Unveiling the Lives of Queer Youth in the Deep South
Despite the leaps and bounds of progress that have been made for the LGBT community in America over the past year, we often forget that it’s still incredibly dangerous for so many of us. It’s particularly rough in a place like the South, a sizable portion of the US that has bred a culture of open hostility towards the queer community. Treatment toward these citizens is extreme, volatile, and dangerous on a daily basis.
But in spite of this adversity, a new frontier of queer culture has been fostered in the region. This new Southern lifestyle has been intimately documented in New Deep South, a web series that made its debut last week with its first episode, ‘Instababy.’ The series is one of many projects from The Front, a new Internet collective that shines light on women’s and LGBT issues everywhere. We spoke with The Front’s director, Thalia Mavros, about bringing this startling new series to life.
What factors went into the creation of New Deep South? What inspired you to tell these stories?
We are obsessed with cultural journalism, and our approach is identifying points of tension and telling compelling stories that humanize the issues and expose the underlying forces at play. New Deep South is one of our favorite series, because we believe in the importance of exploring what it means to be young and queer in the 21st century in a place known for its conservatism, its traditional values, and its socioeconomic problems.
The US is in a state of crucial flux regarding sexuality and gender, and conservative places like the Deep South are where this change is happening at the swiftest pace and with the most friction. These young people are improvising a new present and a new future there that embraces their past instead of negating it.
What was it like working with your interview subjects? How did you initially connect with them?
Co-creator Lauren Cioffi lived in Jackson, Mississippi, where the first episodes of New Deep South are filmed, so she had access to great resources in the area. From there, it’s all just good sleuthing and connecting with the right people. We purposefully assembled an all-queer production team, so that helped create an intimacy that is almost shocking sometimes, especially in “Instababy.”
“We believe in the importance of exploring what it means to be young and queer in the 21st century in a place known for its conservatism, its traditional values, and its socioeconomic problems.”
The South, more than many other regions, carries a lot of connotations about its culture. Would you say this project confirmed or disproved any ideas you had of the South or Southern culture?
Having lived in the South when I first moved to the US, I already knew firsthand that the American South is a place of deep history, massive contradictions, and vibrant culture. The co-creators of the series, Cioffi and Rosie Haber, were familiar too: Cioffi also lived in the South for several years and Rosie has lived in places in South America with a similar pace. Apparently, the only shock was how many women carried guns in their purses on an everyday basis.
Do you think that the South is a more dangerous environment for the queer lifestyle? Would you encourage those experiencing adversity to stay and stick it out, or relocate to more friendly areas?
Everyone should make that decision for themselves. Some people find it dangerous and are compelled to move away, but we also hope this show will help create a balanced viewpoint. Places like Mississippi seem difficult for the LGBTQ community, but queer people can live and do well there, and, often love where they live and the people they live with.
What do you hope the release of ‘New Deep South’ will achieve?
We hope New Deep South is compelling and entertaining, offering important insights into the world of these young folks to people across the globe, no matter how they might identify.
What was one of the most important things you learned during the production of this project?
For me, the learning really came after we released the episode and started contextualizing the series and the individual stories for the audience. The power of good storytelling never ceases to impress me—how these stories help audiences have more nuanced understandings of what it means to be queer in 2015 and how they highlight the issues that still need to be addressed. Approximately 40% of homeless youth identify as LGBT and family rejection is the leading cause of their homelessness. That’s a terrifying statistic and we need to allocate resources to help solve that problem.
Tell us a bit about what informed your decision to create The Front? What does it mean and stand for to you?
The Front was born out of fire, frustration and passion. Frustration that my collaborators and I didn’t see ourselves reflected in current media, frustration with male domination in media ownership, frustration with how the feminine perspective has been relegated to a subsection of larger media companies, and the frustration of hearing myself complain about all of it.
Alternatively, The Front is fueled by the passion for great stories about the complexity of the human condition; passion for the creative force that runs through our lives whether in filmmaking, art, food, science, tech, or business; passion for media with purpose, intention, and a soul; and a passion to create a future in which we’d like to live.
What other kinds of content could we expect from a channel like The Front? What’s an issue that you feel more people should be paying attention to?
The Front also has series called Off Hollywood, created by analog video artist JJ Stratford in her mutant television studio in Burbank, California. Off Hollywood is a documentary series that covers influential and under-recognized filmmakers and gives them a chance to tell their story. Each episode uncovers untold Hollywood history and provides insight into the multifaceted allure of showbiz.
JJ is so committed to her art and craft. It’s amazing. She’s built this 80s television studio out of pieces she has collected over the last 10 years, and most of it came from connections she’s made with old TV engineers, technicians, and the junk yard. She’s definitely a FrontWoman—an inspiration and someone to watch!
We have so much on the way, big dreams and aspirations! I believe people will love the diversity of shows, the powerful stories and our talented FrontWomen—creative individuals from the worlds of film, food, music, art, science & technology, entrepreneurship, and business. We’re recruiting collaborators from around the globe, so we encourage people to contact us. And we’re also raising investment funds, so if there are any media-savvy investors or generous patrons reading this, feel free to reach out!
Imagery courtesy of The Front, be sure to visit their website here.