In the summer of 2015, the US Supreme Court made an historic ruling in the Obergefell v Hodges case which finally made gay marriage legal in all 50 states. It was a significant marker in the race before the 2016 presidential election, but more than that, it was evidence of the progressive direction the United States is moving in, despite a number of conservatives who are determined to be on the wrong side of history by claiming the ruling isn’t constitutional.
While this was a widely celebrated legal decision across the country, there was one aspect to the previous patch-work of same-sex marriage laws that made one particular aspect of unions very difficult: divorce. If you lived in a state that did not recognize same-sex marriage, you could fly to a state that did, get married, and return home. However, if you needed to get a divorce at some point after your marriage, you could not do that in your home state because they did not recognize your marriage.
And you could not just fly to a state that did recognize same-sex marriage and get a divorce because every state has a residency requirement so you would have to pick up your whole life and move there for six months to a year in order to begin the process of divorce. The residency requirements exist for both heterosexual and same-sex marriages, and still do. The problem was that recognition of same-sex marriage was a state by state law whereas heterosexual marriages were nationally recognized and so did not have this problem.
This mostly unknown-to-the-mainstream issue became the subject of a new comedy short film. ‘Wedlocked’, co-created and directed by Puppett, written by ‘The L Word’s Guinevere Turner, and produced by Christine Moore and Ally Iseman is a satirical take on this baffling situation that thankfully, no same sex couple has to ever go through again because of Obergefell v Hodges.
‘Wedlocked’, which also features a female-majority production crew, is based on some of director Puppett’s friends who had experienced the problem of wedlock themselves. Puppett got engaged to her partner in 2012 and almost eloped to NYC, where gay marriage was already legal at the time, to get married. Her relationship ended in 2013 before they reached the alter, but she also found out that if they did go ahead with the marriage, she would be unable to potentially divorce her partner until gay marriage became legal in California where she lives.
It is the first film to bring to light the issue of what the complicated process used to be when a same-sex couple wanted to get divorced. After successfully raising production costs in a Seed & Spark crowdfunding campaign, the film has already won and been nominated for a few awards. Clearly the message and the story is hitting the right notes, so we spoke to Puppett and producer Ally Iseman about the film and what they hope audiences will take away from it.
Tell us about the response Wedlocked has been getting so far?
Ally Iseman: We were honored to have been nominated for the 1st ever Bechdel Award right out of the gate at our premiere festival – Connect Film Festival in Los Angeles. We followed that up by winning an Award of Merit Special Mention – LGBT through the international Best Shorts Competition. In addition to the honor of receiving awards and nominations such as these, it has been so interesting to see the varying reactions ‘Wedlocked’ has been receiving at various festivals.
Though they have all been positive in regards to story, production, acting, etc. there is a noticeable difference in the way the humor lands. There is much more of a response to our brand of humor at LGBTQ-specific or female-driven festivals than in the more mainstream venues. I believe this speaks to the need for representation of a wider degree of diversity in film so that we don’t find ourselves needing to section off into self-segregated niches in order to support films that we connect to.
The topic is such an under-reported one in the media, how do you think this film will enlighten people?
Ally Iseman: The lack of media attention around this topic is what drove us to tell this story in the first place. We realized it was a bit of a “black sheep topic” in the conversation about marriage equality, but a necessary one to explore nonetheless. No one was talking about it and everyone we explained it to was shocked that it was happening. While things have shifted after the pivotal SCOTUS ruling last year, this does not mean that everything concerning marriage equality is all tied up in a nice little bow.
When you deal with legal issues, transitions take time and that period of limbo can get rather messy. My hope with sharing this film is that our viewers will realize that the media did not report the comprehensive story concerning marriage equality and that that understanding will encourage them to explore current and future issues themselves beyond the popular headlines.
How important is it to have a female majority cast and crew?
Ally Iseman: At this stage in the history of the entertainment industry, I believe it is vitally important to make hiring women and other underrepresented groups a priority. In my personal experience it drastically changes the energy on set. Outside of that seemingly simple, yet widely affecting change, it opens up the possibility of having a set that accurately reflects the modern world that the project is being made in. Only 16% of all Oscar nominees have been women… and that number is compiled from when the Oscars began!
Those women achieved the same level of recognition as their male counterparts with 84% less opportunity – ok I know that math doesn’t completely check out, but you see what I’m getting at. Imagine the talent we’d get to see if those numbers shifted to 50/50. Women, despite being 52% of the planet, and minorities have been given a startlingly smaller percentage of the opportunities than your average male over time.
That transfers into those overlooked individuals having a harder time building resumes despite the same or more advanced skill sets. To even things out, we have to take a bit of affirmative action and make it a priority to not only seek out the best person for the job, but the best person from within these underrepresented groups. I am not a fan of quotas or special treatment, but I see its relevance and necessity on a temporary basis to simply even out the playing field. I believe deeply in the power of media to impact societal changes on a global scale and because of that, it is our responsibility as entertainers in the business of storytelling to be agents of change not only in front of but also behind the camera.
Why did you feel it was important to make a film based on your personal experience?
Puppett: This is really about my friends’ and many peoples’ experience more so than specifically mine – I was never married. It is a situation I was close to finding myself in, but luckily I did not get myself “wedlocked” before California re-legalized marriage equality.
We keep the film light as an introduction to this legal situation that many people have never heard of before (being unable to get divorced without moving to a different state for 6 months to a year). There are a lot of reasons people seek divorce, ranging from amicable splits all the way to extreme domestic violence. When your state government refuses to divorce you, it is too easy for a violent partner to maintain control.
But also, how silly is it that in states where it was illegal for a same sex couple to get married, it was also illegal for a same sex couple to separate and no longer be married (as recognized by the federal government at the time). It would actually serve those states to have let gay couples get divorced…
When I was talking with Christine about the predicament some of my friends were in, she was surprised that she had never heard of this issue before and remarked that we could make a film about this, and help get the word out. As odd as it may sound, I hadn’t thought about my queer life and experiences that way before, as a well to draw on for unique stories to share. It clicked and made sense and I wanted to tell this story to bring this topic to light.
There are a number of great films discussing important LGBT issues (‘Freeheld’ being the best recent example). How do you think films like Wedlocked could potentially impact society or policies?
Puppett: When we bring light to laws and issues by looking at individual, specific human experiences, society can shift its thinking. People can start identifying with those that are affected by policies as opposed to just conceptualizing what they feel is right and wrong. We give them faces and experiences to connect to, to understand that there are real people being affected. Change comes when you build empathy.
What does it mean to you being a female director in an industry where they are very underrepresented?
Puppett: When I was younger, I knew I wanted to be a director. It didn’t occur to me that I would be a female director, a gender-nonconforming director, a queer director. I just wanted to make movies and films. But I learned quickly what I was getting into. This industry has a great deal of under-representation.
This is a very complicated question with many complicated answers. I am a product of my society and the industry I want to work in; I come from a place of scarcity where “I want to succeed, I want to be the second woman to win an Oscar for directing. I want to be the first queer woman to do it.. Me me me me.” But that isn’t useful; that isn’t a place I want to come from. I push myself every day to be better than that. We are all raised up when we pull each other up.
It is a much easier and happier climb into the industry when we do it together. And this is an intersectional together I am talking about: women, people of color, people who are differently-abled, people across the gender spectrum, and people across the sexuality spectrum. We need to all be elevating each other – expanding representation across the board. Right now, I am a female gender-nonconforming, queer director. As an actor, my Jewish hair makes me too ethnic for many roles, but my white face makes me too Caucasian for others.
The world is intersectional and diverse and beautiful and I know that this industry is also full of these beautiful diverse communities. What we’re seeing in the statistics is a skewed pool of who gets funded by a broken system. What it means to me to be a female director in an industry where they are very underrepresented is that I better not give up. And I hope so many others won’t either. We have to be twice as good with half as much money so that the next generation of female directors have a chance to just be directors.
They will be able to choose whether they identify as a female director. And their choice, whatever it may be, will be valid and wonderful. Knowing I’m fighting to work in an industry where I am underrepresented, but striving to still see the industry as a place of plenty, means having to take real steps and actions to create change. I make a commitment to have diverse cast and crew in my films. I urge you to do the same.
To keep up to date on where ‘Wedlocked’ is screening as the dates are announced and get a hilarious take on a serious issue that (seriously) needs to be talked about more in the media and changed, click here. The image below is a poignant still from the film, which you an find on the ‘Wedlocked’ Facebook Page.