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Non-Binary Filmmaker Donta Storey Turns Sour Into Sweet With Film Debut ‘LiME’

Non-binary filmmaker (they/them) Donta Storey has arrived, and their introducing the world to a new type of Black LGBTQ+ narrative in their film debut "LiME."

A Compton, California native, Storey utilizes their hometown to tell a different kind of coming out story in the 11 minute short film that is loosely based on their upbringing in the early 2000s.

"LiME" tells the story of Deshawn (played by Urian Ross), a young man who discovers how hard it is to live in his truth after experiencing the bitterness of the real world. He has a choice to conform to societal norms or be the sweet amongst the sour.

An official selection at over a dozen film festivals across the country, and an Honorable Mention Winner at The San Francisco Black Film Festival, "LiME" turns the often volatile coming out trope on its head and challenges the notion that homophobia is the standard in Black families.

Living Out Loud 2.0 caught up with the emerging filmmaker who is already busy at work on their next project, to find out more about their non-binary journey, Black queer representation in film, getting "LiME" from the page to the screen and how they're handling being quarantined.

First, how are you coping with being on lockdown? What daily practices, if any, have you implemented to remain healthy and centered during the pandemic?

DS: We are living through a very interesting time, and like many others I've been staying home and trying to keep myself from going stir crazy. I’ve been channeling a lot of that busy minded energy into writing, but I’ve also been really in touch with my mental health.  It’s okay not to be productive every day during this time, and I’m trying to keep that in mind. One of the other things that have been really helpful to me is keeping in touch with my friends and family. It’s been great having a little more time to FaceTime or to call the people in my world. It feels like a lot of us are a bit more available at the moment, and reconnecting has been really nice.

This is going to be a very broad question, but I'm interested in finding out how you see yourself and what you'd like others to know about you. So who is Donta Storey?

DS: That’s a really good question, and if  I can be honest I think that’s something I’m still discovering. As people, I think we evolve all the time, so I’m still on this journey of self-exploration, and right now I’m living in my creative truth. I’m really focused on building a foundation in that. That’s who Donta Storey is right now. 

Donta Storey: Photo by Josh Coen

You identify as non-binary. Can you share which pronouns you prefer and your journey towards self realization and acceptance regarding your gender identity? 

DS: My pronouns are They/Them. I don’t mind a slip up here and there for people, but I’m in a space where I don’t shy away from correcting or educating someone. A year or two ago this isn’t something I would’ve been able to say about myself. It took me a while to come to self-realization and my identity. I remember growing up and feeling like it was easier to clam up and stay silent to avoid having to confront my flamboyance and eccentricity around people outside of my circle, but it’s a part of me, and I’m learning to walk in my truth.  Being true to myself is  something that I work on every day, and I’m happy with where I am, the younger me would be so proud.

“LiME” is your debut as a filmmaker. Can you tell us about the process from idea, to script, to production? 

DS: LiME is a film I decided to write after sitting down and facing some traumas from my youth, and honestly I didn’t go into the process knowing it was a film I was going to make. LiME is based on experiences from my actual life, and when I decided I wanted to go for it, it kind of poured onto the page. I wrote the film and decided I wanted to produce it. I worked with two very close friends on the producing front and it was such an amazing experience directing my first film and having a hand in every aspect of getting this film made. It was a lot of work, but something I would do again over and over. 

Is there something about the short film medium that is particularly appealing to you as a filmmaker?

DS: Oftentimes short films allow filmmakers to get in and get to the point – with impact. As a first time director, I wanted to try my hand at running a set, telling a story and allowing myself the freedom to play in a safe space, but also challenge myself to tell a compelling story in a limited amount of time. With a feature it's really exciting because you can add much more to the overall experience, but with a short, the challenge is doing that in a tighter amount of time. It's exciting, and I think I executed it quite well. 

The film takes place in your hometown of Compton, CA. Can you tell us why it was important for you to have the story take place there? How much of the character Deshawn is based on your real life experience(s)? 

DS: Telling the story in Compton was the only way to go because it's based on my youth. I lived in the neighborhood we filmed in, I was a part of the marching band and I was even a part of street drill teams. So much of what you see Deshawn experience are things directly from my past. We open the film with a poster of Audrey Hepburn and a poster of Brandy’s Full Moon cover art, and those were and are a part of my fandom, and I made sure that we got details like that true to form in set design.  LiME is also a love letter to my past, to the community I’m from and it was important to show Compton love. It turned out to be  a very cathartic experience.

It struck me that the Black women in Deshawn’s life, from a relative that we see encourage him in the beginning of the film, to drill team members and ultimately his mother, are all supportive and affirming of his “difference.” Was this a conscious choice while you were writing?

DS: I’m happy this stood out to you. It was a conscious decision, but on a much higher level. When I wrote the film, I purposely created the characters as a dedication to my mother, grandma, sisters, aunts and friends, but I didn’t realize that the characters, like the women in my life were going to be a guiding light to Deshawn. Women, especially Black women, don't get the credit they deserve in a lot of aspects, and it's important to me to shed light on the power that black women possess.  The ladies in my life have always been such a safe haven for me, and I needed to show that to audiences. 

There are a few Black LGBTQ+ filmmakers whose work has surpassed being mere entertainment and have impacted LGBTQ+ audiences on a deeper level. Do you draw inspiration from any of these artists and do you hope your work will have a similar impact? 

DS: I do. I think people like Tarell Alvin McCraney, Dee Rees, Justin Simien , and Lena Waithe are dope. They are some of my more recent queer inspirations in terms of the content they’ve created and the influence they hold because of it. I’m also a fan of James Baldwin and Lorraine Hansberry.  What I love about these queer artists though is that they didn’t and don't allow themselves to be pigeonholed. They tell stories that touch many and I want to follow in those footsteps. I want to 100 percent represent my people, but I’m not just my gender or my sexuality. I want to tell stories that move all.

What are your thoughts on Black LGBTQ+ representation in film and media as it stands today?

DS: Black queer representation is so important and I love that people like Patrik-Ian Polk,  Ryan Murphy, Steven Canals, Jill Soloway and Issa Rae exist. They’ve created shows, or characters that exist on the queer spectrum that we can all relate to and see ourselves in.  It’s so amazing seeing yourself on the screen, or having characters explicitly created because we deserve to be there. I think we have a long way to go, but I’m grateful to be a part of an industry that seems to be open to inclusion. It's one thing to have a queer identifying character, but to present us with a black queer character with layers is another. I want to see more of someone who just happens to be queer, but that not be the reason they exist in that world.

Actor Urian Ross stars as Deshawn in LiME

Since we’re all quarantined, what shows are you currently binge watching?

DS: I just said goodbye to BoJack Horseman and I just got caught up on Insecure. I binged the latest seasons of Curb your Enthusiasm, Ozark, and Little Fires Everywhere. I’m really big on documentaries too. I just finished Lorena: The Lorena Bobbitt Story on Amazon Prime. It's really well explored and put together. 

“LiME” is currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video and is scheduled to be released for streaming on UrbanFlix TV on May 21. Anything we should know about that partnership? 

DS: I’m really excited about the partnership with Urbanflix TV, because it's exciting  that LiME will stream alongside other black led titles. It's  really exciting to know my film will be seen by black audiences, because that's exactly who the film was made for.

Finally, what’s next for you now that “LiME” has been birthed? 

DS: I will be directing and acting in a film titled ‘Dooley Does Murder!’ in a few months, I have another short I’ll be producing and directing and I’m knee deep in rewrites for my first feature ‘Boys Like Us’.  I hope to pour all of my energy into my projects, but there are some other acting jobs in the pipeline. I’m very excited to get back to work and excited for 2021.

"LiME is currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video and can be streamed on UrbanFlix TV on May 21. You can check out the trailer below.

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