One highlight of the 2014 Seattle Asian American Film Festival is an LGBTQ showcase of three films on February 7. This is an especially timely category, following the legalization of same-sex marriage in Washington over a year ago and the recent inauguration of the first openly gay and married mayor in Seattle.
Two short films, Kimchi Fried Dumplings and House for Sale, explore the tensions and intricacies faced by LGBTQ couples. The feature film, R/Evolve, challenges the corporatization and mainstreaming that arose out of the gay marriage movement that took place prior to the passage of Referendum 74.
R/Evolve came as a response to two trends during the campaign period as noticed by Basil Shadid, the film’s producer and script-writer. First was the push by conservative companies to target the gay community in advertising, in pursuit of “pink money,” the term used to describe the purchasing power of the gay community. These companies hopped aboard the wave of success driven by the gay marriage movement to build brand loyalty to their products and bolster advertising.
“I believe that most of these companies cared more about the ‘pink dollar’ than the campaign for marriage equality,” Shadid said.
He said the gay community underwent a process in which the mainstream parts of the LGBTQ community were pushed to the forefront “to make marriage equality more palatable across the state.”
Directed by Billie Rain, R/Evolve is the second feature film created by the Seattle-based duo. Characters Lincoln and Lucas—two mainstream gay men of color who become engaged—are played by Maximilian Davis and Lowell Deo.
Lincoln leads a major account at an advertising firm, where the CEO supports marriage equality in hopes of securing pink money for the large conservative company. Lincoln picks up a free-spirited hitchhiker (Lil’ Snoopy Fujikawa) and is introduced to a world of art and activism that make him rethink the marriage equality campaign.
The following are parts of a conversation I had with Shadid and Davis:
Atia Musazay: What is the title R/Evolve in reference to?
Basil Shadid: If you watch pre-presidential videos of Barack Obama, he publicly opposes marriage equality. Throughout his first campaign for the presidency, and through much of his first term, he talks about how he is “evolving” on the subject. In May 2013, when Obama endorsed marriage equality, he said that he “evolved.”
R/Evolve is a play on the idea of political evolution. Author Tom Robbins says, “Our greatest human adventure is the evolution of consciousness. We are in this life to enlarge the soul, liberate the spirit, and light up the brain.” If we assume that’s true, and that marriage equality is a product of the evolution of consciousness, then why do we have to play publicity games to achieve our goals? Why are marginalized people left out of the campaign advertising? Why do conservative companies want to court the LGBTQ community when it’s in the limelight, but contribute to campaigns and politicians who fight against LGBTQ rights when the spotlight has turned away?
Have we evolved? Or are we like a revolving door, spinning in circles but always ending up in the same place?
Musazay: How would you describe the character Lincoln?
Maximillian Davis: Lincoln’s cool. I’d have a drink with Lincoln, haha. Um, I think at the start of the film he is a character that many of us can relate to. He has a great job, a great partner, and by all looks of it should be very happy with his success.
But what I love about this character that Basil [Shadid] wrote is that Lincoln starts to wonder what happens when you remove “should” from the equation. If you don’t think a situation is right, then open up Pandora’s box and see what happens. Lincoln doesn’t do it in the most responsible manner, but I think his heart is in the right place. His journey through the film is really about finding his true voice and standing up for what he believes in, even at the expense of the comfortable world that he has created. There is a lot of honor in that.
Musazay: I know the film has been screened in many places. What has the reception been like thus far?
Shadid: We’ve had mixed reactions to the film. On one level, people have loved watching R/Evolve. At the end of the day, it’s a comedy. Watching it in the theatre has brought good laughs and discussion. Others have hated the film. We’ve had criticism from marriage equality proponents who have said that our critique of pink money is a distraction, or a small issue that doesn’t deserve attention. We’ve also had criticisms from alternative communities who have said that we aren’t representing these critiques in an articulate-enough manner.
Our mixed reviews show us two things. First, the conversations that this film bring about are important. We’re glad that this project will live on as one marker of the struggle for marriage equality. Second, when you experiment with creating a fiction film in six months, you don’t have time for intense revision and reflection. Would this film have been different had we taken more time with each of the filmmaking stages? Absolutely. Have the mix of reviews, the conversations, and the filmmaking experiment been worth it? Heck yes.
We love watching the film with people. Our goal with all work at Dual Power Productions is to create media that promotes critical thinking, personal development, and social change. We love the Q&As after screenings of R/Evolve. We’re fairly ego-less about this work, and enjoy the audience engagement that comes from watching a film that tackles part of a movement that’s sweeping our world right now.
Musazay: What are some of your thoughts on the messages the film sends about marriage equality and pink money?
Davis: Purely from a creative standpoint, I’m really proud of the hard work that everyone put into this film. From the actors, to the lighting designers, and production assistants.
We worked really long hours and created a story that gets you to think. I feel we also created a fantastic sense of community. There are a lot of faces represented in this film that aren’t typically seen in movies. A lot of queer faces, and bands from the Seattle punk scene, and the fringe art scene were shoved together into this space with a more straight-laced ‘establishment’ community. I love that. It’s important to spice up the soup sometimes, you know? I want to see more films that crack open the mold of what a romantic lead looks like, or what a successful professional looks like. That, for me, is what’s at the heart of this film. I don’t care what your sexuality is or your race, or whatever, but the world is too diverse to have only one vision of what anything looks like.
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