Every once in a while a project comes along that invites us to openly acknowledge our need for healing. I believe that Dear Dad: Letters From Same-Gender-Loving Sons is such a project. Created by Chase Simmons, the documentary shares the stories of eight black gay/same-gender-loving men writing open letters to their fathers. As the film's website states:
The project aims to give black same gender loving men a platform to tell their varying yet universal stories about their relationship with their father and how it has shaped them as men. Ultimately, the documentary is meant to help these men and men like them appreciate what gave them hope and heal what gave them hurt.
Without a doubt the film attains its goal. As a black gay man, I found that the 90-minute documentary led me to reflect on my relationship with my own father. I found myself laughing through misty eyes at the awkward stories of black father love, and kneeling over in tears at the unhealed anger and rage.
After watching, I felt compelled to continue the healing with my own father and all the black men in my life. I was also moved to support this amazing film, which compels each of us to do the same. In that spirit I reached out to the film's creator, Chase Simmons, to learn more about what led him to create Dear Dad, what he hopes the film can offer the black community at large, and how creating this film has changed his life.
Yolo Akili: Why black same-gender-loving men, and why letters to their fathers?
Chase Simmons: As a black same-gender-loving man, I know how difficult it can be to forge a real relationship with your father. I've struggled with it myself. In my own experience there is often an immediate disconnect once your sexuality is mentally acknowledged, and that gap just gets wider and wider over time. That led me to think about how I've struggled to forge real relationships with other SGL men, romantic or platonic. Then I started to think about how I struggled to maintain connections with the heterosexual men in my life after coming out, especially black heterosexual men. Those thoughts looped me back to the first black heterosexual man that I knew, my dad. So I felt like there was a lot of potential in hearing these stories.
Akili: What was the impetus for this film?
Simmons: The impetus for this film was a conversation I had in 2009 with a friend and roommate at the time. I can't remember how the conversation started, but we started really digging into his relationship with his parents. It was very strained. They were not very supportive of his sexuality, and they didn't acknowledge it, despite full awareness. Over the next week or so our conversation continued to play in my head, and I started formulating the project, piece by piece. About a month later I had a focus group/brunch with some close friends at a local grill, and the rest is history.
Akili: What do you think Dear Dad can provide the black community at large?
Simmons: A glimpse of the splendor, beauty and grace of some of Atlanta's most incredible black gay men. What impresses me the most about the guys in Dear Dad is that in deciding to participate, they made the decision that they wanted to heal. They decided that they wanted to talk about it. That takes a lot of courage. It takes even more courage to fearlessly relive your childhood and tell your story on camera, knowing that so many people would see it. I think the black community at large could benefit from a true depiction of real black gay men just being themselves in a natural setting, sharing. I hope that they might see that there is healing in words and speaking and sharing and telling. I hope that they might consider writing their feelings, telling their story, processing it and deciding that they want to heal.
Akili: I think that when most people hear about the subject matter, they assume that all the stories will be heavy, and many of them were, yet there were quite a few stories of fathers (and mothers) acknowledging their son's sexuality and embracing him, even awkwardly so. What was your reaction to the diversity of the stories?
Simmons: I was thrilled at the diversity of the stories! Initially I thought, "Oh, geez, I don't want to do a film about how terrible black fathers are!" because I don't believe that to be true at all. But with such a small sample of men, I always knew in the back of my mind that the stories might all be heavy or somewhat negative. Luckily there was diversity and balance, which really helped me as I was editing, because I didn't want people to walk away feeling depressed. I wanted them to walk away feeling optimistic and thoughtful.
Akili: What was it like for you, putting these stories together?
Simmons: Some nights, editing this film was like walking through molasses. It was just extremely difficult, which is why it took much longer than expected. There were days that I couldn't look at it because I wasn't in a mental space to process the emotions that came along with editing. I also think that because I knew all of the participants on varying levels personally, it was hard to watch them endure the process. Some of the shoots were almost unbearable. I would maintain decorum, but when I got home to review the footage, I could feel their pain, and it was too real. It definitely brought up some feeling for me on my own father. I actually showed him the original teaser earlier this year, when I was raising funds via Kickstarter. We came back to my apartment after going to lunch to catch up, and it was a poignant moment, because I'd never officially come out to him. I knew he knew, but we never talked about it. After he saw the teaser we had "The Conversation." It was intense. However, I walked away feeling loved unconditionally. I'm not sure if that would've happened had I not been working on this project.
Akili: Now that you have completed the documentary and it is out in the world, how do you feel?
Simmons: As light as a feather but stiff as a board, if that makes any sense! I'm extremely relieved, but I'm always very anxious the first few weeks after I release any project. But overall I'm very pleased and excited to spread the word and get it out to the world.
To learn more about Dear Dad, and to watch the film, visit DearDad.tv.
All Images courtesy of Chase Simmons.