While it seems almost daily we’re hearing about marriage equality and gay rights coming into their own across the United States, it’s easy to forget that other parts of our country are still several steps behind and being openly gay isn’t accepted.
One of those places is Mississippi and a new documentary, “L Word Mississippi: Hate The Sin,” airs tonight on Showtime and explores several women living their lives in a place where what is natural to them is deemed the work of Satan by others.
Earlier this week I sat down with executive producer Ilene Chaikin, who created “The L Word” franchise with the scripted drama as well as the reality series, “The Real L Word,” and acclaimed director Lauren Lazin, who talked about making the film and what they hope people take from it.
You definitely get a sense in the film that some of these people could be in danger. Can you talk about that a little bit and why that’s important to have that be a part of the film, because it’s such a reality for these people.
Lauren Lazin: They weren’t so much in danger while we were filming. People were really, really warm to us and very polite and it’s like the whole Southern hospitality thing. It’s more like what happened after we left and then conversations that were had and people being nervous. Some of them, like Jana…she wasn’t even out to her mom.
Ilene Chaikin: All of the women talked in the film about having encountered incidents and moments in their lives when they were either physically threatened or harassed or at the very least made horribly uncomfortable but nothing like that happened during the filming.
Was it difficult to get the women to open up?
LL: It was difficult to get them to sign the appearance agreements. They’re all extremely intelligent, they read the fine print, they were very concerned because we the filmmakers were going to have the final control in it, and they didn’t love that. But in the end they trusted us and ended up being really great collaborators on the film, once they came to trust us and then became very participatory, and can you make sure the film covers this, and can you make sure the film expresses this.
What were your expectations going in, and were they met or exceeded?
IC: I didn’t have expectations in particular but my assumptions or our reason for wanting to make this film, that was confirmed. We were acutely aware that there are still places in the country where it’s hard to be gay, where people face hardship and we weren’t looking to create that but we were looking to portray it. There were some things that were surprising and interesting to me.
One of the things, and we have talked about this, and it’s not what the film is about, but it comes through powerfully to me in this filming. Here we are in Mississippi, the Deep South, where these people are really struggling to be out or to find a way to live in their communities, and yet, the issue with race really surprised me. That it seems to a more racially inclusive and integrated community than any lesbian community that I’ve encountered in New York or L.A.. That’s fascinating to me.
LL: I totally agree. One of the things that not so much surprised me but it really hit me was how diverse the lesbian community is. There are so many different kinds of women, and different race, and different ages and different backgrounds, different churches that they belong to, and most of them didn’t know each other while we were filming, and they were right down the road.
IC: I would say the other thing that I didn’t know that I learned from the film as Lauren started telling us about stories, sending us story documents, and showing us footage is we all knew that religion would be an issue, but I certainly didn’t know how pervasive an issue it was. And that we wound up making a film that we called “Hate the Sin” shows you. We didn’t set out to make that film, but it was the story that told itself.
Talk to me about Rene, who basically prayed the gay away yet she has this gay son. Did you know her son would be a part of this?
IC: We knew she had a gay son when we first wanted to include her and whether he was going to participate in the film or not, we didn’t know, but we knew that was going to be a story.
LL: You know the interesting thing about the religion was it wasn’t just like “okay they’re religious.” They’re deeply religious people and in some ways the film had to be a film about faith as much as about gender preference because even ones that aren’t affiliated with a church anymore, or a traditional church, their relationship with God and their feelings about where they’re going to go after we die, is a big part of their daily life.
The other interesting fact that we discovered was that Mississippi has the largest number of gay people raising children than anywhere in the country. Because so many of them have kids early on before they have a formed identity and there were so many women involved with other women who were like “well, she’s going to do more to take care of me than a guy is going to.” I heard that over and over again.
What do you hope people take from this? Do you hope to change minds or do you just hope to just put this out there as part of the world that still exists, because especially in Los Angeles it’s easy to forget that it does still exist.
IC: My hope is always to shed light. When I’m doing fiction and melodrama I say, “I hope to entertain.” I hope to shed light. I find these stories moving and I think that I’ve said this many times and I feel a little silly saying it but telling our stories is the most powerful important thing, and for me, as “The L Word” franchise was certainly the impetus for this movie.
LL: I was always a big fan of “The L Word,” loved the fiction series, loved the reality series [and] was a big fan of Ilene’s. So when this opportunity came along it was “don’t mess it up.” I’m one of those people who always wanted it to come back. So, I wanted to keep it at that same level. And then in the end, really at one point when we were filming I was like, “you know, besides being a story about love and about religious suppression and about gender preference, it’s really like an American story.” I hope a lot of different people get to watch it because it’s a voice of America that you just don’t hear from that often, and I think like country is healthier for hearing more stories.
Did you guys seek out a trans person to be a part of this?
LL: That came organically because we met Sara first and she’s an activist and then we met her partner LB and he actually transitioned over the course of filmmaking.
IC: We here in L.A., the [Magical] Elves and I, didn’t actually know that he was trans or that he was considering transitioning. We thought that he was a gay woman, certainly on the butch side, pretty male identified, but we didn’t know that he was transitioning, and that that became a part of the story was fascinating to us.
LL: I hope that the joy comes through the film as well as everything that they’re up against. I think I told Ilene, before we started this, I don’t want to make a film about depressed lesbians. I don’t want to do a, “it doesn’t get better.” And one of the reasons I just loved filming in Mississippi, is there is so much moxie. I mean those women have so much going on and they’re so much fun.
IC: We don’t want to tell a grim story but we did set out to make a point, which is that we’re not done and that for a long time to come we know that there are going to be people who have a rough time because they’re gay, when they come out and that’s the world we live in.
“L Word Mississippi: Hate The Sin” airs Friday at 9pm on Showtime.
The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.
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