Filmmaker with Oregon roots celebrates diversity trend
As an aspiring filmmaker with Oregon roots, Em Weinstein appreciates the trends in filmmaking and the movie industry, accentuated recently with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences emphasizing diversity for Best Picture nominees in the Academy Awards.
The academy has long been criticized for its lack of inclusivity, and the movie industry, in general, has made strides in recent years.
Weinstein lives on the AFAB (assigned female at birth) trans-masculine spectrum. They go by descriptions of nonbinary and/or trans. So the diversity movement in the movie industry appeals to them.
"We have to see it in effect," said Weinstein, whose recent work earned a prestigious award. "I think inclusivity is the most important thing, especially if we tell stories about underrepresented people. And, we have to make sure people behind the cameras look like people onscreen, too. I'm hopeful about the way Hollywood is going.
"Folks now are starting to realize that there is no such thing as 'niche,' it's just a whole bunch of good stories to tell."
Weinstein made the film "In France Michelle is a Man's Name" in Oregon — in The Dalles, where they spent time as a youth, the Tygh Valley, Dufur and Goldendale, Washington, as well as historic Mary's Club in Portland in September 2019.
The 12-minute film follows Michael, a young Latino trans man who returns home to the rural American West after years of estrangement from his parents. It explores trans identity, masculinity and the price of acceptance.
The movie stars Weinstein's good friend, Ari Damasco, who also identifies as AFAB. "It draws on our backgrounds, but the film itself is not an autobiography. It's fiction," Weinstein added.
And, it's not just any short film. It's a potential Academy Award nominee. It's on the long list for the category of Best Live Action Short Film, by virtue of the narrative short film being awarded the grand jury prize at the recent Outfest Los Angeles LGBTQ Film Festival.
"It was very unexpected, such a big honor," said Weinstein, 29 and a Yale School of Drama graduate. "We weren't even sure where it was going to premiere, and the first festival it played it won an award." Weinstein also had premiered their first film, "Candace," at Outfest.
The film will be entered in at least three other movie festivals, Weinstein said.
With divorced parents, Weinstein spent time with their mother in New York and Los Angeles and also their father in The Dalles. It was rewarding making "In France Michelle is a Man's Name" where they grew up.
"I explored Oregon as a kid, and fell in love with Eastern Oregon," they said. "So beautiful, not the landscape people think of when they think of Oregon. I've always wanted to put it on film."
Filming also took place at Mary's Club in a scene where Michael's father takes them to a strip club to try to bolster masculinity in the youth and emphasize "what a father-son relationship is," Weinstein said.
"Mary's is iconic, an incredible place because of its history, and it's been female-run for a long time. I really love the folks who work there, and got to know them," Weinstein said.
The film takes on the theme of acceptance. "(Michael) is coming to visit the family after a long time away, and it's a lot more complicated than coming home, it's about coming out and being accepted or rejected by family," they said. "A father is trying hard to accept his son as a man, but in a way inadvertently hurting the relationship because he passes down an antiquated idea of what masculinity is."
Could it be a breakthrough for Weinstein to make inroads in an increasingly inclusive movie industry? Perhaps, especially with a desire for more inclusive films.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will require Best Picture nominees for Academy Awards to meet diversity targets in casting and minorities or women leading projects, starting in 2024. The academy has faced criticism for years for its lack of diversity in nominees. It's a start, Weinstein said.
"People are hungry for these stories, even if they don't quite know it yet," they said.
For more about the film, see www.infrancefilm.com.
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