Susan Sarandon is the executive producer of Deep Run
, a documentary about a devout, 17-year-old evangelical Christian lesbian named Spazz who decided to transition. In the process of becoming Cole, he deals with a great deal of bigotry in his rural North Carolina town. While it screened at the Castro today, the film will shortly go to Los Angeles in anticipation of a wider release. (Watch the trailer
spoke with Sarandon (who is currently in Italy, working on another project) about the film, where she sees LGBT rights going now that marriage equality has been achieved, gender fluidity, and her perspective on her public perception.
This conversation has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
Tell me about Deep Run, if you would.
Six or seven years ago, they were following this young woman who wanted to bring her girlfriend to the prom in the Deep South. As they followed her through the years, she’s transitioned. It’s her story — now his story — of finding his identity and having to do it without a lot of money in a place that’s very religious. So you’re grappling with a situation where you don’t have the ability to have hormone shots and all the other things, surgery, that go with it. And on top of that you’re trying to eke out a living and on top of that you’re doing it in a place that’s a potentially hostile environment.
And Spazz/Cole is a Christian in the film.
Exactly. He’s trying to remain and be accepted, but at the same time there’s all these economic pressures. It’s the flip side of the Jenner story.
Had you ever worked with director Hillevi Loven before?
No, my connection to the film was through [producer] Chris Talbott, who I’ve known for years and years, and have experienced a number of documentaries that he did. He does a lot of work with groups that need fundraising, like Somaly Mam
. Chris was the first one to try to establish her in the US. And Okello Sam
, a child soldier who survived and started a safe place for 250 kids, and that’s been going on for 15 years.
He and I have been working with Mary Louise Parker to keep that afloat, so I know him as a person who has worked for very little to help people to find funding and do events and educate. In the meantime, he was making documentaries, so I went on pretty early with this one and we’ve bee doing everything we could to find the funds to finish it.
What resonates is how trans issues have come to the fore. What do you see as the major hurdle for LGBT rights or otherwise after marriage equality?
Whenever you start to think outside the box, people that are traditional become afraid because the structures that they depend on, whether they’re religious or economic or whatever the system is that exists, if that’s challenged, people become fearful. It’s understandable. I just did a movie [Three Generations
] where Elle Fanning is transitioning, more and more conversations where it’s accessible, where people started having that dialogue. I think the biggest hurdle is just keeping people safe, and trying to get people to understand that God didn’t make a mistake; our crayon box has a lot more colors than we imagined. It’s actually wonderful to have so many different definitions of how you can be a man, how you can be a woman, who you can be with. I think it’s an incredibly exciting time.
My youngest son [Miles] just wrote a piece
because he has long hair, and when he performs [in his band], he wears a dress. That caused a whole big thing. Very interestingly — and without my knowledge — he decided not to be frustrated by it, but to address it. I think he’s very typical of a younger person who’s very open to a lot of different ways that you can be. Just the way feminists paved the way for gay marriage, gay marriage changed the definition of what heterosexuals could be in a union. The definition of how marriage work is much broader because it was no longer designated by penises and vaginas. Once we get past body parts and we see that it’s just a detail, we will all be much freer.
The main thing is to broaden the definition of everything. Caitlyn Jenner is not the poster girl for every transgender person, but it’s good to start there, and it’s good to have them show you other people and how they’re trying to deal with becoming authentic in a different circumstance, in a different place that may be less welcoming. There are all these limitations that have been put on us by religion, by traditions, in order to have some kid of social fabric. And we have to respect and understand why this is upsetting to those people who hold on to those fabrics, and we have to allow them to hold on to them, but at the same time we have to respect and acknowledge and protect people who are redefining those labels. I think film is a good way to do it, dialogue is a good way to do it.
Certainly, more documentaries and more TV shows that are funny and respectful, all of it can be very helpful to kind of normalize the situation. In the movie I did with Elle and Naomi Watts, I’m a lesbian grandmother to Elle, and Naomi’s my daughter. I’m very resistant to the idea that she’s going to do something so drastic to her body. My line is “Can’t you just be a normal lesbian? Why do you have to do this?” Naomi keeps trying to explain that she doesn’t want to be a lesbian; she’s a boy. By the end of the movie, I say, “I was just afraid. I thought you were too young to know what you were doing, but that’s not true, I now understand. The person I love and the person that you are is not changing, what’s changing is just details.”
It’s a good place to start: that gender and age and color are just details. We have to focus on making it as easy as possible for people who have been feeling inauthentic for so long to find peace and wholeness by doing whatever they need to do to get there.
Can I ask you about your perspective on your public perception? At this point in your career, it seems like you’ve basically become the world’s hippest grandma.
[laughs] I have no idea. I think there’s a certain number of people that think I’m evil, a lot who think I’m just a fool, other people who think I’m a hip grandma and other people who I mean something to — but I have no idea in what proportion any of that exists. If you’re not alienating somebody, you’re not doing anything. Any time you take a stand, or give an interview, any time you have an opinion, it’s political whether people call it political or not. To reinforce the status quo is the political act as much as challenging it is.