Putting Ourselves Back Together with Award Winning LGBTQ+ Doc PIECES OF US

Gay, straight, trans, bisexual, whatever we define ourselves as – anyone who isn’t a monster can agree that hate crime is unacceptable, reprehensible, and damaging to the lives of individuals and the world we live in. The newly documentary from director Cheryl Allison and producer Mark Von der Heide, Pieces of Us, deals with how hate crime changes lives and how we forge on together to make it through each day.

PIECES OF US is an intimate look at the personal journeys of five very different gay, straight and transgender people whose lives are forever changed by LGBTQ+ hate crime. As their world’s intertwine, the film juxtaposes their inspirational stories of recovery with the powerful connections their public actions have produced, over three generations. Including India’s only openly gay Prince, Manvendra Singh Gohil, and Victoria Cruz, transgender activist and Stonewall Riots survivor, the film culminates at World Pride in New York City, and reveals how embracing our shared humanity can overcome what divides us, when we choose love over hate.

Each subject in the film is a vastly different person, running the gamut of sexual preference, gender, ethnicity, and religion. From a literal prince to an indie rapper, they couldn’t be more different. Yet, as humans, there’s a connective tissue in their experiences and their feelings. As corny as it sounds sometimes, what the world genuinely needs is love… and the subjects in this film are amazing examples of that. A project that seemed to come together naturally, it’s one that is sure to really affect most viewers.

Mark notes:

…the genesis of the film really has a similar theme to what you see on screen, people who came into each other’s lives for a purpose. The film was born out of my friendships with Mykel, Jipsta and Sue Sena and Mykel’s connection with Cheryl and the Prince. Mykel is a performer at heart, and he created a one man stage show called “Pieces of Me” to help him heal from his attack. When I heard about his and Jipsta’s experiences, I was struck by how both of them used the arts and music to heal themselves. Some time went by. In 2018, Mykel reached out to Leia, and when he told me that Victoria Cruz had been his crisis counselor and the Prince would be in New York for World Pride, I said someone should make a film about these interconnecting stories. And then it hit me…that someone was me. Mykel brought up Cheryl, who he had met many years before through their shared stage acting careers, so we reached out to her. She had just finished directing two films, a narrative short “Hiding in Daylight” and a documentary,“Shatter the Silence”, both powerful films about important social issues. Watching them, I immediately knew she was the right person to direct this film, and thankfully she said yes!

The natural flow of the film certainly echoes this process that Mark describes, as a variety of people enter each other’s lives and work toward common goals, much like a puzzle being put together to create a beautiful portrait of progress, power, and love. But, of course, the film highlights how there is much more work to be done.

As Cheryl explains…

Despite the progress we have made around the world in advancing gay rights, we still have so much to do. I personally have friends who are survivors of hate crimes and there is much awareness and education that is needed when it comes to discrimination, bullying and hate towards LGBTQ+ people. I hope the film will spark hard conversations and touch the common humanity that we all share.

Yet, this additional work that needs to be done is something to actually be excited about and not keep us down. Of course, as a straight white man myself, it’s easy for me to say this – but we’re all connected and anyone with a heart and a conscience needs to be part of the fight. There is always more connecting us than there is separating us, to deny this is foolish, at best.

As Mark adds…

…what unites us as human beings is stronger than what divides us. This is more than an LGBTQ film, it’s a film with a universal message of how courage is contagious, how healing from trauma is possible by choosing love. Very few of us escape trauma, and yet no one teaches us how to deal with it. We hope this film furthers that conversation. Some of the most moving reactions in our festival screenings came from the straight community. Parents who decided to open up to their estranged gay child, adults who were bullied for being different as kids still holding on to that shame, students who were proud of the diversity in their school, teachers who wanted to emulate Dakota and Jipsta’s model of empowering students by teaching from love. Hate is a learned behavior. No one is born with it. We have to remember that.

This powerful look at the struggle of humans facing the hate and backwards beliefs of a world that fears change is available to watch on March 7th and detail abotu the film and where you can find it are at piecesofusthefilm.com. This is a must watch doc that’s sure to go down as one of the most important films to watch in 2023.

Stay tuned for full transcript of my chat with Mark and Cheryl. Check out more at the film’s website by clicking the poster below.

Justin has been running websites since his first Geocities site in 1994, but only did he ever start covering anything of substance years later. After he stopped regularly running local concerts in Northern NJ and the greater Philly area, he knew he needed to step up his writing game if he expected to continue to get free music to listen to. He writes regularly here and at Cinapse, as well as contributing to a few other sites on occasion. He likes music, film, the Philadelphia Eagles, the 76ers, talking about Criminal Justice, reading Intelligence Report, and his family... not in that order. His beautiful wife is far more talented than he is and his kids far more adorable... and crazy.
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