June 29, 2023

QTBIPOC Representation in Documentary | Beyond Resilience

Recent documentaries like Pier Kids (POV/PBS 2021), Kokomo City (Sundance 2023), and The Stroll (Sundance/HBO 2023) have won praise from critics and audiences alike thanks to their deft, honest portrayals of the lives of queer and trans people. By highlighting the broad range of their protagonists’ lived experiences through their own testimonials, these new additions to the QTBIPOC film canon better represent the communities upon which they’re based and help to more accurately portray these folx to outside audiences.

As more QTBIPOC storylines emerge through documentary productions, what are the stakes for filmmakers when embarking on telling stories about trans, non-binary, and queer communities? Are there additional considerations for cis and straight allies attempting to tell these stories? How do filmmakers seek guidance from members of the LGBTQ+ community, collaborate with their protagonists, and balance their personal vision for the film with needs of the community?

On Thursday, June 29, from 4-5 pm ET, Firelight Media hosted a Beyond Resilience conversation on YouTube Live with a case study of recent films, including Kokomo City (Sundance/Magnolia Pictures 2023), Mama Bears (PBS Independent Lens 2023) and The Dads (SXSW 2023, recently acquired by Netflix) - that center trans and queer subjects and their families. Filmmakers D. Smith (Kokomo City), Daresha Kyi (Mama Bears), and Luchina Fisher (The Dads) will be joined by protagonists from their films Tammi Terrell Morris and Stephen Chukumba. Together, with moderator and filmmaker Ligaiya Romero, we discuss issues of representation and collaboration.

Accessibility Notice: This event will includes ASL interpretation and live closed captions.

The Beyond Resilience Series is sponsored by Open Society Foundations. Beyond Resilience is supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, the National Endowment for the Arts, and Field of Vision.

Participant Bios:

Ligaiya Romero (they/he) (Moderator) is a trans non-binary documentary filmmaker and visual artist, working with collective memory and the decolonial imagination. They directed the film, Becoming the Moon, about Filipino American artist, Maia Cruz Palileo, for PBS American Masters and Firelight Media. They were also the Video Producer & Editor for The Argus Project, a transmedia documentary on police violence and citizen counter-surveillance. The project was a collaboration with CopWatch NYC, supported by Tribeca New Media Fund, and presented at Tribeca Film Festival. Ligaiya was a Firelight Media Documentary Lab fellow, a CAAM fellow, and a Karen Schmeer Diversity in the Edit Room fellow. They are currently working on a project about the end of the world.

D. Smith is a two-time Grammy nominated producer, singer, and songwriter and is now making her film debut as a director of the documentary KOKOMO CITY. Smith’s father was a world-renowned drummer, and she wrote her first song at 10 years old for the choir at church in Miami, Florida. From 4th grade through High School, Smith was a visual arts student, winning multiple awards for her eye including winning the statewide NAACP Act So award for photography and the statewide Scholastics Congressional award for drawing and was flown to the Capital in D.C. where her work was displayed. After coming out to her father as a teen, Smith was kicked out of her house and was taken in by a church member. After graduating High School, Smith used the last of her money on a one-way bus ticket to New York City. She then began singing in the subway where she was first discovered and offered a publishing deal from Sony ATV. As a producer, Smith teamed with songwriter Stacy Barthe and they began placing records with major artists in the music business. Smith produced “Shoot Me Down” for Lil Wayne’s Carter III album which went 8 times platinum and performed with Lil Wayne on Jimmy Kimmel. Smith then signed a major publishing deal with Universal Music. She has produced and written for Cee-lo Green, Estelle, Katy Perry, Andre 3000, Monica, Lloyd, Fantasia, Nipsey Hussle, Ciara, Neyo, and Billy Porter. She has also collaborated with super producers like Timbaland and Marc Ronson. In 2014, Smith decided to walk in her truth and transition into the woman she always knew she was. She was unaware that living in her truth meant that she would have to sacrifice the thing she loved the most, which was making music for a living. People stopped calling. And eventually after running out of money and options, she knew she had to move on from the life she once knew. The silver lining came with the creation of KOKOMO CITY which has breathed new life into her. She devoted almost 3 years to it while crashing on different friends’ couches. All the while diving into the lives of four trans women who had a story to tell. Smith was over the moon to receive the call that KOKOMO CITY was to premiere at the Sundance Film Festival. KOKOMO CITY won the NEXT Innovator and Audience Awards at Sundance. The film then had its International Premiere at the Berlin International Film Festival, where it took home the Audience Award for Best Documentary in Panorama. The film currently continues its festival run around the world.

Daresha Kyi writes, produces, and directs both narrative and documentary films and television in Spanish and English. A graduate of NYU Film School, she recently completed Mama Bears, her second feature documentary about how conservative, Christian mothers are transformed when they decide to accept their LGBTQ children, which premiered at SXSW 2022 and has won numerous awards. In 2018 she was commissioned by the ACLU to direct Trans In America: Texas Strong, which garnered over 4.5 million views online, screened at SXSW, and won two Webby Awards and an Emmy. In 2017 she co-directed and produced Chavela, a multiple award-winning documentary about iconic singer Chavela Vargas that was distributed by Music Box Pictures and screened in over 40 countries. Daresha’s films have been funded by ITVS, NEA, IDA Enterprise, Creative Capital, the Jerome Foundation, and many other foundations and she has an extensive background in television producing segments, shows and series for FX, WE, AMC, Telemundo, and FUSE, among other networks.

Mother of two boys, creative, spoken word artist, author, autism advocate, pdocast creator, documentarist, nature lover, and nonviolent communication enthusiast, Tammi Terrell Morris is a people person who thrives on connection with others. She is passionate about growing her communication skills as she believes that sharing one’s story fosters connection through humanity. Tammi holds a Master of Science Degree in Leadership and Management and a Bachelor of Science in Sociology. As a full-time Mom, Tammi can be found washing clothes, feeding cats, making beds, cooking, and organizing cabinets while she contemplates on ways to make the world a better place for all. In her spare time, which is rare, Tammi can be found re-watching episodes of The Golden Girls, taking long walks, recording her podcast Confused Reality and planning get-a-ways. Tammi is excited anytime she is asked to be apart of the conversation and looks forward to great connections being made.

Luchina Fisher is an award-winning director, writer and producer whose work is at the intersection of race, gender and identity. Her feature directorial debut MAMA GLORIA was a 2022 GLAAD Media Award nominee and broadcast on PBS. Her latest film, the short documentary THE DADS, about five fathers of trans kids on a weekend fishing trip, premiered at SXSW and was acquired by Netflix. Her short documentary TEAM DREAM, executive produced by Queen Latifah, has won numerous festival jury awards and aired on BET. Her second feature LOCKED OUT, about the barriers to Black homeownership, premiered at the Freep Festival where it won the “Shine the Light” Award, and is currently on the circuit. Fisher was recently awarded the PitchBLACK Film Forum’s top prize for her new project about Black queer representation in music. She is the director of two scripted short films and has written and produced several nationally broadcast documentaries, including two episodes of the History channel series with President Bill Clinton. Her work has been supported by Black Public Media, the Field Foundation, Sisters in Cinema, Brown Girl Doc Mafia, the Queen Collective, the Athena Film Festival’s Works in Progress Program, Firelight Media and the National Endowment for the Humanities. She also teaches documentary filmmaking at Yale University.

Stephen Chukumba is an activist, advocate, and ally, working actively to support and raise awareness about the myriad of issues impacting LGBTQ+ people and communities. As a parent advocate and member of the Human Rights Campaign Foundation's, Parents for Transgender Equality Council, Garden State Equality and PFLAG, Stephen frequently speaks on issues of race, gender and intersectionality, and is active on social media where he discusses transgender issues and his journey with his son.





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