him is Finesse.

A love letter to hustlers everywhere, the new series is the director’s most personal project yet, focusing on a group of Black artists and sex workers in Chicago – starring Drag Race’s Shea Couleé in her acting debut, alongside real sex workers, and Martell himself. “Damaged Goods was the appetiser for what I wanted to get into and show the beautiful community in Chicago that I knew very well, but was still very much underground,” the director tells Dazed. “Finesse feels like a more mature, more developed version of what my friends and I have gone through sexually and with intimacy. It’s a more explicit tone because it’s something that I was yearning for.”

From pup play to Doms and dildos, Finesse ticks all the boxes for explicit sex scenes, but as is becoming the norm now in shows like Normal People, Euphoria, and Sense8, Martell worked closely with an intimacy co-ordinator to make sure the scenes were as comfortable and safe for everybody involved as possible. Among the kink are tender moments that shed light on a side of queer Black intimacy that is rarely seen. “I wanted to see a sense of love. I wanted to see Black people connect and touch on camera. I wanted to see us show community in a way that only we know and can understand,” the director explains on the focus. “It’s not just my offering to Black Americans but POC around the world who can connect with it.”

A testament to how far Martell has come since his previous outing, Finesse is a cinematic rollercoaster, spinning through vibrant scenes at drag performances and tender moments of community to visceral sex scenes that make you want to be part of the action yourself. At the heart of it, Couleé’s Kizer, Jeez Loueez’s Daryn, and the director as Martell, invite you in to empathise with their stories, revel in their triumphs, and share their pain as they hustle their way to make it. “Finessing is a way of life, especially for a lot of queer people of colour,” Martell explains. “In order to survive, we have to finesse in ways that our straight or white counterparts don’t, and that’s where the concept came from.” 

“Finessing is a way of life, especially for a lot of queer people of colour. In order to survive, we have to finesse in ways that our straight or white counterparts don’t, and that’s where the concept came from” – Vincent Martell

While the story is familiar to those featured and the wider queer community of colour, it’s a narrative that is sadly neglected in TV and film. With exceptions like Michaela Coel’s groundbreaking I May Destroy You, projects like Finesse are desperately needed – projects told by queer people of colour for them. “There’s nothing we’ve seen in the landscape of TV or film that explicitly shows the beauty and messiness of queer sex, and I wasn’t going to wait for someone to do it anymore,” Martell muses. “Having that personal history connected to the story makes it all the more authentic and it’s so intimate and so raw because we’re showing off so much of ourselves. We have to allow space for these kinds of stories to exist because there’s an audience waiting for it and if we don’t tell them, people won’t ever see them.” 

Similarly, as with his previous projects, Finesse required Martell to literally finesse the industry to get the funding to bring it to life. But while previous hardships would have defeated him, he recognises how crucial it is for Black creators to be telling their own stories. “It’s up to us to exist and create on our own terms,” he muses. “Hopefully people will relate more because it’s more real, and if not, then fuck them. It’s not a game for us, it’s a marathon, and we need to really lean into the fact that we’re creating for ourselves and our community and be okay with that.” 

After launching the trailer for Finesse, Martell is planning screenings of the series around the US, perfectly timed as we slowly crawl back to a life with sex and intimacy. With this project wrapped, inspiration is already bubbling up for where he can go next. “I want to tell stories about queer Black people being messy, stories about intimacy, the lack of intimacy, dysphoria, and hustling,” he reflects. “Those are the projects I’ve been fortunate enough to work on, so I feel like I’m aligned in the right spot and I’m just going to push it even further.”