There is a new movie making its way across film festivals this year, and it is sure to have an impact on every viewer. The movie, titled, Love is all You Need? co-written by director K. Rocco Shields with David Tillman, showcases several well-known actors in the industry such as Tyler Blackburn, Briana Evigan, Elisabeth Rohm, Jeremy Sisto, Ana Ortiz, Leisha Hailey and Queer as Folk‘s Robert Gant, who take us on a journey of what bullying would look like if heterosexuality was a “sin” and being gay, was the norm.
“I’m not claiming originality,” Rocco said. “I’m just putting a different spin on it. And the idea is for mainstream America to really understand what it is like to be bullied and mistreated because you are different.”
The idea for the original short came after the surge of media reports on the bullying of LGBTQ youth in 2010. While we are all aware that bullying of any kind is not a new phenomenon, it felt as though we were suddenly bombarded over and over with horrifying stories of kids taking their own lives or attempting to take their own lives because they simply could not bear the bullying any longer. Sadly, it doesn’t seem to be getting any better.
These stories had an impact on Rocco, an out lesbian, and she felt a calling to try and change the way people think not only about the LGBTQ community but about bullying.
“I went to bed one night after listening to a reporter on the news talk about how she couldn’t understand why kids were killing themselves because they were gay,” Rocco said. “And I thought about how I wished this woman could feel what it would be like to be marginalized and be the proverbial other, then maybe she would understand. We need to feel things in order to make change.”
Before the feature film was even a thought in her mind, Rocco decided to make a short film about a little girl who was different than her family and friends and bullied because of it. The little girl, Ashley (Lexi DiBenedetto) is a heterosexual, or a “ro” (a derogatory term akin to “dyke” or “fag”), living in a world where heterosexuality is considered a sin and something people feared and are disgusted by. Ashley is continually harassed and physically attacked by her peers, as well as looked down upon and mistreated by one of her own mothers. The abuse continues and intensifies to the point where Ashley feels she can no longer bear it and she commits suicide.
Although the short was intended to be distributed and sold as an educational video, it was leaked onto the internet after being part of several film festivals and went viral almost overnight, with over 40 million views and counting. It has been translated into more than 12 languages and used in schools across the country. In one city in Florida, a teacher was suspended after he showed the video to his students, after causing an uproar with the parents when they heard about the film from their children. Seeing how it made such an impact in such a short amount of time, Rocco decided making a feature would be a way to reach even more people and spread the message of what it means to have empathy for those around you.
“I’ve had 65-year-old men write me to tell me the short film changed their views on homosexuality,” Rocco said, “and caused conversations to start happening within their own families.”
Love is All You Need? is set in a typical all-American town, filled with loving married couples enjoying life in the suburbs all with white picket fences, happy children, and an evil hatred for anyone identifying as a “ro.” The town attends church together on Sundays, and it’s here they are taught that God does not approve of the hetero lifestyle, and those that fall into this trap are sick and should be taught a lesson on disobeying God’s teachings. One of these parishioners is Jude (Briana Evigan), the all-star quarterback for the local college football team, seems to have everything she ever dreamed of, her football career is going well, not to mention she has a popular, supportive girlfriend named Kelly (Emily Osment) who is about to become the homecoming queen.
Jude meets Ryan (Tyler Blackburn), a frat pledge and journalist major, at a party one night while waiting in line for the bathroom. The two start making small talk (Ryan wants to interview Jude for the school paper). At that point, their interaction is innocent but you can sense the connection between them right away. You know where the story is headed, even though being an out heterosexual is a guaranteed way of being ostracized, ridiculed and in some cases, physically attacked. The town would be distraught if their local football hero was a “ro.”
Then there is Emily (Kyla Kenedy), an elementary student with a secret crush on her best male friend Ian (Jacob Rodier). Emily is thrilled with the idea that her theatre teacher (Jeremy Sisto) is changing the classic play Romeo and Julio to Romeo and Juliet because this means if she gets the part of Juliet, she will finally get to kiss a boy. Emily’s peers are aware of her being different from them and are continually shoving her face in the toilets at school, calling her names, punching her, writing “hetero” on her forehead and getting everyone at school to hate her, simply because she likes boys and not girls.
Watching what each character goes through as a result of being hetero becomes more and more intense as the film goes on. For me, it was particularly difficult to watch the scenes with Emily because of how young and vulnerable she is and as a mother, the thought of anyone treating my child that way simply because they are different was heartbreaking.
Many of the situations in the film are true to life events that have happened either to Rocco, to her writing partner David (an openly gay man) or something she read or heard about in the news. There is a scene in the film where Emily is getting hateful messages from her peers and each of those messages is an actual message a child being bullied received before they killed themselves. The story is so meaningful because it reflects a horrific epidemic in the world that is deeply affecting all of us.
“I thought how powerful would it be if I took real life stories and rolled them all into one,” Rocco said.
Overall, the movie was created with a hope that the world could get a glimpse into what it feels like to be bullied for being different and make waves of empathy throughout each person.
“Every single decision I made on this film creatively,” Rocco said, “was designed to ensure that the reach of it, could go as big as it possibly can.”