Filmmaker Tina Mabry shares wisdom, latest work at film festival

By Danielle J. Brown, Oakland Local/shades Magazine

Filmmaker Tina Mabry - Photo by Scott Pasfield.

Tina Mabry never set out to become your conventional Hollywood blockbuster director – nor is she trying to be.

Yet, with her nationally acclaimed feature film Mississippi Damned – a true-to-life drama about a black family struggling with poverty, alcoholism, homophobia and racism in the rural south – the filmmaker is making huge strides in bringing independent black queer cinema to the masses.

“The climate for lesbian black directors is a stormy one, but I think the only way to get queer black cinema more available to the public is if the community comes together and pulls our resources,” Mabry said.

The community is expected to come together this Friday to hear the award winning filmmaker share her advice on how to bring your film idea to the silver screen in her free workshop, “How to Direct Your First Feature,” at the Eighth Annual Oakland International Black LGBT Film Festival. Sponsored by Oakland Pride and the Queer Women of Color Media Arts Project, the workshop takes place at 6 p.m. at the Oakland Pride headquarters, 495 Embarcadero West, Jack London Square in Oakland. It will feature advice and tidbits that range from scriptwriting to film distribution.

“I really want to talk about how important it is to know where you want your film to end up,” Mabry said. “I think a lot of times we fail to recognize the business and distribution aspect of filmmaking because how we get people to see our films is the biggest difficulty.”

Debra Wilson, one of the founders and producers of the annual festival, agreed.

“If your passion is making movies, this workshop will give insight on how it all works and important tips on how to get it produced,” she said.

True to her own advice, Mabry stuck to the independent film circuit for her latest film, as it was far from becoming one of Hollywood’s cookie-cutter flicks. With a relatively unknown all-black cast, the filmmaker’s personal and controversial subject matter, and a universal message almost anyone can relate to, Mississippi Damned is meant for an audience seeking empowerment, not cheap thrills. Inclined by her skepticism toward major motion picture studios and their support of black queer films, Mabry and her partner, Mississippi Damned producer and editor Morgan Stiff, distributed the film through their own production company, Morgan’s Mark.

“I think we are redefining the mainstream with this film because it could actually have a lot of appeal if given a chance by the gatekeepers in the studios,” Mabry said. “But I’ve always been the kind of person where you don’t have to invite me to your table. If you don’t want me there, I’ll fill my own damn table and work it that way.”

Mabry and Stiff have certainly been working it: since screening Mississippi Damned in more than 13 film festivals across the country, the feature film has won more than 11 awards, Mabry has been named among the 25 New Faces of Independent Film in Filmmaker Magazine and she is listed as one of the most inspirational and outstanding people of 2009 by Out Magazine.

“I had always wanted to tell a story about my family and what I found out after screening the film was that it was a very universal story and a lot of people connected to the characters,” she said. “It was actually worth me feeling uncomfortable for a second and hesitating whether or not I should claim it as my story.”

Mabry and Stiff already are working on their next project: a crime drama entitled Country Lines, which will feature more small-town controversy.

Mississippi Damned will screen at 7 p.m. tonight, Aug. 12, at the Eighth Annual Oakland International Black LGBT Film Festival. Screenings are taking place at Rialto Cinemas Elmwood, 2966 College Ave. (at Ashby) in Berkeley.

“This festival gives voice to our experiences and a chance to connect with old and new friends,” Wilson said.

To learn more about Mabry’s latest film, visit Visit for a program guide of the Eighth Annual Oakland International Black LGBT Film Festival.

Originally published at


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