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Mississippi Queen: A Documentary That Addresses The Anti-Gay Ministry

Mississippi Queen, a new documentary, addresses the issue of homosexuality from a religious analysis. This ground breaking film provides both sides of the debate and ultimately deals with the question of who's right or wrong.

When Shakespeare wrote his famous play Hamlet, the quote "to be or not to be, that is the question," became the hallmark during the 18th century.  Similarly, the 21st century question is homosexuality:  to be or not to be, is it a choice has become as contentious as Hamlet's revenge.  The new documentary, Mississippi Queen addresses this very issue and ultimately deals with the question of who’s right or wrong.  Producer and filmmaker, Paige William, is the voice behind this ground-breaking film.  I had an opportunity to speak with Paige before she and her crew began shooting, and she candidly shared her unique relationship with her parents, who are leaders of the only ex-gay ministry in Mississippi, the purpose of the documentary, and why this story is so important.

Janet Thomson:  Paige I want to thank you for agreeing to interrupt your busy schedule to speak with me.

Paige Williams:  No problem, you caught me at a great time.  I’m on my way to Jackson, Mississippi to pick up my crew.

JT:   When did you come up with the concept (idea) for MS Queen? PW:  I have been telling my story for years, but it wasn’t until about two months ago that I decided it should be a documentary. About that time, there was a lot of publicity on the ex-gay movement with the Montel Williams’ show, Tyra Banks, Anderson Cooper, etc.  I thought it would be good for an audience to see a personal perspective rather than a political one and show what the effect of reparative therapy has on people behind the backdrop of Southern culture. JT:  What’s the meaning behind the title?

PW:  Mississippi Queen stands for the matriarch, my mother, myself, all things female, gay queens – I grew up in a society where the emphasis was on beauty and pageantry. The term manifests itself in so many ways. This is a reclamation and covering of all things stately, grandiose and over the top. JT:  What makes MS Queen different from other documentaries?

PW:  This is a personal documentary – a journey of getting to the bottom of the ex-gay ministry and the role it has had in my parents life, thus, my life JT:  What types of people are your targeting?

PW:  We are interviewing ex-gays, ex-gays, leaders of the ex-gay ministry, protestant pastors with differing biblical interpretations, gay Christians, what I’m calling “sidewalk interviews” with random Mississippians and centering it all around my story with my parents.

JT:  What exactly is the ex-gay ministry and what is their purpose?

PW:  The ex-gay ministry varies among differing organizations, but in general, it is based on religion and a desire to not be gay anymore. It tries to do away with same sex attraction through prayer, therapy and sometimes even shock treatments.

JT:  Have you ever had shock treatment? If so, explain the experience.

PW:  I have never been through any ex-gay therapy. I have not interviewed anyone who has had shock therapy. When they use electric shock, it is called "aversion therapy."

JT:   Why is it important that this story be told?

PW:  Ultimately Mississippi Queen is universal in that it questions and discovers how we deal with those in our lives with whom we love but fundamentally and theologically disagree with. JT:  How long have your parents been involved with the ex-gay ministry? PW:  Around five years. Mother started at Love in Action to try to find help for me. She says that she realized she could only help herself. She has actually said to me that she was glad I was gay because it brought her closer to the Lord. This from a woman who tried to scare me away from my first girlfriend with my daddy’s shotgun! We’ve come a long way baby!

JT:  How do your parents feel about this documentary?

PW:  They are in full support of this documentary and think that God is going to use it to change me. JT:  What was it like growing up knowing that you were different (lesbian)?

PW:  One thing I love about Mississippi is that it’s easy to be eccentric. The state is as colorful as its people, and I always knew I was a part of that beauty. I loved being different – it felt normal. JT:  When did you come out and how did your parents respond?PW:  I didn’t really come out – my mother always had an intuition about it – always watching that I didn’t hang out with older girls who seemed unfeminine. Our extended family has an overwhelming amount of gays so she was always weary and on the lookout. It probably started when I was four, and I refused to wear bloomers and demanded my red cords. My senior year of high school I was practicing for debate with my girlfriend and she walked in. We weren’t even by each other – but she knew. My father asked for me to come down later because mom was crying. I went into her room and asked why she was crying. She said “you know why I’m crying,” and I never denied it. It went from there. My father found out a few months later.  I think my mother had a breakdown, and I was definitely no longer daddy’s little girl in my father’s eyes. JT:  What is your relationship like today?

PW:  Wonderful - The best I could hope for us despite our differences. We have all gone through a lot of healing, prayer and a deep understanding of the test of true love. We are very honest with one another. I actually was able to tell my folks that I am pregnant last week and mom said “congratulations” and has been very supportive. I haven’t really talked to my dad about it but will when I go home for the documentary. They love my wife but do not recognize her as my wife – these are the things we still deal with and probably always will.

JT:  Will you be featured in the film? PW:  Yes JT:  What can viewers expect to learn about Paige Williams? PW:  My story, my journey and the desire that I have to help folks get through tough situations and learn to love one another. JT:  Is anyone else working with you on this project? PW:  I have the pleasure to bring two friends and colleagues along with me on this journey – Bryce Jensen, the director of photography and Travis Stevens, the sound recordist. Neither of them have been south and are in for a real surprise (I’m not telling them about the heat). JT:  Are either of them gay? PW:  No they’re not. JT:  Why has Bryce and Travis agreed to partner with you on this project?  PW:  Bryce and Travis are both totally enthralled by my story and how I love my parents regardless of their ministry and vice versa. I think they trust me a lot and know that I am very passionate about this project and know that from great passion comes great art. They are totally intrigued by this unknown (to them) Southern culture as well. JT:  What message are you trying to convey? PW:  To love one another, regardless. JT:  Who will benefit from this documentary?

PW:  I believe that so many people can benefit from this documentary in so many ways. For example, Bryce, when leaving his job in the Twin Cities to shoot this movie, told people what he was doing, most replied, “well don’t get shot.” There are still a lot of stereotypical views of Southerners that I would like to flush. I believe that the gay community will benefit through a look into theology. I believe that this documentary will help the church understand how their actions can negatively affect their purpose. A lot of times, we lose the true nature of Jesus in the name of religion, and I want to do my little part in helping reveal it.

JT:  When will the documentary be released? PW:  We intend to release a trailer very soon. Post production will take about 24 weeks. At that point, the film will start traveling the film festival circuit and will hopefully be picked up by a distributor. JT:  What venue are you hoping to feature the film? PW:  It will be great if we can get an edit ready for Octoberfest in Jackson, Mississippi that occurs in October. But the submission is due in August, so I'm not sure that can happen. JT:  Any closing remarks or last thoughts you would like to share? PW:  We began production yesterday as we drove to Spokane, WA airport and now, sitting in New Orleans post Katrina, I feel the hope of the human spirit and the ability for humanity to do great things out of the terrible. It truly motivates me and reminds me of the beauty of the South.

JT:  Paige it has been a pleasure speaking with you.  Good luck and continued success with your project.

Paige Williams is originally from Clinton, Mississippi and currently resides in Missoula, Montana. She received a Master of Fine Arts in Media Arts, a Master of Arts in Theatre from the University of MontanaFeature Articles, and a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy from Millsaps College. For more information about this upcoming film visit http://www.msqueenmovie.com or http://www.myspace.com/msqueendocumentary

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