New Movie ‘Standing Eight’ Knocks Out Lupus and Men Stigma
Yes, men are diagnosed with lupus too.
The challenges experienced by men living with a chronic illness isn’t a narrative we come across too often in society, but “Equalizer 2” star, Kazy Tauginas, is about to flip the script. Tauginas, who played bad-boy Ari opposite of Denzel Washington, is now showing off his advocate side in “Standing Eight,” a short film he wrote, co-produced and also stars in as the main character, Dusty.
The new film gives audiences a glimpse into the world of Dusty Abrams, a professional boxer whose world is about to dramatically change. After being diagnosed with Lupus shortly before a major fight, viewers watch Abrams retire from the sport in order to undergo treatment and better manage the disease. The film brings to light an often-misunderstood illness, showcasing not only the physical implications of Lupus but also the realities of chronic illness and how it can often root its way into every aspect of one’s life — career, relationships, finances, self-esteem, etc.
Released on Amazon earlier this week, “Standing Eight” comes just in time for Lupus Awareness Month, a month where Lupus advocates worldwide ramp up awareness efforts for a disease that affects around 5 million people across the globe.
Lupus is a chronic inflammatory autoimmune disease that is often mislabeled as only a “woman’s disease.” Though current estimates state that 1.5 million Americans have lupus, with approximately 90 percent of those affected being women, there are around 150,000 men in the United States who currently live with the disease — a figure that while often ignored needs to be front and center.
When preparing for certain roles, we sometimes hear of actors immersing themselves in research if the role is based on an individual living with a medical condition, but for “Standing Eight,” Tauginas didn’t have to look far at all. He drew from his own experiences as a son and caregiver to Victoria, his mother who was diagnosed with Lupus before his birth. “When I was younger, I didn’t really understand everything that was going on with my mother. One of the first times it really registered was when I was eight years old and watched her go into the hospital to receive chemotherapy,” he explained in our recent interview. “But it wasn’t really until I was much older that I really put together how sick my mother was.”
Though chemotherapy has become more commonly recognized today as a possible medication for lupus patients, looking back over 30 years ago, Tauginas reflects on what was then considered an “experimental treatment” for his mother who didn’t have any other options: “You don’t understand what chemo is at the age of eight but I remembered the situation looked really bad. But my mother never complained or looked for excuses, she has always been a fighter,” he shared.
Growing up, Tauginas watched how the disease would affect many of the decisions his parents made regarding different areas of life, one area being employment. After receiving chemotherapy, he witnessed his parents make the tough decision that involved Victoria leaving her day job. It was that blow to her career that had a substantial influence on the storyline of “Standing Eight.” In the 26-minute short film, we witness Dusty’s exact moment of diagnosis to the decision to step down from his career to the war that ensues both mentally and physically.
While his mother was his main inspiration for the film, Tauginas brought some of his own skills as a former athlete to the main character’s role. “My sports background is pretty unique; I grew up as a figure skater and competed in the collegiate circuit but boxing was always in the back of my mind. While I was at the University of Delaware, I met Cliff Johnson, the owner of Lef Jab, and I fell in love with the sport,” he described. “I think boxing was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. I don’t regret any of it and the boxing skill set opened up more doors for me.”
During this boxing career, Tauginas would compete in 13 fights, all while simultaneously running his own 24-hour diner before he moved on to his other passion — acting. Though he has stared in many television and box-office hits including The Blacklist, Blue Bloods, Sneaky Pete, Equalizer 2 and many more, he seems most proud of his accomplishments with “Standing Eight.”
Since its festival release two years ago, it has been screened at over 30 festivals, has received 23 nominations in various categories, and has won four honorable mentions and 11 different festival awards.
One of the main storylines of the movie that is getting a lot of much-needed attention revolves around the fact that the main character is a man living with the disease. When asked how he made this decision he shared, “From an acting perspective, telling the story from a man’s perspective was more original — they are the minority of the minority. And I felt if we told the tale of a man, we would be stepping up the awareness game when it comes to lupus.”
“Once I got into writing the draft, I was able to take a lot of my mother’s experience and infuse that into the film, and performance-wise I relied on her experiences. I remember when we were on set and there was a scene in the opening sparring when the lupus rash shows up on my character’s face and I said, ‘Everything hurts,’ and my father came up to me, and he was pretty emotional, and he said, ‘That was it.’ I knew in that moment we made the right choice and that the tone was accurate.”
In addition to getting the movie’s tone down, it seems he also chose an accurate title. The film’s title choice, “Standing Eight,” is a term close to Tauginas’ heart; the boxing term that describes a fighter being knocked down and having eight seconds to get back on his/her feet also accurately depicts the ongoing struggles of someone living with lupus — being continually knocked down with flares and symptoms and (hopefully) regaining composure time after time.
As we wrapped up our interview, I asked Tauginas what he wants audiences to take away from this movie: “I want them to know they have an advocate in me, that this is just the beginning, and we are going to continue fighting for all of them. I know a lot of them do not have the energy to do it themselves, I know the challenges they face, and I will not stop. We need to raise awareness and cure this disease.”
As a lupus patient and advocate myself, interviewing Kazy was a unique experience I haven’t yet had in my 12 years as a journalist. It is comforting to know there are people — many of whom we will never meet during our lifetime– that are fighting on our behalf while we are trying to fight for our lives.
All proceeds from the movie will be donated to lupus organizations to aid in the area of research. You can watch “Standing Eight” now on Amazon or view the trailer here.