Interview With “Mississippi Damned” Filmmakers Tina Mabry and Morgan Stiff

AE: Do you feel the pressure to not talk about controversial subjects or represent traditionally underrepresented groups of people in order to attain mainstream success?
MS: Our focus is always on the story. We’ll confront and explore whatever issues or subjects best serve the story we’re trying to tell. For me, it’s always important to focus on the work; to create something that has meaning to me and those who I am trying to reach.

Mainstream success will come if we continue to make a quality product that speaks to large groups of people. I can’t worry about achieving that success, only about creating meaningful material, and that’s what will ultimately feed my soul.

TM: We focus on telling good stories and we don’t worry about whether or not the mainstream will embrace us. I feel that most films should give people a voice and a way to say, “I’m here and I have something that needs to be heard.” We tackle the stories of real people and that’s what’s most important for us. The fact that we’ve started a production company dedicated to tell the stories of marginalized groups and proving that there is a place in mainstream media for these stories makes me feel like we’re on the right path, and that’s what matters most to us.

AE: Tell us more about your production company, Morgan’s Mark. Your company slogan is "Out of the margins, redefining the mainstream." What does that mean to you?
MS: Morgan’s Mark was founded by Tina, Lee, and myself in 2007. We’re dedicated to works that reflect the experiences of a variety of marginalized groups, proving that there is a place for those realities within mainstream media.

Mainstream films often reflect limited experiences. Who’s listening to the millions of people who are looking for something more, something that defines them? Morgan’s Mark is listening. We’re coming from the margins and redefining the mainstream. We are currently in development on several projects, and I’m very excited about Tina’s new script, County Line.

Lee Stiff, Morgan Stiff, Tina Mabry and MD co-producer Debra Wilson

(Photo Credit: Brian Putnam)

TM: [County Line] is about how three murders cause a small Southern town to unravel when suspicion and secrets start to slowly pick apart the town and the local law enforcement. For the people in this town, the line between what’s right and wrong is erased by the brutal reality of their hard lives. I’m looking forward to making this film because, while it has a mystery element to it, it’s still set in an undeniably real world with the type of unique and complex characters found in Mississippi Damned.

AE: Tina, in your director’s statement, you said that writing and making Mississippi Damned allowed you to face your own demons and find your voice. Now, having watched the film with festival audiences and received accolades for it, how do you feel about your journey with making MD?
TM: I’ve learned to accept my past and myself because of Mississippi Damned. For a long time I felt so ashamed of my life and my experiences, which limited my growth as a person. Making this film brought taboo issues to the forefront. By publicly exposing them, I was reminded that I was far from being alone in my adversities.

This has become especially evident at the screenings of the movie. The film seems to construct a safe environment for many audience members to confess their family secrets; it sometimes felt like a therapy session. I remember one of the audience members contacted me and told me that after she and her aunt watched the film for the first time, they finally talked about the “well-known but never discussed” molestation that occurred in their family.

It’s gratifying to know the film has allowed audience members to open a dialogue with their family. I feel people become more open to talking about these issues when they’re reminded that they’re not alone, and they have no reason to be ashamed of their past experiences. I think that’s one of the beautiful things about what we do as filmmakers.

Films have the capability to create change and bring people together. Films were a bond between my mother and me, and I can’t even begin to say how much it means to me to be able to create films that do the same thing for others.

Read our review of Mississippi Damned here, and visit the official
website of the film at MississippiDamned.com.

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