This Oscar season, celebrate by supporting creators who prioritize diversity: Start with “My Father, The Queen.”
Oscar season always makes me think of my childhood, because one of the highlights of my youth was walking into the cool air of the movie theater, gorging myself on buttery popcorn and losing myself in the stories on the screen. I’m old enough to say I saw Grease and Saturday Night Fever as a double feature for a whopping five dollars. My friend Suzie and I sat on the floor in front of the front row in the local community theater as if it were our living room, our treats set out before us, happy to escape the summer heat and let the air conditioned bliss chill our skin.
At the risk of sounding like a quintessential old person, I confess that I grieve for the old ways we used to enjoy the movies — the experience of the big screen, scrambling to get your seat, the buttery popcorn goodness that, let’s be real, you simply can’t recreate at home. But in the wisdom of my more experienced self, I also understand that there was something nefarious happening in all those wonderful experiences of imagination and escape: I was being socialized into the White heteronormative patriarchy.
The characters that I idolized as a child were often flattened and homogenized versions of humanity, forced into the highest version of some archetype or another: the ingenue, the misunderstood bad boy, the Rambo-esque action hero.
“Flattened and homogenized” is the phrase that Ruby Sales, a womanist theologian and activist, used to describe to me what Whiteness is doing to White people. “Whiteness,” she said, as she held my hand in her lap and stared into my eyeballs, “is murdering the souls of White people. It is flattening and homogenizing you. It is stealing the legacies of your lineages.”
That’s some intense shit, and it’s 100% accurate. And one of the ways that the White patriarchy is perpetuated is through the subtle yet consistent system of roles we see in standard movie scripts. The hero is usually a White dude. There is a depthless woman whose only story is relative to him. There are surrounding characters, possibly a person of color who conforms to all the stereotypes we expect and of which we approve. This was definitely true when I was younger.
Of course, much of this has begun to change since I was a kid. Women’s roles have gotten richer and no longer depend upon men for their own definition — we are finally subject rather than object. BILPOC actors still struggle to find work, but more and more scripts are being written (and produced!) for and about them with a full range of human experience rather than roles that are nothing more than caricature. So, too, have we begun to see the LGBTQ+ community humanized and expanded beyond what they do in the bedroom, past stereotypes of boring flamboyant tropes or so-called lipstick lesbians. And this is good.
First and foremost because these people all exist, and they deserve representation, because enough representation eventually becomes normalization. And you know why normalization is important?
Because people who embody an existence that’s normalized get to walk through the world safely.
They get to not just survive, but to thrive.
And if you’re someone who cares about things like basic human dignity for all people then you’ll care about this. So hell yeah, there’s a “woke agenda.” The woke agenda has one goal: safety, liberty and dignity for all humans, whether you personally like them or not.
Which brings me, finally, to the point of this article.
If you’re down with the Woke Agenda…
…I have decided it now deserves capitalization…
…then it’s time to put your money where your Wokeness is and support Black creators.
I have the perfect one for you to start out with: Lisa Alexander’s award winning screenplay, My Father, The Queen is seeking funding, and it hits all our criteria for the kind of film the world needs to see more of.
Now, before you and your straight White self think, Wait, a film about a Black Queer person can’t possibly have anything to do with me, just hold up there, Skippy, because you might be surprised.
That’s the weird thing about being human — you actually have more in common with people than you think.
My Father, The Queen is a film about complex family dynamics (anyone relate?) and the impact that parents have on their children (how ‘bout now?).
It’s about that weird experience of growing up and suddenly understanding that your parents are not just your caretakers but also full, complete humans and the heroes of their very own drama, rife with romance, lust, failure, and triumph.
If most popular movies tend to flatten and homogenize, this film humanizes and expands, refusing to fall into the laziness of tropes. Maybe that’s why it’s already won a gazillion awards for Best Screenplay in the film festival circuit.
The film focuses on Kelly, who begins to unpack her family’s painful history after an abusive boyfriend murders her sister. After Kelly’s deeply closeted father, Walter, is exposed by his wife Carolyn, their relationship turns cold. Kelly, desperate for validation and approval, compromises herself to get it in all the wrong places. When the two are forced together when Walter catches COVID and lists Kelly as his next of kin, she gets a much needed window into her father’s secret past and sees her father in his humanity. The film spans the 70s, 80s, 90s, and current day.
I got to sit down with Lisa to talk about her screenplay and why it’s so important for this film to get made. (But let me say now that I strongly suggest you check out more information and figure out a way to support this project. If you can’t donate yourself, please share this with someone who can.)
Kerry: First off, what inspired you to write this film? What is the film’s genesis — that moment you knew you had to write it?
Lisa: My Father The Queen stems from my own experience of wading through “daddy issues.” How this fractured relationship can weave its way into every fabric of your being and manifest in unbelievable ways in your adult life. It took lots of years of self-work, and journaling, and prayer and meditation and finally therapy to work through it all and come to a place of healing.
And I knew I wasn’t the only one with this experience. Daddy issues know no gender. There’s a saying that goes, “Fathers are a son’s first hero and a daughter’s first love.” That is not always guaranteed. What happens to those kiddos whose fathers aren’t emotionally capable or healed from their own traumas to fill this role in their children’s lives?
What happens when fathers do more harm than good? What happens when fathers who are supposed to be protectors and defenders of their children turn into the antagonist? So, this film is for all those who grew up with fathers who were unable to emotionally give them what they needed.
The film started off as a novel. But I struggled writing the novel because I was trying to adapt it for the screenplay at the same time. Listen, I do not advise this at all. Thankfully, a dear friend relieved me of my torment and suggested I go ahead and write the screenplay since it was what I was truly passionate about.
Kerry: When you think about the complex relationship between the two main characters, Kelly and Walter, what do you think are some universal themes about daughters and fathers (or children and fathers) that your audience might find relatable?
Lisa: Again, daddy issues are genderless. And in the film, we take a look at both experiences. We look at Walter who was all but forced to remain closeted because society and the church said his behavior was abnormal and sinful. We see the effect of those institutions on this family and how it nearly destroyed them. It set in place a level of dysfunction that is familiar to many families regardless of race, ethnicity or religion. Dysfunction knows no color. And then we watch Kelly’s journey and how not getting the emotional support and validation from Walter manifests in her life. We see two generations of Williams family members struggling to live authentically and deal with their trauma.
Kerry: This film is highly representative of communities that are often sidelined or, at best, flattened into stereotypes. Why was it important (in your view) to bring them into the 3D world with the fullness of depth and breadth they deserve?
Lisa: This was so important to me! Listen, we are not all one thing — sociopaths excluded. We are all working to balance light and shadow. I was adamant that Walter not be the typical deadbeat, angry Black father portrayed in the media. Walter was complex and he had his shining moments. I had to come to understand that about my own father. Because I could never take away his charitable acts and the kind things he did for others regardless of our relationship. And then it was important to reflect the humanity of the LGBTQ community. My God these are people with whole lives! They are not caricatures and I wanted this film to show them in their humanness. In their struggle to exist and be. And now we have the attack on Trans people which is so disheartening and unbelievable. I hope with all my heart that this film will have people pause and think differently about people who appear to be different. We all want the same thing. To live authentically in SAFETY!
Kerry: In your promo materials you mention the Black Church, and specifically the music of the Black Church. What is the significance of the Black Church in the film and how did you incorporate its presence?
Lisa: I’m a preacher’s kid and grew up in the Black Church. First in the Baptist tradition and then we migrated into charismatic and pentecostal teachings. The church was and is for some, the cornerstone Black families and communities are built upon. Therapy has just recently become somewhat acceptable for Black people so prior to 2010 or so, your therapy consisted of Jesus and the church. And the teachings of the church stood unchallenged and accepted as truth.
So those church teachings about what married life should look like, the roles of men and women within the family structure and society, divorce, the required submissiveness of wives, and the condemnation of homosexuality played a huge part in the lives of the film’s characters. Some of these teachings have been weaponized against women. And women have stayed in relationships they should have exited decades ago but a God who hates divorce belief has harmed many women and children.
Carolyn, Walter’s wife, was a devout Christian. But who could she possibly have talked to when she found out about Walter? And Walter’s only recourse was to live a lie because to live as himself would be an abomination. Well, what happens when that doesn’t work? So the church’s teachings play a huge part in what happens to this family and how they attempt to heal from their trauma.
Kerry: What are your hopes for this film?
Lisa: I truly want this movie to be the genesis for healing and understanding. Healing for all the Kellys, and understanding and compassion for all the Walters. My hope is that we see people, our parents in particular for who they truly are or were. I told a friend the other day that I hope My Father The Queen gives clarity into why your parents are the way they are. That you see them for the era in which they were raised, and the tools available to them at the time, and begin to understand why they made some of the decisions they made. See them as people navigating life the best they could in the cultural, socioeconomic, and societal circumstances they found themselves in. Then maybe you can find compassion, empathy, and grace for them. I promise this will help with your own healing and forgiveness journey. And I truly hope this film sparks grace and compassion for the LGBTQ community and a halt to the rise in senseless violence and harmful legislation. I hope we see ourselves and commit to doing better.
Kerry: How can people support this important film and help make sure it gets produced?
Lisa: Follow us on Facebook and Instagram! Help us get to production by making a donation at www.FundMyFatherTheQueen.com. There are some pretty cool rewards to choose from! Visit the website! https://myfatherthequeen.com. Share the project with your networks and communities and let’s get this project made and shown.