This week we unveiled the winner of the 2011 Independent Lens Audience Award, our season finale Two Spirits. The film is the story of Fred Martinez, a Navajo boy who was naadlehi, or male with a feminine spirit. Fred was 16 years old when 18-year-old Shaun Murphy bludgeoned him to death for being different. When we told filmmaker Lydia Nibley that her film won the award, she was thrilled. (Two Spirits is now available on iTunes.)
You won! How do you feel?
I’m thrilled and so is our entire team — scattered around the country, working strange hours, and doing everything they can to support Two Spirits. Thank you all so much!
What does the Audience Award mean to you?
It’s amazing for a filmmaker to see a story that was once hidden and unexplored connect so powerfully with the Independent Lens audience — to see millions of people discussing it online and expanding the national conversation around gender in such brilliant and humane ways. Our film team is grateful that you have embraced Two Spirits and made it yours.
What was your strategy in engaging your audience beyond broadcast?
Credit for the Audience Award can be claimed by those wonderful millions of people who are “the audience.” They took this film into their hearts and shared it widely and they will continue to do so. The 1,495 PBS broadcasts and over 100 Community Cinema screening events in June are just the beginning. Many viewers have written to suggest (and demand even) that we all work harder to make sure the film is seen in the roughly 10 percent of the country where the PBS broadcast didn’t reach. And they want the film taught in more schools, seen by communities of faith, and placed with more nonprofit organizations. We’re responding with a new initiative to make that happen so that this summer isn’t the end, but is the beginning for the usefulness and reach of Two Spirits.
What are you doing to keep the conversation going and keep people aware of the film after it’s aired?
The conversations online have been flat-out amazing. People are truly interested in the complexities of gender — beyond superficial sound bites and divisive rhetoric — they want to really understand more about what it means to be masculine or feminine, or some rich combination of the two as Fred Martinez was. And people do really care about being fair and respectful and honoring others for who they are. We’re in this together — LGBT and Two-Spirit people, and straight allies alike. These are our families, our relationships, our connections to colleagues and friends. I love Navajo Two-Spirit and scholar Wesley Thomas’s statement in Two Spirits, “We’re all human, we’re all the five-fingered people.” I think about that often.
What will the future hold for the community that grew up around Two Spirits?
I think we’ll stay connected through websites and social media and through the natural links between groups of friends. Keep sharing these ideas! The gender map on the Independent Lens website is a great resource to share. And the trailer for Two Spirits works like a PSA. People who just see that couple of minutes of the story learn something that can have an impact.
What was your experience working with Independent Lens and PBS?
Independent Lens Series Producer Lois Vossen and her team were marvelous to work with and we all had a very positive experience. It’s been a collaboration on the air and online that has reached millions of people, and that’s remarkable.
For people who still want to get involved and be a part of the community around Fred’s story, what can they do to stay connected and informed?
What’s next on the filmmaking front for you?
I’m at work on a documentary titled In Her Honor. The film explores what can be done to heal the wounds between men and women as it looks at what balance, equality, and respect really look like. The film is about honor killings, which are the extreme example of unchecked dominance of the masculine and the devalued feminine. This imbalance is found at the root of so many global problems. We’re looking at it to understand how to shift patterns of thinking that have dominated for thousands of years.
But just as Two Spirits was about a hate crime on the surface, but was really about the unconditional love of a mother for her son and the respect many Native tribes have for LGBT Two-Spirit people; In Her Honor will tell the stories of families destroyed by honor killing violence in a way that shows how change and transformation can take place. I know it sounds difficult to make a film about a hateful thing that is really about love, but trust me, this film is emotionally gripping and will open your heart. I promise.