Interview: Alexandra Gavillet

by Lara Johnson-Wheeler .

During times like this where many people around the world feel like their voices and wellbeing may be looked over and threatened, it is more important than ever that we create platforms and experiences in which we can be heard.

Lara Johnson-Wheeler: Tell me about the motivations behind #UNMUTED.

Alexandra Gavillet: During times like this where many people around the world feel like their voices and wellbeing may be looked over and threatened, it is more important than ever that we create platforms and experiences in which we can be heard. I think places like the subway and the tube are unique to hold these talks, performances and confrontations, because they gather all types of people. We are all from different walks of life and are literally trying to get to different destinations - and yet we are reliant upon the same methods of transportation. Public transportation brings together all types of people and keeps us under the same roof, or in the same circumstances. At its core, #UNMUTED’s intention is to remind each other of the humanity that we all share.

LJW: Tell me about the people involved. How did you choose the voices at the forefront of each film?

AG: My friend and producer Natasha Garoosi was shooting subjects in a studio space after the elections. She invited me to come to the shoot. Natasha was going to shoot her friend, a model and activist, Ebonee Davis. After riding the subway the day after the 2016 General Elections, I called Natasha and told her we need to bring our subjects down into the subway. I also had Natasha call her friend, an amazing musician named Sandflower, who was down to go into the subway and perform. New Yorker’s emotions were at an all time high that week, so bringing these strong subjects onto the subway and voicing their vulnerabilities that others can relate to, was needed. During those speeches and performances, the train full of strangers really felt connected. I sent Iskra Lawrence, who is a good friend and collaborator, our first few #UNMUTED series, and then she texted me and told me she wanted to shoot the next day, which I was so excited to hear. So my team made it work!

LJW: It seems significant to me that all the contributors are strong, vibrant women. Was this a concerted choice? 

AG: It’s so funny because so many people have asked if that is intentional. It actually was not. Our initial castings were our close friends, and all of them happened to be incredibly open and lively women. I think it’s super important for us to also cast men come 2017. It’s no secret that men have a more difficult time voicing their vulnerabilities or emotions, so to see a strong man opening up would be really powerful.

LJW: What has the atmosphere in New York been like after the election?

AG: Right after, New York was insanely solemn. People who were alone coming home from work, were literally tearing up quietly. New York had never felt like that before. Usually, even on the subway, you can feel so much life by the people around you. Everyone was emotionally drained, and a universal feeling of sadness was realised. The mood is changing, however. That feeling of solemnity isn’t as intense as it was that week. I think everyone, New Yorkers included, is looking for a way to feel universally connected to people during times when we seem to have such different viewpoints from the people that will be running our country for the next four years.

LJW: How would you go about listening to the people that voted in the President-Elect? Do you agree that it should be important to hear these people and connect to them also?

AG: Absolutely. That is incredibly important for us to do. Our goal with Ebonee’s film was to get it on mainstream American press, reaching places that were pro-Trump. It is incredibly important we get visibility everywhere, not just in the liberal areas/press. That is what I hope to get more of in 2017. We feature more commercial stars to get a more commercial, or wider audience. I think that’s why we are doing these in a public space, too. Despite the fact that New York is so liberal, it’s still an uncontrolled environment filled with people with varying viewpoints. We are really trying to figure out how we can get our episodes and movement to reach everyone. 

LJW: What were the reactions to your performance pieces on the subway?

AG: Honestly this is my favorite part about #UNMUTED. The subject begins talking and people are listening, vaguely. As they begin to voice the truths and realness, more and more people begin to pay attention and listen to what they're saying. During Ebonee’s speech, multiple people were cheering her on, saying 'Amen!'. Everyone gets their phones out and starts recording. And, at the end, everyone claps for the subjects. It’s incredible to see the way the mood changes and shifts on the train. When our subject Leopoldine told the train it was her first time on the subway, everyone’s faces brightened up and cheered for her. After Iskra’s speech, about six people on the train came up to her and said their thanks for making them feel more comfortable within themselves. That really made me excited that the people on the train were happy to see and hear her speak. 

LJW: Who would you be interested in working with in London?

AG: London is one of my ultimate goals to shoot in with #UNMUTED. For the past few years, I’ve been incredible interested and inspired by Grime music. Listening to Grime has truly made me a better worker, and more confident within myself. I would love to shoot Skepta, talking about the importance of following your dreams, and never giving up during hardships. I would love to listen to Stormzy on the tube, talk about what religion means to him. Wretch 32 would be amazing to see perform spoken word on the tube. I also love Maya Jama — who's bright and positive energy truly refreshes me. I would like to see her speaking about what it means to manifest positivity in your life, and how she possess such an excitement towards her career.

LJW: How do you think we can better shape the internet to connect people globally? How would you alter the internet as a positive platform?

AG: I would look at someone’s Instagram like @iskra’s to answer this question. She is someone who’s shining because of the honesty she has put forth on her feed. In a time where heavily retouched selfies and the new normal for beauty is quite unattainable to many, if not most humans - she went against the grain and started posting selfies that were totally unretouched, showing her tummy and her cellulite, she voiced her insecurities on the internet and was still proud of who she is. Her following has sky-rocketed to more than 3 million followers, and she just landed the cover of SELF this morning. I think during a time where the imagery we see is so incredibly edited and curated, where even our new is fake - when someone really puts themselves out there and voices their true vulnerability - it’s immensely attractive. Why? Because it makes us feel like we are not alone. When people truly voice their insecurities, experiences or emotions, on the internet and in real life (as seen in #UNMUTED) - we listen, the internet listens. As Kanye West once said, 'feelings are the only facts. You cannot deny something that touches your emotions.'

LJW: What are your ultimate aims for #UNMUTED? 

AG: We are more than a channel, we are more than an account, we are more than a hashtag. I want #UNMUTED to be a movement. Because, during times like this in the world, we can no longer stay silent. Our voices and stories need to be heard more than ever, in an attempt to educate and connect. 

LJW: What do you imagine 2017 will bring?

AG: I think in 2017 we are going to see more and more young people using their voice to promote change and educate. It amazes me already how much I’ve seen shift in people’s online voices. I think many Americans and citizens, are realising the harsh truths of where America stands. We are realising that we can all make an effort to use our voices, media and relationships to spread love, knowledge and humanity. 2017 is going to be fueled by young people realising they need to get their country back - by doing, creating and sending our messages to all different types of space outside of our usual world.