Legendary black queer filmmaker Cheryl Dunye (The Watermelon Woman; Stranger Inside; The Owls) is currently in production of a new short film, Black is Blue, about a black trans man who "struggles with his identity after meeting an ex-lover from his past." Dunye is currently raising funds for the films completion, so have a peek at an exclusive interview with the film's star, Kingston Faraday, and consider supporting the Black is Blue Kickstarter.
Tell us about yourself? Are you a full-time actor?
No, I am not a full-time actor. I am actually a defense-side investigator, an activist, and a writer. I have performed in two other short independent films that were shown at QWOCMAP's ("Queer Women of Color Media Arts Project") film festival years ago, along with a documentary produced by a Mills College undergraduate ethnic studies student. All of which focused on the complexities of love and life as the topics relate to queer people of color, the militarization of women of color, and the intersections of oppression. I hold a humble history as an Oakland-based performance artist, and co-created such queer performance spaces as: Phat Tuesday's, Burning Bush and Sister-Fire's/Mills College tour-stop. I am also the founder of Love Your Vehicle, an organization offering practical, traditionally based health and wellness, total fitness, and modern life-styling blueprints to queer and trans-people of color. Physical health and wellbeing are two loves in my life, and I believe, important tools in successfully transforming our individual and collective psychological state from that of being oppressed to claiming individual freedom and complete emancipation. I have published written work that dissects transracial adoption, and am currently, focusing on a novel that explores the complexities of love, and how-to use love as a revolutionary tool for courageous social change; all this as learned and witnessed through my own experiences as a black man born female-bodied in America's modern-day society. I am versatile though, and believe in accepting the opportunities to create social transformation, like this role of Black in Cheryl's truly inspiring and complex film on transgender identity, Black Is Blue.
What motivated you to audition for Black Is Blue? What was the hardest part of the audition?
I did not audition for Black Is Blue, at least not in the traditional sense of the word. I was contacted by Cheryl Dunye via Instagram, and she briefly explained that she was working on a new project and wanted to discuss it with me. I knew of Cheryl from her classic films, like: Watermelon Woman and Stranger Inside, which were brilliant, but I did not know her, know her. Needless to say, I was very curious as to what creative processes could possibly be steeping in her mind that included me.
Our conversation moved to email, where Cheryl explained that she had been talking to local Bay Area promoter Miz Chris about her latest project, Black Is Blue, and explaining how she was searching for a black man who had transitioned his gender to fill the strong lead role of Black. Miz Chris gave Cheryl my name, and that is where the initial connection took place. Cheryl then emailed me some background information on her project, personal thoughts, a script, and what she was hoping for from me. I was moved by the proposal and equally concerned because I knew that releasing a trans-narrative into the world was a complex task that could further marginalize a community that is currently facing a lot of misconceptions and phobias from all other communities, both queer and hetero-normative.
At the same time, I was clear on the importance of visibility for any marginalized community and am deeply committed to leading movements that unveil a community of people, those who have transitioned their gender, in a way that simultaneously protects our individual rights, like privacy, which every community is fighting to exercise without prejudice. From there, Cheryl and I decided to schedule a phone conference to feel out whether there was a potential match. I cannot say what Cheryl was thinking, but I know that for me it was very important to understand the motivation behind creating this film and the vision for offering this analytical fictional cinema to a world where just last year Brandy Martell was fatally shot on a street corner in Oakland for being transgender and on the other side of the world Thapelo Makutle was mutilated and also murdered in her apartment in South Africa for being transgender; all alongside the many murders of unnamed trans-people whose lives were taken silently.
However, when Cheryl and I spoke, it became very clear that this project was meant for us to work on together in our distinct capacities as writer/director and actor, and the project unfolded in the most divinely orchestrated way from there.
Were you surprised that you got the lead?
Yes, I was very surprised, humbled, thankful, nervous, and excited. I had to allow myself to fall in love with the character, Black, which was a very interesting process because it forced me to fall in love, once again, with my own transgender identity. I think this may be true across the board of marginalized people, but as a black-trans man, I found that I had become so use to the daily battle of defending my intersecting identities, and self, even on a subliminal level that I had forgotten to continue exploring and loving my black-trans identity with the intention that it is due.
This role granted me that reminder, while simultaneously reminding me that my identity as a black-trans man is actually a phenomenal and multi-dimensional human attribute that evolves the mind if we allow it to. Contrary to popular fear, marginalized identities do not function to take away from anyone else, they function to celebrate the brilliant diversity that exists on this planet, and I think Cheryl's film, Black Is Blue, will remind everyone of this basic principle of life. It reminds me of something Martin Luther King, Jr., once wrote: "Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that." So yes, I was very surprised to get the lead and thankful because it has been a major opportunity to delve deeper into myself and to support the world in remembering that we do not have to fear what we do not understand, we can love, learn, and embrace it as one of our own.
In the film. Black is passing as a cisgender male? What are your thoughts on disclosing?
Yes, Black is passing as a cisgender male in the film. However, the idea of "passing" is much more complex than whether you are capable of doing it or not. There is a long history related to the idea of passing in this country dating back to the Jim Crow era. This history, at least for me, brings up a lot of feelings that complicate the question of whether Black is simply passing as a cisgender male in Black Is Blue. These feelings push me to wonder: what does it mean to pass? For me, the idea of passing tends to illicit negative implications, and misconceptions; such as, passing to trick, lie, or deceive in an effort to selfishly gain power or social benefits that one may not otherwise receive. I realize the idea does not illicit these same feelings for everyone. Historically, there are acts of passing that were revolutionary and functioned to further entire communities and not just a single person. Passing has also operated as a tool to protect oneself against a world that targets and murders people for being: LGBT, feminine, of color, etc.
Personally, I do not think passing is always a choice. There tends to be "active passing" and "passive passing." For example, when the world looks at me, they see a black man. However, I am actually half Jamaican and half Irish, along with transgender. Most do not assume that I am interracial because I have very African features, and most do not assume I am transgender because I am very masculine, so I passively pass on both fronts, not because I choose to pass, but simply because that is what it is. Now, I recognize that passing is about power, how it is being claimed, and by who. So, through a lens of race my passively passing as black when I'm interracial does not increase my social standing, whereas, passing as a cis-man could; but my example illustrates how we draw conclusions based on what we perceive, not based on fact.
Black, similar to me, is being experienced by a world that views him as a black cis-man not because he is lying to anyone, but because he passively passes and does not disclose his transgender identity to everyone.
So, what does it mean to passively pass and not disclose? My thoughts are three-fold. First, I do not believe in disclosing any part of ones identity to satisfy the fears of others. What I mean by this is that often transgender people are targeted in the disclosure discussion because people are terrified of confusing their own sexual identities and intragroup characteristics with their misinterpretation of the gender identities of trans-people, and even though transitioning your gender is not about sex nor does it function to threaten the ties that bind, but the lack of understanding and fear in not understanding tends to push people to demand that trans-people fully disclose who they are to the world. This demand, to me, is not okay. The second prong in my thoughts around disclosure relates to visibility, which I talked about earlier, and the importance of disclosing our trans-identities in an effort to educate the masses. This type of disclosure is about social development, self- and group-empowerment, and claiming space. I think this type of disclosure is critical, and needs to be both strategic, organic, and a personal choice. The third prong is disclosing as it relates to intimate moments. Here, I believe in disclosing when I want to deepen my personal connection with someone, when I want to gift them with a knowledge about who I am that is not always easy to carry, and when I want to be seen in my entirety. So, yes, Black is passing as a cis man in the film, but in agreeing with that statement it is important to look at it in all of its complexity.
Who are your trans men/trans women heroes?
My trans-men and-women heroes are the people that I run into every, single, day. They are the people who wake up every morning, and step outside, wearing the clothes that feel right. My heroes are the people that walk into clinics and doctor's offices, where they are often not welcome, and still ask for the hormones that they need. My heroes are the people that fight to manage their transitioning bodies behind bars, where courts are still determining whether they should have access to that type of resource. My heroes are the men and women who recreate any identity to better explain their spirit in an effort to achieve true happiness in this world. Even just thinking about my trans-brothers and -sisters inspires me and fills me with courage to unveil more of myself to this world because we too are worthy, necessary, and here, navigating a frontier that is not yet clear.
What do you hope to accomplish with your role with BiB?
I believe a few accomplishments will come out of Black Is Blue. First, I hope to deliver a powerful story about a black man who has transitioned his gender. A story that takes a closer look at an aspect of transgender life that is not often a topic of conversation, and that is what life is like well after a person has transitioned and how transgender people are forced to meet and reconcile our pasts in unexpected, and often publicly ostracizing moments. Second, I believe Black Is Blue will add to the conversation surrounding marginalized bodies and reiterate the call for all of us to remember that all bodies, in all states, through all transformations are phenomenal, multi-dimensional temples, and symbolic of the most profound possibility in this world, which is having the full freedom to self-express. Finally, I believe Cheryl's film will offer everyone a really fun story to identify with, and some incredibly beautiful cinematography to be awed by. I am telling you, just hold tight and be sure to support this project because it is absolutely one for everyone to remember!
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