She feels a responsibility as a female director of color
When we did a Q&A at a school in Toronto, the kids were shocked that I was African-American. That really meant something to the immigrants in the room. People don’t understand how important it is for filmmakers to travel with their films. I’ve had heads of festivals who didn’t know what to do with me. Festival guests who assumed I was an actress. I don’t know what it says about them but people are really shocked.
She doesn’t want race to define the film
There are very few people from the black community who have come out and supported this film. Because it’s not tailored for any particular audience. It’s not tailored for an LGBT audience or a straight audience, it’s just a film from a human standpoint. And probably from a woman’s standpoint, if I was going to categorize it. I think I made it different to the way a man would make it.
She hopes to counteract the prevailing media narrative
The lack of understanding was not just because Larry was trans, but was also race-related and class-related. You’re talking about a child who was living in a homeless shelter, and that brings a whole other level of misunderstanding.
May Fox says in the film that she picked a terrible jury. But it wasn’t just specific to those people. The jury echoed the sentiments that I was reading in the media. It was extremely disheartening, being there every day of the trial, witnessing what I was witnessing and then reading in the paper what the reporter sitting next to me was witnessing. It was like we were in two different courtrooms.
The issue is wider than one case
When we’re talking about our young black youth, particularly male, for some reason our country has got very comfortable with blaming them for their own deaths. Look at Trayvon. It was such a huge lesson for me, even when I was doing interviews about the film, the lack of interest from media outlets. I think people get very comfortable - it’s 2014 and Obama’s president, look how much we’ve changed. Larry’s case and Trayvon’s case prove that we haven’t.
America needs to look to its youth
We are so tribal in American culture. Young kids aren’t. What you can see in the film is that they’re not thinking about race. There’s a whole new generation coming up that I don’t think America knows about. That are really politically savvy and understand things I didn’t even know about when I was eighteen. They have a tremendous amount of hardship but they’re comfortable with themselves. It’s a rough road but they’re pushing that envelope, pushing the boundaries. I wanted to give these kids a voice.
She takes her inspiration from Larry
Young people need us to guide them. It shouldn’t be the other way round. Larry and Trayvon were kids. Everyone has a Larry in their family, or among their friends and co-workers, and it’s really time for us to stop this isolation and abuse - this insane level of blame and shame for being different and confident. That’s what Larry decided - no more bullying, this is who I am. He was dead within two weeks.
In giving people like Larry a voice, she has fulfilled a dream
When I was a teenager I discovered Spike Lee. Someone finally having a voice that I agreed with. I thought to myself, if he gets to tell the story of how he grew up in Brooklyn in such a matter-of-fact way, I want to do that.
I picked Larry to be my first film because I grew up with so many kids that were misunderstood and never had a chance. They weren’t given the same opportunities as a lot of the white kids. And I wanted to represent the kids I remember growing up with that really struggled to be heard.
“Valentine Road” has recently been nominated for a GLAAD award for Outstanding Documentary. It will continue its festival tour in 2014.
Matthew Hammett Knott is a writer and filmmaker based in London. Follow him on Twitter.