By Josh Inocéncio
On October 8, filmmaker K. Rocco Shields launched a 20-city national tour to promote her new anti-bullying film Love Is All You Need?, produced by Genius Pictures and based on her popular short film by the same name. In each city, she is providing exclusive screenings before the film’s iTunes release on Thanksgiving Day. For the tour, Shields has partnered with 20 nonprofits so that proceeds from the film will be distributed among LGBT centers. On October 11, coincidentally National Coming Day, Shields and her crew stopped in Houston at The Montrose Center as part of the tour.
“Distribution companies wanted to wait until 2017 to launch the film,” says Shields. “But when Orlando happened, I was very moved and triggered. I knew I had to do something. I needed to launch this movie.”
While Shields has fan bases in many of her tour stops, she was also drawn to cities where anti-LGBT hate crimes had occurred. For example, she knew she needed to visit Houston on this tour because of the incident two years ago where James Cosby murdered his daughter and her lesbian partner. In the shadow of these horrific events, Shields is hoping to change minds through screenings accompanied by talkbacks.
“I had a woman come up to me the day after we screened the film for the first time,” Shields remembers. “‘Are you K. Rocco Shields?’ she asked. ‘My mother saw your film yesterday and called me for the first time in 20 years. Because of your movie, we’re talking again.’”
Similar to her award-winning short film, Love Is All You Need? envisions a world with flipped sexuality dynamics: the majority of the American population is gay or lesbian while a small minority of individuals in the country identify as heterosexual. Shields and her co-writer, David Tillman, engineered this world onscreen so that audiences (particularly heterosexual viewers) could witness and understand what bullying is like for many LGBT people in both schools and religious environments.
With two storylines that collide near the end, the film follows 1) a popular female quarterback at a religious college who ignites a secret love affair with a male sportswriter for the school’s newspaper and 2) a middle-school-aged girl who develops feelings for a male classmate during a production of Romeo and Juliet. Influenced by the events surrounding Matthew Shepard’s tragic death, the film features violent bullying scenarios, culminating in both a religiously motivated hate crime—and an attempted suicide. In the film’s science-fiction world, the characters are bullied simply for being who they are—heterosexuals, or as they are derogatorily called in the film, breeders. Ultimately, the film, which has already won five awards, demonstrates the cost of bullying on individuals and their communities.
At each stop, Shields and members of her team, including Tillman and Rev. Betty Deas Clark of Emanuel AME Church, conduct a screening for an audience and then afterward facilitate a discussion to hear feedback and strategize how to get the word out about this film. Shields is also hoping her cast that features popular Hollywood names, such as Briana Evigan, Jeremy Sisto, and Tyler Blackburn, will push the film to even wider audiences.
In addition to creating dialogues and pushing the film’s message beyond just LGBT audiences, the nonprofits Shields has partnered with—including The Montrose Center—will be the beneficiaries of a $1 million fund once the film reaches one million downloads on iTunes. These funds will assist in education and outreach aligned with the film’s mission of educating mainstream audiences on bullying.
“Let’s start a dialogue,” says Shields. “And together, we can change the world.”