Mill Pitch Artist and talented Director Mae Mann recently wrote and directed two incredibly poignant and impactful films that highlight and celebrate issues of acceptance and representation within the LGBTQ+ community.
The Girls is a music video for Yves that celebrates trans women of color, who are all too often the victims of violent crimes for just being who they are.
October is a short film that follows a Ugandan teen named Dembe as she comes out to her mother as transgender and tries to navigate her identity in a society opposed to it
We caught up with Mae to chat about her inspiration for October, and the importance of highlighting LGBTQ+ narratives within media.
What inspired you to write October?
October spun itself out of a culmination of things going on in my life and across the world at the time, much of which had to do with being a member of the LGBTQ+ community. I was feeling very insecure with who I was and how to articulate that to others, there was a huge spike in (recorded) deaths of trans women of color in the US, Uganda proposed an anti-LGBT bill making homosexuality punishable by death the year before, and I was affected by story after story of kids being beaten by their family members after coming out.
I’m not sure where, but I stumbled upon a photo-series of trans youth in Kampala – a few of them had personal stories attached. One of them, of a trans woman, spoke of her father nearly beating her to death before she left home for good. I was so moved by her story that I started searching for anything related to children and how their parents reacted to them coming out. So many stories involved violence. I knew there was something in me that needed to speak on this subject, but I didn’t know how yet. While experiencing abuse in coming out is a broad topic and not culturally specific, I kept being drawn to Uganda, and more specifically, the stories of Ugandan trans women. I was able to get in contact with a few Ugandan trans women, most of whom wish to remain anonymous, and after hearing their stories and talking with them about wanting to make a film relating to their experience, I started October.
Are there particular issues you’d like to highlight within this film you’d like to drive?
I wrote October with a lot of issues in mind. I think it goes without saying that I want people to be more aware of the LGBTQ+ presence in Uganda (and around the world), the societal idolization of masculinity, trans women of color, and the fear and violence associated with coming out in any given country or community – but I wanted to specifically highlight the experience of trying to navigate your own identity in a society that opposes, or even doesn’t understand who you are, which is why Dembe is writing a poem throughout the film.
How did you stay culturally true and relevant to the Ugandan setting?
Though I am a member of the LGBTQ+ community, I want to acknowledge here that the story October tells focuses on the representation of identity (trans women of color) that is not my own. October was also my first time directing a narrative film, and I understood how vigilant I needed to be to ensure it did the topic justice. So first and foremost, I knew if I was going to make a film set in a country that I did not grow up in, about an experience that is also not my experience, it was incredibly important for me to listen and learn from those who fall into both of those categories.
I did two months of research, speaking with Ugandan trans women – most notably Cleopatra Kambugu, who shared her own experiences and helped keep Dembe’s story (while fictional) as authentic as possible. This was an ongoing collaborative part of the production – minor changes to the script were made throughout the entire filmmaking process.
Once we had a solid story, we started a 3-month research process on the location: where Dembe lives, the type of home she would live in, the path she would take to get to Lake Victoria, Lake Victoria itself. This was a major collaborative effort between the production designer, cinematographer, and me.
As students, we did the best we could with what we had – but everything in the frame is there by design, through months of research and collaboration with an incredible team and incredibly open women who wanted to share their stories, for whom I am so grateful.
Tell us a bit about the importance of trans representation within popular culture to you.
People need and deserve to see themselves in media, they deserve to see and hear their own stories; the trans community is no exception. We are finally starting to see more representation of the trans community within popular culture, but we’re also seeing a rise in trans women of color being murdered year after year. To me, that means that as allies, we are failing. As a woman in the LGBTQ+ community, it has been a profound journey to see my own privilege rise within this space; learning how to use it to elevate others I am an ally to is something I am still striving to do. Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera’s names should be as well-known as Harvey Milk. I’ll admit, I didn’t know who they were before I started writing October – and that is such a shame. We need to listen to the trans community, we need to allow them to tell their stories, we need to help them tell their stories, we need to cast them, we need to hire them. We need to do better for the trans community, and it starts with representation.
Both The Girls and October focus on the stories of people of color – do you think these stories are underrepresented and under-celebrated within the LGBTQ+ community?
People of color are and have always been underrepresented and under-celebrated. I think the LGBTQ+ community is trying to become a more diverse space, but like most media, it is very white-male dominated. As an artist and creator, I think a big part of my job is to make sure these voices are heard – with their truth, not my own. I will continue working with diverse casts, celebrating people of color, listening to their stories, and helping them lift up their own voices. Especially within the LGBTQ+ community, but I think this sentiment needs to be universal. The acknowledgment of disparities and privilege in intersectional communities is the first step. Now it’s time to take the next one.