Cassie Jaye is a young filmmaker who's first film; Daddy I Do won Best Documentary at the Cannes Independent Film Festival (2010). She is better than good at what she does; the word brilliant comes to mind. I say this having just seen an advance copy of The Right to Love: An American Family her second picture. Both movies are stunning.
Ms. Jaye's two movies explore the mindboggling failure of American "culture" to deal with our sexuality. She documents how our ideas about sex seesaw between the extremes of fundamentalist fact-free "Bible-based" repression and callous heart-free "secular" license.
In Daddy I Do Ms. Jaye proved that she has an uncanny ability to interview people -- from frat boy misogynist thugs to winsome single mothers -- about their most intimate inner lives and then put those interviews together in a revelatory way that makes even most feature films (let alone today's often toxically mundane documentaries) seem flatfooted by comparison. Her interviews are astounding. Watching them is like eavesdropping on private conversations between lovers. Ms. Jaye also brings a shrewd artistic editing talent to her cross-country road movie-style exposés of the American sex scene.
Her second movie The Right to Love is -- perhaps inadvertently -- the "answer" to the looming unanswered question raised by Daddy I Do. Here's implied the question: Is everything sexual these days only a choice between rutting frat morons and fundamentalist fathers creepily obsessing over their daughter's virginity? In other words are there any people with attractive, balanced and grownup attitudes about sexuality left in America to guide us all to a better place?
Yes there are. Meet the Leffews, the gay married couple featured in The Right to Love. They have risen to deserving celebrity status among the LGBTQ community as a "poster" gay family. Now with Ms. Jaye's help they may rise beyond being a "gay poster family" and be studied as just a good family, period. Their YouTube channel has had over 16,000 subscribers and over 2 million upload views since its creation. They receive hundreds of emails each week from gay youth who find themselves on the precipice of despair.
Disclaimer -- A Personal Context
Before continuing this shamelessly rave review let me note that my praise of Ms. Jaye's work notwithstanding I've never met her or anyone featured in her films. (Jaye Bird Productions is a family company consisting of Cassie Jaye, her cinematographer mother and producer sister and I've never met any of them.) But while there is no personal connection between us we're "connected" in another way.
My background is relevant to my appreciating Ms. Jaye's films. As the director of some 30 hours of documentaries and 4 forgettable Hollywood features (in the 1970s and 80s) I bring a filmmaker's perspective to Ms. Jaye's movie work. And my childhood and youth also prepared me to appreciate her in depth documenting of the American culture wars as they relate to sex, religion and politics. Like Ms. Jaye, I was raised as a fundamentalist Christian. I even became a leader in the antiabortion Religious Right in the 70s and 80s. I long ago changed my mind about politics and religion but the lessons learned about right wing sexually obsessed politics masquerading as religion stayed with me. I "get" these movies.
Back to the Movie
Ms. Jaye's soon-to-be-released second movie -- The Right to Love: An American Family is a portrait of a good and loving family. It's apt for these times in this country where we've forgotten what fidelity and responsibility look like. More Evangelicals than any other social group get divorced so they might pay special attention to this film and learn something about how to have good marriages if, that is, they can get past the fact that this family is also a gay-parent household.
The movie follows the journey of a legally married California practicing Christian gay couple with two adopted children. It opens with the two fathers driving to a demonstration protesting the repeal of same sex marriage in California by the Prop 8 victory. The next scene shows one of these fathers with tears in his eyes holding his young daughter and looking at a sea of despondent people. Two older women clutching each other in despair are crying, "What is this, what is this?" as others chant "shame on you!"
The imagery cuts to "Yes on Prop 8" signs and news programs' as they chart the close Prop 8 vote results the night of the 2008 election. We hear the story of how that anti-gay "victory" was engineered by the Roman Catholic, Evangelical and Mormon bigots of the Religious Right who now dominate the Republican Party. When fighting for Prop 8 they somehow found the time to attack gay "sin" perhaps while taking time off from fighting lawsuits related to the pedophilia rings of Roman Catholic priests and/or hiding the sexual/financial malfeasance of many (most?) evangelical leaders and/or trying to cover up their recent Mormon bigamist/racist/murderous "family values" past. Other than that...
Living With a Gay Couple and Their Family
By tracking the life of one gay-headed household the documentary examines the context of the Marriage Equality debate that swirls around all gay families in the USA as they struggle to fight for a slice of the American Dream as legally protected citizens. It also turns conventional wisdom about where religion stands on these issues on its head because the couple featured in the movie is made up of 2 devout Christians. Many have found hope through watching the Leffew's family's videos-- including the hope religious gay people discover in the Leffew's deep religious commitment.
...Which brings up an interesting point: The film's trailer posted on YouTube has been buzzing among the Leffew's fans and bloggers and in an odd turn some LGBTQ bloggers are turning against the project. These attacks are due to a simple family grace recorded in the movie that's no more than a prayer made by the fathers at the breakfast table before sending the kids to school. This "controversial" scene was included in the trailer. And apparently some members of the LGBTQ community don't like this.
One subscriber left this comment, "Many among us consider Gay Christians traitors to our community" and another called them "superstitious twits." Stung by this feedback from what I'm guessing are some not terribly bright wannabe Richard Dawkins clones, Bryan Leffew went on his YouTube channel to express his and his husband's frustration with the hypocrisy of this discrimination against them within their own community-- for holding onto their faith.
News From Religious America
I have advice for those (hopefully few) people in the LGBTQ community taking potshots at the Leffews' for their religion: Check out where you're living.
Good luck with writing off all religious people -- LGBTQ believers or otherwise -- and then trying to win elections in this very religious nation. In case you haven't noticed America is disabled with Far Right religious delusions of all kinds. But America is also full of reasonable religious people including many LGBTQ religious people. Who do you think those priests in many denominations are who are risking their careers to perform gay weddings? Why do you think I get threats from religious people? They fear people like me -- religious persons who are also tolerant and progressive -- far more than they fear Richard Dawkins or Bill Maher. Insiders like me might just convince their children to change their minds about gay rights amongst other things.
Unless moderate religious people (including many African-Americans who have been voting against gay marriage because of their religious beliefs) can be won over to the gay civil rights movement - including the younger and more reasonable Evangelicals and Roman Catholics, Mormons, Eastern Orthodox, Muslims, etc., -- you can kiss the long-term future of not just gay marriage's legality but even of our democracy, goodbye.
The Religious Right's takeover of the Republican Party (which sadly my family and I had so much to do with) illustrates that in America we're perpetually on the threshold of an attempt by some people to impose a theocracy. This is well illustrated in Daddy I Do by the absurd fact that the government has been paying for the fundamentalists to indoctrinate young people through the "abstinence only" programs like "Silver Ring" even though compared to comprehensive sex education these religious programs have been proven failures in preventing teen pregnancy.
And the only way to stop our slide to theocracy -- not to mention the defeat of gay marriage initiatives -- is to convince a new generation of religious people -- including the children of Evangelicals -- to change not just their minds but their gut reactions and their hearts when it comes to how they think about gay people.
I do have a quibble with The Right to Love or I should say with some of the choices made by the stars. I'm allergic to using one's children as props as some of the Leffew's YouTube material used in the movie smacks of them doing. I base this view on my childhood experiences of being groomed to take up a cause and "volunteered" into my parent's ministry from toddlerhood on.
But that's a detail. And the stakes are very high, so high we're talking about a YouTube ministry to gay young people to help them survive the hate of the "Christian" community. So I think that the YouTube use of the Leffew's children may be okay up to a point. But it seems to me that a line gets crossed in some of the footage showing the kids being taken to noisy protests and by them being included in just about every single YouTube clip. Take it from me; someday these kids will be writing memoirs of their own...
The Two-Men-Kissing Test
The Right to Love might just change some minds. It didn't change my mind -- I was already pro-gay marriage -- but it did help heal my reactionary gut reaction to the "other." When I mention gut reactions I'm not talking about rationally held views but the emotional response level where we all really live; call it the gut-check test when seeing two men kissing.
It's on that deeper level that The Right to Love spoke to me so powerfully. In my books including my latest -- Sex, Mom and God -- I support the right of gays to marry and have supported it loudly earning myself hate mail from religious extremists who regard me as a traitor to my Evangelical roots. What I needed to change wasn't my official beliefs but the non-rational cancer of prejudice inculcated into me by the Bronze Age biblical mythology I was raised on.
The Right to Love was like a powerful dose of chemotherapy applied to a heretofore recalcitrant spiritual tumor. As I watched the film I also "watched" my Bible-based tumor of gut reaction about the "other" shrink
Put it this way: by the last male-on-male kiss in the movie I wasn't just rooting for the two married family men doing the tender kissing but didn't care that they were "same-sex" because I now identified with them as "same-as-me." I was happy for them to have found the same love, sex and joy I've experienced in my own 41-year marriage. I was also happy for their 2 lovely children because in them I saw my 3 beloved children and 4 grandchildren.
There are deservedly high expectations for The Right To Love: An American Family. The LGBTQ community's self-interest in having a positive message play widely about the inner dynamics of a lovely gay marriage is served by this movie. But a portrait of a good marriage is something that should interest everyone who cares about the future of America. So I hope the film reaches more than one segment of the population.
Film festivals should screen The Right To Love. It deserves a large worldwide audience as do the two caring fathers and their two lovely children glowing at the heart of this wonderful film.