Culver City Observer -

Want To Be Understood? Make a Movie


A friend once stood with me inside a closet. I forget right now why we were in the closet. Oh! She was showing me her breasts, and didn't want to do it out in the open convention room. She wanted me to see that she had breasts, since when we first met, she had been a man.

Her life, and the things that happened to her, were hard enough. Yet thinking back on that moment, I realize now, it would have been even harder had she also been black.

We think some truths are universal, applicable to everyone. We understand these truths; we know they're true for all. Mais non. Not to LGBTQ, black men, transgender women of color, returning war veterans, released to come home like someone returning from prison - not even to comedians.

A chacun son goût, just till now. Life intrudes. Cinema won't rest, apparently, until we all get a good look at segmented groups. It's uncomfortable to upend universal truths.

I'm on the red carpet at LAFF, the Los Angeles Film Festival, talking to Laverne Cox, producer of "Free Cece" and star of "Orange is the New Black". Laverne's a little tough, a little chip-on-the-shoulder-hostile, a little I'm-there-to-get-out-the-word, and not little at all; she's exceptionally tall.

LGBTQ. Cox says them smoothly. LGBT I get (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender). What's the Q for? It's for Queer; it (includes diverse sexual orientations and/or gender identities) (an individual who prefers to identify as Questioning, rather than a label that does not designate how he/she feels).

"Transgender Women of Color". The phrase rolls quickly off Cox's tongue; it takes a minute to realize it's not one long word.

Cox is there to support Cece McDonald, whose story Cox came to tell. "Free Cece" shows the hell McDonald went through after she was attacked violently, and tried to defend her life. She was arrested, thrown in prison, denied her female identity, and stuck in a prison for men. Accidentally killing her attacker when she feared for her life, CeCe eventually agreed she'd plead guilty to second degree manslaughter, to avoid 20 years in jail. Being kept in solitary "for her own good" almost drove her to suicide. If Cece had gone to jail, she'd have been in jail for the rest of her life. She did what she had to do.

Cece was sitting in the audience when I saw this movie. I can't imagine how it would be for her to sit and watch. Is she angry?

"It's a blessing to be able to be out and free and enjoy my womanhood." She feels many of the things done to her in prison were "to take away my trans-ness. They'd try and make you hate yourself as someone who's 'non-conforming'.

"As a trans woman, I'm always going to have a different level of fear," she explains. Cece's reality is different from most people's. Can you imagine being afraid every day? "For all of my life, I've been conditioned that I was supposed to be abused because I was trans."

Cox adds: "Cece's case encapsulates so many of the harsh things that happen to women of color. Her story represents a microcosm of what so many transgender women of color experience in their lives every day."

Cece is about resilience and triumph. "All the tribulations of being a black trans woman...the fear of waking up every day. I am a person who overcame these tribulations that people thought were going to keep me down. I went from this person who was scared and hopeless and suicidal, to this person who is alive. We have to give people the feeling they are worthy of being here."

The audience gave Cece a passionate standing ovation.

* * *

Where do choice and destiny intersect? The film "Destined" is GRITT-Y. The same person makes a choice leading him to parallel realities; he's an entrepreneur-drug lord in one, and an architect giving back in the other.

"I always thought of the what if's in life", says Qasim Basir, who wrote and directed. "If my mother hadn't gotten a new job, what would have happened to me?" He admits "Sliding Doors", with Gwyneth Paltrow, inspired him to explore parallels from a black male's perspective.

"Consequences are bigger and harder to bounce back from for people of color," says Basir. "We are given less chances in general, particularly when it comes to crime and punishment. Not only do you have the perception of having broken the law, you also have a record. It is harder for African Americans to get a second chance – one wrong choice can become a life-defining experience.

"We are our choices, a culmination of all the choices we've made in our life have created this person who we are. We're humans. And we choose."

In one frame, you see a yellow sign on a wall: "Dead End". Basir believes differently: "At any given time, we still have a choice. So if you're a dope dealer and you haven't seen your son in ten years, you can decide to go another way. If you have the choice of selling out your neighborhood, you can take a stand."

Detroit plays a big role; Basir changed the script for "the immense sense of possibility but also the racial and class divide that still exists." Don't miss the superb acting by Cory Hardrict in the double role of Sheed/Rasheed.

I mentioned returning war veterans and comedians earlier; LAFF featured films about both groups also dreaming of understanding. If you want people to understand what you're going through, mass communication channels like movies work.

Nothing stops you, though, from writing a book, even if it's small. It does not need to be perfect, or even in good English or grammar. If you're lucky, you can find a good editor. Or you might tell your story to another person.

Though your point may be to get the word out, you may be surprised: often, what helps is the telling. Why not tell your story to someone, and see how it might make you feel. Understanding isn't only for the listener; we need to understand ourselves, too.



©Carole Bell 2016 Carole Bell is a writer interested in everything.

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