10 Lessons from a French Creole

Sylvester and Dorothy Breaux’s Wedding, Compton, CA, September 1962

This year’s Father’s Day has come and gone. I spent a portion of it recalling that I forgave my father three years ago for how shitty he was to my family when I was growing up. He did horrible things—verbally and physically abused my mother; kept a strong, domineering leash on everyone; ruled with an iron fist and a loud voice; and was prone to tantrums and rage. Still, in hindsight and after an inevitable maturation process (and also during a moment of being massively drugged three years ago for a surgical procedure), I recognized moments of kindness I never saw before, moments previously clouded by teenage anger and a reluctance to see any other sides to my father’s personality. He once told me that if he could read and write better and could be anything, he would’ve been an author. He had to live with the daily reality of his family hating him. We never asked how he was doing, or how difficult it must have been for him to have a schizophrenic wife.

Well—at least we appreciated the damn good gumbo he made! Also the awful but highly memorable Zydeco records. Also the dance moves that looked like he was rubbing out spots on the floor with his feet. In other words, there were some pretty cool things I learned from my 6th-grade-educated and sometimes outwardly charming father, Sylvester Breaux.

Here are 10 of them.

  1. Stanford was named after Fred Stanford. When I was accepted to Stanford my dad thought it was funny that a TV show had the same name as my university. Me: “You mean Sanford and Son.” Him: “That’s what I said. Stanford and Son.”
  2. All good words end in c, as in the credic in credic card. Also, bra is pronounced bray, and Home Depot is either French or one of the Marx Brothers (as in DEH-poh).
  3. The best way to divide a cantaloupe for a family of 5 is into 10 pieces. That way each person can have “two each.” I spent years hearing “two each.” I used to hate this. But how sweet is it for a grown man to always get pleasure from equitably slicing a melon?
  4. If you have menstrual cramps, take Tums.
  5. You can make any sentence funny just by adding “to my bed” at the end. Try it. This is not to be confused with “between the sheets.”
  6. Whenever you’re laughing and you’d like to explain to someone what’s so funny, preface it by saying “I’m laughin’.” They’ll have sufficient time to prepare for your whimsical anecdote.
  7. A safe word for gay is funny, as in “your brother’s funny.”
  8. Jamaicans aren’t black. They’re Jamaican.
  9. Instead of turning out the lights on Halloween to indicate you’re not giving out any candy, yell “Ain’t nobody home!” when small, costumed children knock on the door.
  10. Establish your own bank by hiding all earnings inside coat pockets. Avoid checking or savings accounts.


He mostly passed as Cajun, but Sylvester Breaux was mixed with white, black, and Native American. He was born on May 10, 1917, in time to serve as a truck driver in the 2nd world war, but missing Obama become the first black president—my father was staunchly Democrat but oddly racist; our next-door neighbors were always good family friends and were always black. He was an usher at our Catholic church and said his rosary every evening. I asked him once if the Depression was hard on his family and he responded, “Yeah.” (End of conversation.)

Wish you were around for further questioning. This month, we honor you nonetheless.

10 Ways to Know You’re a Queer Woman of Color Making a Low-Budget Film

Not everyone’s born related to Francis Ford Coppola. Most of us have to walk the long walk of continuous trial and error, cobbled-together resources, or costly film school. If you’re a queer woman filmmaker of color, you have to work exponentially harder. Chances are you’ve worked on some of the grungiest sets known to humankind, although with some of the most spirited and eager (and often unpaid) partners in filmic crime. You’ve done the same long hours as those paid 200 times more than you. You, like your higher-budget counterparts, probably also occasionally survived on Twizzlers at the craft services table, if you even had a craft services table.

You’ve had to put up with the most unique and odorous bullshit.

Fresh off International Women’s Day, Cinemulatto offers 10 sure-fire ways of confirming, once and for all, that you’re a queer woman of color making a low-budget film. Holler if you’ve experienced any of these on a film set. These are all based on true stories.

  1. You’ve appeared in at least one of your own movies. You based the lead on yourself. This is usually a bad thing.
  2. Half the crew responsibilities are covered by your girlfriend/wife/significant queer other/person you’re sleeping with. Although limiting, this is usually a good thing.
  3. While filming in public, people who see you tell you how to shoot the film, including parents, college students, and homeless guys.
  4. There is one straight white male on set. He offers frequent advice because he knows someone who knows how to run sound.
  5. Someone eventually freaks out, usually an actor. They turn to you for resolution of past abuses and ills. You become Mother Teresa therapist just to finish the movie.
  6. The (usually male) DP starts directing the film.
  7. There is a marked lack of deodorant.
  8. There is that one person. We all know her. She complains. About everything.
  9. You survived on Twizzlers at the craft services table.
  10. After your first film, you vow to never do it again. But you do, repeatedly.


What a feeling.

Thinking of trials and tribulations makes me think of the day (or was it evening?) in 2004 when I found out Jennifer Beals would be on The L Word. Although I ultimately ended up hating this show, here was my main high school crush (we’re talking closeted 1980s crush!) starring as a lesbian in prime time. The consummate intellectual and humanitarian, Jennifer’s transformative effect on me runs deep!

Remember your female idols this month. It’s never too late to show 80s appreciation!