In the wake of Father's Day, it's safe to assume that plenty of gay men are feeling a little sour--still tasting a bitter reminder of, perhaps, a paternal relationship that never quite worked out the way they'd hoped. This isn't exactly the experience of actor and filmmaker Marc Jordan Cohen, but it's just one part of what he channels into Daddy Issues, his debut web series that he's unveiling today.
In the series, Cohen plays Matt, a New York-based college grad whose own daddy issues prompt him to sleep with older men, and, eventually, toy with prostitution. Co-starring Melanie Porras and Brian Swinney, and currently up on Kickstarter where supporters can donate, Daddy Issues got Cohen thinking about introspection and intersectionality. He shared his thoughts with OUT.
OUT: You could make a first film about anything. Why did this specific story/subject appeal to you?
Marc Jordan Cohen: For me, this came naturally out of what I felt I needed to work on in my life and writing. At first it was way too personal--almost a journal entry. However, Daddy Issues is a hyperbolic version of my microscopic universe. I feel like we all have daddy issues. I wanted to tell a story about forgiving and letting go of your past and being fully aware of shaping your present. We hold on to so much pain and trauma and fail to see the best in people because we are blinded by how they fell short, or at least how we tell ourselves they did.
As you say, most people deal with daddy issues, including a lot of gay men. How does the general theme relate to you personally? What pain of your own is being channeled into this work?
My father was the catalyst for my self-worth, self-doubt, and my aim for perfection. Growing up, I faced emotional abuse and the occasional tight grip, putting me in my place. I felt very silenced. My dad was raised to be a doctor. His parents didn't let him to follow his passion for acting and he didn't fight them on it. We didn't understand each other when I was a kid. I didn't even know who I was. I fought my sexuality because I didn't see myself represented in my father or in the media. As I've grown older, I've worked to understand him as I've learned to accept myself. I've come to understand his pain, his regret, and seen him make mistakes. Today, he is the most supportive person and my number one fan. I'm blessed that he can support my need to dig to the root of my pain and express it in art, because he never had that opportunity.
Marc Jordan Cohen
Daddy Issues is very often showing books in frame. What's the significance of the books?
Ha. The Idiot just happened to be there when we were filming. However, Dostoevsky is a very dense writer. There are so many characters to follow in his novels. Specifically in The Idiot, the main character Myshkin is naive and innocent, not always making the best decisions and stepping into a world he isn't accustomed to. It's quite similar to the world Matt is blindly stepping into. The book Danny (Swinney) is reading, as I'm sure many know, is A Little Life, a story about four college friends and their rise to adulthood in New York City. I felt like it was a good mirror for Matt, Destiny (Porras). and Danny.
In many ways, the topic of sex work is controversial in the LGBTQ community--it's especially sensitive in regard to trans women who often find it to be the only way they can manage to make income. Can you discuss how you had to be sensitive to those issues when creating a sex-work story line?
I would say there is diversity to sex work. There are some people who use it as survival and that's something we have to grapple with as a community. How do we support queer and trans folks who feel they have no other options besides sex work? How can we create other options for them and what does that look like? There are others who enjoy sex and find themselves doing sex work because it's fun for them or because it's good money. I explore that side of things in the series, but by no means am I trying to diminish trans women. I'd love to learn more and figure out how we as a community can do more to help.
What story do you hope to ultimately tell as you proceed with this series, and why do you think it's important and relevant for queer life in 2017?
We live in a time of great division. There is a lot of negativity, insensitivity, and hateful speech. I want people to recognize we are all flawed. We have to lift each other up, rather than continuing to look for reasons to knock each other down, especially within the LGBTQ community. The recent flag controversy is just one example. There were heated arguments about two stripes. Two stripes.. Why can't we just say, "Hey if you need that to feel more included, I'm happy for you." Everyone is so ego-driven. Daddy Issues brings three friends together. They have different backgrounds but similar pain. They need each other. We all need each other. We have to do better as a community. We can't just speak up when our own letter of the LGBTQ acronym is targeted. We have to speak up whenever any of us is targeted. My goal is to inspire kindness, compassion, and acceptance by exploring our pain.
What do you hope viewers will take away from this series?
First, I hope that we are able to finish making the series! I've only given enough in the first nine minutes [shown below] to whet the appetite. I hope viewers look back on childhood, how they define their family relationships, and take a step back to open their hearts. We're all human and we make mistakes. You've got to forgive to move forward. Writing this show was my way of forgiving. I'm not saying you should call up your father who hasn't spoken to you in 10 plus years, but maybe let go of that resentment. Look at how you've become stronger. Be thankful for the chosen family we have as a queer community, and lean on each other. More love. That's what I hope for.