18-Year-Old Filmmaker Gabrielle Gorman Takes On Police Brutality

The summer before Gabrielle Gorman’s junior year of high school, she decided to turn her feelings about police brutality into a poem. What transpired was a six-minute experimental film called Dear America, for which Gabrielle has been winning accolades across the country. Among them are Best Student Experimental at the 2016 My Hero International Film Festival and a YoungArts award, along with only six other filmmakers in the country.

In Dear America, Gabrielle uses improvised narration to intimately share a history of hating her black body to the point where she wanted to peel off her own skin. The film displays haunting yet powerful images, mesmerizing orchestration, and Gabrielle’s own voice as she urges us to peel away our labels instead.

Gabrielle now loves her black body, and she’s passionate about bringing people together to discuss difficult yet important topics related to equality and inclusivity. In addition to school activism, she’s made a number of award-winning films and aspires to win six Oscars in her lifetime. The way Gabrielle’s life has been going so far, she could very well get there.

Earlier this year, Gabrielle was interviewed for the local radio station KPCC about the success of Dear America. The writer mentions Gabrielle’s past feelings of isolation as one of just a few black students on the campus of her high school, which she’s since graduated from. And while Gabrielle expresses love and deep appreciation for her private school, which she attended on scholarship, it appears the school feared backlash regarding the demographic of its student body. The article was updated to include: “New Roads’ student body is currently 56 percent white and the rest are students of color. Nearly 13 percent of the students are African-American.” The end of the article has the following disclaimer: This story has been updated to clarify the demographic makeup of the New Roads student body.

Gabrielle says about the update:

“Well, I mean, it’s a private school in Santa Monica. Any place that might cost more money is just — [white is] what’s going to be the dominant group, unfortunately. I think when people are quick to sort of cover up or deescalate a situation, it comes from guilt, and I think if we’re going to have any change, that’s the first thing we have to get rid of.
“I experience this a lot in classes. Like last year, we read Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and any time race would come up it would just be my sister and I. Us and one other person, we were the only black people in the class — or people of color overall. People would say, ‘Oh, I felt like I wasn’t in a position to talk,’ or ‘Oh, I felt guilty.’ And I said, ‘In order for us to actually have understanding between us and have unity and alliance, you have to realize that everyone’s voice matters.’”

Unity and alliance are very important to Gabrielle, and while she and her twin sister created a Black Student Union on campus, they also worked to integrate various groups as much as possible:

“I sort of didn’t want to call it the Black Student Union — I wanted it to be the People of Color Union. One thing we did is have panels with people from other clubs, [like one] promoting better education for Latinos and Latinas. We also had people from Stand Strong, which is for LGBTQ-plus rights. We were just trying to create more bridges between students.
“At my mom’s school, she has a lot of kids who are mostly black and Latino, and she says there’s a lot of conflict between them. They don’t talk with each other — it’s very segregated. Her dissertation was actually on all that conflict. I think that’s just so sad, because we’re experiencing so much of the same things, and America was built on both of our backs, so why don’t we have more love and trust between us? We’re almost just fighting for these crumbs.”

Gabrielle admires Shonda Rhimes for subtly fostering integration through such primetime shows as How to Get Away With Murder. “[The show] is not necessarily about being black, but we don’t negate that experience, and there are people on the show who are Latina and Latino, and people from the LGBTQ community, and I think that’s so great,” she says. “So we’re sort of learning about maybe something that people who are gay have to deal with on a daily basis that we may not have to go through, or someone who’s a black woman, or a black male. I just love the way she crafts that together.”

Part of Gabrielle’s desire to bring people together stems from growing up in a largely homogenous environment. Certain movies helped her make sense of her own “otherness” and have influenced her own filmmaking process. “One [of my favorite movies] was How the Grinch Stole Christmas. I go to all these film programs and they’re saying all these movies that won Best Picture, and I’m like, [I love] The Grinch. [She chuckles.] I think honestly, it represented so much for me growing up. My sister and I would watch it, and we felt just like him, being in a place where no one really came from the same background as us, in terms of like socio-economic status, and no one really came from the same cultural background as us, so we kind of felt his isolation in the movie.”

Credit: persephonevintage
Credit: persephonevintage

After the success of Dear America, Gabrielle felt empowered as a black woman, but her platform also carries a certain sense of responsibility. “I was like, Am I letting people down if I’m not talking about racism? I felt like people already expected so much from me.” Gabrielle had previously been at work on a horror film, and after Dear America, she felt guilty about exploring anything outside of social activism. “Like, I started this film, and it was inspired by The Twilight Zone and inspired by Alfred Hitchcock, and it’s sort of this just little horror, freaky piece, and I sort of stopped halfway through. I was in a block.” Then she received feedback from a new mentor who gave her the confidence she needed.

“Aaron Sorkin had seen Dear America, and he told me, ‘I don’t want you to think that you’re betraying anyone if you’re not making films specifically about the black experience.’ That really meant a lot to me, because I was feeling that exact way. After that, I’ve started doing [the movie] again, and I’ve realized that there’s some activism in that. I do have my friend — she’s black and a character. She’s been in all my other films, which have been about very deep issues. So I think it’s great to be able to see her in a role where it’s just purely about horror.”

gabrielle 4

This summer, Gabrielle is shooting and directing films across the globe for School of Doodle, and this fall she’ll be attending the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television. Gabrielle will no doubt continue to infuse intersectionality into her work.

She says, “One thing that I’d like to [express] through my films is the power of allyship. Not just between people who are more on the privileged side and people who are on the oppressed side, but between marginalized groups. Because we’re all in this together, and we should all fight for equality together.”

Follow Gabrielle on YouTube or Instagram, or check out her website.

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Lead image: persephonevintage