SCAD Works: Professor Stephen Stanley’s Pride Pics

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June 17, 2021 · By SCAD

Stephen Stanley (M.F.A., film and television, 2007) is a prolific producer, writer, filmmaker, and since 2018, professor of film and television at SCAD. In April of this year, he racked up a #1 hit on Netflix as producer of What Lies Below, a feature film directed by Braden Duemmler that was test-screened for SCAD students before its general release. Professor Stanley is highly esteemed at SCAD for his popular classes covering production, direction, and the business of film.

Steve Stanley:

A key to visibility is having agency in how your community is depicted in media. Growing up in the 1980s, it was virtually impossible for me as a young gay boy to see other Queer people on TV or in movies, primarily due to FCC regulations and studio prejudices. The few LGBTQ+ characters who did show up were typically either troubled souls or outlandish stereotypes, most often created by straight writers and directors.

With some notable early—and mostly coded—exceptions, it wasn’t until the emergence of New Queer Cinema in the early ’90s that Queer directors and producers were able to shape their own image on screen. The result was revolutionary. Audiences were able to see fully formed LGBTQ+ characters who reflected the diversity of our community. While visibility exposes us in a way that can feel uneasy, it also helps connect, unite, and protect us.

This Pride month, I want to recommend five films from that period made by LGBTQ+ filmmakers of enduring power.

1. Mala Noche, Gus Van Sant (1986): While 1991’s My Own Private Idaho is justifiably Van Sant’s most lauded work from this period, Mala Noche offers a look at the auteur as he developed his signature style. Set, like Idaho, in a world of street hustlers, Van Sant delivers a raw look at urban Queer life and the uneasy coexistence of gay people alongside vulnerable populations.

2. Poison, Todd Haynes (1991): Anticipating the breakthrough of his tour-de-force Safe, Poison captures Todd Haynes at his best:  thoughtful, audacious, and visually stunning. Haynes explores power, male sexuality, and the sensationalizing of the AIDS crisis in this richly provocative triptych.

3. I Am My Own Woman, Rosa Von Praunheim (1992): A bold and experimental hybrid of narrative and documentary about trans woman Charlotte Von Mahlsdorf, who lived through Hitler’s Third Reich and the Communist East German regime. Mahlsdorf plays herself and narrates this remarkable look at joy and bravery in the face of constant danger. 

4. Go Fish, Rose Troche (1994): A fun, funky look at the diversity of lesbian culture at a time when Queer female characters lacked agency in Hollywood (except as villains). Troche embraced her budget limitations with a raucous approach to experimentation that enchants, most notably in her deconstruction of classic Hollywood love scenes. 

5. The Watermelon Woman, Cheryl Dunye (1996): Dunye wrote, directed, edited, and stars in this landmark film about a young African-American lesbian who, after watching a film where a black actress in a Mammy role is credited as simply “The Watermelon Woman,” decides to investigate her identity. Using comedy, drama, and behind-the-scenes intrigue, Dunye shatters traditional storytelling boundaries while examining issues of race, sexuality, and media.

Read more of Stephen Stanley’s writing on LGBTQ+ films in his contribution to professor Lubomir Kocka‘s book Left or Right? Directing Lateral Movement in Film (Vernon Press, 2021).

The Daily Times: Maryville High School alumni chart varied paths to careers in the arts

A career in the arts isn’t out of reach, three Maryville High School alumni told today’s students, encouraging them to say yes to opportunities.

When Steve Stanley graduated in 1990 and headed to Rhodes College in Memphis, he studied mathematics and religion before settling on French.

“I was going to be a French teacher,” he told Maryville students gathered in the high school theater Wednesday morning, Nov. 20.

But first he wrote “one fairly mediocre novel” with a friend before they decided their style was better suited for screenplays and began making their own movies.

A master’s degree in film and television from Savannah (Georgia) College of Art and Design (SCAD) led to an internship at a Los Angeles talent agency that Stanley said changed his life.

He intended to write and direct films but ended up working on financing projects for clients such as David Schwimmer. Then he ran a distribution company and started producing films and directing documentaries.

“A career in the arts is fantastic,” Stanley told the teens. But he encouraged them to figure out whether their passion will be a hobby or a job.

“There’s something beautiful about doing it as a hobby and just doing it for the love of it,” he said. “Doing it as a job changes your relationship with it. For me, it was worth doing full time, but I kind of had to constantly renew my joy about it, because sometimes you become jaded.”

Currently he’s a professor at the SCAD, which also gives him time to write and direct films, such as the documentary short “Conway Pride.”


Werner Herzog at UCA

I was thrilled to sponsor and arrange Werner Herzog’s trip to Arkansas, Memphis, and Hot Springs.  I first got to meet Werner while working as an assistant to his agent David Gersh and then later as part of the agency’s finance and sales division.  This was his first trip to the Mid-South and he was a fantastic guest and mentor.

Master Class with Jean-Pierre Jeunet

While working as a Visiting Professor in SCAD Lacoste’s summer program, I had the opportunity to moderate a Master Class/Q&A with renowned filmmaker Jean-Pierre Jeunet.  He’s been a personal hero of mine since I first saw Delicatessen at a midnight screening in Paris in the 90’s, and his insight was incredible for the students (and for me!).