The truth is, if I’d known what Cicada was going to be about, I’m not sure I would have watched the film. I would have read the three sentence synopsis and surmised that it would be too painful, too grueling and that it would break my heart – and it was, and it did. Though, beyond the stomach-knots and frustrated tears, there is so much beauty and love I would have otherwise missed. To me, the cliche of having to know pain to know joy is only sometimes true. There is nothing purposeful or deserving about any of this, which just sort of ends up making me want to go find a few people depicted in this movie and slash their tires, but I digress.
Deep Breaths… Let me tell you about Cicada
(Disclaimer: I was really hoping to find a Wiki link to the plot synopsis, because a writer I am not. Also, as a straight, cis, white woman, I’m feeling particularly fraudulent. That said, Cicada deserves to be represented in the best way. And alas, there isn’t a Wiki page, but it’s important to me that you know about this film, so here we go, and I am ever-so sorry in advance.)
Cicada is a queer love story that follows Ben (Matthew Fifer) who is the co-writer/director of the film. Fifer plays a fictionalized version of himself and allows us to watch the story of his own very personal struggles unfold. It’s alluded to early on that something has happened to Fifer as a child, through a series of brief flashbacks. The film opens with a pretty intense montage of Ben’s numerous sexual encounters (TMI, but I’ve dated ~4 people in my life, so after the first 20 minutes, it did take me a bit of time to scrape my jaw off the floor).
For Ben, it’s not about who, but more about how much and how often. Beyond this, Ben feels perpetually ill (you’re unsure if it’s legit or hypochondria, but what matters is that he doesn’t feel well) and continuously looks for ways to self-medicate (in ways your Doctor would not recommend). There is reprieve, as we are introduced to some of Ben’s family. His Mom, Debbie (Sandra Bauleo) is overtly supportive of Ben’s sexuality and his sister, Amber (Jazmin Grace Grimaldi) talks about Ben’s conquests with breezy indifference.
In what seems like Ben’s next potential sexual encounter, we meet Sam (Sheldon D. Brown), who is the co-writer/director of the film. Sam is a young Black man who is walking a seemingly endless tightrope of shaping his public persona to align himself for corporate success and getting comfortable with his personal identity as a gay black man. We also come to find that Sam has not shared his sexuality with his family. While disheartening, it leads to one of my favorite scenes of the movie, when the couple has dinner with Sam’s father (Michael Potts).
The meeting of Ben and Sam is where the film pivots. For a while, the melancholy seems to melt away. Suddenly you’re swept up in the swirl of fresh starts and the possibilities that come when you meet a person you really connect with. I would compare what comes next to how I felt watching Before Sunrise. It’s breezy and conversational, you know, when you’re still figuring each others’ favorite foods and colors (before you discover they pre-soak their dishes for 48 hours and they have weird tics about leaving the car keys in a small bowl on your kitchen counter). You are a fly on the wall of a budding connection and it almost feels as if you’re intruding on their intimate experience.
The couple faces a lot together. Each must grapple with their respective traumas and discover their paths towards emotional and physical healing.
Deeper Breaths… Let me tell you about Matt Fifer
There were only 14 tiny hours between watching Cicada and sitting down to talk to the film’s writer, director and star, whose life the film was based on. My emotions were still tangled with anger and frustration, hope and admiration. Fifer was quick to point out that this is not just his story. It’s Sheldon Brown’s story. It’s co-director Kieran Mulcare’s story. And you know what, it’s my story too. And it’s your story. We all have things about ourselves we’re afraid to share, for fear of how people will react. Our inclination is to think the deeper we bury something the less it will consume us. But instead, the catharsis ends up being in our vulnerability.
I’m still reeling from Cicada’s honesty.
In our chat with Fifer, I wanted to touch on his goals in making the film. Was it to normalize queer or interracial relationships or was it a personal catharsis for his experienced trauma? Before I had a chance to get there, Fifer was quick to share that this project was something that he needed to do. His vulnerability. His catharsis.
This was the point in the interview where I almost shared my plans to slash tires and hand out some free knuckle sandwiches, but I kept my cool.
Instead, I offered what I hope you will also offer this film: admiration for the film’s truth and vulnerability and reverence for bringing a voice to those who have not yet found their own.