- Above the Line
I believe in firsthand experiences. I believe in the power of them … and the only way for us to get through some of the muck of living in America today—the racism and sexism and classism—is for us to understand each other’s stories.—Cheryl Dunye, Women of Vision: Histories in Feminist Film and Video
Twenty plus years ago I began my work in the media arts as a filmmaker with three short films, She Don’t Fade, The Potluck and the Passion, and Greetings from Africa. These projects gained international acclaim and success for their positive and empowering representation of black lesbian identities. Each explores the intersection of race, class, and sexuality while investigating the codes of behavior, power dynamics, and body language performed in them. Filmmaking, without the constraints of a feature-film format, allows me to reach viewers like me who are hungry for any mediated representation of their real lives on the screen.
Short filmmaking has allowed me to observe as well as create a heightened cinematic drama and portraiture that is palpable and functions as a strategy for overturning sexism, racism, and homophobia in the media arts. My work incorporates an autoethnographic focus building on a visual language that explores the intersection of truth and fiction in my life. Filmmaking opens a nexus of doorways, pages, and places—the timeless depths of my own eternity, choreographed in the moment, clinging with departure. And when audiences cross through these doorways with me, the ERA is at work.
After my move to the San Francisco Bay Area in 2012, I found myself at the crossroads of another personal and political discovery with the vibrant black trans male and masculine-of-center communities that lack visibility within queer media and cultural production. Inspired by the work of Oakland queer of color activists, I created Black Is Blue as a short film exploring the everyday racism and transphobic experiences in the lives of these black [End Page 277] men. For me, the short film format is one that provides an artistic space to work within a community developing ties for collaboration on projects in the future. Promoting trans rights is one of my forms of activism.
The synopsis of Black Is Blue reads:
BLACK, a thirty-something black FTM, on his way to his night shift as a security guard at a posh Jack London Square condo, sees several black BUTCHES, AGGRESSIVES, and STUDS pull up in front of the building, unloading party supplies and all the hot babes that go with them. On closer inspection, he notices that one of the cuties is DEJA, the lover he dumped before his transition. Confused by the sighting he trades shifts with one of the other guards to patrol the building of the party. As his watch unfolds, he becomes more restless and paranoid and wonders if Deja has come to out him. When a woman neighbor in the building complains to Black about the noise from the party, he makes his way to the apartment. Wanting to keep his identity a secret and fearful about seeing Deja, he enters and is shocked to see Deja drunk and twerking with several black studs. Black storms out but Deja sees him. He rushes to the building gym and hides out for a while. Serene, moonlit skies inspire Black to exit. Coincidentally it’s the same time that the partygoers filter out and Black comes face to face with Deja. She calls him by his former name, BLUE, and starts to rage at him, which, of course, draws a crowd of onlookers. Fearful that she might say more, Black hits her and a fight ensues between Black and Deja’s stud-lover. Within moments the other building’s security guards are on the scene to break up the fight. They are about to call the police but Black won’t let them. And as everyone scatters, Black, not wanting the...