Frustrated with the unbelievably slow progress, if even classifiable as progress at all, on marriage equality in Australia, Laura Nagy took matters into her own hands. Realising that her group of talented pals (Nagy directed, and co-wrote alongside writers Samuel Leighton-Dore & Nirrimi Firebrace) were able to make a powerful statement, they clubbed together and created a beautiful short film: We Will, in all its subtly and overriding emphasis on love, is a powerful message arriving at a time when we’d all but given up hope that the status of marriage equality in Australia would ever change.
We chatted with Laura and ran down the reasons we still need to keep fighting for serious change in Australia:
Catalogue: We Will promotes marriage equality in Australia. What prompted you to make it?
Laura Nagy: Myself and a group of friends – young Sydney creatives who later became the We Will crew – were sitting in a restaurant, complaining for the hundredth time that Abbott had shut down the notion of same-sex marriage, sadly pushing our ramen around our plates. Then we remembered that even though we barely had two dollars to rub together, we were filmmakers – with skills, and connections, and above all, voices. We jotted down a list of our resources, and at the end of it, we had three cameras, two backyards, a whole host of talented friends, and one quirky mate who collects vintage cars. The idea for We Will was born.
C: Where did the idea for this particular film – the central theme, the art direction – come from?
L.N: Personally, I can get really frustrated and downhearted about our current stance on marriage equality, so I felt it was really important that the film had a positive, upbeat feel. 2015 was so disappointing in regards to marriage equality in Australia, and I wanted to send the message that, together, we can do this. I also wanted the film to be accessible, with great shareability…something that would brighten our viewer’s days; something they would be excited to share with loved ones. So, the main motivation behind the central themes and art direction was to create something that brought joy. It was such a fun place to start – we ended up in a world of bright colours and sparklers and native flower crowns and fairy lights and confetti. We felt we were living inside a wedding blog.
C: Tell us a little bit about the team behind We Will:
L.N: I feel so grateful for every single, incredible member of the We Will team – a collection of creatives who all felt as passionate about channelling their experience and talents into a positive project as I did. Everyone worked on the film for free, motivated by their own passion for equality.
I reached out to two different writers whom I felt were particularly adept at articulating the universal experience of falling in love. Nirrimi Firebrace wrote the vows (which you hear in voice-over) for the character of Claire (Bianca Bradey); and Samuel Leighton-Dore wrote for Rachel (Madeleine Withington), in a blind collaboration, without ever sharing their work with each other. I then wrote the action for the film inspired by their words. It was a sweet and interesting experiment, which I think proves just how much love transcends sex or gender. Nirrimi is a heterosexual woman, Samuel is a homosexual man, they are both writing for lesbian characters; but on screen, you can’t tell the difference – love’s the same, no matter who you are.
My key collaborators were cinematographer Emma Paine, stills photographer Samantha Heather, editor Nicholas Lever, and of course our actresses Bianca Bradey and Madeleine Withington. We ran around Sydney for two days with a couple of low-impact cameras, mostly improvising. It was a free and playful experience; we laughed so much. I always prefer working with small, intimate crews, but this set felt particularly profound. I think we all felt excited by creating something that had a purpose.
But our community was also integral – literally everyone I asked for help bent over backwards to facilitate this film. Holler & Haul let us borrow their truck stage; Kelsey Genna sent me bridal and bridesmaid dresses; Bec Sandridge was so happy to let us use her beautiful song Stones and even performed it live on the truck stage in our reception scene. There are so many people who feel passionate about this issue everywhere you look and I was so touched to find that out.
C: How do you think We Will, and pieces of art like it, will help the fight for marriage equality in Australia?
L.N: Our politicians have shown us time and time again that they are incapable of bringing change, so we must take responsibility for it ourselves. Marriage equality will only be achieved through each and every one of us doing something to further the cause. Grassroots films like this and other similar works of art help raise our collective consciousness and keep the issue at the forefront of our thoughts, which is especially important at the times it dwindles as a hot topic in the media.
C: Obviously Tony Abbott and the Liberal government blocked marriage equality recently, but do you think there are other reasons – perhaps bigger, more entrenched reasons – marriage equality hasn’t been passed in Australia yet?
L.N: Inequality is deeply, deeply woven into the founding fabric of this country, and not just in relation to the LGBT community. We’re a white-, hetero-, Christian-, cis-centric nation built on a hideous past of violence and injustice. I think a lot of people are uncomfortable with being confronted by their own privilege, because it forces them to face distressing truths about our history, and the systematic oppression that has festered from it. In general, I think Australians are sensitive about being held accountable for the many widespread injustices still alive and well in this country.
C: What do you think of the way Malcolm Turnbull has handled the issue of marriage equality since becoming Prime Minister, and what do you think of the bill’s chances for passage now?
L.N: Not much has changed – we’re still looking at a plebiscite, which is, in essence, just an incredibly expensive opinion poll. We need to mobilise to convince the government that a plebiscite is an unnecessary distraction. A referendum is obviously preferable, especially considering Australians increasingly support marriage equality in polls; but it also gives equality opponents a platform to spread hate, while still costing the nation a fortune. We need our MP’s to realise that we can’t stall on this issue any longer.
C: How do you think the passage of the marriage equality bill will affect same sex couples in Australia, aside, of course, from the obvious fact that same sex couples will now be able to get married?
L.N: Marriage inequality breeds discrimination. Of course not everyone wants to get married, that’s not the point. The fact that same-sex couples don’t even have the option to sends a pretty strong message to members of the LGBT community that they are not as important as everyone else. It tells same-sex couples that their love is not as significant as that of heterosexual couples. It tells at-risk LGBT youth that they are second-class citizens. It tells the children of same-sex couples that their parent’s relationships are not as legitimate as those of their friends with opposite-sex parents.
C: The U.S. passed marriage equality this year! Now that most O.E.C.D. countries have passed marriage equality, how do you think Australia’s non-passage of marriage equality is affecting the country’s international reputation?
L.N: Interestingly, a lot of the feedback for We Will online has been from viewers in Europe and the US, who just can’t believe a developed country like Australia is still so behind when it comes to equality, and honestly, it’s so embarrassing! The longer this goes on, the more ridiculous we look on the world stage. If other overwhelmingly Christian countries like Ireland and the U.S. can pass marriage equality bills, then so can we.
C: 2015 has been a landmark year for marriage equality (in at least that the U.S. passed it). In your opinion, has this year been a positive year for the rights and representation of same sex people and couples?
L.N: There have been so many amazing wins this year. I won’t forget the day the U.S. achieved marriage equality in a hurry. Of course, every time there’s a vote anywhere in the world, it gives the anti-marriage equality smear campaigns a chance to spread hate, which is incredibly distressing for an already oppressed group. We can’t just relax once marriage equality has been achieved, we need to keep sending the message that LGBT people are equal to everyone else whenever and however we can.
C: 2015 is also a year in which we have extended our understanding of sexuality and gender. How do you think our understanding of sex and gender has changed this year, and what affect do you think this will have on minority communities?
L.N: I can definitely see attitudes changing, but there is still such a long way to go. I hope people are becoming more accepting of everyone’s sexual preferences and gender identities. Trans people especially have more visibility than they ever have before, which is so amazing. I think people need to take some responsibility to educate themselves on sexual orientation and gender diversity so that minority groups don’t need to keep doing all of the work – it’s absolutely not their job to educate everyone else. It’s such an easy thing to do – to approach and accept your fellow human beings with open hearts and minds. Speak up for other people, and take some of the pressure off minority groups, who already have a lot to deal with – without speaking over anyone’s lived experience, of course.
C: On top of marriage equality, what other issues do you think face same sex people and couples in Australia?
L.N: I think it’s important to point out that marriage equality is by no means the final frontier in achieving absolute equality for LGBT people. There is still this profoundly entrenched idea that they are somehow different. This oppression runs as deeply as our casually homophobic vernacular and other non-inclusive language that is so common, it’s become subconscious. Non-tokenistic representation of LGBT people and other minorities in our media and art is paramount to overhauling these negative attitudes.
C: What would you like to see happen in 2016?
L.N: Everyone can do their little bit to ensure marriage equality is achieved in 2016. Australian Marriage Equality, a really amazing organisation that fights so hard for same-sex marriage year-round that I just admire so much, has released a video of their action plan for achieving marriage equality in 2016, which is really worth watching and sharing. Call or write to your MP; volunteer your time; donate to AME if you’re able to. This is history in the making and we all have a part to play; the most important thing is that we keep making so much noise and spreading so much love that we drown out the hate from our opponents. The road ahead can feel long and daunting but I think if we go into the new year with positivity and determination, we can finally achieve equality here.
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