Friday 7 February 2014

Interview with Kerri Cecil

Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honour to interview Kerri Cecil, a young American film director, student at Los Angeles City College in Hollywood, and transgender activist. Kerri was born in Southern California but raised in rural Minnesota in a conservative Christian household. She is known for her debut movie titled "The Journey" (2013). Hello Kerri!
Kerri: Hello Monika! Thank you for inviting me to do this interview. It is an honour to be included on your website with such inspirational transgender women.
Monika: Could you say a few words about yourself?
Kerri: Well I am a transgender filmmaker making films that empower, educate, enlighten as well as entertain. I see the beauty and power in all transfolks and work with incredibly talented transgender people to not only shed light on the darkness many of us suffer in but to bring to the world a sense of who we are and where we are going in life.
Monika: Which film directors or movies are your inspirations?
Kerri: I am a huge fan of Lana Wachowski’s work. Would love to one day make a Transgender Super Hero film using her film techniques. I personally loved Harmony Santana in ‘Gun Hill Road’ and love Laverne Cox in ‘Orange Is The New Black.’
Monika: Your debut movie is titled “The Journey” and is a symbolic story of a long and winding road to womanhood …
Kerri: Yes, I am very proud of that little short film. It has an incredible cast of beautiful and talented transgender women. While it is about her journey into womanhood it is also about love overcoming hate. Many of us transfolks have suffered so much hate and the words of hate that the mother (Vaniity) yells at her young transgender child come from my own mothers mouth.
This film was healing medicine for me. Many of us are thrown out to the streets as Mary (Emily Lucid) was. We end up homeless and prostitution becomes a means of survival , which leads many of us to drug addiction, as it did for me for 20 years.
In a sense the film was a way for me to send a message to my mother and all parents out there that feel as mine does. Don’t let it be in death that you finally realize that unconditional love is the only way. Love your children in this life before its too late.

Monika: Could you elaborate more on the cast of the movie, including Vaniity, a well-known transgender adult actress? How did you convince her to take part in that project?
Kerri: Well Emily Lucid I met in one of my film classes at school. She is both an incredible actress as well as filmmaker. Vaniity (who plays my transphobic mother) I met through an organization called The Emerging Leaders Academy which is a life transformational group. She has been wanting for years to break into more mainstream acting. So she was excited to be in this film as well as another film from another friend and fellow film student friend of mine called “I’m Still Here, I love you” in which I was the Cinematographer.
Shelbe Chang I met on Facebook. After seeing some of her work I reached out to her and she is a very driven actress and model. I can not wait to work with all three again. Unfortunately due to personal reasons Vaniity will not be coming on board for ‘Wifi Killer’.

Monika: In 2013 you started filming “Transformed-Surviving The Darkside of Hollywood”. What is the film about?
Kerri: This film is a look inside the dark world of homelessness, prostitution, drugs, prison, disease and violence many transgender women must survive or die trying. As a survivor of the streets of Hollywood myself I decided to make a documentary film that not only tells our stories of survival but of how we got off those mean streets as well as send a message of how we can prevent our trans-youth from ending up out there in the same situation. Instead of focusing on only one transwoman’s experience I have interviewed as of today 8. We will be releasing a trailer this summer as well as a Kickstarter campaign.
Monika: Your other movie in production is “Wifi Killer”, a thriller which stars many beautiful and talented transgender women…
Kerri: Well we are still in preproduction right now. Yes I have an incredible cast so far including transmen. I actually will be casting for the last starring role soon. I am looking for a African-American transgender woman to star as one of the Detectives.
This film is an intense thriller, a ‘who is the killer?’ kind of movie and just when you think you know who it is well you just might be wrong. This will be my first narrative feature film. I will be launching a Kickstarter campaign at the end of this year.

Monika: What is your general view on transgender stories or characters which have been featured in films, newspapers or books so far?
Kerri: Other then Laverne Cox and Harmony Santana it has been pretty bad in my opinion. Stereotype after stereotype. ‘K-11’ was simply horrible. I was extremely upset with Jared Leto’s portrayal in ‘Dallas Buyers Club’ as well.
I think it is time for mainstream media to start hiring transgenders for transgender roles and eventually roles as cisgender people. Equality in Hollywood! In fact I am putting together a protest during the Academy Awards in Los Angeles because I feel we need to make a stand against Hollywood’s depiction of us and constantly over looking our talent.
Monika: At that time of your transition, did you have any transgender role models that you could follow?
Kerri: I transitioned in (1990) in my teens so at that time we didn’t have many role models, especially in rural Minnesota, and it was all about living in stealth due to all the discrimination and violence that happened back then (and continues) if people found out. When I came to Hollywood in 1992 my role models were the transgender women that took me in and taught me how to survive. All of which are now dead from violence or disease.
Monika: What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Kerri: My mother telling me I am will rot in hell because I am a abomination and physically trying to beat the devil out of me. I eventually was removed from my mothers home by child protection services and grew up in foster homes and homes for runaway kids.
Many of them let me express my fabulousness so by the time I aged out of the system and went to see my mother as the woman I am today it really didn’t go well. So I headed to Hollywood from Minnesota. Once here I got wrapped up in the glamorousness and craziness of Santa Monica Blvd in Hollywood in the early 90’s.
Monika: What do you think about the present situation of transgender women in the American society?
Kerri: I think we are better off then we were 20 years ago but still have a long road ahead. Our young ones are still facing hatred from their families and throwing them to the streets but we are starting to come together as a community as a safety net to catch them and prevent them from being pulled into a life of prostitution. Organizations like Friends Community Center in Hollywood are working with currently homeless transfolk to help get them into transgender friendly shelters.
We also now have wonderful sites on the internet like the Transgender Housing Network that is there to help those that fall through the cracks of the system and face discrimination. We still face employment discrimination but things are starting to look better. 
Then of course there is the violence. Transphobic crimes are on the rise and that BS that happened with Cece was just nuts!! So if I am attacked and become scared for my life I can’t fight for my life? That’s just plain crazy to me!! If she had lost it would have been just another transwoman down to them. I can not talk about the case much but I have a friend here in Los Angeles fighting in court against the four men that attacked her and they have the nerve to claim self-defense after they attacked her. Yeah we still have a winding road ahead of us.
Monika: Could transgenderism be the new frontier for human rights?
Kerri: It is for sure. We are in the middle of a revolution of equality for transgender people the world over and as has happened throughout history when a marginalized people take a stand for equality the hatemongers come out from hiding. We have lost so many of our people to hate but we will not be deterred. We fight a just fight!
Monika: Are you active in politics? Do you participate in any lobbying campaigns? Do you think transgender women can make a difference in politics?
Kerri: I am a believer that if we are not part of the solution we are part of the problem. So I am very active in the fight against discrimination and hatred. We recently stood on the steps of Los Angeles City Hall united with New York City for justice for Islan Nettles who was brutally murdered in Harlem and all victims of transphobic crimes.
We may have been a small group but they heard us chant NOT ONE MORE, STOP KILLING US, JUSTICE FOR ISLAN….. I also will be attending the 2014 Transgender Leadership Summit in April so I can meet with our movers and shakers and contribute to the cause. I love that we have become political and now have trans people on City Councils as well as in Washington. That is so inspiring to me!

Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Kerri: Love is everything to me. Love drives my purpose. Love of our sisters and brothers that I may dedicate my life to the betterment of our people. Love of myself that I never have to go back to the darkness I once lived in. Love Rocks!!
I am in a long term relationship with a wonderful loving man that has helped lift me up and showed me that there is nothing I can not achieve as long as I believe and am willing to do the work. Yeah he is something else!!
Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs, colours or trends?
Kerri: Well I have always longed for the body to wear amazing fashions I am happy today just wearing jeans and a cute top. I’m more focused on the inside today.
Monika: What do you think about transgender beauty pageants?
Kerri: We are all beautiful in our own way. While it can be empowering for the select few that were blessed with supermodel looks. I think on the lines of feminists, that focusing on our outsides as a society can lead to low self-esteem in our young. Scholarships and grants, to me, are a better way of empowering our future generations.
Monika: Many transgender ladies write their memoirs. Have you ever thought about writing such a book yourself?
Kerri: Maybe one day, once I have accomplished more in life.
Monika: What would you recommend to all transgender girls, struggling with gender dysphoria?
Kerri: It gets better so just hold on and be true to yourself no matter what. There will be hard times but there will also be times of such happiness that the hardships seem a distant memory. If there are people in your life that can not deal with it and leave, well that is their loss, love will always win in the end. I love each and every one of you!! Xoxoxo United we stand divided we fall so reach out to each other…love and support each other and we will be triumphant!
Monika: Kerri, thank you for the interview!

All the photos: courtesy of Kerri Cecil.
© 2014 - Monika Kowalska

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