“Genderblind” is the first narrative feature by Chicago filmmaker Lanita Joseph. “It’s the story of black lesbians and the challenges faced by black gay Christians to be true themselves,” as Joseph put it. PrideIndex had the opportunity to sit with Ms. Joseph and go in depth regarding her film and the concept of being genderblind.
PrideIndex: What exactly is Genderblind? Do you believe society will ever come accept its concept?
Lanita Joseph: Genderblind is the concept that you can love someone beyond their labeled gender. This is a person who is not looking at one’s gender but is looking at one’s soul and therefore they don’t see the label only the soul of a person. What is the body compared to the soul? This concept is often difficult for many to understand. I believe people who are too far to either spectrum. Straight nor gay may not understand or believe this type of person exist. However, straight people who have had one or two homosexual encounters, bisexuals, transgenders, transexuals and anyone who is truly open to the fluidity of their sexuality believe in this concept. I also think people naturally believe in this concept because of what they do and who they are however, I think most people are not aware that they are actually Genderblind, rather hiding behind some label.
PI: Why did you make this film?
LJ: I wrote this story first and foremost because I thought it was a good dramatic story about love with two black lead characters. I love black queer films and I support every single one that comes out. I also made it because I wanted to dispel some of the common myths about black lesbians, such as studs being ugly and hard, lesbians being unapproachable, and that one can’t have Jesus and have a homosexual partner as well. The main character does everything wrong and thinks terrible things about not only herself, but other lesbian women. She’s quite harsh, but then ends up falling hard and is utterly confused. The movie is a hard pill to swallow but I wanted to speak to the straight world and say that we all love, and it doesn’t matter who we love, and they too could find themselves in love with someone they never thought they could or would be. Through all the pain I have shown the ultimate purpose of this film is to show God’s love, and human love beyond gender or labels.
PI: Briefly describe any obstacles you faced while making “Genderblind” and how you overcame them.
LJ: I had many obstacles. But the biggest was my crew. This is the first feature film that I directed and at the time I was 27 and my 5 man crew was 40 and older, white and straight. My DP would try to direct over me, and that was a struggle. I can honestly say that some of the shots were the product of conflict between the DP and myself. Money was also a HUGE issue. We shot 92 scenes in 8 days, which is unheard of but we did it. And lastly, I lacked the resources to have a professional sound edit. The sound is much better now and the audience was so engulfed in the movie that they won’t recognize the occasional high pitch and hiss in the background. I honestly don’t know what I could have done to avoid that. Maybe a better crew, God knows I spent all the money I had.
PI: What did you do to raise funds to bring this film to the market place?
LJ: I spent my own personal money for the movie.
PI: Where did you receive your formal training?
LJ: I trained through hands on experience.
PI: How does your own life experience differ from that of “Genderblind’s” lead character
LJ: It’s kind of similar; however, I don’t think I was as crazy as she was. She does some pretty crazy stuff throughout the movie. I also don’t really fight my feelings. If I’m having a feeling about something or someone it’s there for a reason and I accept it and try to understand it.
PI: Please share with our readers, your coming out story. When did you first know that you were attracted to the women?
LJ: I don’t think I ever “came out.” I don’t believe in it for my life, really. For others it’s important. But for me I feel like, straight people don’t have to say, “Hey everybody I’m straight” so why should I have to make an announcement for something that is so private and intimate? So I never really did. And most people need a box or a label and I don’t have one and a lot of people have issues with a person without labels. I’m not hiding, I live my life out loud, beyond that I am a queer activist, but I never came out. The first time I was attracted to a woman’s soul was when I was 23. When did I accept it? At age 24.
PI: How would you describe your artistic style?
LJ: Sometimes I create for others but when I am creating for myself I’m
controversial, edgy, mind bending, unpredictable, dramatic, real and deep.
PI: Tell us a little bit about your dance background and your involvement with the Anita Davis Dance Theater.
LJ: Dance is the art medium I chose to do for a living. So, most of my formal training is in dance and literature. My BA is in English and my MFA will be in dance. I studied, Ballet, Jazz, Hip-Hop and Modern dance. I danced with Joel Hall and have been teaching and choreographing ever since. I am the Artistic Director of Anita Davis Dance Theater. I do most, if not all the choreography, I ocassionally dance. And I do all the event planning, marketing and grant writing for the company. Anita Davis Dance Theater teaches dance at inner city schools.
PI: Name at least 3 artists that have most affected your artistic style?
Lanita: Spike Lee, Bill T. Jones, Toni Morrison
PI: Hypothetically speaking let’s say that you were not artistcally included (did not dance or make films, etc.) describe to us what your world would be like?
LJ: Oh my God, I have no idea what I would do. I feel like I’d just die if I couldn’t create. Umm I like helping people. I would want to do some sort of service work where I am counseling women and children. And then of course living happily and comfortable with my family.
PI: Will there be a “Genderblind Part 2?”
LJ: No matter how controversial this movie is, it will always be my number one movie, and also my favorite piece of work that I have created thus far, I highly doubt if I will make a GB2.
PI: Where can I pick up a copy of your film?
LJ: “Genderblind” is currently not for sale. It’s still screening in film festivals, after it circulates we will put it on sale. Maybe it will be for sale in about a year, please keep checking back with me.
PI: What’s next for you on the horizon?
LJ: I’m going to re-show “Genderblind” later this summer here in Chicago. And I will be doing an awesome stage play about the life of Ms. Phyllis Hyman, hopefully starring some local celebrities. I’m really excited.