A Journey of Mental Health and Healing at Outfest Fusion

Films at this year’s Outfest Fusion QTBIPOC Film Festival explored how meaningful storytelling can expand audiences perceptions of how mental illness effects queer and trans people of color.

By Gisselle Palomera

April 19, 2023

A Black man leans down to smell yellow flowers. A still from Campbell X’s Still We Thrive.

According to the 2022 Census Report, 60% of young adults who identify as LGBTQ+, between the ages of eighteen to twenty-nine years old, struggle with mental illness. That report does not specify the higher proportion of those who suffer with mental illness in combination with racism and transphobia that comes with not being white or cisgender. 

To explore meaningful storytelling about the intersections between mental illness and queer and trans people of color, look no further than the films at the Outfest Fusion QTBIPOC Film Festival. This year, several films portrayed mental illness, addiction and healing from a lens that humanizes the queer and trans people of color who struggle with these issues. 

In director Nicole Bazuin’s Thriving: A Dissociated Reverie, Kitoko Mai stars as a former sex worker who has been recently diagnosed with Dissociative Identity Disorder. Mai is nonbinary, but their alters are not. The alters run their own lives and, when it comes down to it, they help Kit, or “the system host,” get through tough times. This film is the perfect combination of light-hearted comedy and a deep, meaningful portrayal of the real-life challenges a person faces as they confront and try to balance mental illness, capitalism and a world-wide emergency. 

“I’m really into educating people, and again that comes up in the film. Part of it is teaching people about DID,” said Mai, a multidisciplinary, disabled artist who lives with DID in their everyday life.

A nonbinary person with short brown hair wearing clear glasses, a purple hat and overalls covered in paint. They hold a paint brush. Several paintings are hung behind them. A still from Nicole Bazuin’s Thriving: A Dissociated Reverie.

Addiction is a form of mental illness represented in films at this year’s festival, such as Joseph Amenta’s coming-of-age drama Soft. The film follows Julian and their group of young friends who navigate their uncertain future while becoming enveloped in the adult nightlife industry and the substances that come with it. Julian leaves home at a young age as a result of rejection from their mother, leaving them vulnerable to the unforgiving streets. According to a GenderWatch study, homelessness is a major pipeline to substance abuse and mental health risk factors for gender non-conforming and non-cisgender youths. 

A film that approaches mental health in a different way, Still We Thrive from director Campbell X is a poetic, rallying call for Black people to liberate themselves and revolutionize mental health by resisting the systems of oppression that have been in place since white men took over. The film is a reminder of how often and how relentlessly these systems sicken the community and the environment. 

“Resistance is our mental health,” says one of the poets in the film. 

Lines from different poems fill the narrative and visual clips of times throughout history where oppression continues to take over Black peoples’ lives. The film is a call for a journey of healing alongside community and nature. 

A hand extends to light a cigarette being held by a young, Black genderqueer person with short black dreads. A still from Joseph Amenta’s Soft.

The films all share a commonality: mental health risk factors are worldwide and transcend demographics. What we all have in common as members of the QTBIPOC or LGBTQ+ communities is that we all have to address these systems of oppression that put youth out on the streets and into the arms of addictive substances. This work expands our traditional understanding of mental health and creates more empathetic and empowering representation. 

These films make the critical case that QTBIPOC liberation cannot happen without healing.

Gisselle Palomera (they/them) is a freelance multimedia journalist from East Los Angeles, California. Their work can be found on Tagg magazine, News Is Out and The Q26 blog. Follow them on LinkedIn to see their work.

Palomera is one of the eight 2023 Outfest Inclusive Press Initiative Fellows for the Outfest Fusion QTBIPOC Film Festival. You can learn more about them and the program here.


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