As an actor, filmmaker, writer, animator, and comedian, it’s Ian Lassiter’s mission to tell stories that explode misconceptions about what it means to be multi-ethnic in America.
“Growing up mixed race, ethnically ambiguous or both, it’s such a hard thing to capture or talk about,” Lassiter said recently. “There are so many different facets about it, and there is no overarching culture talking about it. Like here’s the black movie, here’s the white movie, here’s the Asian movie, but where are the mixed movies?”
Lassiter, a product of a Puerto Rican mother and black and Meherrin Indian father, is filling that void.
Making “Mixed Up”
He wrote “Mixed Up,” his first short film, after researching stories about people who identified as black but later discovered they were not. One such account was about a gentleman who took a DNA test only to discover that he had no sub-Saharan African DNA. “That man was born in the South, raised in the black community, and thought he was black his whole life and ended up being an Indian.”
The protagonist of “Mixed Up,” a jazz musician no less, makes a similar discovery and experiences a hilarious and uncomfortable reckoning with his new identity.
“It’s always been interesting to me about color dynamics in families, “he said, “and being an ambiguous-looking person myself, I’ve always had to answer the question, ‘what are you?’”
Jokes, Shakespeare and A Love for Acting
Part of that answer about who Lassiter is could start with his love for comedy, which bloomed while growing up in Windsor, Connecticut, a town just north of Hartford.
As a high schooler in the late 1990s, he started doing standup at his local Starbucks. He described his set as something between Jim Carrey and Zach Galifianakis, drawing a nice response from crowds.
When the director of his high school theater program invited him to audition for a play, he would later be cast as Sir Toby Belch in William Shakespeare’s romantic comedy “Twelfth Night.”
With that role, Lassiter’s love for acting was instilled. He enrolled in Fordham College of Lincoln Center in New York City and joined a comedy troupe, which performed professionally.
As a stage actor, he played Hamlet and Macbeth, taking on the challenge of making Shakespeare’s dialogue accessible to audiences.
When asked how he was able to meld his comedic sensibilities with these classically complex roles, Lassiter said, “I tend to bring a lot of comedy to these traditionally tragic characters. Hamlet, I would say a good half of his dialogue is funny. They’re jokes.”
“They might be morbid jokes but they’re jokes,” he said. “Macbeth to a lesser degree, but we ended up manufacturing a few good jokes out of it.”
“…being an ambiguous-looking person myself, I’ve always had to answer the question, ‘what are you?’”
How this Harry Potter Actress Influenced Him
Lassiter would become an accomplished performer. Yet, he experienced a pivotal moment that forever changed him as an artist. He attended a talk by actress Fiona Shaw (Harry Potter, The Avengers, Killing Eve), who spoke about the power of comedy.
“You can’t make them cry if you don’t make them laugh first,” Lassiter remembered her saying.
“I’ve lived by those words ever since.”
Bringing More Mixed-Race Stories to the Fore
Lassiter loves the kind of comedy that sprouts out of serious, real-life situations. He cites the FX television show “Atlanta” as an example of that.
“It’s some serious shit going on [in Atlanta] but let’s go through the comedy lens,” he said. “Everything doesn’t have to be the Color Purple. There’s stuff we can talk about that is serious but through the comedic lens for sure.”
With “Mixed Up” and his latest creative work that is what Lassiter is doing: serving up comedy amid some serious shit.
Last year, during the pandemic, Lassiter taught himself an animation program and created a series of hilarious one-minute shorts titled “Mixed Race Ambiguously Ethnic Haiku Storytime Time.” Utilizing the haiku structure as dialogue, these shorts depict the painfully awkward situations that ambiguously ethnic persons may find themselves in – causing you to wince and chuckle.
The two central characters of “Mixed Race Ambiguously Ethnic” and “Mixed Up” are left to confront that central question: “What are you?”
“I’m trying to find more stories that are nuanced, three-dimensional,” he said. “They’re still very rare.”
You can watch Ian Lassiter’s short film “Mixed Up” at Itsashort.com.
Top Short at Cannes Gets The Feature-Length Treatment
In case you missed it, the top short film at this summer’s Cannes Film Festival will be made into a full-length feature film.
“All The Crows in the World,” about an 18-year-old schoolgirl who enjoys a night of adventure in an adult world, earned the distinction. Director Tang Yi, who is from Hong Kong and a student at New York University, signed a deal with M88 to develop that short film along with other ideas.
“Yi is expected to keep telling stories about women, underrepresented groups, and social issues captured through a subversive, darkly comedic film lens,” states this Hollywood Reporter article.
Congrats to Tang Yi!
2022 Sundance Will Require Proof of Vaccinations
Sundance will require attendees of its 2022 festival to provide proof of vaccinations.
“As part of our commitment to this community, we will be requiring all participants attending the festival, or Sundance-affiliated events, in-person in Utah to be fully vaccinated,” Sundance Film Festival director Tabitha Jackson wrote in a letter dated last month.
Next year’s Sundance Film Festival will run from January 20-30, 2022. For the second consecutive year, the festival will be a hybrid event.
“The 2022 Festival will continue the program we launched in 2021, working with up to 10 partners across the United States to connect directly with local audiences and artists,” Jackson stated. “Each Satellite Screen will show selections from the Festival’s official program during the closing weekend: Friday, January 28, through Sunday, January 30, 2022.”
For more information about the 2022 Sundance Film Festival, visit https://www.sundance.org/festivals/sundance-film-festival/about.