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Filmmaker B. Danielle Watkins discusses her 'Higher Spirit'
by Matt Simonette
2021-12-22

This article shared 1691 times since Wed Dec 22, 2021
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Although lesbian filmmaker/screenwriter/author B. Danielle Watkins has now made two films about Christmas, she admitted she really doesn't like movies that center on the holiday.

"My best friend and business partner, Onyx Keesha, loves them," Watkins explained. "She always comes to me and says, 'We should do a Christmas movie,' and I say no 90% of the time. … But COVID had hit. We were in lockdown and we needed something joyous for the holiday. So I said okay."

That second Christmas film—The Higher Spirit, co-directed by Watkins, Keesha and Gino Payne, and written by Watkins—is available to stream through Dec. 27 via Chicago-based PrideArts.

The Higher Spirit centers on a family headed by a Black lesbian couple, Manther and Ma Pat, as they head into the holiday season just as Ma Pat prepares to announce to their five adopted children that she is transgender—a revelation that Manther still has not yet come to terms with.

"We had already done a Christmas film about friends [2017's We Need a Little Christmas], so I really wanted to show the non-traditional family, because a lot of LGBTQ people don't have a traditional family," Watkins said. "So that was the first thing, to create a family like this, because that is what would have to happen in our family more often than not."

Watkins also strived to show a family that was imperfect while still being engaging and identifiable for the audience.

"No family is the Huxtables," she said, laughing. "I thought, "What can we put on them to make them real? Especially going with Mantha and Ma Pat—because, in our communities, lesbians dealing with transgender [identifying partners] can be a hard thing to cope with."

Watkins wanted "to showcase Mantha's battle without talking about Mantha's battle. She doesn't really talk about it—it's not easy to just say, 'I'm not going to be a lesbian anymore if you do this.' She never says that, so she keeps saying, 'How can you be so selfish?'"

Watkins added, "On the other side, Pat said, 'I don't have to explain to you what I need to do—this is what I need to do, and you can deal with it or not.' Which is a bottom-line for transitioning."

Each of Manther and Ma Pat's five children is encountering personal issues of his/her/their own.

"They're all coming from broken backgrounds—how has that affected their adult lives, especially the 'baby,' who is [living at] home?" Watkins noted.

Watkins and her collaborators produced The Higher Spirit quickly last year. She penned the screenplay in July 2020, and filming took place the following fall. They had a red carpet premiere in December 2020—but the filmmakers re-edited the film after they were able to salvage a damaged hard drive featuring much of one actor's performance.

"Her story wasn't gelling together," Watkins recalled. "We ended up paying a lot of money to get that hard-drive fixed. As a writer that made me feel a lot better."

A native of Buffalo, New York, Watkins now spends much of her time in Las Vegas and Atlanta. She has a new novel in the works, and is also beginning work on a new project featuring straight characters, which she jokingly referred to as "the first straight thing that I've ever done."

But Watkins and her collaborators remain committed to work centering a Black queer experience, which includes also producing a sequel to The Higher Spirit.

"For us, [who] are producing quality in the independent sector, it's very important for us to tell the stories that need to be told," Watkins said. "It's very important for us to continue to show the faces that need to be seen."

For information on streaming The Higher Spirit, see pridearts.org/a-higher-spirit/ .


This article shared 1691 times since Wed Dec 22, 2021
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