HOT & BOTHERED:
HOW BLACK LGBT FILMMAKERS
DEFY THE ODDS WHILE RESISTING
OBJECTIFICATION & MARGINALIZATION
Some people wonder how my first narrative short film, which was produced in a 16-week Queer Women of Color Media Arts Project film class, gained popularity, screening at over 21 festivals around the country even though I had no crew and absolutely no money for post-production or traditional marketing. I sometimes wonder too.
It was surreal. My film about a distressed, 30’s Black lgbt graphic designer who develops a crush on her postwoman grew by word of mouth, largely, because it had a solid and compelling story. It also gained momentum because I touted my short as being an “introduction”—a segue way, really—into my feature film with the selfsame title and topic.
In the independent film world, it is well known that the success of one’s film is greatly dependent on early identifying and coaxing one’s targeted audience through a focused and personable grassroots campaign that not only utilizes innovative and creative marketing techniques, but also continually engages supporters through various social medial outlets.
Much like the independent film market, the Black lgbt film market operates using many of the aforementioned tenants—only their quest to gain visibility, to tell fair and balanced stories that accurately reflect the diverse spectrum of their lives, is often an uphill battle, especially considering that they are already marginalized in both the mainstream and independent film world.
For my own short, it was imperative that I feature women of all hues. It was equally important for me to cast Black women who have different body types or sizes. My cast was all natural, full-figured and petite, brown, bold, bald, and baaadddDDD. This was greatly celebrated by my audience who loved seeing their reflection, culture, language, euphemisms, and ways of looking at the world on the big screen. I plan to continue offering full representations of Black women in my other feature scripts. This is not to say, of course, that there aren’t films that already reflect the diverse spectrum of Black womanhood or queer women of color. It is to simply remind those in the industry that we are still greatly marginalized—if not absent—from mainstream cinema and mainstream festivals. Black lgbt filmmakers are changing this reality.
I can honestly say that it is “hot” (for lack of a better word—and I am sure there are plenty of other words that can be used in this lack of time) that more Black lgbt films are gaining distribution and representation. This is wonderful! The success of recent independent film projects like Pariah and the many other lgbt film projects garnering funds to the complete and distribute their films is inspiring. And I am watching. I must note, for instance, that I was deeply inspired to discover that Tracey Edmonds would be producing the novels of the late E. Lynn Harris under her own production company.
Black lgbt writers and filmmakers are proving that we have a loyal audience who loves and supports us, who classify ‘success’ as having not only beat the odds, triumphing over adversity, but also delivering to them new and innovative ways of seeing their diverse human stories told on screen. We have proved that our audience is not just queer, but also straight, stemming from a myriad of economic, racial, social, and religious backgrounds. This reality is inspiring!
What is not hot, however, is that we still suffer marginalization at mainstream film fests (some of them lgbt fests), which do not cater to the spiritual and cultural needs of lgbt filmmakers of color. We may sometimes even suffer targeting our work to conservative black fests, which may fear screening content by lgbt filmmakers—less they shake up the entire congregation!
This, of course, is where niche marketing and a targeted film festival strategy comes in. It was feminist scholar, Barbra Smith, who once asserted that Black lesbian writers need an alternate judging criteria for validating their own work, one that departs from the traditional Western aesthetic or the mainstream. I believe we need to continue evaluating and supporting our own work. This gives our projects both visibility and validity. Also, we need greater access to resources and funding in order to complete our projects. As filmmakers, it is vital that we continue networking, sharing our resources and strategies for success, so that our fellow sistahs and brothas can thrive—not annually or semi-annually, but in full and all year round.
These things bother me. I know that I am a first time filmmaker whose first short paled monstrously in comparison to those that screened at top tier festivals, however, I’d like to make my feature for “The Postwoman” significantly better. I’ve been chronicling our progress for over 15 years—as both a student, teacher, and lover of film. Indeed, this is one of the reasons why I decided to press on and complete my feature script for “The Postwoman.”
We have a vast, untapped market craving for positive and full representation on screen. I want to help fulfill that demand with my own film projects. Here are some tips below that I suggest to first time filmmakers:
1. Shatter Your Fear of Raising Capital Online
Successful campaigns on both Indiegogo and Kickstarter are deeply inspiring! Learn some of the creative techniques and trademark secrets employed by other filmmakers to reach their audience. I am finally confident that I have the support and fan base out there to raise capital for my film when I select a date and am ready to launch my crowd-funding campaign. I’ve been building and nurturing relationships with great community partners, angel investors, and filmmakers over time. Nurturing these relationships before launching a focused campaign is an absolute must.
2. Have the Courage to Fully Reveal Yourself to your Audience
Real, unimaginable, and sustained support is earned. I learned that people fund projects by inspiring, trustworthy, charismatic, and passionate individuals who possess the will to execute great projects. Overtime, I realized that people don’t just follow your film; they follow you too. Your supporters are not only friends and family, but also investors with prodigious capital. Each is interested in seeing “the total package”: your creative marketing endeavors, your well thought-out business plan, your charismatic personality and marketability, as well as your vision and journey with your film. They are intrigued by your hustle (your resolve to stay on the path with heart), the obstacles you conquered and lessons you learned along the way, as they are about your future projects and endeavors. I know that the moment I decided to allow my Twitter audience to see the woman and director behind my creation, my ruminations and reflections on independent filmmaking via personable tweets or even silly youtube videos about my process with film, I gained greater followers and supporters. This support is sure to grow over time.
3. Market to Pride Festivals
Early on, I located the International Federation of Black Prides and decided to market my film directly to my audience through such supportive venues which have their own film festivals. Several Black Pride festivals around the country which screened my first short had never before operated a film festival before I contacted them about featuring my film. I was extremely grateful for the ability to share my film with them, build greater community, as well as gather greater exposure and feedback about my feature through such things like Q&A. Having postcards, dvds, and bookmarks about one’s upcoming feature at pride festivals are a great way to reach your audience as well. Also, the call and response heard during the screening of your film at such festivals is not to be missed. It is pure love! For continued communication, I gathered emails and contact info and plan to use such websites like Aweber and Constant Contact to further develop our connection.
4. Launch A Website for Your Feature Film in Advance
While my short film was screening at festivals around the country, I launched a website www.thepostwomanmovie.com to give supporters lead and insight into the upcoming feature film for “The Postwoman” and feature script which I recently completed. Also, my Twitter site @PostwomanMovie was developed while the short was still screening at fests around the country. This is a great marketing strategy and helps to sustain interest while building momentum. Remember that it is important to stay visible on many platforms if you are in the business of gathering a team, marketing or selling your feature film.
5. Support other Filmmaker’s Campaigns
Even when we can’t support other filmmakers financially, the moral and positive support of another person’s film project or journey on the film fest circuit is extremely invaluable. Give praise where it is due. I try to contribute to other film projects when I can and I highly recommend that others do so.
6. Market to Black LGBT Film Festivals & Other Niche Fests
It is so important to understand one’s targeted audience. This saves us all time and money in the long-run. From Roberta Munroe’s book, How Not to Make a Short Film, and workshop, I learned the importance of “keeping it simple,” as well as targeting film fests that are greater suited for my film projects, audience, or long-term marketing strategy. Believe that you can meet your goal in getting into the film festivals and film markets where your film can find a greater audience and obtain greater distribution.
7. Identify Allies and Nurture Important Relationships
I don’t know many independent filmmakers who are in this business for the money. We do what we love and risk what we have because we love what we do, because we’d like to see new images of ourselves on screen. It’s important that we support one another on the road to success and share our resources. No one makes it to the top on their own, pulling up their own bootstraps. We lift as we climb, standing on the shoulders of many great ancestors, family and friends, who once believed in us or provided us with a blueprint for success. Study those examples and learn from other’s mistakes. Personally, I have found the interviews on Film Courage, Script Chat, Rex Sikes’ Movie Beat, and even the invaluable resources offered by Stacey Parks’ Independent Film Blog and website, Film Specific, extremely helpful. Additionally, attending filmmaking workshops where I could meet and learn from others who are currently in the position where I’d like to be is deeply inspiring.
8. Do Your Homework
The journey to the feature film is no easy task. Indeed, it may take years, but that shouldn’t discourage you. Do your homework. Study other films in your genre. Study your favorite directors and writers. Take a class to help deepen your plot or your characters. Workshop your screenplay. Join and support your local writers guild. Support writers guilds of color and other organizations like the Organization of Black Screenwriters. Study trends in the industry. Listen to free podcasts and videos online offered by such platforms like Film Courage, Rex Sikes’ Movie Beat, or Script Chat, but be careful that you don’t become distracted from your own project or story. It is so easy getting lost on sites like Twitter and forgetting about your own writing. Stick to a schedule. Research when possible.
9. Be Prepared to Discuss Your Other Film Projects
Is this your only feature film or do you have other film projects? What about other finished shorts and screenplays? Consider creating a reel of your work and be prepared to discuss your vision for your film career and future projects down the line. As filmmakers are often advised, “Know where you are going.” Share with interested parties other projects you have rolled up your sleeve. You will surely get to your destination over time if you stay focused, continue networking, and have a great, supportive team around you.
10. Thank Everyone
Remember to thank people who supported you along the way. The words “thank you” really do go a long way. A handwritten thank you card, email, or phone call is thoughtful. No texts please. Thank everyone for their belief in your project and goals, including those who served as your tipping point.
JD Walker is a filmmaker, journalist, and literary activist. She is the writer and director of “The Postwoman,” a story about Nia, a 30s graphic designer, that develops a crush on her postwoman and shows her the meaning of unconditional love. Walker has recently completed a feature script for this narrative feature and hopes to assemble a team as well as launch the Kickstarter campaign for her film soon. You can find out more details about “The Postwoman” on Twitter @PostwomanMovie or www.thepostwomanmovie.com. Walker can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.