*TW: Sexual Assault
The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) illuminates numerous creatives on the rise through their Rising Stars program. Mark Clennon, a member of the program’s 2023 cohort, might have a star that shines the brightest. The Jamaican-born, Toronto-based singer, songwriter, and saxophonist takes the spotlight in the film I Don’t Know Who You Are.
Created and directed by M.H. Murray, the TIFF official selection follows Benjamin (Clennon), who struggles to fund PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis) after a sexual assault. While the story is fiction, lack of resources and access to healthcare is incredibly real. Adjoined by Clennon’s song, of the same name as the film, the multi-hyphenate sheds a light on a powerful story and harsh reality for many.
Entertainment with an edgeWhether you’re into indie comics, groundbreaking music, or queer cinema, we’re here to keep you in the loop twice a week.
INTO interviewed Clennons to find out the most challenging part of filming IDKWYA and his hopes for removing HIV stigma in society.
In I Don’t Know Who You Are, you performed on-screen and behind the camera. Additionally, you wrote the film’s title track. What do you find more difficult, writing music or writing a film?
I was a story editor for the film, meaning after it was written, along with Victoria Long who helped to edit the script to smooth out various parts, M.H. Murray wrote a powerful script and we just helped to make it a bit better. That being said, I do write original screenplays and that is harder for me than songs. There are so many parts to consider to in a script and so many important things that have to connect to make a screenplay work./cu
Which queer celeb helped you along the way with your coming out process?
Growing up in Jamaica, sadly we didn’t have too many queer figures to look up to. So, I can’t think of any that helped me when I was coming out, but I admire any artist that has the courage to come out and be themselves as I know how terrifying it can be.
What do you think queer pop culture needs more of now?
Kindness. I want to see our community become synonymous with compassion and kindness. Given that queer people have been through so much in our lives I would like to see our community embody the compassion and kindness that we hope to receive from the world.
What was the most challenging part of filming I Don’t Know Who You Are?
Overcoming my own internal ideas about how I express myself and who I am. This film has been a transformative experience for me and has made me a more confident and brave artist. The hardest part was the sheer weight of emotions Benjamin had to embody throughout this process.
While we have a variety of measures to combat and prevent HIV, stigma around the illness continues to be pervasive. How do you hope I Don’t Know Who You Are helps to alleviate HIV stigma within and outside of the queer community?
I hope that it offers information and helps to educate both gay and straight people about the resources available. I also hope that our film can inspire real life change to the disparities in our society that make it challenging for various people to afford needed medication.
“Take action and push things a little further than might feel comfortable. And as you do, I can promise you this: I will be there with you.”
In addition to reporting the story without apparent fact-checking, The Daily Mail centered the HIV needle attack angle in the headline.
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