People thought it was dark, you know what I mean? We were doing all of these things that might seem extreme at the time, but it all really supported the characterization. Letting Alike in particular be painted by his surroundings was a big creative choice, and it was risky.
It is probably my most worked film. I was not the same person between the writing of the feature film, the extract of the short film, the shooting of the short film, the workshop of the feature film. It’s like five years of working on this one movie. It was that precious, precious thing.
I was reading old interviews you did on Adepero and how she blew you away during her audition.
When she entered the audition room, she was in character. When you write a character, it’s like you have this imagination, but it’s not complete. You’ll recognize them when you see them – and when Adepero walked in, it was like, Oh, it’s the same. His size, his posture, his body language. That beautiful, magnetic and cute smile. And then she had the introversion of the character down. She just got it.
There is such a conversation now on queer actors playing queer roles– that’s quite a dialogue in itself. Has this ever bothered you?
I was trying to do this! I’ll send you the old casting calls. We were specifically looking to find queer actors. We put flyers in gay nightclubs. We weren’t getting as many hits. Then, the successes we got were not good actors. We throw the net away. We made calls to gay centers. I think we even tried to recruit at Harvey Milk school [a high school in the East Village]. We just haven’t found the right players. Homosexuals entered, but they did not kill him. You know what I mean? I didn’t ask Adepero and Pernell for their direction when they entered, they just killed him.
We tried to put it so much in the world [of the film] as we could … as with other supporting characters and where we were filming. We were specifically talking to gay clubs to shoot and support. Me and Nekisa [Cooper, the producer] were both lesbians. The intentionality is there.
Spike Lee was a producer of the film. Is there anything in particular that you remember receiving notes from him?
I don’t remember the particular scene, but there was a moment when he thought to himself: Why, why, why? With Spike, if something doesn’t ring true, it’s automatic. He’s like a lie detector. If there was a line that was only there to give me another line, he could see it. he would go through [my script] with a Sharpie.