STILL BLACK: A Portrait of Black Transmen

Photo Credit: Kortney Ryan Ziegler

“STILL BLACK: A Portrait of Black Transmen” is an experimental documentary by Kortney Ryan Ziegler; it gives a voice to six diverse men from around the nation whom share their experiences of being black, trans and male in United States.  “STILL BLACK”  premiered in 2008 at sellout crowds at film festivals in cities such as Chicago, Los Angeles, Seattle and abroad.  It won the Issac Julien Experiemental Award at the Queer Black Cinema Film & Music Festival; and the Audience Choice Award for Best Documentary at the Reelout Queer Film Video Festival in 2009. “STILL BLACK,” has come to represent the trans male of color experience. Zeigler talked to PrideIndex about why he made this film, who he hopes to reach and about the particpants, suprisingly most of them only heard about this project through word of mouth.

PRIDEINDEX (PI): Why did you make “STILL BLACK: A Portrait of Black Transmen?”

KORTNEY RYAN ZIEGLER (KRZ): I made the film because the voices of black transmen were absent from the growing body of trans narratives that were being produced around 2008. When I did see black men in trans documentaries, they were almost always present to speak on the topic of race and racism. Very rarely did they have the room in the piece to go beyond this conversation and present a more wholesome image of black transmaculinity. Essentially, I didn’t want to continue to see men like me marginalized or only seen as the voice of racial oppression.

PI: There are several documentaries made about transgender people but very few explore race, why?

KRZ: The simple answer is that we live in society that privileges the experiences of whiteness. This is, unfortunately, present in the representation of transgender individuals as well. However, there are folks of color doing the work and making the films, they might not be main stream; but they are being seen and heard by members of the queer community. These projects don’t always centralize race but do explore the concept through a number of different intersecting ways.

PI: Who do you hope to reach with this film?

KRZ : I’ve been very blessed to be able to present STILL BLACK to a number of individuals of all backgrounds and have heard from many that the project has inspired them or have helped them to understand a trans person in their lives. I want the film to continue to reach all types of audiences as a vehicle for alternative black male masculinity, mainly because we are so demonized in the majority of media representations.

PI: Talk about the respondents whose stories is the subject of this film. How did you select them?

KRZ: Most of them found out about the project through word of mouth; I planted a seed and it grew. I had people from all over the country and even abroad contact me to participate. I didn’t want to reflect one singular voice or experience, so I selected a diverse range of participants that would be both educational and entertaining.

PI: Describe your filmmaking journey, and the process to bring “STILL BLACK” to the marketplace.

KRZ: It was a completely grassroots-indie form of fundraising that got the project off the ground. I solicited funds online and through the help of my producer, raised enough money to complete the film and travel with it to film festivals. It was incredible the amount of support we received from folks who contributed anything from $1 to $1000.

PI: “STILL BLACK” is described as an experimental documentary, what does that mean?

KRZ: My main goal was to reference the oral tradition of African Americans, so I felt that straight on interviews would be the best method of execution. However, I wanted to play with the idea of the camera as an object of surveillance since we are all performing our gender for others to consume and, in a way, legitimize. I wanted to highlight this idea through multiple camera angles and unconventional framing.

PI: This film has played in festivals around the world including in Switzerland.  What was it like to travel to Europe and were you surprised by the warm reception “STILL BLACK” received there?

KRZ: I loved being able to travel to Europe with the film and Switzerland, in particular, was an incredible experience. I wasn’t surprised by the support it received there because like here, there was a thirst to hear a previously absent voice.

PI: I understand that you grew up in Compton, California.  How has your upbringing affected your artistic style as a filmmaker?

KRZ: I think growing up in Compton has definitely influenced my style as an artist because it is such a unique and beautiful little city. The landscape, with all of its beauty and pain, helped pushed me towards experimental film.  It was also the community of neighbors that created a safe space for me when I was growing up that helped me to be very open and honest in my work where I try not to hold back.

PI: It’s been at least 3 years since you made “STILL BLACK” what other projects have you worked on since then.

KRZ: I’ve worked on a number of experimental short film projects and toured with my photographic work. Right now I’m currently working on a narrative film set in Oakland with a black transman protagonist, which I’m set to start shooting in the fall of this year.

PI: Have you considered making a “where are they now” follow up film?

KRZ: I’ve thought about it. I hope to do that in the future for sure!

PI: Is there anything else you would like to share with us about the film?

KRZ: The film can be bought online at stillblackfilm.org. Support indie filmmaking and self-distribution!