Finding Me is not your average “boy meets boy” love story — few films actually are — but the new flick sizzles, thanks in part to its emotional depth. That may be enough to engage audiences who can experience it at film festivals and on DVD this month, but you can’t help but embrace an LGBT movie with a protagonist who happens to be a young life-questioning gay Caribbean who is repeatedly put through the spiritual wringer. “What are you afraid of, Faybien?” “Who is Faybien?” “Love should not be an interruption of your life, Faybien.” Oh, the inner journey this boy goes on — from father-fearing to chucking aside what people might think of him. Advocate.com caught up with the film’s 33-year-old writer-producer-director, Roger S. Omeus Jr., to talk about the indie flick, the challenges it took to bring it to life, and why the world could use a hell of a lot more gay movies with diversity — and color.
You initially wrote Finding Me in book form more than a decade ago, when you were in your early 20s. As far as directing it as a movie, how was that? This is your first film.
Believe it or not, back in high school I used to direct teen dramas. I was so heavily influenced by a lot of things like Degrassi High, which is an ’80s Canadian show. I loved how real it was. It wasn’t Americanized television. I love that kind of realism in stories, where there is not a soundtrack in every scene. Directing this film, for me, was great. What was challenging about it was the lack of funds. Because there were times when I had to hold the camera and direct the actors and that was horrible. Great, because it was a learning experience, but horrible because I wasn’t able to do what I really needed to do at that time, which is direct the actors in key moments. That was the biggest challenge. I was wearing so many hats. We only shot on the weekends. People — friends of mine — were dedicating their time on the weekends to do this film. At times they didn’t know it would ever get released.
Why do you feel a story like this is important to tell?
It’s important because visually, speaking as an African-American, I don’t see enough people of color on television or screen, whether it’s black, Asian, Latino. For me, it felt good telling a story I could relate to. The comments I’ve been getting… a lot of ‘thank yous.’ One guy from Kenya — I don’t know how he even heard about the film before it came out — wrote and asked me how he could get a copy of the film. I just couldn’t believe I reached Africa. But I think people feel connected when they see themselves, especially young kids who, in this day and age, are directionless. I think the film is important because finding yourself is something everybody can relate to — gay, straight, male, female. I was surprised that heterosexual women, actually, said they could relate to the Faybien character. Somebody told me, “I know what it’s like to be lost.”
We see many stories about coming out, but there are fewer stories that depict people of diversity. How do you think that can change?
It’s a good question. I watch television and so does everybody else, and I don’t know why the powers that be feel they shouldn’t represent all the demographics watching television. It gets a little tiring sometimes. Honestly, I watch reruns — Living Single, old shows. I am not impressed by television now. And I can’t stand reality TV because it’s not real.
True. And you know, shows and sitcoms in the ’90s, ’80s, and especially the ’70s tackled issues that you don’t see today on television.
I know. All in the Family — that was groundbreaking in terms of how smart the comedy was and how they were tackling the issues of racism in the ’70s. They were throwing it in your face and not apologizing for it. That’s the kind of thing we need more of now. We’re trying to cover up what’s really in front of us. We need those kinds of stories to be told. And that’s why I wanted to write the story about a Caribbean homosexual [in this film], which I had never seen before on-screen. And I hope [the film] gets to the Caribbean islands. Some [Caribbeans] are really so far back in terms of how they feel about homosexuals. Hate crimes are still going on and it’s legal in some of these countries.
What was growing up like for you?
I am Haitian American. My family is from Haiti. And for me it’s weird. My father passed away when I was 19. I was not out at that point. When I did come out, my older brother … he found out by accident and I was nervous. He was like, “Why didn’t you feel you could tell me. I am your brother, your blood. I feel bad that you thought I was so narrow-minded that you felt I couldn’t accept you for who you are.” So I am one of the lucky ones. I am one of the ones whose immediate family approves of who I am. They don’t hold anything against me or my partner. It’s worked out OK. But I have known others where it hasn’t.
What challenges did you face filming some of the more sensitive scenes and what did you hope to evoke?
In one of the more sensitive scenes there is a big argument between Faybien and his father, and while we were filming it — and again, it was so home-spun how we filmed, because one of my friends was holding the boom — the argument between the father [and Faybien] in the film was so intense that I could see my friend getting emotional. And every time we cut for another take, he would say, “I hate this movie. I am reliving what I was going through.” I didn’t realize it was that intense. But I was trying to touch that core … that the black community seems to have against homosexuality. It’s so unnerving. It’s 2009 and it’s old. I can’t speak of all, but a lot of the black community does not condone homosexuality and it’s frightening. It’s bad. So I wanted to get that emotion from the audience. The other sensitive part was [Faybien’s] love interest, Lonnie. I did not want them to be these “Hey, girl!” finger-snapping, head-turning guys, and all that other stuff. Not that there is anything wrong with it, but I wanted to show experiences I had. The only difference [from other love stories] is that it is two men. We still love each other. We hold each other. I will never forget after the lovemaking scene, they are in the spooning position, and a woman came up to me after a festival screening and she said, “I didn’t know gay men did that, just held each other in bed.”
What do you love most about writing and directing.
For writing, it’s that the reader can take what you have written and create it in their mind quickly. Whatever I intended it to be may not be how they interpret it at all. It’s their world, their fantasy. Directing, I love bringing what’s on the paper into a motion picture — these pictures are moving.
What’s up next for you?
The sequel, Finding Me: Truth. We just wrapped our first month. We’re taking a break and picking up again in July. We’re shooting on the weekends. It’s still low-budget. Out of my pocket. I’m hoping that something changes soon.
So, what’s some of the best advice you’ve been given about life?
My dad said this to me, maybe a few months before he died…he said, “You have to make yourself happy first. If you are not happy, there is no way you can help or make anybody else happy. So you must be happy first, then tend to others.” I think, in so many ways, making films is what I love and it’s what makes me, not just happy — because that’s a fleeting feeling — but it gives me peace of mind. I’ve finally got to where I’ve wanted to go.
da The Advocate