"Why a Straight White Man Made a Comedy About Homophobia
My name is Ryan Barton-Grimley. I am the producer, director, cowriter, and co–lead actor of the award-winning independent feature film Elijah's Ashes, a dark comedy about homophobia. Yes, you read correctly. Elijah’s Ashes is a dark comedy about homophobia. And full disclosure: I’m also a straight white, male. So you’re probably thinking, Could this get any worse? It’s pretty hard to imagine a film that could be a harder sell or a more unlikely candidate to make this film. And also, why would anyone write and or make a comedy about homophobia? There’s nothing funny about discrimination.
You’re absolutely right. And that’s why I spent the last four years writing, producing, shooting, acting in, editing, promoting at 40-plus film festivals worldwide, enduring exhaustive Q&A sessions and finally, in some bizarre twist of fate, selling the worldwide rights to Elijah’s Ashes to a boutique indie film distributor. Heck, it’s even going to play for a week at an art-house theater in Hollywood — next week, in fact. But why would anyone do this? The simple answer is, I had a call to action.
A few years back, I left my average, liberal home in Los Angeles and ventured up the coast for what I thought would be a fun July 4 weekend spent with my parents at a large cook-off, which was sponsored by a fraternal organization my father used to be president of. The event raises money for local charities, so I agreed to go with my parents to show support, soak up some good old-fashioned Americana, and eat my weight in barbecue. The weather was nice, the food was delicious, and things were going pretty well until I encountered a group of men who waived me over to hang out.
These men were mostly white and over the age of 30. I went to high school with some of them, but some were from my father’s generation. As we caught up on old times and barbecue recipes, things seemed rather innocuous until a particular man walked by. He was a member of the fraternal organization that put on the event, and apparently there were some questions about his sexual orientation. Once the man was out of earshot, what proceeded was some of the darkest, most vitriolic, and unabashed homophobia I’ve ever heard. It was overt, it was ugly, and it was accepted by the group.
Now, as I'm someone who had been living in Los Angeles for over a decade. where acceptance is the norm — not to mention, having close gay friends, coworkers, and family members — this completely blew my mind. I was horrified. This real-life event was the experience that spawned the script and then the film that became Elijah’s Ashes.
Later that night, I tried to make sense of my experience. Was I that out of touch? Was I living in a liberal bubble filled with acceptance and tolerance that did not reflect the values of my fellow citizens? Additionally, I was struck by how brazen these men were, just assuming I was straight. They had no idea what my life was like, how I identified, who I loved, etc. They just though I was one of “them” and I would go along with their prejudice. It stuck with me for weeks, hanging over me like a dark cloud, until one day I finally decided to sit down and write about it with the tools I possess. And what tools do I speak of? The tools of comedy and absurdism. You see, I’m an improviser. I find humor in truth — sometimes very ugly truth. And the very extremely ugly truth is that homophobia, like all prejudice, is absurd and ridiculous.
I chose to heed this call to action by making a dark comedy feature film about homophobia. I chose to hold up a mirror to these “aggressors” and “oppressors” in this awful equation so they can see just how absurd and ridiculous their homophobic prejudices are. This is something I can do to make a difference with my work, and to make a bigger impact than just on a one-to-one personal level. It is a way for me to stand up for and with the gay community because now, more than ever, all communities that don’t identify as straight, white, and Christian are under assault.
Now more than ever, if you are part of the majority in this country, you need to take a stand against discrimination in whatever way you can. You need to become an ally to these communities, because their rights are being threatened every day, their very right to even exist is being called into question and because it’s the right thing to do. This is why I made Elijah’s Ashes.
RYAN BARTON-GRIMLEY is the director of Elijah's Ashes, a film about a gay man who goes on a road trip with his homophobic half-brother to bury their father's remains. It screens at Arena Cinelounge in Hollywood through October 19. Learn more at ElijahsAshes.com and watch the trailer below.