Surrounded by the sights, sounds and smells of a NoDa coffee shop, Charlotteans Mitzi Corrigan and Stephen Friedrich sip coffee and talk about their experiences acting in “Crossroads Charlotte: The Movie.”
“It is nice to see the performing arts used in a way to serve the Charlotte area,” Friedrich says. At 18, Friedrich is a homeschooled senior ready to embark on his journey to college, hoping to enroll in the University of North Carolina School of the Arts in Winston-Salem. In the film, he plays the high school-aged character Sam, who is openly gay to classmates and friends, but closeted to his mother.
He and Corrigan, who plays Sam’s mother Julie, were just two of dozens of Charlotte citizens chosen to act in the film, a project of Crossroads Charlotte. The community initiative began in 2001, after the Queen City participated in a survey of 40 cities, in which it was revealed while the city had high levels of faith-based involvement and philanthropy, it ranked next to last in levels of social and interracial trust.
In response to the data, the Foundation for the Carolinas organized a meeting of 20 community leaders in 2004 to discuss the causes of distrust, especially between people of different races and ethnicities. As the group of leaders grappled with the issues, they found that the best way to engage community members was through the telling of stories. Thus was born “Crossroads Charlotte: The Movie.”
The film includes four short vignettes, each depicting a possible future for the City of Charlotte. The stories run from grim and bleak to upbeat and optimistic.
“I don’t think this is a town that always honors the power of the arts as much as it should,” says Corrigan, who’s casting company, C&J Casting, volunteered to choose the cast for the film. “To actually say, Let’s hand over some of this grant money to the arts to make our case, is a great honor. People are visual and to show the stories in a visual way makes a stronger impact.”
The film touches on almost every major issue a city the size of Charlotte might face. From gang violence and homelessness, to world class sporting events and booming business development, the film, while short, leaves almost nothing out, including discussions of LGBT issues.
In the film, Corrigan and Friedrich’s characters explore a variety of issues sexual orientation, single parenting, racism and privilege. Julie, a corporate, Uptown executive, works late nights, often leaving Sam to fend for himself at home.
In one of the four vignettes, “The Beat Goes On,” life in Charlotte continues pretty much the way it always has. The economy is strong, but still relies on banking and finance. Under the surface of a seemingly vibrant city lies racial tensions and community distrust.
In a scene, Julie and Sam are readying themselves for work and school, debating whether Sam should go to private school.
“It just doesn’t seem safe there anymore,” Julie says of Sam’s school.
“Why? Because not everyone is white like us?” Sam shoots back.
Corrigan says she believes the character Julie is representative of many people who aren’t always aware of how racism and stereotypes cloud their judgments.
“I don’t think she’s aware,” Corrigan says. “A lot of people are prejudiced in that way. They try to justify their reasons to be and for clumping people into categories and stereotypes.”
“People will use any excuse to be biased,” he says.
Friedrich, who is straight, says he strove to portray Sam as a normal teenager, not a stereotypically gay one. In fact, viewers don’t know of Sam’s sexual orientation until close to the end of the film.
“Something that rubs me the wrong way is when straight people play gay characters and they push it over the top,” he says. “I don’t know and I’ve never met a gay person who is like ‘Oh my gawd’ all the time.”
In the last vignette, “Eye to Eye,” Sam and his classmates are discussing diversity as their teacher announces his decision to run for city council.
“Try being gay in the South,” Sam says. “My mom does not even know I m gay.”
Friedrich says having friends and family who are openly gay helped him to bring perspective to his role in the film.
“I had a friend who recently came out to me,” he says, adding that he knows just how difficult the coming out process can be. “When people come out they totally have to put their heart out on the table and be willing to let it be crushed by anybody.”
Corrigan says Friedrich’s role in the film is a positive sign.
“Sam is very open to his class, which actually is a positive statement because, of course, not all schools are like that,” she says. “I think it is becoming possible that kids in high school now can be so supported by the whole group. I don t know how realistic that it is, but it is possibly more realistic now than ever before.”
In that last scene, viewers see Julie walking through the high school s hall. She stumbles upon Sam’s classroom just as he s making his declaration. Julie leans against the wall and cries. While the interpretation is left open to the viewer, Corrigan says she played the role to be one of sadness not over Sam’s sexual orientation, but rather that she was so disconnected as a mother that she didn’t know and Sam couldn’t tell her.
If the film could have been longer, Corrigan says, viewers would have seen Julie accept her son.
“Every mother wants to love their children, wants that relationship to be strong,” she says. “What other choice, if you are a good person, could you have possibly made?”
Both Friedrich and Corrigan hope that the Crossroads Charlotte project can bring people together and help to solve problems for which the city has yet to find solutions.
“We have some wonderful changes nationally and globally,” Corrigan says. “What’s happening here seems so far removed from that right now.”
The Queen City, Friedrich says, needs to confront the problems and move forward.
“Charlotte has gotten very, very comfortable, to a point where we’ve worn ourselves down into a little rut, stuck in the same old bigotry, financial problems and housing problems,” he says. “It is getting worse and there s no government bailout that can work our community into a place of solidity. It has to happen in the community and it has to be unification. It s not anything that money can do.”
In “Crossroads Charlotte: The Movie,” four vignettes show four possible futures for the Queen City by the year 2015.
In 10 short years, Charlotte s quality of life has changed for the worse. We have become a community divided. The gap is widening between the haves and the have-less and tension is building between racial and ethnic groups. Everyone fears or blames everyone else, and folks have lost faith in leaders to find solutions. When you examine the situation, our community failed to recognize the significant demographic and economic changes, deepening hostilities and widening gaps that were happening right under our noses.
Charlotte is on top and all signs tell us we will stay there. Our economy is thriving. Jobs are abundant. Our housing market soars, and tourist attractions are booming. Much of the positive change in Charlotte is because diverse people outside the traditional white corporate powerbase are becoming involved and being taken more seriously. Charlotte s success and fine reputation have been built with considerable commitment from our leaders and influential institutions, which have been strong, visionary, cooperative and inclusive.
The Beat Goes On
Charlotte is still seeking world class status. Professional sports, theatres, museums, banking and the airport keep it in the running. And while finance anchors our economy, technology-based companies bypass the Queen City for more creative, progressive places. Many people, particularly people of color and residents with modest and low incomes, see the same stubborn problems and fear things are getting worse. So, as Charlotte merrily continues on its path to greatness, below the surface is growing anger, resentment and distrust between racial and ethnic groups and between those who have and those who have less.
Eye to Eye
Charlotte is booming. Our economy is robust and talented people from diverse backgrounds are locating here. Charlotte has a reputation as an open, tolerant and trusting community, where diversity is welcomed and everyone has clear access to opportunity. The banding together of people of color to assume more power and to work collectively has peeled away layers of racism. We have now built trust where it did not exist before. More work needs to be done, but the citizens of Charlotte have the will and tools to ensure everyone can have a say and experience fair play in how decisions are made.
Read the full stories and watch each of the four vignettes at www.crossroadscharlotte.org.