There are times when an idea never leaves a writer. For approximately seven years David W. Ross had a germ for a film. A gay comedy on the travails of immigration, with a gay man marrying a lesbian.
‘Originally the script was going to be a fun take on the whole "Green Card" movie,’ Ross said in a phone interview with Gay Star News.
Green Card is a 1990 picture, starring Gérard Depardieu. His character wants to remain in the US and enters a marriage of convenience.
Ross worked with the basic plot for awhile, even sharing it with a few friends. He was surprised how many people thought all a gay immigrant needed to do, to stay in the States, was to move to Massachusetts and same sex marry.
Sure the northeastern US state recognizes gay marriages, but when it comes to federal and immigration law those certificates are useless.
In 1996, the Defense of Marriage Act was signed by President Bill Clinton. The law keeps the US government from recognizing same-sex unions, even in states where gay marriage is legal. Couples cannot file joint federal tax returns or receive survivor benefits. Unlike straight binational couples, a gay spouse cannot be a sponsor for a green card.
After some more work on the script, Ross’ eureka moment came while filming a Prop 8 rally in Fresno, California. Ross was chosen to document the event; from the stage he saw couples, and families, who had been fighting for marriage equality for decades.
‘Hearing the statistics changed my perceptions on how to film the story, and how the families should be portrayed. I had to represent this group of people in a real way. I felt I had an obligation, and an opportunity, to tell a very human story.’
The night of the rally, he put the final touches on what now is known as I Do. The movie’s main character Jack (played by Ross) is a British gay man working in New York City’s fashion industry. A family tragedy forces him to take care of his brother’s daughter. He raises her, with the help of a sister-in-law, but suddenly Jack’s work visa is denied. His life and family is in the States. To remain Jack marries his best friend Ali, a lesbian (played by Jamie-Lynn Sigler of the HBO drama ‘The Sopranos’).
This plan is just a Band-Aid; like most temporary solutions it ceases to work, especially after Jack meets Mano, a citizen. However, Mano has no right to marry the man he eventually falls for.
While the film was fine tuned at a political rally, the writer was looking beyond making a message film.
‘This is not a TV movie where we just deal with an issue,’ Ross noted. ‘I wanted to show how a painful law impacts people on a human level, and how it reverberates throughout the community and the couple. I want people to be moved and to be taken on a journey where they experience what it’s like to live under this inhuman law. I didn’t want to write an issue movie. I just wanted a movie.’
The screening was particularly rewarding because the writer received the festival’s rising film star award.