this film imagines a world in which kids are bullied for being straight

i-D speaks to 'Love Is All You Need' director Kim Rocco Shields about the tragedy in Orlando, the HB2 'bathroom bill,' and why she's staging a protest screening in North Carolina tonight.

by Hannah Ongley
16 June 2016, 3:15pm

"That's what happens to me every day." "This happened to me and I considered doing what she did." "I haven't quite found myself yet and I don't know what I am." These are some of the thousands of comments left on Kim Rocco Shields' viral short film Love Is All You Need: a cautionary tale about gay bullying that flips the script by envisioning a world in which same-sex love is the norm and heterophobia is endemic. The PG-rated video has so far clocked 45 million views. In 2014, a teacher in Florida was fired for playing what the school board deemed "inappropriate and explicit material" during a study period. After hearing the news, Shields flew to the southern state to document the horrifying board meeting about the teacher's dismissal.

The director has now turned the viral short into a feature film starring Emily Osment and Briana Evigan as high school sweethearts, and teen heartthrob Tyler Blackburn as Evigan's "queer" love interest. The film has been hitting the festival circuit over the last few months, but before its theatrical release this fall, Shields is going rogue with a special screening in North Carolina this Thursday June 16. She hopes to raise awareness of the insane HB2, aka the "bathroom bill" which promotes transphobic beliefs while eliminating the right to sue for any discrimination in the workplace. The screening is all the more timely and important in the wake of the devastating event that happened last weekend, just 100 miles south of the city where the teacher was fired in 2014: the massacre of 49 people at a gay nightclub in Orlando. i-D spoke to Shields about the film that's needed now more than ever.

How is everything out there in North Carolina after the tragedy this weekend?
It's going all right, kind of. Everyone's sending me links to people saying things in support of what happened in Orlando, and it's gut-wrenching. People are saying this was done in order to normalize homosexuality so that society feels sorry for the community — there are so many conspiracy theories, it's unbelievable. The [attack] in Orlando has only furthered a need for this film to open dialogues and save lives. Education saves lives, and that's the notion of the film.

When did you decide to bring the screening out to North Carolina?
About two months ago. Right when HB2 hit the forefront of the news, and we found out that it had a darker side to it that the media wasn't really covering. That, at the core, is my mission behind Love Is All You Need. The film really touches on true stories that have happened in the United States, but also on how the Bible is misused as a weapon to create hate. I'm seeing that right now. That's not its intent.

Do you have a religious background?
Yes, I do — I actually went to Catholic school. I've done a deep study of the Bible. In writing the film I had to write what I knew. It was interesting to me because I couldn't wrap my head around why Westboro was happening. I inundated myself with their doctrine and I read everything I could. At the end of the day, I started to understand why they feel the way they do. They are driven by fear, and they firmly believe that sin is going to cause God to rain it down. I think all violence is driven by fear. Do I agree with [this idea]? No. Absolutely not, which is why I wanted to showcase it — because it's absurd. But only through understanding am I able to create this very real dialogue.

When and why did you decide to turn the viral short film into a feature-length movie?
I decided to create a short in 2011 because bullying was all over the news, and I wanted people to have empathy for these kids. People could not understand why kids were taking their own lives. It was almost like there was a rush of suicides, but that wasn't the case. Kids have been taking their lives for a long time. So I decided to create a short showcasing a little girl who went through exactly that. I first thought of doing it with a little boy, but I realized that society is so desensitized to male violence. The result was explosive. The film went viral literally overnight, with no promotion whatsoever. We can conservatively say that it had 50 million views, but it was leaked on so many different platforms. I knew I had something, and I knew it would be commercially viable, so I decided to get the feature made. My mission with the feature was to show a relatable love story. It's based on true events and stories of bullying, including exact sermons from the Westboro baptist church. It's intended to enlighten mainstream America. Because we can preach to the choir all day long, but there is a percentage of the world that just isn't watching LGBT movies. This is an effort for my community to show mainstream America what it is like. It's not a gay movie. For a lot of LGBT youths, it's actually extremely difficult to watch, because this is their lived reality.

The bullying that takes place through text messages is particularly horrific.
The text messages that little girl gets are actual text messages that were sent to kids before they killed themselves. My co-writer David Tillman and I wrote this film 70 times, and wanted to keep it as culturally relevant as possible. Digital communication can aid the desensitization of humanity. That's why it was important to put it in there.

The approach to gender roles is really thoughtful. Jude is the star quarterback, but her girlfriend displays a lot of stereotypically female traits.
I knew the concept would be tough for people to wrap their heads around. Because when you think about inverting the roles, people immediately go to stereotypes — every guy is flamboyant, and every girl is butch. Stereotyping doesn't work unless it's for comedy. In the short I flipped the gender roles, but I didn't feel like that was effective. In the feature, I decided that men and women would be on equal playing fields. If you have a men's football team, there will be a women's football team. The main antagonist is captain of the men's football team, and they're terrible. You'll see a male preacher, you'll also see a female preacher. It's not reversed, and I made sure that no one was a stereotype. Jude is a fine line — but for that to work, she has to be a believable quarterback. She is both feminine and very sexy, but she's a football player. I really kept a strict watch on the stereotyping.

On the YouTube film there are a lot of really heartfelt comments from LGBT youth. Did you get any responses that really stood out to you, either online or in person?
I've had people write to me after seeing the short film and tell me that it changed their life. One kid made a video telling me how the short film made her stop cutting herself, because she realized she wasn't alone. I also have a few audience reactions on video from when the feature was shown at festivals. I had one woman accost me two months ago. She said, "I came to find you today, because last night my mother attended your premiere and today she called me for the first time in 15 years. She had not talked to me in 15 years because I'm a lesbian. She called me to apologize, and to tell me she was sorry. I wanted to say thank you."

A special screening of "Love Is All You Need" takes place at The Carolina Theatre of Durham on Thursday, June 16. Tickets are available here


Text Hannah Ongley

north carolina
Love Is All You Need
kim rocco shields