Still from Walk for Me.
When he was sixteen, director Elegance Bratton left his childhood home in New Jersey and headed to Christopher Street. Like a lot LGBTQ teens of color from the greater NYC areamany of them rejected by their families for their sexuality and gender expressionhe found a new home on that West Village thoroughfare, immersing himself in the community there, as well as the city’s thriving ballroom scene. His new narrative short, Walk for Mewhich follows a young ballroom performer, Hanna, as she steps out into the world as a womanis a rare film about the scene from someone who actually grew up inside of it. Aside from Hanna’s corrections-officer mother, Andreaplayed by actress Yolanda Ross, from The Get Downits cast consists entirely of performers and personalities from the ballroom world, including Aaliya King, Brenda Holder, Kia LaBeija, and MikeQ, whose recent Qween Beat label compilation, Queendom, gives the film its propulsive soundtrack.
But Walk for Mewhich is currently touring the festival circuit, and recently took home an award for Best LGBTQ film from Ann Arborisn’t just a ballroom story. It’s also a story about motherhood, and the complexities of family life for queer teens like Hanna. Through a delicate choreography of loaded glances and small hand gestures, it captures Hanna’s struggle for acceptance from her biological mother, as well as her discovery of a second support system in Paris Continental, a fictional vogue femme legend played by real-life vogue femme starlette Brenda Holder. We spoke to Bratton about the story behind Walk for Me, and why you can’t talk about ballroom without talking about family.
THUMP: How did you get involved with this community?
Elegance Bratton: I was kicked out of my house when I was 16 for being gay; my mom basically made it impossible for me to be home because of my sexuality. After I left, I hopped on a train. I was really upset and I didn’t have any money, but I saw three black gay guys having a really good time, so I followed them to a place called Christopher Street, and Christopher Street became kind of like a spiritual home for me.
Ten years later, after some time in the military, I got to Columbia University and was like, “Who am I? Where am I from?” So I went back to Christopher Street and started making a documentary. From that docwhich was called Pier Kids: The LifeI published a photo book called Bound By Night. It dawned on me that the thing I had gotten from the communityfrom being black and gaywas this new family, this chosen family.
I got into NYU Tisch, and I wrote Walk For Me for my second year film. It was inspired by my own journey of being homeless and having to make a new family. Bound By Night is about families that are bound by the time of day and not by bloodhow did these trans women mentor and raise gay children? So when it came time to make a film, it was a no-brainer for me to retrace my footsteps and to get into the story of Hanna.
How did you come up with the story?
I spent about four years going to balls pretty much every weekend. You go there and you see a wide range of age groups in the femme queen and trans women categories. And it’s like two or three o’clock in the morning, and will be the same characters, same castjust a lot more in depth. In Walk for Me, we’re very contained in the black experience, and in the feature we’re looking at these black folks in connection to the city they live in. So there’s white characters, there’s Asian characters, there’s shop owners and Bodegasyou get to see them in the real New York. There’s a great scene I’m writing on the Brooklyn Bridge. And it’s more about how once Hanna makes this choice, she’s in the world.
Catch Walk for Me at festivals across the US:
Garden State Film Festival, April 2, 2017 at 12pm
Athens International Film Festival, April 6, 2017 at 7:30pm
Wicked Queer Boston Saturday, April 8, 2017 at 4pm
Ivy Film Festival at Brown University, April 14, 2017 at 7pm
Queer Hippo International LGBT Film Festival in Houston, April 26-30