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Vow of Silence from director Be Steadwell

The idea that music can express more than words is ancient. This is particularly true of life’s big truths—the universal feelings of love, anguish, and exhilaration that words just can’t quite sum up. Be Steadwell’s short film Vow of Silence understands this notion intimately. After a breakup, a woman takes a vow of silence hoping to win her love back; instead, she uncovers new dimensions as a queer woman of color in a story narrated by music, not words.

Vow of Silence is one of more than 30 films showcased in the first annual Queer Hippo International LGBT Film Festival, happening April 1–3 at the Houston Museum of African American Culture and presented by Qwest Films Network.

Kanithea Powell, festival director and creator, moved to Houston a year ago from Washington, D.C., a move she says felt like a 180-degree turn in terms of the gay community. An award-winning director, producer, writer, and actor, Powell looked around at the film festivals in Houston and felt that she could offer something more diverse, something that dug into the real queer community identity.

“I had a few conversations with film people here, and their main complaint was, ‘We’re not represented,’” Powell explains. “You walk into pretty much any other gay community outside of D.C.…and it is pretty much led by gay white guys. Where are the women? And more importantly, where are the women of color?”

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Sugarhiccup from filmmaker Lisa Donato

Powell says that in hosting this film festival, the Houston Museum of African American Culture is taking steps to open a conversation that has long been carefully avoided.

“African Americans, we got so much stuff going on—you gotta be black, you gotta be this, you gotta be that, and now you gotta be gay,” Powell says. “We just don’t talk about being gay. You can be in church and the preacher will speak about gay being a sin, and the choir director will be the gayest man in the world.”

With this festival, Powell aims to make a space where everyone—all cultures, ethnicities, and genders—feels fully included. From music videos to documentaries by artists all over the world, the Queer Hippo festival lineup is diverse and overall representation is front and center.

“Everyone needs to see themselves represented, to know that they matter, because they do,” Powell says. “You should be able to stand in a space and say I am this, and that is absolutely ok. Everybody has a face, has a place.”

April 1–3. See website for schedule. $11.54–159.24. Houston Museum of African American Culture, 4807 Caroline St. queerhippo.com

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