November is Native American/Alaska Native Heritage Month, an opportunity to celebrate the rich and diverse cultures, traditions and histories of indigenous peoples. Badger Creek, by Jonathan Skurnik and Randy Vasquez, is a portrait of Native resilience as seen through a year in the life of three generations of a Blackfeet (Pikuni) family living on the rez in Montana. A Matter of Respect, by Ellen Frankenstein and Sharon Gmelch, is about the meaning of tradition and change, as explored by a group of people who honor their ancestors’ way of life by teaching language, harvesting and preparing traditional foods, restoring community cemeteries, dancing, carving and weaving. Hunting in Wartime, by Samantha Farinella, profiles Tlingit veterans from Hoonah, Alaska, who saw combat during the Vietnam war; they talk about surviving trauma, relating to Vietnamese civilians, readjusting to civilian life, and serving a government that systematically oppresses native people. Find these films and others that honor Native American/Alaska Native Heritage Month here.
TRANS DAY OF REMEMBRANCE
Trans Day of Remembrance, sometimes reframed as Trans Day of Resilience, is a time to honor the memories of trans people we have lost, and to uplift those who are surviving and thriving. Mezzo, by Nicole Opper, celebrates the life and artistic endeavors of Breanna Sinclaire, a Black trans opera singer. Prodigal Sons, by Kimberly Reed, is a complex personal story about the filmmaker’s return to the Montana town where she grew up, and her relationship with her disabled adopted brother, and the life-changing revelation of his birth family. Trinidad, by PJ Raval, introduces viewers to three trans women whose paths cross in the unassuming small town of Trinidad, Colorado, the so-called “sex change capitol of the world.” Find these and more movies about trans people’s lives and stories in the LGBTQ sectionof New Day films.
India, in partnership with PBS’s Women and Girls Lead Global to engage men and boys as champions for gender equality. Using a film-based gender sensitization curriculum, the ‘Hero Academy’ engaged young men in the mission to make communities and homes safer for women and girls across India.
Shalini Kantayya’s Catching the Sun was named a 2016 New York Times Critics’ Pick and won Best Feature at the San Francisco Green Film Festival. It is the part of the American Film Showcase to be screened at U.S. embassies and diplomatic missions around the word. Actor Mark Ruffalo called it “a must-see film. An eye-opening look at workers and entrepreneurs on the forefront of the clean energy movement that will transform, and enliven the way you see the future. What is clear is the wonderful opportunity the transition to clean energy represents.”
This year, public school districts in Florida, New Jersey, Missouri, New York, Maryland, and Virginia, as well as France and Guatemala, connected the stories of the five young new Americans in I Learn America to their students and community. With director Jean-Michel Dissard, they worked to trigger “homegrown” in-school events to amplify the voices of immigrant youth in our schools and to increase empathy and welcoming for young immigrants through personal storytelling/exchange of shared experiences.
nabbing Best Documentary Awards from UrbanWorld, ABFF and eight other film festivals. The film also has been connecting with audiences through outreach screenings. At the Osborne Association, one of the participants shared, “I see myself in all these men and it inspired me to really step up for my son. I think every father, and every parent, should see this film because it moved me to tears.”
Filmmaker Alice Elliott was invited to the Orange County, North Carolina Human Rights celebration to show her film, The Collector of Bedford Street. Over two days she screened the film and then met with educators, designers and advocates to envision what it would take to make the Raleigh-Durham area the most accessible place in the United States to people with disabilities. The first step in the action plan was incorporating a curriculum on disability rights into the grade schools.
At the International Documentary Association’s recent Getting Real Conference, Ann Kaneko was approached by a visiting filmmaker from Perú, who described her admiration for Against the Grain: An Artist’s Survival Guide to Perú. She said that she often refers to the film and that it continues to impact the country–it is an important reference for Peruvians about their history.
California’s Glendale Unified School District bought more than
25 DVDs of Jonathan Skurnik’s Youth & Gender Media Projectseries on trans youth inclusion to train their entire school district on how to create inclusive schools for trans and gender nonconforming students. They also brought in the filmmaker to screen the films for district personnel to launch the initiative.
Following a standing-room only public screening at the University of Hawai‘i of Marlene Booth‘s Pidgin: The Voice of Hawai‘i, an audience member was moved to speak about his experience growing up speaking Pidgin English in Hawai‘i. Though he was taught to be ashamed of his mother tongue, he told the filmmakers, “Your film gave our language respect.”
grandmother Phyllis, premiered on PBS this year, AARP declared, “An 89-year-old starlet is born!” Juli and director Alicia Dwyer and worked with partners to host about 90 community and educational screenings around the country. While the story of fierce Phyllis and the tough decisions faced by a family struggling to care for older loved ones hit home for many viewers, 75% of respondents to post-screening surveys said they were more optimistic about discussing their wishes for end-of-life care. As one woman wrote, “It’s something that has to be talked about. I’ll be sharing this screening with my family tonight for sure!”
Directly after the passage of North Carolina’s anti-transgender bathroom bill, Out Run had its World Premiere at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival in Durham, NC. Filmmakers S. Leo Chiang and Johnny Symons used the screening to educate the crowd about the injustices of the new law and mobilize the audience to take action against it through social media. Out Run continues to screen at film festivals around the world, inspiring viewers to join the fight for LGBTQ rights and representation in international politics.
November is also Transgender Awareness Month, a time to raise visibility of and expose challenges faced by transgender and gender non-conforming people. New Day’s catalogue includes a number of films about trans people. In Prodigal Sons, a trans woman returns home to Helena, Montana, and confronts her complicated relationship with her brother, opening the doorway to a journey of revelations. Trinidad acquaints viewers with three trans women whose paths cross in Trinidad, Colorado, the “sex-change capital of the world.” The Year We Thought About Love is a story about a queer youth theater project, and includes the coming out process of a young black trans woman.
On June 12, 2016, an attack on a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, became the worst mass shooting in modern US history. For three filmmakers at New Day, the tragic massacre was deeply personal. Having worked previously on films about hate crimes targeting the LGBTQ community, they felt compelled to take immediate steps to engage others in discussions about homophobia and the process of healing.
When New Day member Tami Gold heard of the attacks, she was devastated. She writes, “It was a heart-wrenching reminder of the escalating levels of violence gay, lesbian, queer and transgender people face throughout the United States.” For Gold, the incident brought back painful memories of a hate crime that she had documented in her film Puzzles: When Hate Came to Town. Co-directed with David Pavlovsky, the film documents the impact of a 2006 shooting in a LGBTQ bar in New Bedford called Puzzles. The young perpetrator attempted to shoot three bar patrons and later killed himself and two others. Gold and Pavlovsky purposefully include a wide range of voices – from members of the perpetrator’s radical gang, to victims and their families, as well as gay and straight patrons of the bar. These multiple perspectives viewed over several years allow Puzzles to reveal how a culture of hate and fear can eventually lead to violent acts.
After the Orlando tragedy, Gold decided to make her film available for free online. She says the broad reach achieved, including two local broadcasts and several media interviews, has been very encouraging. Gold has also invited audiences to share their responses on her website and Facebook pages. She explains,
“If there was ever a time to tackle this crisis, it is now, and we want to be part of this discussion.”
Viewers have expressed immense gratitude: “Watching Puzzles was the antidote to the sense of despair I felt,” says one woman on Gold’s Vimeo page. Another remarks, “I still hurt over the people murdered in Orlando, but it helps me to talk about this with friends everywhere… it’s a great way to generate a conversation.”
Another New Day film that explores the impact of hate crimes on a community is New Day member Beverly Seckinger’s documentary Laramie Inside Out. In it, Seckinger returns to her hometown to make sense of the tragic murder of Matthew Shepard, a gay student who was brutally beaten and left to die in 1998. The murder put Laramie into the media spotlight and sparked a nationwide debate. As Seckinger confronts her own closeted youth in Laramie, she interviews different community members. While the “God-hates-fags” Westboro Baptist Church continues to condemn Shepard and all LBGTQ people, Seckinger is heartened to see that many people have started speaking out and taking action.
“I realized then that a history lesson was in order, and that my film might provide some desperately needed perspective and inspiration.”
While Puzzles and Laramie Inside Out document the aftermath of LGBTQ hate crimes on communities, Yun Suh’s film City of Bordersprovides a hopeful message about peace and unity. Set inside the only gay bar in Jerusalem, Suh introduces us to five Israeli and Palestinian patrons who have found common ground and a sense of community.
Shortly after 9/11, Suh noticed a growing trend in the media to demonize Muslims, who were often depicted as violent fanatics. Compelled to show another perspective, Suh chose to follow Israeli Palestinians who are proud to be gay and Muslim. She writes, “I was so inspired by the courage of the young people who chose to break the cycle of hatred and violence that they were taught and chose to love and laugh in spite of all the threats that surrounded them just outside their sanctuary.”
In the aftermath of the Orlando tragedy, Suh was struck by the media’s focus on the gunman’s alleged connections to terrorism and radical extremism. She notes, “The Orlando tragedy surfaced the widespread Islamophobia and xenophobia that exists in this country. When the shooter, Omar Mateen, was identified as Muslim, the mainstream media and politicians were quick to push their anti-Islam bias and label this massacre as an act of terrorism rather than a hate crime.”
Amidst all the incendiary headlines and rhetoric, City of Borders provides a voice of reason, reminding viewers that it is possible for a community to find peaceful connections despite war and differences in religion and ideology. As with Gold’s and Seckinger’s films, there is still a chance to take action and inspire social change. Suh writes,
“There is far greater power and beauty in our diversity and unity that remains untapped.”
While many of us are still trying to recover from Orlando’s tragedy, these three powerful films offer up a glimmer of hope. From now until September 1, view them online for free. Simply click on the appropriate film below, add a 3-day streaming license to your shopping cart, and apply the following promo code: NEWS716.
Learn more about the rest of New Day’s award-winning LGBT titles here. And for ideas on how to teach LGBT issues in the classroom, have a look at this excellent blog post by New Day filmmaker Nomy Lamm.
My filmOut In The Night tells the true story of a group of young African-American lesbians who are out one night in 2006, in New York City’s gay-friendly neighborhood of Greenwich Village, when they are sexually confronted by an older man. After they brush off his advances and state that they are gay, the man becomes violent and threatens to “f**k them straight.” He spits and throws a lit cigarette at one of the women, causing a fight to break out. The women are subsequently arrested, charged and convicted with gang assault, assault and attempted murder. Out in the Night reveals how race, gender identity and sexuality are criminalized in the mainstream news media and in the criminal legal system.
Immediately following their arrest, I became interested in the case. I read the many salacious headlines like “Attack of the Killer Lesbians,” “Gal Gang,” “I’m a man, lesbian growled” and on and on. However, it was the first of many New York Times articles that really gave me pause: “Man is stabbed after admiring a stranger.” I was outraged. I didn’t think the journalists from the NYT would have written the article from the harasser’s point of view had the women been white. A man does not ‘admire’ teenage girls on the street at midnight. At best, that is harassment.
Originally, I believed that this was a story that shouldn’t be told by a white director. After two years of advocacy, however, as their appeals were approaching, I couldn’t stop thinking about this story. I was still just as passionate, but the media attention had severely died down. I didn’t want it to be swept under the rug. I wrote to each of the women in prison and asked if I could come visit to discuss the possibility of a documentary. I spoke with their family members to see if they were also interested. From there we began a long interview process, seeing whether we were a good fit. After many months of getting to know each other, we began filming.
Out in the Night has now screened in close to 150 film festivals, winning over a dozen awards, and kicked off the 2015-2016 season of POV on PBS with a simultaneous broadcast on the Logo Network. Out in the Night continues its partnership with the United Nations’ Free and Equal Campaign to decriminalize homosexuality worldwide. According to RogerEbert.com, “This film could help influence the ongoing LGBT civil rights struggle. Everyone should see it.”
In honor of LGBTQ Pride Month this upcoming June, queer New Day filmmaker Nomy Lamm offers up a list of suggestions on how best to approach queer and gender-variant issues in the classroom.
Know our history and embrace our elders. Learning about our
legacy helps us understand who we are. For example, the film Reporter Zerotells the story of Randy Shilts, the first openly gay journalist in the mainstream media, who covered the AIDS crisis when few others would. Before You Know Itoffers a loving portrait of gay elders, their wisdom and at times alienation from the culture they helped create, while Beauty Before Agelooks at the emphasis on youth and beauty in gay male culture. The CampaignandOne Wedding and a Revolutionboth share histories of the battle for gay marriage, and the trailblazers who paved the way.
Don’t forget the “T.” Trans people have been here since the
beginning, yet are often left out of the conversation about LGBT communities. Currently, anti-trans legislation is sweeping the country, making the world that much less safe for those of us whose existence lies outside the binary. Learn more about the lives, perspectives, and unique experiences of trans people in New Day films including Trinidad, Prodigal Sons, and The Family Journey: Raising Gender Nonconforming Children.
Be Intersectional. When we talk about the liberation of LGBTQ
people, we must center the perspectives and experiences of LGBT people of color, queers with disabilities, and those of us who are living at the crossroads of multiple identities, and therefore are most impacted by systems of oppression. Pariah, Sins Invalid, and Mind/Game: The Unquiet Journey of Chamique Holdsclaw each tell stories of the often overlapping gifts and struggles of being queer, black, brown, and disabled.
Look beyond the U.S. The layers of identity, experience,
oppression and resilience are mirrored and contrasted when we look beyond the borders of the United States. City of Bordersis set in the only gay bar in the city of Jerusalem, exposing the homophobia faced in a conservative religious city, as well as power dynamics and alliances between Israeli and Palestinian queers. Tales of the Wariahighlights trans women in Indonesia, home of the world’s largest Muslim population, and the pressures of family, religion, money, and aging, as they strive to be true to themselves and find love.
Honor our youth. Queer youth are some of the most vulnerable
and most dynamic members of our community, and they have much to teach us. While homophobia and bullying can isolate our youth and make them believe they have no options, the empowerment of queer youth voices is a balm for our collective spirit. The Year We Thought About Love, Gay Youth, and I’m Just Annekeeach reveal some of the hardships faced by queer youth, including the threat of violence, homelessness, and suicide, as well as the healing that is possible through storytelling, community, art, activism, and belief in oneself.
Bear witness to the violence and discrimination that LGBTQ
people are subjected to. The LGBTQ community has earned hard-won advances and a sense of pride, but often these victories come in the face of devastating loss and violence. Laramie Inside Outwrestles with the legacy of Matthew Shepard’s murder, while Puzzlesteases out contributing factors of a violent hate crime in Massachusetts. Out at Workillustrates what happens when LGBTQ people are not protected from workplace discrimination. Out In The Night shows how interpersonal and institutional homophobia and racism compound each other, when four Black lesbian youth end up serving time in prison and facing assault charges for fighting back against an assailant.
Encourage students to examine their own homophobia. It’s
High school years are a difficult period to navigate and if you’re a new immigrant, a person who is deaf, or a member of the LGBTQ community, your journey may be even more fraught….or maybe not! In the New Day Films collection, a variety of award-winning films highlight untraditional high school experiences and reframe the coming-of-age story in surprising ways.
“I’ve heard that people had no idea that there were out queer youth in Boston’s public schools,” relates filmmaker Ellen Brodsky. Her film, The Year We Thought About Love, makes clear that the
re are! Each year, the theater troupe, True Colors, creates an original play that performs for hundreds of youth in Boston-area schools. Students in the audience laugh, cry out, and even cover their faces when they see two boys kiss. Afterwards, students engage in a lively, honest, and impactful Q&A about sexuality. These performances are empowering and life-changing for the young members of the troupe. And for the audience, the plays offer a deep and meaningful look at the different incarnations of love. One of the main characters in the film, Trae, explains: “When we go to True Colors, labels are gone. They are just taken away. Your name, everything is just gone and you’re just you.” This is a potent antidote to the pressure to conform that underpins most high school journeys!
Another angle on high school life is seen in I Learn America, a feature documentary about the International High School at Lafayette, a specialized high school in Brooklyn, New York, where all 300 students are immigrants from over 50 countries. Filmmakers Jean-Michel Dissard and Gitte Peng take us into the lives of 5 students over the course of a school year, documenting their struggles to learn a new language, adjust to a new culture, and develop friendships. Filmed at school and in the students’ homes, the film delves into the students’ backgrounds, families, friends, their interactions with each other, and the community that they themselves have created within the school.
Top Spin, a new feature-length film by Mina T. Son and Sara Newens, follows three teenagers who embrace the challenges of competitive ping pong while balancing the pressures of high school. In their pursuit of Olympic gold, they must juggle homework, training sessions, and social obligations. Son explains, “Though all three athletes share the same goals of competing in the Olympics, they have very different high school experiences. Lily maintains the closest semblance to a traditional high school student, attending public school. Michael, on the other hand, decides to forego his senior year, only taking online classes so that he can train all over the U.S. and in China. Ariel goes to a private high school and is somewhere in between.” Waking up at dawn to practice serves before school, missing classes because of overseas tournaments, foregoing senior prom—these choices become the norm for these extraordinary athletes whose dedication and passion are off the charts.
The short documentary Making Noise in Silence is another work by Mina T. Son that follows two Korean-American teenagers adapting to life at the California School of the Deaf, Fremont. Small class size and an overall intimate feeling of the school are key components to their success. Son remarks, “I don’t want to over idealize the school, but I got the sense that students were really given the attention they deserved, which should be the standard of education for all students, not just for students who are deaf.” It’s an environment that embraces not only their language but their culture—atypical to the mainstream high school trajectory, where nonconformity can be a one-way street to social isolation.
Judy Lieff’sDeaf Jam provides a different look at the experiences of deaf teenagers—this time at the Lexington School for the Deaf in Queens, New York. The film draws a vivid portrait of Aneta, a passionate young Israeli-born deaf student who ventures out of the familiar world of her deaf peers through her discovery of American Sign Language poetry. Aneta’s poetry becomes a vehicle for her meeting and eventual collaboration with Tahani, a Palestinian spoken word slam poet. Poetry, friendship, and respect transcend politics as the two young women create a form of poetry that communicates to both hearing and deaf in ways the audience might never have imagined. The power and reception of this medium of communication is a riveting testimony to the importance of listening in all modalities.
Adolescence is perhaps the hardest time to find and project our true selves. But for the teen protagonists of these five films, it is a challenge they are willing to tackle. Each, with their distinct personalities and particular set of circumstances, finds a path to self-awareness and self-actualization. They represent a new, bolder generation—one that is proud to share its differences instead of conforming to preordained social standards.
The third Sunday in January is annually celebrated as World Religion Day. New Day has a wide collection of films dealing with religion, including the new release Call to Witness, a moving depiction of three pastors fighting for LGBT ordination in the Lutheran Church. View our whole collection here.
The U.S. Department of Education hosted a special screeningof Jean-Michel Dissard and Gitte Peng’s documentary I Learn America, during which Secretary of Education Arne Duncan declared, “The students represented in the film need to be seen and supported as national assets in our schools.” This fall, the New York State Department of Education started using the film to train teachers to work with immigrant youth, and is now looking to make the project available to all of its middle and high schools.
2015 was the year TIME magazine declared the “Transgender Tipping Point,” and director Kimberly Reed was invited to make appearances on NBC, MSNBC, and ABC due to her autobiographical film Prodigal Sons(the first theatrically-released film by a trans director). The film has continued to move audiences, leading one transgender viewer to say, “Thank you for choosing to be so visible about yourself, your life, and your identities — your film certainly helped me in my process of transitioning,” and another to add, “Your film Prodigal Sons was instrumental in helping me by bringing understanding to my family. Thank you.”
A researching team at Notre Dame University published a study
in the Journal of Responsible Innovation on how Regan Brashear’s documentary Fixed: The Science/Fiction of Human Enhancement shifted the viewpoints of scientists and bioengineering researchers on the ethical and social implications of their work. The research cited how the film’s varying perspectives of disability caused viewers to reconsider “profound personal and societal questions.”
In New York’s Nassau County, over 50 matrimonial lawyers were
treated to a screening of Split, Ellen Bruno‘s short documentary on divorce, shot entirely from the perspective of children. The film received glowing reviews, with many lawyers declaring their intention to show the film to their clients and others making plans to share it more widely with child advocate attorneys and family court judges.
Greta Schiller’s The Marion Lake Story inspired several community ecological restoration projects, including the clean-up of a phragmite-overgrown wetland in Groton, Connecticut, and the creation of a rain garden by students at Timber Creek High School, a service learning school in Orlando, Florida. Wendy Doromal, a supervising teacher at Timber Creek High, wrote that the “moving story exemplifies environmental stewardship and beautifully shows how a united effort can positively impact a community.
about a cutting-edge group of Latin American social entrepreneurs, played widely across Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru as the centerpiece of the Disrupt Poverty Tour. Following screenings of the film in town centers, local youth and women were trained to design and administer digital surveys analyzing the level of women’s financial inclusion in their communities for eventual presentation to NGOs and governments.
The West Virginia Foundation for Rape and Information Services began using Debra Chasnoff‘sStraightlaced—How Gender’s Got Us All Tied Up in statewide rape crisis centers to help with its mission to prevent and address sexual violence, stalking and dating violence. The film has been instrumental in helping to create understanding around how gender norm pressures can lead to unhealthy decision-making– a key to preventing future violence.
After a screening of Tracing Roots: A Weaver’s Journey at Yale University, a student and member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma told filmmaker Ellen Frankenstein how important the film was to affirming her identity: “A lot of Yale students have never been around Native Americans before and it feels strange when I’m trying to explain where I come from.”
Hospitals, medical schools, and rehab facilities across the country
held screenings of States of Grace. After a screening at the Rhode Island Hospital in Providence, the Senior Vice-President & Chief Nursing Officer wrote to filmmakers Mark Lipman and Helen Cohen, “The response for days following your presentation was nothing short of overwhelming…Many people said that they felt it could make a difference in the way we care for patients.” Others added: “You have nourished my spirit as a bedside nurse” and “Reminds us all why we became health care professionals.”
Ellen Brodsky traveled to Seoul, South Korea, with The Year We Thought About Love, her award-winning film about a LGBTQ youth theater troupe. After the screening, a young woman shyly raised her hand and said, “I have two friends who came out to me. After watching your film, I think I can now be a better friend. Thank you.
My film The Year We Thought About Love chronicles an LGBTQ youth theater troupe creating a play about love based on their personal experiences. I have always been drawn to the intimacy, vulnerability, and security of the rehearsal room, where I spent a lot of time working on plays in high school and college.
In the midst of production, the film took an unexpected turn when the Boston Marathon bombing occurred in 2013. The troupe had been holding their rehearsals in a room near the Marathon’s finish line. Some members had been present at the marathon, while others made last-minute decisions not to attend. Badly shaken, the troupe and our camera crew gathered for a support meeting the day after the bombing, just a few blocks away from the fatal scene. In the end, the troupe members rallied for one another, and decided to use their performance tour as part of the city’s and their own healing process.
It’s been amazing to travel with the film. Audiences from Seoul to San Francisco, from Missoula to Mumbai have all found some point of connection with the troupe members, most of whom are youth of color. Likewise, audiences react with more laughter and positive energy to the film than they do to other films about LGBTQ youth—perhaps because the film portrays the troupe members as individual artists and activists rather than starting with a mainstream media frame of LGBTQ victimhood. It’s been moving to hear straight kids and adults say it gave them a new way to relate to their friends and family members; professors telling us that the film opened up discussions about culture and policy issues; and LGBTQ viewers saying it captured a view of themselves that they are seeing on the screen for the first time.
During National Child Awareness Month, we address the growing challenges and needs of children. New Day is proud to host a collection of award-winning films on youth, including our latest acquisitions The Land, a short documentary about an unusual “adventure” playground, Top Spin, a feature documentary about three teenagers coming of age in the competitive world of table tennis, and The Year We Thought About Love, a diverse theater troupe of LGBTQ youth.
Disability Awareness Month
Disability Awareness Month is a time to foster a greater understanding of disability in society, and to dismantle stereotypes and stigma. New Day Films has a wide range of films about disability that offer diverse perspectives challenging ableism and redefining “normal.” New additions to the New Day catalogue, such as E Haku Inoa: To Weave a Name, a filmmaker’s personal exploration of mental illness in her family, and Making Noise in Silence, a short documentary about Deaf immigrant teens, expand the dominant narrative of disability.
As we celebrate Disability Awareness Month this October, we recognize the many gains the Disability Rights movement has made over the past four decades. Through grass-roots protests and political campaigns, activists helped put in motion legislation guaranteeing equal access under the law to jobs, schools, transportation, public spaces, housing and attendant care. Later victories included the de-institutionalization of hundreds of thousands of people with disabilities under the Olmsted Decision.
While these gains have improved the quality of life for many, the Disability Rights movement has left a number of “cliffhangers,” as Patty Berne, a leader in the Disability Justice movement, puts it. The focus on single-issue rights and highlighting of wheelchairs as the primary symbol of disability have unintentionally left many behind. By ignoring the influence of race, class, gender, and sexuality on disability, we overlook the complexity and needs of the broader disability community. Similarly, the exclusive focus on mobility impairments has meant that bridges have not always been built with members of our extended communities—such as people with mental health disabilities, or who experience chronic pain, or who are blind or Deaf. In response to these needs, the Disability Justice movement has arisen with people of color at the forefront, articulating a new framework that is intersectional and interdependent.
Sins Invalid: An Unshamed Claim to Beauty documents a Bay Area performance project that highlights artists with disabilities who are queer, gender non-conforming, and people of color, and who create work around themes of disability, sexuality, and social justice. Director Patty Berne, poet Leroy Moore, and a dozen other artists share their intimate and beautiful process and work, offering an entryway into the absurdly taboo topic of sexuality and disability.
When filmmaker Christen Marquez was born, her mother, a kumu hula (master hula practitioner), gave her a Hawaiian name that was over sixty letters. Eight years later, her mother was diagnosed with schizophrenia and Christen and her siblings were taken away from her. E Haku Inoa: To Weave a Nametells of Christen’s return to Hawaii, and is an elegant depiction of how the act of sharing indigenous knowledge can play a healing role in restoring otherwise estranged relationships. Marquez reflects, ”There is a stigma of sickness that is imported into indigenous communities and although there are many health problems that exist in indigenous communities, I wonder if some diagnoses aren’t a fulfillment of an expectation.Many people don’t need a diagnosis; they just need someone to help them heal.”
Director/producer Mina Son explores the richness and complexities of Deaf culture in Making Noise in Silence, through the perspective of two Korean high school students who attend the California School for the Deaf, Fremont. Born and raised in South Korea, Jeongin Mun and Min Wook Cho have strong ties to their Korean heritage and learned Korean as their first language. However, what separates Jeongin and Min Wook from most children of immigrant families is that they are also deaf. Filmmaker Mina Son shares: “Deaf immigrants face many of the same challenges people with multiple identities face. Navigating multiple languages, cultures, and histories can be overwhelming, especially for a young person who is still trying to understand who they are and where they belong.”
Mind/Game: The Unquiet Journey of Chamique Holdsclaw, by Academy Award-nominated director Rick Goldsmith, is the portrait of a Black woman with a mental illness. Chamique Holdsclaw is a 3-time NCAA champ and No.1 draft pick in the WNBA from Astoria, Queens– sometimes called “the female Michael Jordan.” With the help of narrator Glenn Close, Mind/Game intimately chronicles her athletic accomplishments, personal setbacks, and her decision—despite public stigma— to become an outspoken mental health advocate.
Dan Lohaus’ powerful film,When I Came Home, follows the struggles of Herold Noel, an African-American Iraq war veteran who becomes homeless in New York City after returning from combat with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Focusing on Herold’s struggle with the Veterans Administration and city agencies to find the help he needs, When I Came Home reveals a failing system and exposes the “second war” that many veterans must fight after they return home from war.
These films reveal the multiple layers of struggle that disabled people of color must navigate every day, with insight into the human drive toward beauty, empowerment and connection. What is it like to learn American Sign Language as a new immigrant to the US? What are the cultural misunderstandings between the western medical model and indigenous ways of knowing? What does radical embodiment at the intersection of multiple identities look and feel like? How do people heal from the devastation of war when they come home to find a culture that doesn’t include them? New Day hopes these films will illuminate the perspectives of those who have typically been at the margins of the Disability Rights movement, whose daily existence is the embodiment of intersectional activism.
To see our whole collection of disability films, click here.