Bay Area Popdose readers! Enter to win a chance to see The Right to Love: An American Family at the red carpet premiere on February 6th at the Castro Theatre in San Francisco. Details at the end of this post.
Cassie Jaye is a young filmmaker whose work has included the award-winning documentaries Daddy I Do and Faces Overlooked. She started in the film industry at the age of 16 and has worked as an actress in film and TV and had appeared in The O.C., Alias, Entourage, and much more. In 2008, Jaye wanted to explore the topic of marriage in the United State when voters in California passed Proposition 8 that amended the state constitution to eliminate the right of same-sex couples to marry. Being single, straight, and raised as an evangelical Christian, Jaye became fascinated with the issue and set her sights on making a film that would enlighten many folks in the straight community whose views of gays are often framed by cultural stereotypes, religious dogma, and fear of difference.
I had a chance to interview Cassie about the film, the family she chose to focus upon, the upcoming premiere at the Castro Theatre, and how Popdose readers in the Bay Area can win ticket to see The Right to Love: An American Family on February 6th.
Ted: Thanks for taking time to talk about your film The Right to Love: An American Family.
Cassie: Absolutely. Thanks for your interest in the film.
Ted: The subjects of your film are Jay and Bryan Leffew —a gay couple with two kids living in the Bay Area. So what drew you to their story?
Cassie: Well, at the time, I was making my first documentary Daddy I Do. We started thinking about our second film, because we enjoy filmmaking so much. When I say ”we” I’m talking about my family. Because we are a family production company — which consists of me, my mom, my sister, my step dad and my uncle. During post-production work for Daddy I Do, we came up with the idea to make our next documentary about marriage, which was a natural extension of our first film [that centered on] sex education and the debate between abstinence only programs and comprehensive sex education which says you can wait until marriage if you want, but if you don’t, here’s how to protect yourself. And when we starting working on the next film on marriage, Proposition 8 happened, and it was impossible not to look at the issue of same-sex marriage — and that really fascinated us.
I think for The Right To Love, no one involved on the production end of the film was gay or lesbian. So, we’re all straight and my whole family never had any first hand experience knowing anyone who was a gay. So we came to the movie as a kind of blank canvass — because we didn’t know a lot about the issues. And we wanted to take on this topic from this perspective of being straight all of our lives — and having a background of being evangelical Christian. We all grew up very strict, Bible-believing Christians and were taught that homosexuality was wrong. And with The Right to Love … well, we are all for the right of same-sex marriage, but we (my family) all come from that point of view of knowing the opposing views of same-sex marriage. We used a lot of footage in the film that really affected us, and made us believe that equality for all is what’s right.
Ted: How did you connect with Jay and Bryan?
Cassie: It was originally my sister, Christina Clack, who was researching marriage and same-sex marriage, and she found the Leffew’s You Tube channel called Gay Family Values. And at this point, they only had two or three videos on their You Tube channel as a kind of indirect protest in response to Proposition 8 passing. They wanted to show the humanity of their family, and how they are like any other family… very loving, normal, and nothing to fear. And the You Tube channel really took off. There was a lot of support from the LGBT community for showing a loving, committed family. There were a lot of opposing comments (about their videos) that said their life was wrong and they were an abomination. We contacted them right away, and asked if we could interview them for our film. Jay and Bryan were a little hesitant at first because Jaye Bird productions didn’t have anything on the map like a resume of films that they could search for.
Ted: They must have thought ”Oh great. It’s a student film maker who wants to talk to us.”
Cassie: Exactly. They didn’t think much of us at first. So we went to meet with them in Santa Rosa, and when we left the meeting, we gave them a copy of our film, Daddy I Do, and that was when their attitude to us changed because they saw our filmmaking style — which is very much fly on the wall. We don’t tell the audience what to think. We just show the story and the people and let the audience make their own opinions. We’re not like a Michael Moore type of filmmaker…
Ted: Right… advocacy documentaries.
When the movie trailer premiered, there was some hubbub over a scene where the entire family was shown praying at the kitchen table. Can you elaborate on what got people’s dander up about this?
Cassie: Yeah, that was such an odd thing to arise. I think it happened last October or November. We included the shot of the family sitting at the table for breakfast — where they hold hands and pray — on the trailer. As the one who edited the trailer, I never thought that scene would have been as controversial as it became. What happened was that we actually filmed that shot at the table on the very last day, and they (the Leffews) didn’t know that we were rolling sound on that. They just thought we were getting B roll — which is the imagery of the family getting ready to go to school. And looking through that footage, I thought the prayer was…from my background growing up in a evangelical household, you always thought that the LGBT community was anti-religion…anti-Christ, you know, something like that. But there was so much love and humility in their prayer and…I just love that scene so much that I thought putting it in the trailer would be a nice way to open the trailer as a kind of non-threatening thing. Ironically enough, that was the most threatening thing to some people who watched it.
Ted: The controversy kind of came from an unusual source. These were some LGBT folks who were not thrilled by the depiction of this family as having religious views, and incorporating it in their family ritual before eating a meal. Like I said, it seemed like an odd source of criticism to me. You know, when gays and lesbians are put in the spotlight in front of a mainstream audience, there’s a kind of expected criticism from the more culturally conservative parts of the country. But this came from individuals who would most likely self-identify as progressives — which surprised me.
Cassie: I agree. I think some people in the LGBT community were kind of damning them (the Leffews) for still being part of the church that attacks their community. So, why would you want to be part of a religion that doesn’t support the LGBT community? That’s a pretty bold statement to make from a 30 second clip in the trailer. They don’t know where the Leffew’s prayer comes from, or what kind of spirituality they subscribe to. So, like I said, it was a pretty bold statement from part of LGBT community to say that they don’t support the Leffews because they are religious.
Ted: Do you explore Jay and Bryan’s religious views in the film?
Cassie: We do, but not in a big way. We do mention that one of the dads (Bryan) did grow up very religious and is still Christian. And with Jay — the other husband — we don’t really explore it in the film, but he is more open to spirituality, but he doesn’t consider himself a member of any one religion, nor does he pray to any one god. With the prayer at the table, it’s really just more of a tradition of uniting the family together — which is kind of sweet. There aren’t many families that have breakfast together or say grace before their meals. I think that’s one thing about the Leffew family …they are a kind of bridge between [parts of] the straight community — who are very traditional, and wanting to protect the tradition of marriage. The Leffews are very traditional. They are very much about family and being together for dinner and doing everything together. And that’s hard to find in a lot of families today.
Ted: What would you say you’ve learned in process of making this film?
Cassie: Before I started The Right to Love, I supported marriage equality in the voting booth, but I wasn’t vocal about it to my family or strangers. And now after making the film, I realize the importance of speaking out –and especially for the straight community to stand with the LGBT community to say ”we support you.” They (the LGBT community) are not going to get equal rights til the majority stands with the minority. I think that’s been the biggest change through this process…you know, the importance of speaking up and standing up for marriage equality.
Ted: The question of the constitutionality of Prop 8 is now in the federal courts. As the constitutional question of marriage equality goes through the justice system and will ultimately reach a conclusion, do you think you’ll need make a ”part 2″ to your film?
Cassie: I would love to make a part 2. I’d really like to show the kids because I think a lot people raise questions about how kids will be raised with two dads or moms. That would be a great part 2 to the film…show how Daniel and Selena (the Leffew’s kids) grow up. And hopefully at that point, there will be equal rights for everyone and they are one of the families that helped make that happen.
Ted: I had a chance to look at a number of videos that Jay and Bryan posted on their You Tube channel, and they are pretty compelling. The Leffews decided that they were going to show the world how normal and loving a gay couple with kids could be. But I gotta tell you, the Alice in Wonderland birthday party they threw for their daughter was way more than any birthday party I’ve either thrown for my daughter or have been to. If anything, these guys are making poor, schlub parents like me look bad!
Cassie: (Laughs) Jay and Bryan go above and beyond expectations on how to raise kids. Their kids are their world…and I don’t know how much you know about Daniel and Selena, but Daniel was deemed unadoptable by the adoption agency. The reason why is that he as a medical condition called Goldenhar syndrome — which causes half of the body to develop at a slower rate than the other half. I believe he was in foster homes for the first six years of his life. And no straight family wanted to take on the responsibility for his medical care. When Selena was born — who is his (Daniel’s) biological sibling — she was placed with him in foster care. They tried to keep them together for two years. But once the two-year mark was reached, and the kids weren’t adopted, they split up the children to better their chances of getting adopted. So Selena had parents on the waiting list wanting to adopt her when she was separated from Daniel. And the adoption agency actually called Jay and Bryan (who had filed adoption forms with the agency) and told them that they had two siblings who were about to be broken up, and would they be willing to adopt them both so they could stay together. And that’s how their family came together…
Ted: That’s a great story!
Cassie: Yeah, it’s really heart-warming. And that’s the one thing that really touched me was the need for great adoptive parents. And another thing is that when I was growing up evangelical one of the big arguments against gay adopting children was that kids need a mother and a father. And I learned through the making of The Right to Love that a great number of single parents can adopt kids, and I’ve never heard the argument that single parents shouldn’t be able to adopt. And to have two dads — and one is a stay at home dad — who are loving and adore their family… why shouldn’t they have the same rights as straight couples?
Ted: Absolutely. I was reading Jay and Bryan’s blog, and there’s a great graphic of what makes a family, and there were stick images of a man and woman holding a hand of a child, and two women holding the hand of a child, two men doing the same, and individual adults of various genders holding the hand of a child. And then there’s just a child alone with the caption ”Batman” over him.
Ted: And in that graphic it just sums up that what makes a family is support from someone who loves you. And if a child doesn’t have that support, they may end up like The Dark Knight.
So let’s talk about the premiere that’s going to be at the Castro Theatre in San Francisco…You have a whole day’s worth of events planned, so tell us the details.
Cassie: Well, we’re going to premiere the film on Monday February 6th and we have three screenings. We have a box lunch mixer starting at 11:30am — with the screening at noon.
And then we have a 4pm screening aimed at high school students — who can get in free with their student ID. Then we have our big red carpet premier at 7:30pm — with the red carpet opening at 6:30pm. After the film, we’ll do a short Q&A, and then we go to the after party with live music with some of the musicians whose music is featured in the film. Oh, and we’ll have hors d’oeuvres and swag bags as well. And one of honored guests is Zach Wahls (who was raised by two women and whose family opposed House Joint Resolution 6 in Iowa House of Representatives that would end civil unions in Iowa). Zach became an Internet phenomenon when the video of him speaking in front of the Iowa House of Representatives went viral. The video is about Zach speaking about his lesbian moms and how the sexual orientation of his parents has had zero effect on the content of his character — which was the final quote in his really compelling speech. So he’ll be flying out from Iowa for the premiere.
Ted: And we’re giving Popdose readers in the Bay Area a chance to go to the premier on Monday February 6th at 7:30pm. All they have to do is email me at Ted @ Popdose dot com. I’ll pick two winners in a random drawing, and notify them by email they have won the prize pack. What will the winners get?
Cassie: The winners will receive two tickets to the 7:30pm red carpet screening at the Castro Theatre, and they will also receive a copy of the soundtrack to The Right to Love: An American Family. The winners just have to go to will call at the theatre to get their tickets and CD anytime after 6:30pm… and then they can enjoy the film, meet the film makers, and have a good time.
Ted: Cassie, all the best on the film and thanks for taking time to talk to me about your film on Popdose.
Cassie: Thanks so much, Ted.