Represent Me: Film and the Power of Hope

Lissi Simpson //

Ahead of their upcoming Film Feels Hopeful event, Lissi Simpson discusses the importance of representation within programming and how films can inspire hope.

On the 19 and 22 August 2021, thanks to the support of Film Feels, I’m screening Moonlight, Keyboard Fantasies: The Beverly Glenn-Copeland Story and six short films by BAME and/or LGBT+ filmmakers based in North West England. The event, called REPRESENT ME, is free and will be held at YES’s Pink Room in Manchester. REPRESENT ME originated from a seed sparked while filling in an Equal Opportunities form. The form asked for tons of personal information: What’s your gender? How’s your health? Are you Black? White? Asian? Mixed? Straight? Gay? Bi? Binary? Non-Binary? Who was I telling this to? Who reads about the state school I went to or the profession of my mother? Do they represent me, or do they represent someone else?

I’m not against these forms. I know they capture massively important data, showing how many hires are people from minority groups, but I’m unsure that they’re the right way to understand society. They both anonymously ask for data and review data. We put our trust in another to help us, when realistically, public support for minority groups is incredibly new. Personally, I believe power should always remain with the people concerned - let *us* represent *us*. I’m currently training as a Script Editor for Broadcast TV, whilst also freelancing - reading scripts and writing and directing indie shorts. My last short, which I’ll screen at REPRESENT ME, is a 3-act spoken-word dance film about learning to love yourself through the gaze of being a biracial woman. Growing up, film and TV didn’t represent me – there were few girls with big curly hair, who weren’t petite, or cute, who were into baggy clothes and “boy’s things”. Their families didn’t look like mine and didn’t balance two incredibly different cultures. Nowadays, there’s a lot more inclusivity and representation on screen, but we’re still far from finished. We still face complaints when a Black man sings a song on a Christmas advert, or when he misses a penalty. But life’s like Pandora’s box. No matter how much some push hatred, anger, or pain, they cannot crush hope. Hope reminds us: our existence alone proves their beliefs to be lies…and when the going gets tough, the tough get creative.

We’ve all heard the “Netflix? Completed it, mate” jokes. With so much global uncertainty, and so long spent inside, films and TV guided us through. They’ve kept us connected, shown us new countries, and stories still untouched by COVID-19. They’ve kept us connected, allowed us to imagine, to escape, to feel hopeful. I recommend anyone, and everyone, watch Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight (2016) and Jennie Livingston’s Paris is Burning (1990). Livingston introduced me to the world of ballroom drag, and the dangers Trans women deal with on a daily basis with little to no legal help or support. The film shines a light on the families which were formed and the lives which were saved by the community’s hope. Jenkins, on the other hand, gave me a storyline I thought I knew, in a cinematically unexplored capacity. I thought I understood the difficulty of the coming out experience, but I’d never considered characters like Chiron; characters raised to reject sentimentality, sensitivity, emotional transparency, and yet crave it. His and Kevin’s relationship surprised me. I felt an unexpected hope that in the future boys like Chiron could easily experience real happiness.

Keyboard Fantasies: The Beverly Glenn-Copeland Story, a 2019 part biopic, part documentary by Posy Dixon, follows Beverly Glenn-Copeland, a trans music revolutionary. An intimate look into the life of Glenn-Copeland, as well as the lives he's influenced through his career, it's an honour to be previewing this film - ahead of its global distribution - at Represent Me (22nd August 2021). Glenn-Copeland's life spans creating album 'Keyboard Fantasies' in near-isolation, the highs of that album and then three decades on, the lows as he's back into another new kind of isolation and almost lost his home in 2020 due the COVID-19 pandemic. He's worked across many genre's - jazz, folk, electronic - but has always kept the sense of hope in his music which has brought communities together worldwide, after a resurgence in Japan led to global re-discovery and Caribou, Robyn, Four Tet, Blood Orange and many others citing him as a big influence of theirs. Dixon's film will move, shock and groove you in unexpected and exciting ways.

Film allows us the emotional capacity and empathy to embrace when our normality is challenged, to embrace the moments when stories you felt you understood lead you to somewhere new, somewhere you can learn from. In short, film is hopeful. Film can make you hopeful too.

REPRESENT ME takes place on 19 and 22 August 2021. You can RSVP here.