“Are we going to wait until our artists, our queer women of color artists, die before we actually start to recognize their work?” was the question that award-winning director Madeleine Lim posed to fellow artist and activist, Jewelle Gomez, shortly after a screening of her 2013 film, “The Worlds of Bernice Bing.” Bing was a lesbian abstract expressionist painter based in San Francisco who, like many other queer women of color, failed to reach the heights of recognition that would match her level of talent before passing away in 1998.
In 2022, Jewelle’s own story was immortalized on the silver screen in “Jewelle: A Just Vision,” Madeleine Lim’s latest film, which will be featured at Out On Film later this month on Friday, September 29 at 7pm at Out Front Theatre Company. Gomez and Lim both spoke with Georgia Voice ahead of this year’s film festival.
“Jewelle: A Just Vision” follows her story, from early childhood struggles moving between family homes and coming to terms with a multiracial identity, to her journey of finding pride and liberation, to her many fights for activism, such as working with the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation since its founding during the AIDS crisis in the ’80s, and everything in between. Gomez also worked in an award-winning career as a poet and playwright, with her most popular work being, “The Gilda Stories,” a commentary on the experiences of lesbian women of color in America styled as a vampire anthology novel.
“When I would go to readings, I realized I had created another community that I hadn’t even known existed,” Gomez told Georgia Voice. “That’s gratifying, because wherever I go, I know there are going to be some people who are vampires, and they will be my fans no matter what.”
Gomez is proudest of her ability to touch so many different communities and movements. While working on “The Gilda Stories,” released in 1991, she was also working on the annual New York -based feminist magazine Conditions, along with working with GLAAD, among other things. She stays busy. Lim says Gomez is a huge role model for her because of her skill at balancing her art, activism, and livelihood so gracefully.
Lim is well accomplished in her own right as an activist and artist. She is the founder of Queer Women of Color Media Arts Project, a Bay Area-based organization focused on bringing awareness to marginalized communities through film and nurturing “filmmaker-activists as leaders of social justice movements that incorporate the power of art as cultural resistance and cultural resilience,” per QWOCMAP’s vision statement. Lim has a special vision as a documentarian because of the importance of getting the stories of our heroes out to other queer women of color artists.
Lim is motivated by the lack of support or role models she had in her own upbringing. She is widely credited as being one of the earliest prominent LGBTQ activists in her homeland of Singapore, where homosexuality only became legal this year, while doubling down on the criminality of same-sex marriage. Growing up, police would bust queer dance clubs, arrest people, and put their names in the newspaper the next day.
Madeleine recalled a small review Cosmopolitan magazine did on the 1973 lesbian novel Rubyfruit Jungle by Rita Mae Brown. The review was only three or four lines long, and “the Singapore government took every single issue, cut out that little review, then put the magazine back on stands to be sold.”
In a climate like this, there was no one to lean on. Lim knew she was queer from the age of eight, but there were no resources to equip her with the knowledge and language to understand what she was feeling.
When she reached her darkest moment, she said, “I think that has been my motivation for my community building. You know, it’s coming from a place of wanting to make it easier for the next folks that come behind me.”
The central theme of “Jewelle: A Just Vision” is belonging. It is meant to inspire people to know that we all belong somewhere. Jewelle is an example that there are people out there like us.
“Sometimes you may end up on your own,” Lim said. “If a community doesn’t exist, you have to create it.”
Gomez said that the message she hopes people get from the film is that “we’re both extraordinary and not extraordinary … you could be doing, in your own realm, something just as significant.”