Have you ever heard the saying that “you never know what someone is going through unless you have walked a mile in their shoes?” Well, with this film “WE WEAR THE MASK,” you will finally get to understand what type of value that saying holds. Many of us will be able to relate to the issues this film presents to us; rather you have experienced the struggle of poverty from your childhood, facing the obstacles of living pay check to pay check as an adult, or know someone that works hard daily, but still has to choose between feeding their kids and keeping the lights on. These are some of the harsh realities that women around the country deal with constantly, which lead to poor health and mental-health issues. This film will resonate on many levels, force people to sympathize, and eventually step up to take the necessary actions to help correct poverty. No mother should have to bend-over backwards just to still come up short each and everyday.
“The psychological effects of poverty are far-reaching. And women are statistically more likely to feel the impact.
Dominique, Veniecia, and Lou Ann lead vastly different lives, and yet their stories intersect and parallel in surprising ways. WE WEAR THE MASK turns the spotlight towards an often overlooked and underestimated segment of society”.- WE WEAR THE MASK
I conducted Q&A with Halima Tammy Thompson, the Executive Producer of the film. We dived deep into why the financial burden always seems to fall mostly on women, how poverty affects children, and how we can combat poverty with our own families and our communities.
Q. Tammy, could you introduce yourself to our readers; where are you from and how did you get started in the film industry?
A. My name is Tammy T. Thompson, I’m a mother of five, and grandmother of 19. I work as the Executive Director of a non profit, here, in Pittsburgh; as well as the owner of T3 Consulting and T3 Media. I was born in a small town in West Virginia called Bluefield, and moved to Pittsburgh when I was a little girl in 1978.
I never had aspirations of film making; I just knew that creating spaces for authentic voices was very important. There are so many false narratives about poverty and the people who are experiencing it, and it’s just really important to counteract the negative narratives.
Q. What inspired you to tell the stories that many women are carrying around; but most would not know, because of how well “we wear the mask?”
A. My own personal experiences living in poverty are the inspiration of all of my work, including this film. The guilt and shame associated with living in poverty make it very difficult for people to come forward and ask for help, talk about the pain associated with not having your most basic needs met on a regular basis or to talk about the dreams and hopes that we have for a better life for ourselves and our children. I get tired of people blaming others for finding themselves in these conditions. Conditions that were initiated generations ago for many of us.
Q. Why do you think most women are always the ones that carry most of the burden for their families? Do you think we are “programmed that way?”
A. I think a lot of women find themselves the ones carrying the burden, because we haven’t had much choice. Particularly, if we are mothers, we are expected to “figure it out” and keep pushing no matter what.
Q. Do you believe growing up in poverty triggers the mind negatively and makes people see life in a different light?
A. I absolutely believe that long-term exposure to poverty impacts us mentally, emotionally, and physically. Long periods of having your most basic needs unmet changes how you see yourself, your community and impacts how you perceive opportunities. It has a profound impact on the relationship you develop with people, AND your money. Poverty has a way of distorting your view of life, what you feel you deserve, and the ability to develop goals and action steps to reach those goals.
Q. Do you think poverty stems from a “generational curse” as some might say; and if so, why do you believe it continues from generation to generation?
A. Generational poverty could definitely be described as a “generational curse.” The curse of poverty, limited opportunity and limited perspective. Information is passed from generation to generation. Assets and wealth are passed down from generation to generation, and so is pain and trauma. Being born into poverty is the continuation of the previous generations pain and trauma. The longer the cycle continues, the less likely the next generation is to overcome it. Without an intervention, luck or unique opportunity, the cycle continues until an opportunity arises and is taken advantage of.
Q. In the film, you follow three women who come from different backgrounds. One of the women is a Caucasian woman. Do you think that most people wouldn’t associate poverty with a white woman, and if so why?
A. It was very intentional to include Louann, a White woman in the film, because I know that when people talk about poverty, they have an image in their mind. It typically is a Black woman; and unfortunately, thanks to the Reagan administration in the 90s and their description of the “Welfare Queen.” That is the image that makes people comfortable and incidentally makes poverty much more palatable to think that it primarily impacts Black women.
Q. Most women, especially black women, feel like we always have to present ourselves as superwoman, supermom, etc. We wear the mask so well that people around us would never know that we do cry, become angry, and have all sorts of emotions behind closed doors. How important is it for us to take off the mask sometimes, and talk to people we can confide in to let those emotions out?
A. For many, many years Black women have been thought to be able to endure pain more than other women; that we’re “stronger” both physically and mentally. The reality is that historically no one cares about the pain that Black women endure. We are told that we deserve what we get “we should make better choices” and through experience we have learned that we are the most unprotected and disrespected people on the planet. As a result, we have learned to keep our pain locked away and keep pushing because no one cares anyway. It’s a sad realization and honestly, I think this thinking has impacted our relationship with our men. I think it’s important for us to be more transparent about our pain, and even more importantly, with our triumphs and resilience. We need to do that for each other, but also we need to speak up and shape the systems and policies that are supposed to be in place to protect and elevate us.
Q. Just from watching the trailer, I could instantly relate to each of the women. I have been through every stage, and still working through some. Do you think this film will finally show the world that no matter how difficult life might get, women will always find a way to take care of their families?
A. I hope that this story resonates with people in the same way that it resonates with me. My story is intertwined with all of these women’s stories. I hope that people will view the film with an open mind and heart, and realize that we are more than our circumstances. We will always find a way to make it through, and do whatever is necessary to care for our families; but we deserve to be heard.
Q. At my previous job, I worked at a retail store and on most days I would see my kids early in the morning to take them to school and wouldn’t see them until later in the night to pick them up from their grandma’s house, take them home and then it was bed time. I was barely able to spend time with them. Do you think living in the daily struggle of trying to make it affects our children negatively?
A. This is an issue that I discuss a lot with policy makers, politicians and those who are committed to creating better communities for our people. Children need their mothers AND fathers. Children absolutely suffer when their parents are working two-to-three jobs just to put food on the table and keep the rent paid. We can’t expect children not to be negatively impacted by watching their parents work their fingers to the bone and still be stressed out, because there’s not enough money to go around. I believe it’s a big reason our sons (and daughters) are finding themselves engaged in criminal activity, failing in school, struggling with mental health disorders, etc. I can speak for myself when I say that I was very much impacted by watching my mother struggle, going days without eating, being homeless, ending up in foster care, etc.
Q. What are some ways we can help combat poverty within our own communities?
A. I think the most important thing we can do is LISTEN. Listen to the people who are experiencing this every single day. Speak up when we hear people being mis-characterized. Change the narrative. We need to begin to work together as a village again.
Q. How can we combat poverty within our own families?
A. I’m a strong believer in financial education, and having a good understanding of how money and opportunity work. We need, desperately, to step back from materialism and learn how to think outside of Survival Mode. We must begin to learn how to acquire and pass down legacy wealth and assets, starting with home-ownership.
Q. Do you think the film will help women come together and support each other more often… now, that we realize that we all could have something in common?
A. I hope so. I also think women support each other more than people realize. We just have to find and build our tribe. We have been taught that we can’t trust each other, but that’s an equally damaging false narrative that we must push back on. Most of the women I know are fierce protectors of each other. We need to replicate that, and learn to partner and collaborate instead of competing with each other. We truly need each other now, more than ever.
Q. What do you hope people will take away after watching your film?
A. I hope that people will open their minds and hearts, and recognize that people in poverty are the hardest working people on the planet. They are the most resourceful and creative, and the most giving and charitable. I hope that people will realize that there have been intentional policies/systems created and perpetuated to keep people in poverty. Poverty is profitable. Everyone is getting rich off of it, except the people actually living in poverty; and yet they are still, continuously blamed for it.
Q. I saw this quote on your Instagram page, “poverty is an experience not a characteristic.” What does that quote mean to you?
A. What I meant by that was, poverty is not a character flaw. It is a condition that people find themselves in; not by choice, lack of trying, lack of drive or strength. No one is content living in poverty. It is utterly pervasive and all-consuming. Without help (REAL help), most people who find themselves a victim of it, won’t ever find their way out.
Q. Can you let everyone know how we can do our part to support this much needed film?
A. Yes! Please share the details of the film, encourage people to watch it, and look around your own communities to see how you can help. If we all do our part, we can actually move the needle on poverty. Most importantly, we need leaders who care about truly ending poverty and creating opportunities for people to lift themselves up.
Q. Where can we follow you to keep updated on what is coming next?
A. You can follow me via my website: www.tammytthompson.com
“WE WEAR THE MASK” is now available on amazon video for purchase and rent