‘Strong Island’ has been a labor of love and dedication on the part of so many people, that it’s just an incredible recognition to be honored. And to be the first trans director – and, I believe, the first African-American trans director – to be nominated for an Academy Award is incredibly, incredibly special to me.
Black lives are too easy to take in America because we don’t want to question why people are so afraid of black and brown people to begin with. And that’s what I want ‘Strong Island’ to do.
It’s important that people understand that ‘Strong Island’ is just as much about this claim of reasonable fear and our need to interrogate reasonable fear as it is about my family’s grief.
People come up and say, ‘Thank you’ for showing a black family loving their masculine-presenting child and for undoing the myth of black people as being rabidly homophobic.
I don’t think I present as gender-conforming on screen, but some people need a little extra information.
I have been gender-nonconforming my entire life.
When I was making ‘Strong Island,’ it was very clear to me that my brother’s death was a point on a line that stretched back into the 1940s and beyond in my family – and in the nation.
There are people who get to be three-dimensional humans in the United States, and there are people who do not.
I have a lot of surrogate parents, but there’s no one like your mother.
I hope that audiences understand that there is a precariousness to black lives in this country that we need to address, that there has always been a precariousness to black lives in this country that we need to address. In fact, our country is built on the precariousness of black lives, the disposability of black lives.
Being nominated is such a tremendous honor. An Oscar win for me and for the ‘Strong Island’ team would be the cap to an incredible journey. But it would also mean that my brother will not disappear from history.
Film festivals are usually unpleasant experiences on some level. The lines are ridiculous, the crowds are ridiculous, or the schedules are impossibly arranged: ‘You say that there’s a film you really want to see? Try the 8 A.M. show! Oh, it’s too bad you didn’t get to bed until 2 A.M. the night before.’
If my making history makes it easier for a trans kid at home somewhere to feel more at home in their skin, then I’m so excited about that.
I remind audiences that I’m in the fortunate position to make a film about my family.
‘Strong Island’ is slang for Long Island, New York. And it really grew out of – what may surprise people, it really grew out of the very vibrant hip-hop scene that, you know, is located and still generates artists out of Long Island.
I had a list of 10 rules when we started ‘Strong Island,’ and one of them was, ‘Yance will never appear on camera with sync sound.’
It would be easier for people to grasp that gender, sex, and sexual orientation are different things if we had as much imagination in real life as we do when we are making our movies.
Everyone in the street where I grew up was given the same message: You can be anything; you can do anything. That wasn’t extraordinary; that was ordinary for us. My folks didn’t believe in black exceptionalism. There’s nothing exceptional about ‘You can have that, too’ – except when it comes to justice. You can’t have that.
I’m incredibly proud to be the first trans director to be nominated for an Oscar.
Instincts are a really important guide for any artist, but particularly filmmakers because it takes a lot to stay true to your instincts as a storyteller.
Grief, for me, is a moment-to-moment experience.
Grief is a very complicated monster. There’s no real exorcising of it. It has a different form every day.
We have to deal with the way that race influences our criminal justice system.
I will never understand how so many young women can go out in the freezing cold wearing so little clothing.
‘Strong Island’ is not your typical true-crime film. It’s not actually about the uncovering of evidence or following leads that hadn’t been seen before or any of that stuff.
When I was young, I didn’t see anyone who was trans like me anywhere in the movies.
I worked at ‘POV’ for five years before I told one person about my brother.
The quality of festival Q&As is often a matter of chance. Sometimes the lights come up on movies I loved, and not a single meaningful question is asked. Sometimes it’s the opposite.
‘Trumbo’ is conventional in its structure, mixing interviews with archival footage. What I enjoyed most about the film was its liberal use of his own personal letters to friends and family, performed dramatically by well-known actors.
There is nothing quite as exciting as watching a master at work.
When I use the word ‘buzz’ in successive sentences, it’s clearly time for me to stop writing.
If I can help one family embrace their child and not displace them and throw them out, I’m happy about that.
What ‘Strong Island’ does is bring a historical perspective and help people understand that what we’re treating as a modern-day phenomenon is actually not modern. It’s actually quite old.
My father just believed in my mother’s ability to do anything.