It was the year 2001 – our guest on INTERVUE starred and co-directed in one of the most influential trans films of the century, By Hook or By Crook. The film debut at Sundance and won the SXSW Audience Award the next year. Since then, Silas has went on to directed numerous TV shows including Transparent, This is Us and the new FX series Pose. This weekend, he’s directing his biggest project to date with the upcoming indie film “A Kid Like Jake” from IFC Films starring Jim Parsons, Claire Danes, Octavia Spencer and Leo James Davis.
Two Brooklyn parents are trying to get their gender nonconforming preschooler Jake accepted into private school. Jake likes to wear dresses, refuses to be anyone other than Rapunzel for Halloween, has the full Disney princess DVD collection. While both Alex and Greg embrace Jake’s gender-expansive play, they also struggle with how to raise Jake. Ultimately, A Kid Like Jake isn’t really about the kid, but is more of a nuanced look at the parents who, while supportive and progressive, screw up out of misunderstanding and fear.
The first thing I wanted to ask Silas is what drew him to the project?
(Silas Howard) I think the script that Daniel Pearl adapted from a play that he wrote and was put up at Lincoln Center and then optioned by Jim Parsons’ production company. This was Jim’s first film that they made. What I loved about it was not only did I connect to it as a director and as an out transgender director but I really loved that it felt universal, that it showed the complexity of being in a relationship and trying to take care of someone you love but getting in your own way. I thought that the dialogue was really honest and it explored the messy side of being a parent.
I loved how you showed this progressive couple played by Claire Danes and Jim Parsons as they try to do the right thing for Jake, but along the way they keep messing up throughout the process. I like the progression that you showed throughout the film.
I wanted to, especially in this time where I feel like it’s really easy to polarize and say that this is the right way, this is the wrong way and put people at different sides. This was a couple in Brooklyn you thought it wouldn’t really have a difficulty but our society is still rather punishing us especially with bug boys wanting to wear dresses or play with dolls. It’s still a stigma even if they were young. It could create fear in parents, they want to protect them and it’s hard to know what to do.
It’s sad that we still have to deal with this stigma in 2018. How’d you handle the child actor, Leo James Davis, and made sure he felt comfortable but also got what you needed out of them?
Because as you noticed, we really focused on the world around Jake, I had the ability to find a kid who really hadn’t acted a lot but was in real life loved princesses and beautiful things and that’s Leo. He describes himself as a boy who likes beautiful things and he’s been that way since he was two years old. He’s now six years old. He his parents have been supportive. I also didn’t want to put a boy in a dress that didn’t want to be in one. The whole thing is to find the joy in expression. What also has been great is Leo’s parents have been working on helping to develop policies to support kids in school that don’t fit neatly in a box because they did get pushback with Leo and the film has been able to support that and they have been able to support the film so it has been a really wonderful collaboration.
Well I have to applaud you for your efforts especially being Leo in the role since he felt so comfortable. You have been doing a lot of television especially with “The is Us” & “Transparent”, I like to know how do you feel it is for queer filmmakers and actors trying to get into the business?
I was just talking about this like I have been ding independent film for more than fifteen years before I got my first Television show. I did independent features. I did short films. I did documentaries. I did anything I can afford to do with my filmmaker friends. So I would say first and foremost, keep making work because I am lucky that I stay engaged in the work that I wanted to do.
What lined up really beautifully was television started really being interested in the work, all of us in the independent filmmaking and in the show that I am currently working on which is “Pose” on FX with Ryan Murphy, Steven Canals, Janet Mock and Brad Falchuk. Five trans women of color as the stars of the show. Set in the 80’s in New York and its really about the ballroom scene, the chosen family. It’s an amazing show. It’s fun, its fabulous, it’s really tender as well. It got like a lot of heart which I lover seeing as a person in what that feels like. Often, we don’t want to see our series as tragedies, we want to see them as the full range of human emotions.
I just started watching Pose and I’m very impressed with the series. Speaking of Pose, you just directed the episode “Mother’s Day” which will air in July, what was it like growing up during that era in the 1990s and how do you feel that Pose portrayed that era?
It probably earlier than my era of being out and about but I know that my era in the 90s of just by coming out in the middle of the AIDS crisis and that forever shaped me. Pose starts around the end of the 80s and HIV is part of that storyline. For any of us, even though I was a generation younger than that, so I wasn’t blindsided by it but I was raised with the knowledge and I watched people go through that. It really formed me, so what I think is important of that era is seeing what mainstream culture took from that community like Madonna, Voguing and all that stuff and actually looking at the lives of the people that created that culture. The depth of humanity in those stories is incredible. The cast, the writers and the crew have done a brilliant job on that.
Why do you feel that it is important for the nation to really start having this conversation?
I feel like that it is so important, even with a film “A Kid Like Jake” almost every character is wrestling with a sense of their identity: the right mom, the right grandmother, the right father a single mother. I feel like we in this country we sort struggle with what is masculine, what is feminine and I think feminine expressions – there’s a lot of sexism, a lot of targeting hatred towards people who are being feminine in their expression but maybe weren’t born female. I just think the world will only benefit. Look at all the artists who don’t fit in a box. All the innovators and the creative people often don’t fit into the easy to plug in sort of box they can check box. So if we can support our young people and protect them from shame and deal with our own selves you know the bullying that starts at home can maybe get remedied more so it happens more less outside of the house.
A Kid Like Jake – is in theatres NOW from IFC Films