*”Give Me Liberty” is the movie America didn’t know it needed. Director and Writer, Kirill Mikhanovsky & co-writer Alice Austen have created a colorful film that sheds light on characters and actors with disabilities while beautifully harmonizing comedy with eye-opening & transparent scenes.
The film takes place in Milwaukee, America’s most segregated city. After a police shooting in a black neighborhood, organized protests are echoed throughout the metropolis. Hmm…sound familiar?
The protests cause several road blockages, leaving medical transport driver Vic (played by Chris Galust) with a challenge. Attempting to pick up his scheduled clients, Vic’s route takes an unusual turn as he packs his grandfather, funeral-goers, and his scheduled clients all in one van toward their destination.
Along the ride, we also meet Tracy, a young black woman with ALS, played by Lauren “Lolo” Spencer. Lauren has received numerous rave reviews for her incredible performance. RogerEbert.com has Lauren on the list of Top Ten Best performances at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival.
Made with a low budget and non-professional local cast, director and writer, Kirill Mikhanovsky used his own past real-life experience as a medical transporter to spark the idea of his second feature film. It premiered and opened at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival & the 2019 Cannes Film Festival where it was received with an over 10-minute ovation.
EURweb associate Jaimi Gray caught up with Mikhanovsky, Austen, and Spencer, the lead sensation, to talk about the film’s success.
Why was Milwaukee, one of the most segregated cities in America, the choice for the film’s location?
Kirill Mikhanovsky: Milwaukee has incredible character and we used the transport vehicle as a plot device to connect the socially disconnected parts of society and bring people together who normally don’t talk to each other.
Alice Austen: America, in this time, must come together–it’s essential. The van brings people who are both alike and different, and permits them to come together and celebrate their differences…sometimes because of their differences,
and that’s a beautiful thing.
You’ve expressed how the film represents the melting pot of America, and the resilience of the American Dream. How did the title “Give Me Liberty” come about?
Alice Austen: We saw a man wearing a t-shirt of the Statue of Liberty blindfolded, and it said “give me liberty or give me death” , and we knew immediately that was our title.
Kirill Mikhanovsky:It felt really incredibly right–immediately to us. Ultimately, no matter what our characters do in the film, it’s all about the extent to which they want to be free.
Kirill Mikhanovsky and Alice Austen at the ‘Give Me Liberty’ premiere in Beverly Hills
It’s refreshing to see a cast with people of the disabled community, which you don’t see often. How important was casting to you for this film?
Alice Austen: Our lead actress is a young black woman with a disability [ALS]. We cast her because she’s brilliant, and it would have been a terrible disservice to the individuals with disabilities who appear in the film to cast an actress who didn’t have a disability.
Lolo, you have been getting rave reviews for your performance as Tracy. What initially made you want to take on this role?
Lauren “Lolo” Spencer: The story was just incredible–the story of humanity. What really, really drew me was Tracy’s character. Although her character has a disability, it was not focused on her disability.
All the stuff I do outside of my YouTube channel “Sitting Pretty” and modeling for many different brands, the goal is always representation & authenticity. I felt like the script really represented that. When I found out that they were not going to cast anybody unless they were authentically a black woman who was a wheelchair user as Tracy, that’s what had me sold.
What did playing the role of Tracy teach you about yourself?
Lauren “Lolo” Spencer: Playing Tracy was absolutely incredible! She is so much like who I was when I was younger in my mid to early 20s. I was really intrigued to go back into that space of who I once was and how I would’ve responded in the same kinds of situations. Playing Tracy was really great and I hope people can really resonate with her.
I love how your character showcases her natural hair because you don’t always see that. How did you work with writers and directors to authentically portray Tracy in that light?
Lauren “Lolo” Spencer: Yes! That was intentional! Alice and Kiril were so open to what I had to say. Tracy’s character doesn’t take sh-t from anyone. I told them, “let’s just be mindful that Tracy doesn’t come off as ‘the angry black woman’ in this film because that is a terrible stigma, and that’s how we’re represented in so many ways and films, and we did not want that to happen. When I expressed that concern, they were definitely on it. We’re all so tight as a unit today.
Why should people go see “Give Me Liberty”?
Lauren “Lolo” Spencer: It’s a great story about human connection and people coming together from all of these different backgrounds, different races, different ages, and different abilities. You get to see all of these groups of people that you would never expect to come together in this medical transport van, and share those experiences all in one day. We need more films that star and lead with a character with a disability. I feel like disability is the next wave, and it’s going to be a great look.