"What Happened to Lola?"
Emily Thomas’ Lola: Girl Got A Gun is partially about gun violence, but not in the way New York City knows it; this is rural East Texas, and when the story’s protagonist, a gangly 9-year-old girl played by Edie Yvonne, kidnaps her violent father’s gun and paints it pink, well, that’s when all hell breaks loose. Lola is colored in violence in more ways than one—most clearly, by the father’s almost demonic presence as the perpetually drunk patriarch, and then, of course, with the near-constant presence of the gun itself. As a metaphor for the transfer of power from those with to those without, Lola serves its viewer well: it both inspires and scares you straight.
“To me, it’s so much about the desperate measures women, as children, young women, and as adults have to take to have their lives back in their hands,” Thomas says. “And whether that means stealing a gun or walking out on your husband and finally ending domestic abuse or going back to school or taking a second job, whatever you have to do to survive as a woman is OK. You should not have to apologize for what the world has made you do. Those decisions we have to make to survive are really extreme and amazing and extraordinary.”
As a native Texan, Thomas is all too familiar with the culture that the conservative south proudly extols, and the pedestal on which the second amendment presides. She’s a sharp critic, raised on a balanced diet of having one parent on each side of the aisle—meaning that her judgement is both informed and, at times, nostalgic.
“It’s not autobiographical, but it is based on my own experiences,” she says. “The story came from, when I was a kid, growing up in Texas and watching cowgirl films. I thought that guns were really cool, and when I was younger I would always think that when I got older I would have a gun and it would be bubblegum pink and I would name it Lola. It was a thing that I would always think about when I was a kid. And I grew up and forgot about it. And then a couple years ago it was like, ‘What happened to Lola?’”
What happened to Lola? For Thomas, she faded away and was replaced by New York City, east coast ideals that left no room for the fantasy of a bubblegum pink firearm. But not for good—Lola the film represents a re-entry of those archived ideas into Thomas’ creative space, and this time, she’s using them to speak to her audience in a more nuanced way, making a depiction of the intersection of womanhood and violence that is much more haunting (and relatable).
“There are so many pieces of Lola I can relate to. It’s important to me as a filmmaker to show the truthful parts of women, even the parts that are gross and terrifying.”
Lola is screening this weekend at the Harlem Film Festival, with a panel on gun violence to follow (cop your tickets here). And Thomas isn’t done yet—Lola is actually part one of what she calls her Texas Trilogy, which will include two other shorts: Untitled Marfa Project and Sweet Georgia. Untitled Marfa Project (set to shoot in July) veers completely away from Lola; on the surface, it’s a road trip film, but once you take a deeper dive, there’s a whole lot going on between the two friends that veers from connection to loneliness to everything in between. Thus, though each film has its own thesis and narrative, the regional through line of The Lone Star State connects the dots. And though Thomas is a feminist, classifying the film as such is a little harder to do—better to simply watch it and see for yourself.
“I think Lola is a feminist film but in other ways I just think it’s the fucking truth. I’m not trying to say women have a gun pointed at them every day, I’m trying to say there is an extraordinary amount of power in taking the power back from people who have held it from us forever.”
Can’t argue with that.
Images courtesy of Danielle Alston
Stay tuned to Milk for more film festival news.