It matters who tells your story. That’s the moral of 2016. Hamilton reminded us, of course, but it’s something queer women have known as long as TV and movies have existed. Gay women can’t stay alive on-screen. Women, full stop, hardly even get to talk on-screen. A recent study found that only a third of all speaking roles go to women, and that only 30 percent of that third are women from minority groups. LGBT women? Less than two percent.
This year Brittani Nichols stepped into that disheartening, demoralizing void and decided to change things. She wrote her first feature film, Suicide Kale, and recruited Carly Usdin to direct and edit it and Robin Roemer to film and executive produce it; and tagged Jasika Nicole, Brianna Baker, Lindsay Hicks, and Hayley Huntley to star alongside her.
In a world where 90 percent of TV showrunners and film directors are men (and 80 percent of them are white), this team of queer women made a full-length movie about queer women (featuring mostly women of color), with rented equipment in Jasika Nicole’s house over a couple of hundred-degree days in Los Angeles.
And here’s the best part: Suicide Kale isn’t just some pet project your faves crafted from nothing. Suicide Kale is a REALLY good movie.
It follows two queer couples — the newly official Jasmine and Penny, and the married Jordan and Billie — over the course of an afternoon cookout. It seems like an every Saturday kind of thing, until Jasmine finds a suicide note in Jordan and Billie’s bedroom. Who wrote the note and why is the movie’s driving force, but it never plays like a mystery. Instead, the note’s introduction causes Jasmine to unpack her own perceptions of happiness, to evaluate her new relationship, and to reconsider the best way to love the people she thinks she knows best.
And, look, it’s funny. You know it’s funny. All of the jokes had you in mind.
The most bizarre thing about queer women in pop culture is how much they bamboozle storytellers. White dudes know a million ways to write a movie about a white dude, but a woman? Who loves another woman? And also is black? What in the world kind of story can you tell about her? A normal one, actually. And that’s the best thing about Suicide Kale, to me. You will see yourself in the uncomfortable questions about your new girlfriend. Or the squabbles over whether or not you have to wear the apron your wife gave you because she’s the one who does the laundry. Just couple things. Just real life. But you’ll also see yourself in the very queer-specific things, like gentle ribbing at veganism and shared custody of a dog.
Suicide Kale is also visually stunning. I think we’ve arrived at a place where we can be honest with ourselves and admit that lesbian movies, generally, are not pretty. They’re made with very little money in less than ideal places and it shows. But Suicide Kale is oversaturated and bright, like a fever dream of a world where lesbians don’t just jump off of buildings like falcons or get bludgeoned to death by stray arrows. The inside of Jasika Nicole’s house looks like Instagram and Pinterest had a gay baby. And you know what? I just really like to look at Brittani Nichols’ face.
As queer women, we have to watch TV and movies with our guards up, waiting to be ridiculed, derided, or dismissed. You don’t have to do that with Suicide Kale. You can swoon and you can laugh and you can open yourself up to the white hot agony and ecstasy of hope because the people who created this movie see you, they know you, they are you.
Yes, it’s a movie about a suicide note, but it’s really a movie about what it means to be alive.
Suicide Kale has been a smash hit at every festival it has screened at this year. The LA premiere at Outfest on July 15th is already sold out, but you can get on the standby list for a second screening. Stay in touch on Facebook or Instagram for more information about cities and showtimes.