Giovanni Lazare: A Mental Health Advocate, an Inspiration

Escaping the Stigma is an upcoming documentary by Giovanni Lazare (he/him), a junior communications studies major concentrating in film/video production. The product of Lazare’s undergraduate research with the Adrien Tinsley Program (ATP), the documentary profiles the underrepresented subject of mental health among Black men. Ahead of its release, Lazare sat down for an interview with The Comment to discuss the film and its many layers.

When asked what inspired him to choose mental health as the film’s topic Lazare began, “I noticed that there was one commonality in mental health in the Black community. Black men a lot of times wouldn’t say anything about their issues. It’s something that’s common in men, period. We don’t talk about the things that hurt because then we start to look at each other as weak. This is especially in Black men. You add things like 400 years of slavery, systemic racism, etc. on top of men not talking and it becomes a big problem. Black men have all these issues that they deal with, so for the film I really wanted to provide a space that would give them a ‘safety net’ so they can share what they’re really going through. I kept asking questions like ‘why aren’t they saying anything?’. ‘Is it the lack of resources?’ That’s what prompted me to make a movie about this. I didn’t know how I was going to do it, but I was.”

Lazare was struck by the lack of information specifically for Black mental health, including the lack of Black therapists. “You can talk to someone who understands you, but it’s a little different when that person is Black. It’s deeper, more rooted,” he said. In reference to the number of available resources for Black men, Lazare stated, “There are other resources, but not a lot of those resources look like us. I can appreciate white therapists and groups that are willing to learn, but it’s another thing when a person has gone through what you’ve gone through and felt the same fear that you felt.”

The story of the documentary is centered around several interviews with Black men who invite the audience into their lives, detailing their struggles with mental health. “Each interview lasted from 40 minutes to two hours. The interviews became that space I was trying to create. I realized that if you give them a safe space to talk, they’ll talk. I think it helped that I was a Black man also because they didn’t need to hold back. They knew I understood and would relate. So, when I turned the camera on, it was easy.” He continued, “one of my interviewees called the project ‘a mirror’ because it was an opportunity for people to reflect.” One of the biggest challenges Lazare faced during post-production was deciding what would make the film’s cut. “These guys would go on for the longest time talking about their trauma. It was very hard editing because, where do you cut? Everything is important.”

The interviews were not only impactful for the subjects, but also Lazare himself, who has endured his own difficulty with mental health. “I can’t not be reflective when creating a piece like this…I don’t think I would’ve confronted some of the things I’m dealing with now if I hadn’t made this movie. There’s a lot of crying, a lot of ‘I don’t feel loved, I don’t feel worth it.’ But those are the things that keep us silent. You don’t know how many people are there for you until you verbalize the depth of what you are going through.”

At the Adrien Tinsley Program’s symposium in October 2023, Lazare presented his film to over 100 attendees and recalled being very scared and lacking in confidence. “Going into my presentation, I was scared to share the film because, since it is a part of me, I felt that whoever was judging the film was judging me too. I felt like, ‘let me talk as fast as possible so that when I get to the video, I can end this. It was very nerve-wracking to be vulnerable in that moment’”, he recalled. His presentation was followed by a Q&A portion of his presentation, Lazare’s sister who was in the audience asked him “Where do you see yourself in the film?”. Immediately, Lazare had broken down in front of everyone. “It all just came back. The tears caught me off guard. The clip I showed at ATP, I’d watched it too many times and was not expecting the reaction I had”, Lazare now reflects. “I remember starting to film and saying ‘I don’t want to be a part of this film at all, I want it to be about these men. But now I realize that my story is just as important, and this film will be a part of me forever.

At the end of his presentation, there was a standing ovation and many praises for Lazare from the audience. When asked about his reaction to the reception of his film, Lazare said, “I just wanted to get out of there. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy, I just didn’t know how to receive it. The whole thing is a blessing, but I didn’t know how to accept that was happening. I was in the moment and was happy, but I didn’t know what to do with it. It was new and unexpected, I wasn’t used to it, I was used to shame”.

Lazare notes his proudest moment in the filmmaking process as when he was thanked by a faculty for “creating a space for Black men.” “I set out to do something with the film and raise awareness. I intended to sound the horn that the space was needed, and I ended up creating the space. I feel proud about people feeling vulnerable enough with me to talk about their trauma, to feel like, ‘I’ve never said this to anyone, but I’m going to say it now.’” Lazare continued, “I want people to know that there is something out there for you, even when you feel like you don’t have a voice.”

Be on the lookout for upcoming announcements for the premiere of Escaping the Stigma, Premiere date TBD.

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