By Liz Massey, May 2018 Issue.
Matty Steinkamp and Pita Juarez attended the 2017 Phoenix Pride parade to film what they thought was going to be a peaceful protest – not to get their hearts broken.
The duo was gathering footage for a forthcoming documentary, and had previously interviewed Karyna R. Jaramillo, a leader of the Trans Queer Pueblo group that was planning to interrupt the parade on April 2 to call attention to police mistreatment of undocumented trans immigrants in detention. Steinkamp’s footage of the event shows the group stepping off the curb to intersect the parade … and then all hell breaks loose.
“All of our camera batteries died at once. It was chaos,” he said. “We started filming again, but at some point Pita and I and my girlfriend ended up trying to protect the protesters.”
Juarez, who identifies as a queer woman, said, “I was really disheartened about the things that were said and done there … People were wearing t-shirts that said ‘Love is Love’ and spitting on black trans women.”
Despite the conflict and the difficult emotions that followed it, both of the filmmakers said they were glad they captured the incident. It illustrated perfectly the theme of their film, You Racist, Sexist Bigot. – which showcases more than two dozen Valley residents discussing how discrimination and oppression impact them personally.
“We were thrilled we got the footage,” Juarez said. “It was real, and shows what actions can lead to violence, which needs to be highlighted in the world now.”
Expanding the Conversation about Discrimination
The TQP protest at the parade forms a dramatic climax for You Racist, Sexist Bigot., but its creators assert that all the experiences recounted in the documentary (which runs just over an hour) aren’t intended to change the audience’s mind about people different from themselves. Rather, the goal of the documentary is to spark conversations between and among people holding various cultural, racial, ethnic, sexual, gender and religious identities.
The idea to create such a film emerged in the midst of the roiling 2016 election season. Steinkamp is white, straight and cisgender, but has members of his family who are LGBTQ and some who are of various races, so he was troubled and frustrated by the climate that was being fomented by the presidential campaign. Juarez, who worked for many years for English- and Spanish-language media outlets in Phoenix and more recently worked as director of communications at One Arizona, said she was frustrated by the limitations that stories about immigration and other complex diversity issues faced.
“In mainstream media, you have about 10 seconds to gather a sound clip to explain a complex issue like immigration,” she said. “This movie is a showcase to tell the stories of underrepresented people, stories that have not been told properly before.”
The documentary contains spoken-word contributions from 25 individuals and provides brief video-only portraits of 25 more.
“Our goal was to capture as many identities as possible,” Steinkamp said, and many of the persons who appear in the film represent a number of different communities. Juarez directed the interviews on set while Steinkamp filmed them, but the subjects of the film drove much of the content. They were asked how oppression has impacted them, as well as what sorts of conversations needed to happen for discriminatory behavior to cease.
Compared with the first documentary she produced (Salud Sin Papeles) in 2015, Juarez said that determining a narrative structure for You Racist, Sexist Bigot. happened spontaneously. One of the participants in the segment of the film devoted to chronicling racism was poet Rashaad Thomas, who shared his verses in lieu of a standard statement about his experiences. This caused the filmmakers to use performed poems to frame each segment of the movie.
“We’d be filming and we’d say to each other ‘there’s a pattern,’ and we’d realize we needed to speak to another person about racism or whatever the topic was,” Juarez said. “People have different ways of expressing themselves and we didn’t want to tell them ‘do it our way.’”
Including the Most Marginalized Voices
Originally, Steinkamp and Juarez conceived the idea for the documentary as a short film. However, after their initial conversation with Jaramillo, they realized they would need a longer film to fully tell the stories of their subjects and the intersecting identities they represent.
“Once you meet Karyna, you realize she experiences racism, sexism and bigotry every day,” Steinkamp said. “There are no stats for what she’s experienced [as an undocumented trans woman]. No one is covering this story; we felt it was our job to help her tell her story.”
Jaramillo said she was left with “mixed feelings” after tackling such tough topics in the film.
“I see the realities that we continue to live in society, [and] that after so many years of struggle we face the same discrimination,” she said. “But I also see the power that we have as a community – as migrant trans women and men and all the LGBTQ+ migrant community.”
Numerous LGBTQ individuals are heard from during the film. Juarez said that she used her connections in the LGBTQ community to find some of the female subjects, and oftentimes one subject would suggest several more people to talk to.
Marisa Hall Valdez, one half of a lesbian couple portrayed in the film, said being a part of the film had been a chance to share the reality of the discrimination that she and her wife face.
“There are so many people in today’s society that just don’t know what discrimination is,” she noted. “Or just think discrimination doesn’t exist. We are very real people with very real experiences. It’s time for these experiences to be shared and told.”
Her wife, Luisa, added, “I’m a third-generation Phoenician. My family is no stranger to racism, sexism, and bigotry in our state. Especially being queer women of color, we felt it was as imperative as it was a privilege to share our journey together.”
Critical Timing Vs. Critical Reviews
In order for the documentary to reach as many people as possible, the filmmakers have crafted a multi-stage strategy in order to gain maximum exposure for the documentary and its message. The rest of 2018 will be dedicated to screening You Racist, Sexist Bigot. at film festivals around the country, which debuted at the Phoenix Film Festival April 9, and went on to screen at the Atlanta Independent Film Festival April 14. Festival buzz is important in giving the film credibility in other markets, they said.
Later in the year, Steinkamp and Juarez will switch gears and focus on a series of theatrical releases in cities nationwide. Concurrent with the theater tour will be screenings at college campuses, which they see as critical to the success and impact of the film.
“The message of the film needs to be heard in younger communities,” Steinkamp said. “I think it will be embraced by colleges.”
Juarez noted that the movie was already receiving strong billing at festivals, but garnering critical praise was not the point of making it.
“Festivals are great, but we have to remember why we made the film – for our own people,” she said. “That’s more important to us than the opinions of four judges sitting in a room somewhere.”
According to Steinkamp, all of the speaking participants viewed the movie before it was finalized, and that the subjects of the documentary were foremost in his and Juarez’s minds as they shaped the material they had gathered.
“The number one thing is that we hope that people feel their voice has been heard,” he said. “It is our hope that for every character in the film, people will find someone and be able to relate to them.”
“It’s a good moment for this film,” Juarez said. “People need to be having conversations about these things … As a journalist, I love statistics, but stats leave holes, and these people in the film fill in those holes.”
For more information on the film, visit youracistsexistbigot.com. A trailer of the documentary can be viewed at vimeo.com/227684798.