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Don't Feel Guilty for Wanting to Escape Reality

Trump Won't Stop This Gay Immigrant From Making Films
Photo: Jimmy Maldonado

The gay immigrant director of Kiss Me, Kill Me reflects on art in the age of Trump.

Originally from Sweden, I have lived and worked in the U.S. for over two decades. As a longtime green card holder, I was able to apply for U.S. citizenship, and two years ago I decided to do just that -- one of the primary reasons being that I wanted to be part of electing Hillary Clinton as our first female president.

Like so many others, I was shocked at the outcome of the election, and I've been in quite a funk ever since. To be working on the release of my new film, the noir thriller Kiss Me, Kill Me, in the midst of that has been quite challenging. How can I promote and be upbeat about a movie when it suddenly feels like we are all under attack? How do I muster up the energy to go out there and push for my film when all I want is to escape under the covers in my bed?

Since the creation of cinema, movies have been used as a way to escape a harsh reality. This reached its peak during the Great Depression, when a quarter of the population was unemployed and even more just barely made ends meet. Still, each week, 60 million to 70 million Americans went to the movies. Stars like Jean Harlow, Joan Crawford, Mae West, and Shirley Temple helped numb the pain of depression, and movies like The Wizard of Oz,Grand Hotel, or anything starring a tap-dancing 4-year old prodigy offered people fantasy, glitz, glamour, and a way to escape a hardscrabble existence. These movies most often had happy endings that boosted morale, making audiences believe -- even if just for a little while -- that everything will work itself out in the end.

Immediately following the presidential election, some argued that "post-election pain is good" for art -- pointing out with a Trump presidency looming over us, that times of oppression and violence always inspire artists to create some of their very best work. This ability to see the silver lining doesn't exactly put me at ease -- who cares about art when human rights, humanity itself, and even the planet might be at stake? (Though admittedly, I have seen some good art coming out of this election already; I'm thinking of a particular drawing of an elephant branded with the letters GOP shitting out a turd in the spitting image of Donald Trump).

As a filmmaker, I do recognize what a powerful medium we have at our disposal to not only entertain but to actually change hearts and minds. Moving images really do have an unparalleled ability to evoke emotions and be a call to action. There are many great films out there that do just that. Take, for example, last year's Oscar- winner, Spotlight, about TheBoston Globe's pedophile priest investigation, or the powerful new Netflix documentary 13th by Ava Duvernay that is centered on race in the U.S. criminal justice system. Or consider films that deal with LGBT subjects like Philadelphia and Milk, or the documentary For the Bible Tells Me So, to mention a few.

I do not consider my own work as a filmmaker to be particularly political -- although one could argue that the very concept of telling stories about gay characters is politically charged. I do like to think that all my films have something to say (about urban gay life, relationships, friendship, love), but my main goal as a filmmaker has always been to entertain my audiences -- not to beat them over the head with a message.

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Many of the Kiss Me, Kill Me cast members are known for their trailblazing work. Gale Harold spearheaded the groundbreaking series Queer as Folk, which put gay storylines and gay sex in people's living rooms. Van Hansis on As The World Turns gave us the first gay kiss on a daytime soap. Jai Rodriguez was on Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, which showed the country that gays are just like everybody else (only more fabulous). And Shangela was one of the first drag queens on RuPaul's Drag Race. Each of these projects provided much-needed representation for people who have historically faced discrimination, yet their primary purpose was always to entertain.

The purpose of my murder mystery is likewise to entertain. Screenwriter David Michael Barrett and I wanted to tell this outrageous whodunit set in West Hollywood, about a group of mostly gay characters living (OK, and sometimes dying violent deaths!) in a world where being gay is never the issue, because -- before this election -- that is were we all thought we as a country were heading.

Our country is now on a different path, possibly heading toward fascism. I am unsure about what impact this new political climate is going to have on my future filmmaking. As a citizen, it has emboldened me to keep going and not back down no matter what -- even if it means I will find myself back in Sweden with a revoked passport.

As for Kiss Me, Kill Me, it is not a film that makes grand political statements. What it does do is allow audiences to escape for a bit into a world of deceit, suspicion, mayhem, and last-minute plot twists. OK, admittedly, that actually sounds like the election. But I promise, when it comes to my movie, everything will work itself out in the end.

CASPER ANDREAS is the director of Kiss Me, Kill Me, a gay neo-noir that is now available to rent or buy on Amazon.com.

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