In a sea full of lemons, be the lime is the message behind Donta Storey’s directorial debut, simply titled LiME. The short film follows a young Black teen who struggles to find their voice amidst oppressive surroundings — borrowing from Donta’s own origin story.
I had a wildly different childhood than what’s represented in this film. All my conflicts were internal, but the main character Deshawn’s conflicts are external, including violent homophobia. I related to what Deshawn goes through as he learns to live in his truth and I think other people can relate as well. While LiME is specifically a queer story, feeling insecure about what makes you different and how people treat you because you’re different is universal.
I had the pleasure of speaking with Donta about LiME and some of the moments from the film that resonated with me. It was an interesting comparison and contrast of different lived experiences that are undoubtably connected by the similarities shared by many queer youth, no matter what neighbourhood they grew up in.
I love the metaphor explained in the film of the rare sweet lime. Can you tell me how that idea came to you?
I wanted to make sure that I was very clear about the story I was telling. I wanted the people in my community and other communities like it to know I was talking about homophobia in our own communities because it starts at home. I was so proud of Compton and I still am proud of where I come from but for some reason I don’t feel welcomed. When I was a kid they’d say, ‘Oh he has some sugar in his tank, he’s a little sweet’ and I wanted to really reclaim that. I wanted to say you know what, I am a little sweet and that’s okay.
When I was young people told me I was gay before I even really understood what gay was. What is it a conscious decision to not explicitly address Deshawn’s sexuality in the film?
Yes, because of the very reasons that you just mentioned. I had that same experience as a young Black queer person. I knew there was something different about me, but I had people who, like you said, label you. They talk at you. I would have classmates ask me and before I could even answer they were they were like, ‘You’re gay,’ and you’re like what? Wait a second. What does that mean, first of all. So yeah, it was important for me to drop hints, like you see majorettes, the Brandy poster on the wall and the baton twirling — not to say that those are specifically queer subcultures, but I want to paint this picture where you kind of knew, but he is still exploring who he is. I feel like as a filmmaker I don’t need to make that decision for him and I want the audience to be an ally and go on this journey with him. Allow him to be a human.
There’s a growing conversation about this hyper masculine stereotype or archetype we’ve attached to Black men. When I was watching Deshawn, nervous to try out for the drill team, I felt like he doesn’t doubt his ability to make it on the team, he’s worried about what will happen, what people will say or do when he does. When I was young I wanted to join musical theatre but I didn’t want to deal with what people might say about me when I did.
Even after Deshawn makes the team, and he gets his uniform, he’s so excited but when he hears the cop car, he zips up his sweater to cover the uniform because he doesn’t want to deal with what everyone else has to say. I had that same experience as you. You have these men in your life that expect certain things and if you don’t fall in line you’re immediately a target for ridicule and questioning. They’re going to say there’s something wrong with him and you need to fix it. I definitely had that and it prevented me from living my best life. It goes back to what you said, the expectation of what Black men should be. Black men in the minds of the world, don’t cry, don’t have emotion and unfortunately that’s something embedded in our community too. It’s not just how other people see us, it’s what we’re taught.
It’s also interesting to explore that survival mechanism known as code switching. It’s something we talk a lot about in the Black community but we don’t necessarily talk about it that much in the queer community. In the film I watched Deshawn zip up his black hoodie to hide the purple and the sequins of his drill team uniform, but I have a friend who actively choses to dress more “gay” so that he’s perceived by the public as non-threatening, as opposed to being seen by some people as an “aggressive Black man” if he wears dark baggy clothes.
You know you’re absolutely right. I think code switching is something that a lot of people do without even realizing that they’re doing it. But it is something that saved my ass plenty of times. I won’t pretend that that growing up in Compton was a cakewalk. As a masculine-presenting human at that time, I was always segregated with the boys and I needed to play it safe. I felt safe doing drill team, or even at school doing band — because there was a safe haven of creatives, but when it’s time to go home I’m zipping up my hoodie. I am overly sensitive about the way that I walk. If I don’t it’s dangerous and code switching is something that Black people unfortunately have to do all the time whether it’s in their day-to-day lives or at the at their jobs. You read the space and it’s an unfortunate way to live. Honestly I’ve never ever even thought about what your friend does but I imagine the thought process behind it and I understand it. It’s unfortunate that we as Black queer men have to do that because you’d rather be perceived as non-threatening and ‘Oh he’s just queer, he’s fine,’ opposed to ‘Oh that thug.’ Man, wow.
It seems like in the past few years either the people in charge are listening or people like yourself are taking it upon themselves to put out the queer and/or Black content people have been begging for. Are you encouraged by what you’re seeing right now?
I am. Absolutely. When I was young I would dream about you being on the cover of magazines and to see Lena Waithe on the cover of Vanity Fair and a photo spread with her, at the time, fiancé… Like what? And also to know she’s from Chicago and she has that show ‘The Chi’ and she has that show ‘Twenties’. Which is centred around queerness and being in your twenties. Even with what Michaela Coel is doing right now with ‘I May Destroy You’.
I love that show!
I’m still processing half of what I’ve seen and I’m flabbergasted by her approach and what they dealt with. What they were able to do is something that I’ve never seen on television. Gay men have never been centred in the way that Michaela did with Kwame’s own storyline. I’m inspired by that. It makes me feel seen. It’s unfortunate that other people aren’t just jumping up like, 'Well here’s money to do this.’ Because Issa Rae and Michaela Coel and even Lena, they created their own stuff, and they busted their ass and they finally got to the point where the gate keepers open the doors and let them in.
After LiME’s successful festival run and debut on streaming services Donta’s turning this modern coming of age tale into a feature film. They tell me it will be expanding on parts of the short, like the majorette and drill team subcultures, but also dive deeper into toxic masculinity by highlighting how Deshawn’s bullies came to harbour so much hate. But I’m most excited when they tease that the feature film will continue to explore Deshawn coming to the realization of what makes him different and how that affects his love life. The queer high school love story needs more representation than just Love, Simon and I can’t wait to see it.
LiME is available to stream at Dekkoo.