Q&A with Julio Dowansingh, the Creator of Louder Than Words

Louder Than Words, written and directed by Julio Dowansingh and available now for streaming on Dekkoo, is a short coming-of-age film that beautifully weaves music and dance into the intersection where budding queer romance and what it means to be deaf meet. The film follows Niall (played by Marty Lauter) – a queer, deaf dancer – as he develops feelings for Ansel (Luke Farley) during their time sharing a rehearsal space. The two leads are supported by actress Apryl Wilson in the role of Kenya who serves as a link between the boys when a romantic gesture isn’t received well and Ansel has to consider the possibility that he might not be straight. I sat down with Dowansingh to discuss queerness, deafness, and the making of Louder Than Words.

Marty Lauter and Luke Farley in Louder Than Words

Julio, tell us a little about yourself.

My name is Julio Dowansingh, and I’m the director of Louder than Words. I was born in London, raised in Jamaica, and then later moved to Boston to study film. It was there that I discovered that I was good at creating a visual connection with people through film. Louder Than Words is the first big project that I’ve brought to fruition from just a story in my head to what you see on-screen. It’s definitely my baby.

What was your main source of inspiration for the events that take place in the film?

Dancers and musicians both rely on sound, and I’ve always had a curiosity as both a writer and a person about whether or not deaf people experience those things in the same way we do. As it turns out, they do. They react to the vibrations. And I was like, “Wow, this is so interesting. This should be in a story.” I also wanted to create a positive representation that deaf and queer people could engage with and enjoy.

Where do you get your creative ideas from?

I draw a lot of my inspiration from music which is such a big part of this film and my life. I wanted to create an original song for the project, so I reached out to a bunch of really talented composers so we could get the vibe just right. Luke is also a musician so it was cool to all sit in a room and throw out ideas. I grew up on country music, so I think a lot of those influences leaked through especially in regards to the rural Massachusetts setting.

Marty Lauter and Luke Farley in Louder Than Words

At the very beginning of the film, we first see Niall dance before realizing that he’s deaf. Was that a deliberate choice?

I wanted to introduce the character in his element before revealing that he was deaf. People are oftentimes shocked when they see a performance and then find out afterward that the person is hearing impaired. The truth is that the Deaf community can do all the things we can do and there’s really nothing that separates us aside from their ability to hear. That first scene is a nice moment where the audience gets to realize this firsthand.

Is Niall’s crush on Ansel his first queer experience?

It’s not his first queer experience, but this time definitely feels more real. He feels that there’s a connection there and decides to put a little bit more effort into the relationship to see where it could go.

How did you approach taking on a deaf character in your film?

When I started this project, I wanted to provide the Deaf community with positive representation. Because I wasn’t a part of that community myself, I wanted to make sure that everything was accurate. Except for a few hearing-impaired family members, I didn’t know much about the Deaf community, so I wanted to learn as much as I could. Luckily, I have two close friends with experience in that regard. One is deaf and the other is very fluent in ASL (American Sign Language), and I had them look over the script to get their feedback which was extremely helpful. I also learned sign language myself by taking a couple of courses.

Marty Lauter in Louder Than Words

Did you have any specific instructions for Marty Lauter, the actor who played Niall?

Marty basically had a week and a half to get everything down, but he picked it all up really quickly. He understood the character and was perfect for the role which required a heavy emphasis on visual communication. Thankfully, he was a genius with the ASL, the dancing, and the acting.

Ansel’s character seems to be an outsider. What do you think drew him to befriend Kenya and Niall beyond the scope of just using their rehearsal space?

In the first scene, the character comes off as a little abrasive. When Kenya gives him some attitude back, he realizes he needs to reconnect to let them know that there’s more to him. Their first impression of him wasn’t so great so he decides to put his best foot forward by apologizing to not seem so standoffish since they’re going to be sharing a rehearsal space.

Towards the beginning of the film, Ansel seems very interested in Niall’s deafness and then goes on to fix the chain on Niall’s bike and even tries his hand at dancing. What do you feel are the motives driving those interests?

Throughout the film, Ansel sees Kenya and Niall being so comfortable in themselves, and he becomes more open as he gets to know them more. He also feeds off of the interest that Niall is showing in him even if he doesn’t necessarily understand why at the time. All he knows is that Niall experiences everything a little bit differently than he does which intrigues him.

Luke Farley in Louder Than Words

The kiss at the very end of the film lends itself to being open-ended. What were the choices behind this ambiguity?

My goal was to have the audience in this place where they didn’t really know where Ansel stood because that’s where he was in his own head, too. He was confused but definitely interested even if it wasn’t in an overt way.

What do you think modern-day LGBTQ youth will gain from seeing this film and why is it important to show these kinds of stories on screen?

Hopefully, they’ll gain more understanding about deaf and bisexual people because we don’t see a lot of that on screen. After the film was released, I got fan letters from some queer deaf people telling me how deeply they connected with the film which was one of my goals. I was so nervous just to hear their feedback, but it was really well received. They said it was so good to see someone like themselves on the screen. I made this film for those people, and the fact that they related to these characters was more than I could ever ask for.

What would 15-year-old Julio say about seeing something like Louder than Words on screen?

I remember watching these short, queer films that had these sad,  depressing endings. My driving force in creating Louder Than Words was to create a positive narrative that people in the Deaf and queer community could watch and feel good about themselves.

Marty Lauter in Louder Than Words

Any plans for Louder than Words in the future?

The film has had a pretty good run so far. In addition to having been in a few festivals from Barcelona to China, it is a semi-finalist for the jellyFEST Film Festival in LA this summer which I’m so excited for. I also think that it could easily be adapted into a series or a feature-length film.

What’s it like to have your film featured on Dekkoo?

Right away, I knew that I wanted to be apart of Dekkoo because the platform helps my film reach the audience it’s meant for.

Are you currently working on any more exciting films or other creative projects?

I’ve been working on a lot of music videos with artists lately. I’m also currently writing a feature-length script that’s in its early stages. I would like to continue incorporating deaf and queer characters to reflect what we don’t often see on screen. Their experiences can be vastly different from our own yet their stories need to be told.

Marty Lauter and Luke Farley in Louder Than Words

You can watch Louder Than Words on Dekkoo today, available now!

Q&A with Interested In’s Michael Witkes

Created by Michael Witkes, Interested In (now available for streaming on Dekkoo) follows the story of Parker, a recently out young gay man exploring his sexuality and identity through the lens of hookup culture. This queer comedy series portrays Parker in an array of scenarios reminiscent of the shared experiences many gay males encounter after coming out and diving into the murky waters of gay culture.

I sat down with Michael Witkes to discuss what inspired Interested In and what the process of creating the series was like.

First off, what are you interested in? Who is Michael Witkes?

My name is Michael Witkes, and I’m an actor, producer, director, and writer focused on showcasing LGBT stories in an authentic way. I’m originally from Philadelphia where Interested In takes place, and I currently live in New York City. Artistically, I am most interested in works that explore gay shame, LGBT identity, and expands representation. I also love froyo, RuPaul’s Drag Race, and queer history.

What was the inspiration for the title of the series?

I called the show Interested In because of the tumultuous moment when I first changed my Facebook status to “interested in men.” It felt so official that I was announcing to the world that I was gay, and I wanted to explore how labels can both help and hinder someone, how important they are in shaping identity, and how they can mean both everything and nothing at the same time.

Parker finds himself in some pretty sticky situations. What was your main source of inspiration for the events that take place in Interested In?

Some things are based on events that actually happened to me and some are fabricated. I wrote the first draft in 2013 after I came out in college, and I was trying to express those initial personal moments when you finally come out of the closet and how you can feel so uncomfortable in your own body. As a writer, I see the world in vignettes, and I selected moments that were exemplary of one person’s struggle of coming into himself.

Still from the new gay series Interested In - Now Available on Dekkoo!

How did you curate these vignettes for the screen?

The development of Parker’s character was really the driving force behind the storyline. I wanted to show that character’s journey from being someone who is so freshly out and awkward into someone who is more comfortable in his own skin. At the end of this season, he might not be totally there just yet, but I think he’s making significant progress to get to that point.

What was your personal coming out experience like?

The relationship that Parker talks about in the first episode where he said he was with this boy who wasn’t ready to come out yet and then they broke up because of that—all of that was true for me as well. I was so ready to come out for like a year before I actually did. When it finally happened, all of my friends and family were so supportive, but—at the same time—I was dealing with the loss of my first love so it was bittersweet.

In Interested In, Ep. 3, Parker and his Grindr date not only get intimate physically but emotionally as well. However, in the finale with the lawyer character, there’s more of a “no strings attached” vibe. Why did you decide to showcase this broad spectrum of intimacy in the show?

Representation is so important. Growing up, all the movies and series I watched always showed young gay kids either committing suicide or coming out then living happily ever after. I wanted to show what being gay is really like by exploring both the positive and negative aspects of gay dating in a realistic setting. I was interested in showing how in Grindr culture every interaction can be different.

Still from the new gay series Interested In - Now Available on Dekkoo!

Is Parker a no-strings-attached kinda guy or do you think he’s looking for more?

Parker deeply wants a boyfriend, but he’s very ignorant of the gay dating lifestyle. He goes into these situations expecting a true connection and then is really surprised when that doesn’t happen. For Parker, each episode is a learning moment that he takes onto the next interaction. He figures out things he didn’t know before which is very indicative of how LGBTQ people in real life have to learn things the hard way as they go along.

It’s no secret that in regards to gay culture, there’s a “whole animal kingdom out there.” What is your take on the roles LGBTQ people are expected to take on when participating in the culture (i.e. top, bottom, gay, straight, bi, twink, bear, otter, etc.)?

At first, I was so terrified of coming out that it took me a long time to take on the label of “gay.” But then once you’re out, everyone says, “Oh, now you have to be a twink or an otter, and a top or a bottom.” I was so frustrated by all the boxes I was getting put into. On one hand, I do think that labels can be helpful. Now, I’m so proud to be gay despite the fact that the word used to hold such a stigma for me. But at the same time, I think labels can hinder people. In Interested In, Parker’s journey is figuring out which labels he wants to take on and which ones he can say “thank u, next” to.

In the fourth episode, we get to see an interesting side of Parker when he has a sexual encounter with his ex-girlfriend. As far as sexual orientation goes, what does Parker identify as?

Parker is gay, but that moment with his ex-girlfriend is really important in helping him figure that out and that it’s also okay to keep your options open.

Still from the new gay series Interested In - Now Available on Dekkoo!

What do you think modern-day LGBTQ youth will gain from this series seeing Parker experience the nuances that come with the territory of being a gay man?

I hope Interested In will help queer youths by showing them a story that’s about what comes directly after coming out of the closet. My goal with these vignettes is to show sex positivity and openness in regard to real issues so people can feel more comfortable with themselves. I want people watching the show to go out into the world and have their own vignette moments.

What would 15-year-old Michael Witkes say about seeing something like Interested In on screen?

It would have meant everything to him! Seeing someone struggle to take on their identity would have prepared me to do that before I even had to. Watching the show now, I get nostalgic for what it was like when I was a baby gay.

Why do you think it’s important to show these experiences on screen?

Sex is such a taboo subject, but I don’t think we should feel uncomfortable talking about it. After being closeted for so long, unapologetically showcasing intimate moments between queer people is so important to me. I want to change the conversation about sex and make it more open, comfortable, and sex-positive. Also, showing uncomfortable sexual situations is important because that’s a big part of sex, too. It’s not always this beautiful, perfect moment every single time. There’s a lot of awkward things that happen when you’re being intimate with someone, and that’s okay!

Still from the new gay series Interested In - Now Available on Dekkoo!

What is your take on Grindr and other dating apps, especially the “headless torso” phenomenon broached upon in Ep. 2?

There used to be so much stigma surrounding Grindr. It was something you had to hide on your phone and be embarrassed about, but I don’t think that should be the case. Now that straight people are using dating apps, too, there’s definitely less stigma. Unfortunately, Grindr can represent all the problematic things within the LGBTQ community. It can turn into a big cyberbullying moment with the whole “no fats, no fems” thing which is horrible. I think Grindr is doing a lot to try and change that, but, still, it’s hard to police such a big forum where you can write pretty much whatever you want anonymously.

What plans for Interested In do you have for the future? Can Interested In fans be interested in a second season?

Yes, it’s already written! The second season is going to explore Parker developing into a more confident person with some of the previous characters popping up.

What’s it like to have Interested In featured on Dekkoo?

When I wrote the show, I was writing for a very specific, niche audience, and I think that’s exactly what Dekkoo is for. I’m so grateful that they gave me this unique platform and that they’ve chosen to cater to an LGBTQ audience. All I wanted as a gay kid was something like Dekkoo to watch.

Still from the new gay series Interested In - Now Available on Dekkoo!

Aside from the show, what are you interested in for the future?

I’m just really excited to make more work that explores similar themes but also dives into other topics as well. Since Interested In, I’ve written a lot of content, and I hope this show will give me the platform to bring all of those stories to life!

You can keep up with all things Interested In by visiting their website, Facebook page, and Instagram account. Watch Interested In on Dekkoo today, available now!

Why “OUT on Stage: The Series” is Very Important

It’s no secret that straight, white males have dominated the stand-up comedy scene since its creation. Luckily for members of the LGBTQ community, there’s a new TV series dedicated to changing that. OUT on Stage: the Series showcases LGBT comedians breaking OUT of stand-up comedy’s status quo and presents to the world something groundbreaking that will make a place for queer comics in the stand-up comedy world for years and years to come.

Hosted by Zach Noe Towers, OUT on Stage was filmed in L.A. in front of a live audience and features comics Gloria Bigelow, Janine Brito, Chris Bryant, A.B. Cassidy, Anthony Desamito, Joe Dosch, Jared Goldstein, Eric Hahn, Casey Ley, Julian Michael, Jordan Pease, Raneir Pollard, Jonathan Rowell, Brendan Scannell, Kyle Shire, Irene Tu, and Daniel Webb. The series consists of six episodes that run roughly around 35 minutes, three queer comics performing each episode and sharing their comic routine. You may be asking what’s so revolutionary about that?

After all, LGBTQ comedians aren’t exactly new. I mean, hello? Ellen Degeneres, Tig Notaro, Wanda Sykes, Lea DeLaria, and Jaffe Cohe n are only but a few of the many revered queer comics. The list goes on and on and hopefully will continue to grow as we move forward into the next decade and progress as people. But here’s what really sets OUT on Stage apart from the LGBT comedians before it: it’s queer comedy for queer people.

In the past, LGBTQ comedians performed for primarily straight, cisgender audiences which begs the question: were they truly being accepted or were they just the butt of the joke the whole time? In the world of stand-up comedy, most comedians will take whatever laughs they can get whether it’s at the expense of other people or even themselves, and queer comics are no exception. “I have built a career out of self-deprecating humor, and I don’t want to do that anymore… I put myself down in order to speak, in order to seek permission to speak, and I simply will not do that anymore, not to myself or anybody who identifies with me. If that means that my comedy career is over, then, so be it,” says queer comic, Hannah Gadsby, in her Netflix special, Nanette (2017). But what if this arena where self-deprecation is key to a queer comic’s success is based more on the heteronormative audience than the comic themselves? More to the point, maybe Gadsby’s notion of quitting stand-up comedy isn’t quite the right idea. Maybe all queer comedy needs is the right audience.

With that in mind, what makes OUT on Stage so great is that it doesn’t cater to a straight, cisgender audience, and actually supplies these queer comics with a primarily queer audience. It’s in this uncensored space where LGBTQ stand-up comedians can unabashedly thrive without fear of judgment or persecution, sharing their queer experiences with queer people. In fact, the key to this show’s magic is the experiences that both the audience and the comic share having lived the life of someone who identifies as queer. Whether intentionally or not, this series has given queer stand-up comedy the chance to truly come OUT of the closet and show off its big guns.

While OUT on Stage is a major step for queer-identifying people everywhere, there were also a few drawbacks (that—for the record—could be chalked up to these comics being used to catering to non-inclusive, patriarchal audiences in order to make headway in the stand-up comedy industry). The biggest flaw with the series was that it was incredibly male-centric (although it could also be argued that gay men haven’t had a chance to thrive in the comedy industry because straight men find them threatening to their ideas of manhood and that lesbians created a space because they’re deemed “non-threatening”). Lesbians Irene Tu, Janine Brito, A.B. Cassidy, and Gloria Bigelow showcased their talents on the show, but a more diverse group of LGBTQ comedians would have been even more revolutionary.

In fact, aside from the gays and lesbians, it seemed that the other letters of the acronym were particularly lacking. Seeing as we’re still fighting for trans rights to use the bathroom, maybe comedy isn’t yet quite a safe enough place for transgender people. And bisexuals, I’m sure, are clinging to the low-side of the Kinsey Scale in order to relate to their straight audiences. You can’t exactly blame the oppressed for playing the hand they’re dealt.

Another observation that was less than ideal was the reinforcement of some negative stereotypes amongst the community such as enforced “traditional” gender roles amongst same-sex partners, unsafe sex positivity, and fat shaming. Maybe this analysis is a bit too critical considering it is a stand-up comedy show where political correctness and progressive ideals are put on a slight pause. Regardless, OUT is innovative, and hopefully, we can look forward to the second season of OUT to break down some of these barriers.

At the end of the day, OUT on Stage is a great show for the LGBTQ community to finally get a taste of what comedy aimed at their own experiences is like. If you’re looking for some gut-wrenching laughs, OUT on Stage the series can be streamed on Dekkoo, a gay-centric streaming service. It’s what queer people deserve. One step for gays; a giant step for LGBTQ-kind everywhere.

Very special thanks to Austin for sharing! You can watch OUT on Stage now on Dekkoo.