20 Questions Asked at “Realizing: A Ronnie Braithwaite Film Showcase”
The questions in this blog post were asked during the interactive workshop portion of Realzing, Ronnie Braithwaite’s first solo film exhibition, at the Plaza Theatre in Atlanta, GA on December 28, 2022. What follows contains spoilers to Woke (2017), Bipolart (2022), and He They (2023).
1. Explain the limitations of masculinity for you and how you see it limiting your art?
Traditional norms of masculinity can restrict the full range of self-expression and as a result, limits my creative expression.
If I’m not able to explore my emotions because of gender roles that require boys not to feel, I won’t have the mental faculties to share my story, thus limiting my art. As Alok Vaid-Menon says, “Imagine how beautiful it would be if the way we navigated the world were about creative expression, not conforming to arbitrary norms.”
2. Can you be straight and non-binary? How do you separate gender and sexuality? Why explore gender in a non-binary way if you don’t also explore sexuality that way? You seem like just a spicy man instead of a true member of the LGBTQ community.
I agree that sexuality and gender identity are linked. The barbershop scene of Kid Ronnie revealed the most about my sexuality. The part where the monologue reads, “It wasn’t until I later realized that my foundation for sexuality was less about being attracted to girls and more about not being attracted to boys” speaks to how my homophobic childhood influences are most responsible for the rigidness of my sexuality as straight-dominant as an adult. It is indeed a thing for people to identify as non-binary and straight (even though definitionally, being straight would require you to be a cis-man or cis-woman). I’ve attached a screenshot of one of my colleagues who also identifies this way:
In response to the comment, “why explore gender in a non-binary way if you don’t also explore sexuality? It seems like just a spicy man instead of a true LGBTQ community” I’d like to offer a reframe. Just because a way of being falls outside the norm, does not make it any less valid. To say that a non-binary person who identifies as straight is not a true member of the LGBTQ community would be enacting the same exclusionary bias that the LGBTQ community faces at large. At some level, I agree with you about feeling that “gender non-conforming man” rings truer to identify as over identifying as “non-binary.” This part of the monologue addresses that sentiment: “In my more feminine moments of expressing myself, it feels right to identify as non-binary. In my more masculine moments of expressing my sexuality, it feels right to identify as a gender non-conforming man.”
3. When creating HE THEY, did you find it difficult to write the script or did the script come naturally?
Creating the monologue for the script of He They was inspired by conversations that I had with my mother, a non-binary colleague, and books I read that helped challenge my gender identity like “Cool Pose” and “Beyond the Gender Binary.” The experience was like writing a poem that I continually returned to after each time I felt a breakthrough from my conversations with them.
4. Who do you think could benefit most from seeing BIPOLART, artists or non-artists?
The film has messages that could benefit both artists and non-artists. Whether you are an artist or not, the message about not hiding parts of your life experience as the pathway to tap into your most authentic self is a message from which we can all benefit. In the effort to realize your full potential, it will require you to understand what experiences you’ve had that make you uniquely YOU. Another universal message is finding silver linings in perceived weaknesses such that you find lessons and strengths in every negative experience.
5. Do you feel that opening up about your diagnosis had allowed you to establish stronger connections with people? Or connections that mean more to you?
Yes. As a result of making these films, I feel I can effortlessly live life without putting on a front. I don’t feel the pressure to cover or put on a mask that hides the stigmatized aspects of my identity. This is a huge weight off my shoulders and allows me to live an existence with more transparency and fewer facades, allowing me to make more meaningful connections with people.
Connections that are rooted in authenticity and transparency are the most meaningful connections to me.
6. Why did you decide to lead the story for BIPOLART as a documentary versus exploring the themes in a narrative film?
Documentaries are more exciting to me because as opposed to narrative films in which you find the story and plot scripted in advance of the shoot, in documentary filmmaking, the story finds you. The story editing process in documentary filmmaking starts over on the first day in the editing room. There are more organic opportunities for creating more shoots during post-production in a documentary film’s dynamic story discovery process.
7. I am someone who was recently diagnosed with a learning disability (I felt this film)! What does managing look like now in regards to day-to-day and how do you navigate feeling like you do not fit into the world the same ways others do? Like the feeling of always wondering if you’re doing too much or too little?
Managing to me looks like maintaining healthy sleep patterns (sleeping at least 8 hours a night). I try to meditate daily, which helps keeps me grounded on the days when I may have fewer things to do on my calendar. I generally view my filmmaking career as a marathon, not a sprint. If I continue to create art at the same pace I’ve been on for these past three years, I will be fulfilled and feel I’m doing enough.
8. Do you wish to continue to explore mental illness and how it can affect individuals and artists especially?
Yes. I hope to continue to explore the themes in Bipolart in a documentary series that follows different Bipolar artists and the ways that their disability has contributed to their artistry.
9. Are you done exploring the themes in WOKE or do you plan on continuing it?
As of now, I have yet to make plans to create a sequel to Woke. Thinking about what Woke would look like as a series is something that interested me at one time in 2017, but since making Bipolart and He They, it has become less of a priority.
10. Why didn’t you finish the story of WOKE? Can you explain the end of WOKE?
Woke was unresolved in a lot of ways because my racial identity at the time was still in the process of being redefined in finding my most authentic voice as a self-realized Black American. The film was made in 2017, so I was still working through and reconciling with my white fraternity-aligned actions from my years of assimilating in college. My “in-the-process racial identity discovery” at that time was represented by the film’s misdirection and unresolved ending.
The death of the black student and the white student joining the black fraternity symbolically represented the experience of me pledging a white fraternity and the resulting death of my black identity in exchange for assimilation into whiteness.
11. How are you able to determine when you finish a project? What makes a project complete in your eyes?
There will always be things that you realize can be improved in hindsight. Knowing when a project is “done” is relative to the time you want it to be ready for specific audiences. I think it’s vital for filmmakers to learn how to edit their own films and maintain the files of the entire production on their hard drives so that the work has the opportunity to evolve in their workspaces over the course of their careers.
12. What were the most cathartic moments of working on these projects respectively?
For Woke, it was seeing the edit come together in post-production. It was the first time that I felt fully fulfilled by a film project as an artist. For Bipolart, it was sharing the film with my closest friends, family, and bipolar groups on facebook. Feeling fully seen with regard to that part of my identity was a breath of fresh air.
For HE THEY, releasing this trailer was the most cathartic and fulfilling because it was a moment where I instantly shared a slice of my gender identity exploration with the world. I felt my inner child being healed in that moment.
13. How do you feel accomplishing something so transformative?
Fulfilled, seen, naked. I hope that the vulnerability modeled in the films will empower people to share their own stories of self-growth through filmmaking, and ideally, have me help bring their vision to life as director.
14. Were there any specific memories while filmmaking that you will cherish for the rest of your life?
Seeing the actors in Woke give the performances they gave, particularly in the moments where they went off script. Feeling like Dr. Dre producing with Cornelius during the Bipolart studio session on the last shoot day. During the He They shoot, going from filming my death drops at the non-binary transition ball one night to dunking on the basketball courts the following shoot day: feeling that range of self-expression.
15. What was the most challenging thing about making these films?
For Woke, it was my first time making a fictional film working with actors. The biggest challenge with this film was collaborating with an editor who limited the work to a finite number of editing sessions. It forced me to be efficient in preparation for our editing sessions, making sure that I was very clear about the changes that needed to be made in advance of our editing sessions. For Bipolart, I felt like the film’s biggest weakness was keeping the visuals fresh and non-redundant in alignment with the direction of the audio/story. I learned the importance of having a shot list and shooting script that offers a vast variety of shots (even if you won’t have time in the shoot to get to all of them — having more is always better than less). For He They, the biggest challenge was creating seamless transitions between the time jumps such that it felt like a cohesive story and read authentically as the gender coming-of-age of one person’s experience of boyhood.
16. Which film are you most proud of?
I’m most proud of He They because it’s the film that required the most collaboration and it was the most ambitious film to produce from a technical standpoint. Also, it was the first time creating a docufiction which allowed me to practice both narrative and documentary directing techniques. Making the film brought new challenges that were fulfilling to create solutions for. Although I believe Bipolart is still the most original film.
17. Did you learn anything about yourself through working on these films?
All three of three films forced me to confront different insecurities connected to race (Woke 2017), disability (Bipolart 2022), and gender identity (He They, 2023). From creating each film, I was forced to challenge the way society brings oppression to these different identities. Making the films brought freedom to the suppressed trauma I experienced growing up from racism, the stigma of bipolar, and toxic masculinity. These films all helped me understand the type of stories I want to create in my career. They are stories that have to do with breaking free from internalized oppression in the effort to realize your authentic self. Making these films brought me excitement and confidence to share other stories of self-growth where I can help drive the introspection for others to realize their most authentic selves.
18. Will you be working on full-length feature films? If I wanted to act or be involved, how can I?
I plan to direct feature-length films. I imagine my focus will be on directing documentaries over the next five years, but I hope to deliver narrative features in the middle and latter half of my career. Following me on social media @RonnieGetsReal is the best way to stay in the loop of new projects/work in the future.
19. How do you develop the concepts you explore in your film?
Your life will feed you the source material for your art. I think that your most dramatic moments of self-growth or the biggest moments of overcoming trauma are great places to start for arriving at the story you decide to tell.