Arts and Culture

Interview with the directors of Political Animals: “Nothing happens in one day!”

Thursday, April 27, 2017

The directors of Political Animals spoke to kaosGL.org: “To create a real social change we need everyone's participation.”

Political Animals is a documentary about four openly gay women’s assembly members’ fight on getting the rights for LBGTQ in USA, from 1994 till the approval of equal marriage in San Francisco, USA.  As a feminist I have to say it is a must see not only for LBGTQ but for all of us who believe in human rights and justice.

We have spoken to Jonah Markowits (director) and Tracy Wares (co-director) about their film, politics and life. 

“The challenge is; you have to keep going…”

Jonah, you met with Carole Migden at a lunch in SanFrancisco and then the story has started to get visible for the award-winner documentary Political Animals. When was that?

Jonah: It was about 2013. We met her through a friend. We went out, had lunch. She told me about her story and very graciously introduced the other three women into her story. And that’s when I contacted Tracy about the project and we started brainstorming on how to make it in reality.

You were friends wit Tracy since 13 in Colorado.  Were you used to working together? Is it why you decided to get together for this project?

Jonah: We’ve always helped each other but we had not worked on a project before, Tracy does more documentary work than I do, so we thought we kind of combine our talents in a way.

“Nothing happens in one day.” That’s how the documentary starts.  Which I guess is your first point in the documentary. And filming a documentary is a long-term goal, isn’t it?

Jonah: For me, one of the challenges is you just have to keep going. We did a lot of fund raising, so we get together and make a cut for 8 minutes tried to raise money, and then we made 30 minute cut to try to raise money but it is very hard to keep coming back I think, one of the wonderful thing was having a friend to collaborate with, you know, being able to, sort of, lean on each other and push each other forward throughout the process. Because it does take a long time, sometimes it has to become your side project.

Tracy: Because documentaries are really hard to get funding for, so we spent a lot of time while fund raising and we had to work on other projects as well so we have not been able to concentrate on documentary hundred percent. We could have done it much faster like in six months or a year. But that’s just the road for documentaries.

“Political is Personal… We all have to participate in democracy to function”

The act of these four women in the film has always been personal; you’ve mentioned it a lot in the documentary. So you are stressing the issue that politics is not something apart or beyond from any individual in the society but it is a personal matter for anyone, everyone.

Tracy: Especially today, people say that ‘oh politics are crap, politics are dirty’. I don’t understand that. You know, we are part of a participatory democracy. That’s what makes our democracy function.  We all have to participate in it.

You would know the phrase from the 60s and the 70s movement: ‘Personal is Political’. These women kind of switched and reversed it and re-write the phrase, as ‘Political is Personal’.

Nowadays there is this discussion about democracy being used as a ‘majority tool.’

Jonah: It’s important in democracy for people to show up and vote and that’s really the lesson we learned as American’s in the past year. Around 14 percent of American’s voted for a crank president whose name I don’t like to use. But he didn’t get 51 percent of our votes.

So we have sort of a strange system here and our engagement for the election was very very low. Over half of the USA that was eligible to vote didn’t show up to do so. So, in a way I feel like we have a democracy, which we like to teach as if it is the best democracy in the world; and that’s obviously not true.

We all hope that we learned a lesson from that but I don’t know if that’s true or if that will continue to be true. It’s a tough road to go up.

Tracy: I also think our constitution guarantees fundamental basic human rights. And it’s essential for democracy to function that everybody’s human rights are heard regardless if they are in a minority group or not. For democracy to function correctly and properly, all human rights need to be protected and everyone needs to have a seat up there in the assembly, even if they are not the majority. Because we intersect in so many different places and we are part of so many various different groups, each and every one of us. It is essential that we guarantee the fundamental human rights for our democracy can function properly.

Jonah: I think it’s a very important point that Tracy just touched on for sure. There is a quote in the film where Carol Migden says ‘Sometimes it’s the responsibility of the legislator to follow the people and sometimes they had to lead”. If we went off of the popular vote for trying to attain marriage equality state by state we never would have gotten there. It did take longer Christians to step in and say ‘hey this isn’t something where we want to vote, this is something where people been discriminated against. Where we as representatives are going to take action now.” So, it’s a bigger question now with this rise in populism in Brexit now and all others. It’s a very interesting point to keep in mind.

Jonah and Tracy

“Do people need to be told what to do and protected from dangers by kind of a patriotic father?”

It was also mentioned in the film that the fight is in between the rigid way of thinking and the individuality. How is it looks like from your point of view?

Jonah: For some reason we are always locked in between 50-50: 50 percent of the people believe in one thing and 50 percent believe in the other. It does feel like the struggle is that we are always fighting in a dogmatic way... I don’t know if that’s just human nature, feeling that they have to pick a side? It becomes particularly disheartening when it relates to people’s rights. Because some people start having ideas about other people’s freedoms and liberties, and that’s what I think it gets dangerous when they hold on to these ideologies. But it does feel like it’s much easier for a group to hold on those ideologies for them and not to see the other side as human beings.

I think that is shown a lot in the film. As the women all said that they were trying to get the men, all the way polarized from them on the other side of the aisle, to vote for them. They were trying to get the people on the center. They were trying to get the people that could possibly understand and just tip the stalls, get that five percent that they needed. But they never felt like that they are going to get the Republicans that were comparing them with animals in horrible ways, so they never really tried.  So even those four women who were obviously are fearless than fearless knew that this was a loosing battle, and they weren’t actually trying for that. But they took a different road.

Tracy: It’s two fundamental opposing worldviews, that’s how we see the world in general. I recently read a book called Don’t Think of an Elephant written by George Lakoff, about American conservatives and liberals.

About the conservatives: they tend to have this worldview that is like; there it’s a dangerous world out there and that you need a strict father to protect you but will also punish you if you do not follow the rules.

And about liberals; they tend to have a point of view of, if we have guidance and nurturing for our children, it will support them to make the right decisions, and that everyone deserves to be taking care of, and the basic fundamental human rights, and health care and so on...

So I see it on; do people believe that the world that people are inherently good and want to do the right thing and need freedom to do that? Or do they need to be told what to do and protected from dangers by kind of a patriotic father? So that’s how I sometimes try to understand where does these conservatives are coming from.

“Using the words ‘kid’ and ‘gay’ in the same sentence is even tense because it always brings up this fiery debating people”

In the film, when Kuehl was elected as an open lesbian her first bill was about the children. If you think as a liberal, than Kuehl’s first bill being about the protection from the discrimination against LGBT kids at schools is very reasonable but became a big issue for the conservatives, why?

Tracy: I think children are very charged topic, even in any movie if you see a child you feel tense. It’s always been very difficult to talk about sexuality.

Jonah: Using the words ‘kid’ and ‘gay’ in the same sentence is even tense because it always brings up this fiery debating people, they just get very scared about ‘protecting children!’ anytime, and anything comes to sex and gender.

I just saw a play called fun home. It is about a group of kids growing up. One of them is gay, and the parent is also gay but closeted. And they did go into the sort of the subject of the girl’s desires. Just like any child has like having puberty, figuring out what they are attracted to. I think we’re starting to see sort of where that can be shown but I think that’s very recent.

But in 90s kids were off the table, no one was writing stories about kids coming into the sexuality as being gay, it was still seen something like they turn or turned into.

So that was the challenge when they had to face while they were offering that bill, even the bill was really just trying to end discrimination, it was a very easy target for the opposition to use children and say ‘you’re trying to turn children gay’ ‘this is not something kids should be even knowing about’.

You know, really in a way trying to raise our community unfairly by doing so. There is no reason that children can’t know gay people or know that they are gay, because that’s the reality. But what happens is, myths and perpetuates take over the reality, especially about gay man.

“…in a mass struggle everybody has to take a part”

To get over these myths: getting together, creating communities and gathering is very important, Goldberg made a good point while mentioning why are the gaps in between people are dangerous for all of us.

Tracy: Yep, I think it’s also about visibility. Again, like, for people coming out in society are very important, that they can understand that you can be successful and be LGBT.

Jonah: As mentioned in the film; it is very important for racism to keep people separated. Because if people don’t know each other you can tell lies to them about each other. Also, not all of the people but a lot of people, if they do not actually know somebody that is in a group that they are legislating about, they are less likely to be sympathetic to them.

So as Tracy said, coming out is important for awareness. Then they know these people, they work with them, our lives are important and even they are actually connected to their own lives.

In the film, Dick Floyd holds up the toy Tele Tubby and says ‘Look, it’s getting much coloring here, we start to know people, who are gay and it’s not a big deal!’   

So, I do think the most important thing about the struggle has been getting individuals to come out. Which is incredibly hard. But in a mass struggle everybody has to take a part. And in the gay struggle the first step was to come out. You have to come out and become a part of the struggle.

You know… If you are African-American you don’t have to come out as an African-American. You need to come out as someone who believes that you are equal. Which was actually a radical act at that time, but you didn’t have to self identified.

Something like being LGBTQ, you have to identify yourself to the world. So many people go through a period thinking ‘why should I have to put that on the swing, can just not put a heterosexuality on the display’ but it is a big personal thing that you have to come through in order to be a part of the movement.

“As gay people we are always struggling on the line between logical family and biological family”

If I were writing a review about the documentary my title would be “How hard it is to be a family?”  And will continue by the question “Why it is so hard to be a family?” It has so many rules to be normal in the society and that normal is a liquid statement, which changes, what do you think? How do you experience it in your own lives?

Jonah: I think there are gay families since the beginning of time. In a lot of native cultures homosexuals were the groups who take care of the children whose parents were sick or the children who lost their parents or abandoned ones.

But, at least our country really didn’t had it until seventies and than it was mostly with women gay families where they were assimilated from the structured families like parents with children. I think as gay people we are always struggling on the line between logical family and biological family.

Very often gay people’s biological family casts them off, push them out or don’t want them to be a part of the family. So they move geographically or they just move away and emotionally they create a logical family around themselves. And only recently we really see a sharp spike in gay couples not only wanting to have coupling as a right but to be able to create a family as well.

So I think we’re bit in the emphasis in the core of the family and a gay family. We always struggle about where we fit in and you know, I don’t know the right answer of it, if we should emulate normal two parents and children family or not. But the family definition needs to be broadened.

I think we really still sort of defining what it means to be a gay family. Gay families can be different from straight families but non-the less that we can make strong families.

I just think we’re just figuring out where that fits in, how it’s accepted and what’s right for the kids and assimilating with the rest of the culture. And I think that’s an ongoing thing.

Tracy: Once people have the right to marry and create families and raise children then they are seen as full-fledged citizens in our democracy. So to continue to discriminate against the LGBT community, you have to make them less then human.

That’s why I feel like there has been so much reasons to tend gay marriages into families because there are lots of acknowledgement in there. About that they are also fully human and also have the same wants and desires of everybody else, to love, to feel support, you know, to support others…

 “To create a real social change we need everyone on board”

In this film we also remember that politics is not only the front rows, there are many people who has similar struggles on different subjects like ethnicity or disabilities or because of more ideological approaches. So for the ones who does not have the chance or interest to be on the front row, there is still a big need on the back seats to vote and to talk and even just to see and understand helps the movements to reach a goal.

Jonah:I think that it is very important, that’s what we are seeing now. Even, with things like the women’s march, the big demonstration after the current president was inaugurated millions of people showed up and a lot of people were surprised that there was men-women, young and old, republican-democrat, gay and straight… You know, to create a real social change we need everyone on board. A marginalized minority group can fight as hard as they want but they need other people to help boost them up to make real social change.

Tracy: Again talking about the cruelty of the majority or that democracy is protecting only the majority… To move things forward we have to create allies. Everyone has their own topics of interest that they will most fear to them but really to move forward and get anything done we have to come together. Otherwise it’s dividing concrete. I think if the progressives get together with all their different groups and all the different intersections, you know identities that are impact, that’s how we make progress; the only way is to make alliances.   

“…You have to remain ever visual and you have to continue to participate in the democracy for it to function”

At the end of the documentary Carol Migden says that once you put your nose in there you get it eventually. Now you have Trump, a big change. Taken rights can be taken back, maybe happens less in USA but it happens. How do you feel about it now?

Tracy: In any country you can loose your rights, if you look at that women’s right to choose having an abortion in USA and that’s constantly debated over. Even with the gaining of marriage equality in the US than we had a backlash of the discriminating of transgender students and transgender people inside of bathrooms.

So I do think that you have to remain ever visual and you have to continue to participate in the democracy for it to function. Otherwise you will loose your rights that people worked so hard to gain.

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