With “The Year We Thought About Love,” Cantabrigian filmmaker Ellen Brodsky has made what some might call a dangerous documentary about youth in love, and what others would call a welcoming one.
“There’s power in being true to yourself,” Brodsky states. While that may be true, Brodsky also knows that the varied expressions of love are not always safe or accepted. Queries always accompany love expressed outside of familial, racial, cultural and religious norms.
In “The Year”, a middle-schooler asks a member of the Boston’s LGBTQ group, True Colors: OUT Youth Theater, “What does it feel like to kiss your own gender?”
“It’s the way it feels kissing someone who isn’t of the same sex,” the cast member replied. “It doesn’t burn. It isn’t poisonous. Love is Love!”
While the question can derive from a sincere place of curiosity, it also can dredge up what’s known as the “ick factor.” It’s the revulsion some heterosexuals feel toward the way we LGBTQ people engage in social and sexual intimacy. Altering the hearts and minds of these folks might take a while, if not a lifetime.
Exposure, however, to LGBTQ love can make a difference for younger generations. And, this year’s Social Justice Award for Documentary Film nominee “The Year We Thought About Love” is doing just that.
In its first act, Brodsky’s heartwarming ethnographic-style documentary shocks, awes and entertains its school-age audience with a surprising interracial kiss between two teenage males.
Brodsky adroitly brought to the fore what is on every teen’s mind. You can’t help but applaud how she tackles two taboo subjects at once—same-gender and interracial love.
While “The Year We Thought About Love” is age appropriate for a youth audience, it is nonetheless a no-holds-barred behind the scene depiction of the heartbreaks and triumphs of the incredibly strong spirited and courageous lives of Boston’s LGBTQ group, True Colors: OUT Youth Theater.
The film highlights the unique and universal struggles these LGBTQ teens confront. Their lives are anything but easy.
Their personal narratives take you from belly-aching laugher to a deluge of tears. “There can be so much laughter right next to so much pain…not so much surprised,” Brodsky explains.
While the theater functions as a safe haven for the troupe, however, for too many of them, their homes do not. The perception that African American families and communities do not throw away their children because of the old African adage that “it takes a village to raise a child” is false—when it comes to our LGBTQ youth.
The film tells the story of Dellandre, who transitions to Alyssa. She, like so many transgender youth—especially those of African descent—is thrown out of her home. Chi, an African American gay male and a devout Baptist wrestles not only with his homophobic church but also his mother. (The Hallelujah moment is when Chi states he knows “God loves this black gay man”). Ayden, who is gender fluid and fears donning male attire at school, but at the expectation of her mother models dresses on the fashion runway on weekends.
The theater youth troupe, True Colors, has been in since existence 1994, and is the oldest out and allied youth theater in the world. The theater is the creative genius of Abe Rybeck, renowned Executive Artistic Director of The Theater of the Offensive, and brother-in-law of Brodsky.
The troupe had the unique opportunity to write and perform plays year-round based on their personal narratives. Brodsky, with film crew in tow, had a rich reservoir to draw from as sixteen LGBTQ teens shared and acted out on stage their love stories.
“Our camera crew slips into rehearsal rooms, kitchens, classrooms, and subways capturing the wit, candor, and attitude of these young people. Together they explore love—romantic, familial, and religious—as they write scripts based on their lives,” Brodsky states.
True Colors has served as a community sounding board for and home base in forming and nurturing Greater Boston’s diverse LGBTQ youth artistic talent pool. The troupe receives theater training, leadership development, and performance opportunities across greater Boston and beyond. And with the training the troupe challenges heterosexist cultural and familial norms by creating educational and social opportunities for cross-cultural dialogue within their communities by touring schools, churches, youth groups and social agencies.
“I got involved with the film ‘The Year We Thought About Love’ because it would give viewers across the country a chance to see the experience and perspective of the inner city SGL/LGBTQ youth. People never really get the chance to talk to youth about their experiences as identifying as someone who doesn’t conform to the social norm, instead they make assumptions and generalizations. This film is important because it will start a much needed dialogue with families, communities, especially communities of color,” Giftson “Giffy” Joseph, SGL (Same Gender Loving) Haitian American told me.
Brodsky’s documentary is being received with thunderous applause across the country.
“Young audience love seeing their reality on the screen, a reality not often portrayed in media…Older LGBTQ people often wish they had something like this theater troupe when they were young,” Brodsky states.
The film is being shown at film festivals in Montana, California, and Boston. It is a must see. It does more than break social taboos, affirm LGBTQ sexuality and depict adolescent angst, it is this generation’s love story.