An Interview with M.I. filmmaker Leslie Cunningham
by Jeremy Helton of The Recollective
Aside from the amazing but hilariously titled ‘Albert Nobbs’ there haven’t been a lot of films examining the lives of women dressing as men. The 1982 debut of ‘Victor, Victoria’ (a remake of Viktor und Viktoria, a German film of 1933) was the last film of which I know that examined male drag in the context of stage performance. But for those of us looking for a bird’s eye view into the world of female performers of masculine gender identity, the wait is over.
M.I., A Different Kind of Girl, a riveting documentary by Leslie Cunningham and co-producer, Alana Jones, about a little known LGBTQ sub-culture, which was showcased in 2012 at LGBTQ films festival across the U.S., is now being distributed by BuskFilms.com, a video-on-demand site showcasing the best in independent queer film. Recollective producer Jeremy Helton spoke with filmmaker, Leslie Cunningham, to learn more about the film and the community it documents.
Jeremy: Were there any documentary projects that inspired or informed M.I.?
Leslie: The film was inspired by films like ‘Paris is Burning’, a 1990 documentary film directed by Jennie Livingston, chronicling the New York City ball culture and the African American and Latino, gay and transgender communities that made it an underground phenomenon. As I watched ‘Paris is Burning’ or my favorite LGBT movies, I had to ask: where are the voices of lesbian women? Where are the lesbian women of color?
Jeremy: Can you tell me about a couple of the performers in the film?
Leslie: Nation Tyre is the film’s primary informant. She is a spirited and passionate male impersonator, born on North Carolina’s rural coast. Nation cut her performing teeth on stages in Atlanta, Georgia, but found the gender categories within their black drag community too confining and, thus, returned to her home state to continue her career as an M.I.- Male Illusionist- freed from pressures to “be” male all the time and empowered to define her own gender identity. Breyannah Allure and Paris Brooks are title winning North Carolina drag queens and fixtures on the Raleigh LGBT nightclub scene. Breyannah is a self-identified trans woman while Paris is an old-school queen on the ball circuit and member of the House of Brooks.