Since its inception in 1994, the MAC AIDS Fund, the philanthropic arm of cosmetics giant MAC, has given more than $450 million to organizations focused on the rights and health of women and the LGBTQ community. As vital as fundraising is, MAC has devoted just as much attention to increasing the cultural visibility of such marginalized groups–most recently by commissioning the documentary film More Than T.
In partnership with Showtime, More Than T profiles seven transpeople with seven vastly different stories to tell. The subjects giving such intimate accounts of their experiences fill a broad swatch of identities that extend well beyond being trans. There’s defense attorney Mia Yamamoto, minister Louis Mitchell, makeup artist Gizelle Messina, policy analyst Joanna Cifredo–just to name a few.
“There’s still a lack of diversity of stories and the way those stories are depicted,” says More Than T director Silas Howard. “I was looking for a story that was about humans that happened to be trans. You can’t two-dimensionalize someone when you actually see, ‘Oh, you’re this amazing artist; you’re this fierce defense attorney; you’re this chain-smoking, cussing minister who’s just full of heart’. I wanted to show people with their long list of amazing things that were above their gender and sexual identity, but also not dismiss that.”
Extracting that message of diversity within More Than T was an intentional reflection of MAC’s own ethos of inclusion. Long before it became somewhat trendy for a mainstream brand to support the LGBTQ community, MAC pushed against societal boundaries with the MAC AIDS Fund and its longstanding charitable campaign Viva Glam that made RuPaul its inaugural spokesmodel–a rather bold decision at that time.
“The very tenant and DNA of the brand is really around the community,” says Nancy Mahon, senior vice president of MAC Cosmetics and global executive director of the MAC AIDS Fund. “It’s evident that brands have a microphone. So what we’re doing with this film is trying to use the microphone to tell what we feel is a more human story of trans folks.”
MAC’s authenticity doesn’t necessarily rest in being an early adopter of LGBTQ causes–it’s the brand’s commitment to ensuring what it’s advocating for mirrors its own practices. That, and knowing that signing checks to a community doesn’t translate into authority. Mahon intentionally brought in Howard to direct More Than T for his deft storytelling abilities that have often included stories of trans people, most notably the episodes he directed for Transparent.
“The days of simply having a spokesmodel-driven campaigns are over. It needs to be supplemented by more in-depth, real content,” Mahon says. “We specifically hired a trans director because to tell stories around trans folks and all of the challenges and issues that they face because the bottom line is, none of those pieces of legislation or employment practices are going to change until people know someone who is trans.”
“I’m really aware that the documentaries is the director’s narrative,” Howard says. “For me, I have my [trans] community but I have so many [other] communities–there’s not one way to be trans. This country is hellbent to compartmentalize and be reductive of anybody that doesn’t fit in with the heteronormative white narrative.”
However, because that heteronormative white narrative is still so pervasive, Howard’s success has saddled him with “the burden of representation.” People in the trans community like Janet Mock, Laverne Cox, and Howard are often the points of reference for others to say they know of someone who’s trans. That high-level of visibility is important, but More Than T‘s aim is to disseminate that visibility beyond those who have risen to celebrity status.
“More Than T is actually bringing something to a lot of communities outside of what you might assume is their community,” Howard says. “I remember at one point, someone saying to me, ‘Won’t you be excited to do a non-queer/trans story?’ And I was like, ‘No, I love doing this!’ I just want to do people stories and the people happen to be this.”
More Than T airs on Showtime June 23 at 7 p.m. EST.