Film

Laura Kirwan-Ashman is telling stories of Black queer joy

The director and screenwriter talks QTIBPOC representation, DIY filmmaking and her short film dedicated to queer party Pxssy Palace.

Everyone in London’s queer nightlife scene knows Pxssy Palace. Founded in 2015 by Glaswegians Nadine Ahmad and Skye Barr, it’s become a hub for the QTIBPOC community and helped pioneer best practice safer space policies. Whilst their March party was sadly put on hold by the Covid-19 crisis, you can still enter into their utopian clubbing universe thanks to Pxssy Palace a short film that’s free to watch online as part of BFI Flare. Allowing a glimpse into a queer prom-themed iteration of the party, it captures London countercultural icons like artist Victoria Sin and Inferno creator Lewis Burton whilst opening up space for members of the Pxssy Palace collective to talk community, privilege and allyship.

To celebrate Pxssy Palace’s digital screening, we caught up with its director Laura Kirwan-Ashman. A self-taught filmmaker, she uses her work to centre the experiences of Black womxn and QTIBPOC in a media world that is still far too male, pale and stale. Read below to hear more about what Pxssy Palace means to her, Magic, her short documentary focussing on Black womxn and self-care, and why she wants to bring more Black, queer joy to the big screen.

Could you tell us a bit about your professional and creative background?

I come from a DIY background. My first project for the screen was a zero-budget web series I made with the female film collective I started with two friends. It all came out of our frustration with the lack of believable, relatable young female characters on UK screens at the time. Then I started entering screenwriting competitions and schemes and got into a few which eventually led to getting an agent. Starting to work on my feature film is what really got me serious about directing, the script felt like my baby and I could see it so clearly that I knew I couldn’t hand it over to be directed by someone else.

What are your main inspirations as a filmmaker?

I genuinely love and find joy, inspiration, and cinematic merit in every kind of genre but Moonlight is one film that has had an immeasurable impact on me at every level of filmmaking. I saw it five times in the cinema and studied it like it was the film school I never went to. Then I read the script, which was such a revelation for me. It really gave me permission to be lyrical and poetic in the non-dialogue parts of my scripts, which is my natural writing style but most screenwriting books tell you not to do.

Both Pxssy Palace and your earlier short film Magic focus on intentionally making space — space for yourself and space for your community. Why is that a theme you wanted to explore?

Having those kinds of intentional spaces and finding a supportive community of people with shared experiences and understanding has been so integral to my journey with my own personal identity. Magic is a love letter to Black womxn and Pxssy Palace is a love letter to queer people of colour, none of which I had in my life up until about four years ago. The spaces created by these marginalised identities are by us and for us and offer a vital way for us to gather, communicate, grow, and heal.

What’s your involvement with Pxssy Palace been?

I’ve been going to their parties for years and became friends with the founders and lots of the members. There are lots of collectives and club nights in the QTIBPOC community and everyone goes to each other’s events, so you naturally start to meet the people who are making these amazing spaces happen.

What does Pxssy Palace mean to you?

To me, Pxssy Palace means belonging, freedom, joy, and love.

What are your aims for your work?

My goal with all of my work is to uplift and celebrate Blackness and queerness and to marinade in our joy, love and community. So much of the little representation we get on screen is centred around trauma and suffering in order to justify the dramatic worth of our stories to white, cis-het execs and commissioners and, quite frankly, I’m sick of it. There is magic in our mundanity, as much as in our excellence, and I, for one, want to see it all.

I know you’re working on a feature right now, are you able to talk about this?

It’s a Black British female ensemble film with Double Dutch, a queer awakening love story and a difficult immigrant mother-daughter relationship. That’s all I can really say right now but I basically filled it with all of my favourite things, just in case I never get to make another film! It’s currently in development with the BFI.

Pxssy Palace is part of the Five Films for Freedom programme of queer film shorts screening digitally as part of BFI Flare. You can check out Pxssy Palace in full below.

27 March 2020

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