Whether it be within their intimate relationships or vis-à-vis patriarchal microaggressions in public, women are oftentimes made to feel uncomfortable.
That’s the concept behind writer, director and producer Meghan Ross’ directorial debut short film, “An Uncomfortable Woman.” The 20-minute film follows Dylan, a young African-American woman who is healing from both the recent loss of her mother to a mystery illness and a break-up with her long-time partner and fiancé.
“She is a woman in her early ‘30s, so she’s in this stage where people expect her to be married, settled, and things to be all dandy, but she has to start over,” says Ross.
“An Uncomfortable Woman” — brainchild of both Ross and her “writing accountability” buddy Sam Stepp — was originally inspired by made-for-TV movies like “Odd Girl Out,” “Fifteen and Pregnant” and “Dying to Get Out,” cheesy afterschool specials that seemed to capitalize off of women’s misfortune.
“We thought about this concept of women’s pain being used as entertainment,” says Ross. “Because Lifetime movies are always some outrageous scenario where it’s like ‘how can we hurt women the most emotionally and maybe physically?’ So we kind of honed in on that.”
Ross added another feminist twist by flipping of the traditional white lead and ethnically ambiguous sidekick duo. “An Uncomfortable Woman” places the woman of color front and center, while a white woman plays her best friend and the comic relief. The lead role, Dylan, is played by 33-year-old Robin Beltrán, a Houston-based actress.
“The fact that someone wanted a Black lead who was strong and tall — I am a former athlete, I have big hair and a big presence — for someone to want that is completely contrary to what we see onscreen,” says Beltrán. “Especially right now with Hollywood being seen as a force of movement for political rights and equality, I’m glad to now be a part of that movement in showing representation on screen.”
Host of an all-woman, late-night comedy show “That Time of The Month”, Ross is, at heart, a comedy writer. Jokes are found here and there throughout the film, dispersed like hidden Easter eggs, Ross says. Highlights include a refrigerator smattered with wedding invitations advertising sentiments like “We’re only in it for that Kitchen Aid mixer” and “Come celebrate our gross, heteronormative love.”
Inspired by dark, offbeat comedies like “Search Party” and “Ingrid Goes West,” Ross wanted to show a woman of color coming to terms with her traumatic experiences while dealing with day-to-day microaggressions.
“An outsider’s perspective is like, ‘that’s a fleeting moment, no biggie.’ From the woman’s perspective who is receiving that harassment, even if it’s small, it can ruin your day; it can ruin your week; it can trigger something else,” says Ross.
Mia Garza and Maggie Burger, producers of the short film, say the film offers a rare opportunity for women — self-identifying feminists or not — to laugh at otherwise bleak everyday events like scolding yourself for over apologizing to men or being overly suspicious of men in public.
“When we’re watching on the monitor, I’m trying not to laugh, and everyone is trying not to laugh too, I can tell. I like shed a tear trying not to laugh,” says Garza. “I think part of the reason that it is so funny is that it’s so relatable, but it’s a slightly dramatized version.”
The majority of the film was shot at a light-filled house on Canyon Lake, about an hour southwest of Austin. During a day spent on set, the vibe felt like any other shoot with various crew members hanging around waiting for jobs to do, actors shoveling down food before their call time.
Yet in other ways, the environment felt special.
The entire cast and crew of “An Uncomfortable Woman” are women and/or people of color — a resolute decision on Ross’ part to change a film industry paradigm. Sharing their own experiences of discrimination in society, and in Austin’s local film scene, quickly bonded the cast and crew and allowed for more open discussions, Burger says.
“When you have a set of mostly women and people of color, I think what you inadvertently end up doing is creating a safe place for us to experience all these things together,” says Burger. “I have seen some problematic things on [other] shoots, but I am the minority and I don’t feel comfortable saying anything.”
Ross wanted to make a concerted effort to ensure behind-the-scenes crew members were just as diverse as actors in front of the camera.
“I’ve watched all these Joe Schmos fuck up a set and be abusive, and not be thoughtful about their departments under them and I was like, ‘well even if I’m not going to be a great director I am going to be caring and thoughtful and make everyone feel like they have a purpose on set,’ versus screaming at a PA,” says Ross.
Small details like the film poster being millennial pink were sources of contention for Ross, who was alert to bogus feminism branding, something she thinks about in her day-job as a producer for T3, the largest woman-owned independent advertising agency in the country,
For Burger, devising all the elements of the film and its packaging, was a chance to “lean in,” embrace the pink and make a movie that pokes fun of what a girly, feminist film is supposed to be.
“I think that it’s really easy to dismiss important narratives saying ‘this is a feminist film, they’re just trying to be feminist,’ but I think that at the end of the day this is an original story and this is an important story,” says Burger. “This is about a complex character, it’s not just about her being a woman, it’s not just about her being a woman of color, it’s about a character with intersectionality, and lots of different values, wants, hopes and beliefs.”
“An Uncomfortable Woman” will soon enter the post-production phase and Ross will work on submitting the finished product to festivals like the Austin Film Festival and South By Southwest Film Festival. The small team was able to crowdfund over $10,000 to help pay for the film, over 75 percent of the goal.
“I am really excited about seeing it come together,” says Ross. “It still feels surreal, I feel like I’m going to grieve the process of it being done, but I’m glad it’s a good idea, I’m glad it’s something I love with people I love — I haven’t told the crew I love them yet but I guess that’s the big reveal!”