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Film Festival Favorite 'Mississippi Damned' Hits Outfest

Film Festival Favorite 'Mississippi Damned' Hits Outfest

Mississippi Damned, a story of a large African-American family in a world of addiction, poverty and violence will be at Outfest’s centerpiece gala screening. From the lesbian filmmaking duo of writer/director Tina Mabry (Itty Bitty Titty Committee) and Morgan Stiff, the award-winning film follows three black kids from 1986 to 1998 struggling to escape what has plagued their family for generations or be forever damned in Mississippi.

Mississippi Damned — a story of a large African-American family in a world of addiction, poverty and violence — will be at Los Angeles' gay and lesbian film festival Outfest’s centerpiece gala screening on July 14. 

From the lesbian filmmaking duo of writer/director Tina Mabry, 31, (writer, Itty Bitty Titty Committee) and producer/editor Morgan Stiff, 29, the award-winning film follows three black kids from 1986 to 1998 struggling to escape what has plagued their family for generations — or be forever damned in Mississippi.

Mississippi Damned, Mabry's feature-film debut, is based on her own experiences growing up and getting out of Mississippi.

“I left Mississippi for California with hopes that would finally be free of the oppressive forces that limited me for the first 23 years of my life,” she says. ”However, I quickly came to realize that even though I might be thousands of miles away, Mississippi, and more importantly its impact on the person I had become, was as close as it ever was."

A few years ago, Mabry took pen to paper recording her family’s history without shying away from the grim realities of poverty, homophobia and abuse.

“Most people say, ‘Why are you putting your family business in the street?’ For me, it felt like it was time to tell the story,” she says. “In the end, writing this script and working on this film … really allowed me to face my own demons, locate my own voice, and realize that the struggles that we go through not only have the power of make us stronger, but also reveal what can unite us."

Shot in South Carolina in 24 days, the film’s cast of 34 features several generations of African American actors — from new talents to veterans who have played leading roles in such acclaimed films and TV shows as The Color Purple, American Gangster, ER, Grey's Anatomy, The West Wing and 24.

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Watching pieces of her real life acted out caused difficult days on set for Mabry. “It brought back a lot of memories — I shed a couple of tears behind closed doors — but it was healing,” she says. “It was definitely very cathartic for me; I got to address some issues that I think I didn’t want to.”

Mabry even made a few calls home during filming so actors could better understand whom they were playing. “It was really exposing at times, but you have to do that, you have to put yourself out there as a director,” she says. “The film shows that even though this family struggled, they love each other. And my family has been supportive in telling this story.”

Mabry’s family recently had the chance to see her feature. “Over the Christmas holiday I actually showed it to them,” she says. “And I was really nervous for two reasons: One, I just really wanted them to like it from a filmmaker point of view. And even though they knew I wrote the script, it’s another thing having to watch it.

“We shed some tears we had some laughter, and they said, ‘We really like it because it’s truthful — you told the truth,’” she says.

Mississippi Damned has also sparked dialogue about never-discussed topics in other families. “I’ve had a lot of people come up to me after screenings and say, ‘I’m really glad you told this story because this is my story, and I’ve never told anyone about it,’” says Mabry. “The story goes beyond being black or being from the South or being gay, it’s about struggle.”

Mabry has more films in the works. In 2007, she and Stiff founded Morgan's Mark, an independent production company dedicated to making films about those outside the mainstream. “We were really interested in telling the stories of marginalized people,” says Mabry. “We really wanted to give a voice to gays and lesbians people of color —there aren’t not enough films that speak to people who come from marginalized groups.”

The filmmaking duo has been together personally and professionally for six years. “We met when we were in grad school at USC and we quickly became girlfriends, and started working on each other’s projects,” says Mabry. As for sharing a relationship and a company, she says, “A lot of people will be shocked that it can work out well.”

Up next for Morgan's Mark? County Line, a Southern drama penned by Mabry.

Outfest Screening:

U.S. Dramatic Centerpiece - Tuesday, July 14, 8 p.m.

DGA 1 Theatre

For more information, visit www.mississippidamned.com. 

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Jamie Wetherbe