Why This Film?
I'm the product of an interracial couple. I grew up in a biracial household where both Spanish and English were spoken, and because of this hybridity, I had the unique blessing of not really seeing racial difference as a young person. My interest in race relations grew in my late twenties—how people see race, identify with it, and are deeply affected by it. I moved out of my parents’ home and then did exactly what they’d done: I married outside my race.
I've known my wife since we were 12 years old. We annoyed each other in junior high, traded sneaky smiles in high school, accidentally ended up at the same college, then fell in love. We’ve grown up together, and also shared a growing, unsettling realization of just how powerful the image of the white face is. Capitalism sells us cream to lighten dark skin, surgeries to alter slanted eyes, contact lenses to simulate blue eyes, and chemicals to smooth and straighten kinky hair. These products all sell the same message: that our culture still centers the white face as the gold standard of beauty, power, and success. But family and love have always looked mixed to me, and sharing the truth of that experience has been my lifelong dream.
WHITE LIKE ME offers its audience a peephole into the unique tensions interracial couples face. It’s always been painful for Brandee and me to watch industry colleagues react with racism and passive-aggression when they learn that my Black wife—to me, the most beautiful woman in the world—isn’t the white starlet they expect me to prefer. At the height of my career, when I was a series regular on a hit TV show with a three-picture deal at Paramount Studios, I watched my colleagues connect loved ones who had never acted in their life with auditions, contacts, and opportunities. My wife has been acting since she was a teenager and was accepted by Martin Landau at her first audition for the Actors Studio—yet no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get her the opportunities she deserved.
When you’re knocked off a ladder, you can either keep trying to climb, or build a new ladder. WHITE LIKE ME is the ladder Brandee and I have spent our lives building. WLM centers around a Black woman who makes a dramatic bargain with success: she opts to chase it as a white man. We hope by showing this gender and race transformation, audiences will better understand the demons and obstacles every Black woman in America faces. And we hope by showing Gretchen achieve her dreams, all Black women will feel empowered to aspire, to achieve, and to build their own ladders. We climb together or not at all.
- Michael Steger
co-director/producer, WHITE LIKE ME