Filmmaker Debra Wilson: Telling Our Stories

  • The service having id "propeller" is missing, reactivate its module or save again the list of services.
  • The service having id "buzz" is missing, reactivate its module or save again the list of services.
Filmmaker Debra Wilson: Telling Our Stories

I had the good fortune of running into out Black filmmaker Debra Wilson while hanging out in the lobby of the Director’s Guild of America (DGA) and she was gracious enough to give a spontaneous interview.

A California native, currently in the Oakland area, Debra has been very deliberate about how she uses her gift as filmmaker. She feels it is her mission to tell the stories of the various communities she belongs to and communities that are consistently ignored.  Debra is quite aware of the power of film and how it often educates audiences who might never come in contact with provocative topics in any other way.

Debra’s own curiosity also helps determine what stories she will develop. After being asked to leave a break out session for “butch-identified lesbians” (because she was not one) while attending the 2001 Zuna Institute National Black Lesbian Conference, she became determined to shine a light into this mysterious world. Over two years, paying for the project out of her pocket, she developed the documentary film Butch Mystique and went on to win the Showtime Black Filmmaker Showcase, where the film first aired. 

The documentary follows six butch-identified African-American lesbians in the San Francisco area. Through interviews, issues of power, lifestyle, masculine/feminine energies, outward appearance, and identity are examined.

The Showtime win afforded Debra a $30,000 budget and the opportunity to develop another project that would also air on the premium cable channel. In 2006, Jumpin’ the Broom: The New Covenant made its debut. The documentary focuses on committed same-sex relationships among Black lesbian and gay couples, who build families and lives in the face of opposition to “gay marriage” in the Black community. The term “jumpin’ the broom” is a custom from the days of slavery.  During this period black couples weren’t allowed to legally marry and jumping over a broom was a symbolic gesture to celebrate their love and commitment to each other. Debra’s film suggests that modern day same-sex couples are placed in the same situation of creating their own rituals and ceremonies to legitimize their loving relationships.

At the time the film was released only one state in the U.S., Massachusetts, recognized same-sex marriages. Two years later, the LGBT community in California was in a bitter battle against supporters of Proposition 8, which would overturn the court's decision to mandate marriage for all couples, regardless of sexual orientation. On November 4, 2008, Prop 8 was passed and the right to marry was taken from same-sex couples (who were not married before November 4th).  Debra voiced her disappointment that her film was not used to educate the Black community during that campaign. She says she made the film to be accessible to the straight community and hopes to still get it out to its intended audience.

Debra’s most recent project, where she serves as a producer, is Mississippi Damned, a feature film written and directed by Tina Mabry. The true story focuses on a young girl growing up in Mississippi and battling family demons to carve out her own life.

With 15 years of experience in the film industry, Debra looks forward to developing more documentaries as well as webisodes and television projects. She loves what she does and recommends that up-and-coming filmmakers tell stories that they are passionate about and can’t wait to tell. “That passion will buffer you from those who tell you your story is not worth telling,” she counsels. And as far as Debra is concerned, she will never stop telling our stories.



Comments [14]

Not2Taem's picture

"Prop 8 wasn't exactly knocking down my door."

I wonder if Debra knocked at theirs. If she was aware that her film was an important vehicle for understanding in the straight black community, if that is who she made it for and she was passionate about it, why didn't she put it out there for them herself. Doing important work and then being disappointed that others do not seek you out to maximize its potential? This is an aspect I do not understand.

skate's picture

"I voted for Prop 8 because

"I voted for Prop 8 because no one gave me a good argument."

AAAHHHHHHHHHH this drives me fucking crazy!  Why is it other people's responsiblity to "give" you an argument?  It is your responsibility to look at the issue and make your own decision about it!

Everyone was saying nobody went and talked to the black community.  This shit goes up my ass sideways.  The assumption is that black people are morons that can't do things like read, take in information, weigh options, consider an issue, think independently, etc., and they have to have it broken down for them like they're 2.  If that isn't a racist assumption, I don't know what the hell is!

I've never expected somebody else to sit me down and explain the issues to me prior to voting.  That's my job.  If I want discourse about it, it's my responsibility to go out and find it!

SMBrown's picture

Skate, did you also note,

Skate, did you also note, though, that this man said blacks were ignored on the streets by No on 8 activists?  That to me is far more troubling from a racial perspective. 

I'm also not a big fan of the whole 'colorblind' approach that says it's somehow racist to acklowedge the black community as a community that has its own history and concerns.  Minority communities are often understandably wary of being doubly marginalized by supporting gay rights and that issue needs to be confronted head-on.  You might not be aware of this, but it was outreach to minority communities in Massachusetts that ultimately tipped the balance in favor of gay marriage here. 

skate's picture

"Skate, did you also note,

"Skate, did you also note, though, that this man said blacks were ignored on the streets by No on 8 activists?"

I did note that, and while I can't say for sure since I wasn't there, it wouldn't surprise me if it was true, given the attitude I have seen among some of the white gay hipster set.  But again, I would reiterate that I feel the responsibility is on him to go out and seek information.  The scenario of white activists ignoring black citizens in outreach situations highlights the problems involved in thinking it's other people's repsonsibility to deliver info to you, rather than realizing it's up to you to seek information and form your own idea about it.

"Minority communities are often understandably wary of being doubly marginalized by supporting gay rights and that issue needs to be confronted head-on."

I do understand that, but I still hold the members of those communities to the same standards as everyone else.  I won't accept bigoted behavior from them or anybody else.

"You might not be aware of this, but it was outreach to minority communities in Massachusetts that ultimately tipped the balance in favor of gay marriage here."

Stuff like that is hard to prove.  Thousands and thousands of people voted, and who knows why a person voted a particular way?

In any event, as I've mentioned before, I'm not a big fan of government marriage of any stripe.  I support it because we have a situation where we can't visit loved ones in the hospital, are having our kids taken away, and are having our property stolen, and that has to stop. 

SMBrown's picture

Actually...

Er...actually only about 200 people voted, i.e. members of the Massachusetts legislature, because the issue was not decided by voters at the polls.  So I do know for a fact about the kinds of intensive outreach MassEquality did with black representatives, many of whom were under huge pressure from black churches to vote against gay marriage.

The idea of holding people to the same standard is what I would term a 'value,' which is fine, but it doesn't do the heavy lifting that's necessary when it comes to advocacy.  We can say people should do this, or should do that all we want, but saying it won't make it so.

skate's picture

Ha, you're right.  Shows how

Ha, you're right.  Shows how little I've come to care about the political process.  I don't have any faith in it since it's a charade and a festival of mainstreamism whose purpose is to re-establish the dominance of the a particular point of view, not to make any decision.  Isn't part of the myth supposed to be that representatives vote according to how their constituents feel (not how lobbyists/activists say to)?

"We can say people should do this, or should do that all we want, but saying it won't make it so."

I agree, but I feel it's the individual's responsibility to make it so.  If someone chooses to remain in ignorance, and vote according to their ignorance, they can do that.  In fact, that's what most people basically do.

I really question the notion of basic things like elections or marriage (as we presently have them), so it sort of throws the whole conversation up in the air.

Michelle Sewell's picture

But...

I think just as we have town hall meeting to get more information on health care reform (I'm still trying to get a grip on the concept of "public option") or council meetings about the liquor store opening on our block, I think this issue needed that kind of attention. Not just in the Black community, but in all communities. There are people who are willing to put their personal beliefs aside to vote for fairness, but I don't think they were given the opportunity to receive that information.

Unfortunately, not everyone is going to search out the information. Some folks, regardless of race, need to be spoon fed.

 

skate's picture

Public discourse is critical

Public discourse is critical for all issues, no doubt.  As for spoon feeding, I guess all I can says is no thanks, I won't be doing any of it.  And I don't want anybody doing it to me, unless they want a boot up their ass, lol.

mickey06's picture

Thanks!

This was a helpful blog for multiple reasons. Thanks so much!

MacLass_19's picture

Thank you

Excellent interview, Michelle. Debra Wilson seems very down to earth, and authentic. After watching the trailer, I'm eager to see Butch Mystique.

Smile

minniesota's picture

Storytellers

Thanks for your blog about Debra Wilson, which reminds me how important it is that our stories be told and how precious are our storytellers.

Still searching for the right brainy quote.

Julia Watson's picture

I have been DYING to see that

I have been DYING to see that Butch Mystique film. I'm gonna go see if I can add it to CaramelTeddy's and my Netflix queue.

Michelle Sewell's picture

On LOGO

If you get LOGO I think it is playing on there now.

Michelle

Julia Watson's picture

Boo Netflix

Sadly, no. But we do get a couple of their specials/shows/movies each month on one of our OnDemand channels. I'll have to check there. Thanks for the tip.