Black adults are 20 percent more likely than white adults to report serious psychological distress, and yet many are apprehensive about seeking professional help for mental health issues.

But there’s a new artistic effort to change this reality.

D.C. independent filmmaker Penny Hollis is working on two films which center the experiences of Black individuals dealing with untreated mental illness. In The Birthday Gift, a homeless man burdened by the weight of his past and an un-compassionate society wrestles with depression while searching for the perfect gift for his wife. In Maxine, a middle-aged teacher coping with the aftermath of a brutal attack is thrust into a state of paranoia that puts her students and job in jeopardy.

As a person who has struggled with depression and who has a number of family members with mental illnesses, Penny creates films that approach the subject with uncanny compassion and honesty. She’s a friend and neighbor who I’ve seen over the years, and when she heard I was a writer, her face lit up: “I have to show you my short film about abortion,” she exclaimed, referring to a past project.

Right now, Penny is fundraising to finish The Birthday Gift and Maxine, so please join me in helping her reach the goal by *this Sunday.* It’s important for me to support Black artists, and Penny also has a majority-Black production team. She’s ready to get these films out there!

In the meantime, read my Q&A with Penny below, in which I speak to her about these deeply personal films:


I shot some video at last night’s Occupy Wall Street protests in Times Square (commentary by my friend Matthew Palevsky, a strategist at Purpose):

By the time I got to Times Square around 6:30, the group, with number in the tens of thousands, had already marched over from Washington Square Park, and some confrontations with the cops had already taken place. (I did see an older woman with short hair on the ground with a bloodied head getting assistance from others. I don’t know the details, but 50+ people were arrested as the cops stifled the movements of the marchers.)

While I was there, the situation was more diffuse, with hundreds of metal barricades set up so that protesters were mainly relegated to the sides, allowing some car traffic to drive through. Protestors, tourists, and onlookers were squeezed into narrow spaces and kept apart from one another, so as far as I could tell, there was no central spot for Occupy Wall Street. Instead, there were mini hubs up and down Broadway from 42nd street up to 47th, with people grouping around one another in each block to chant, do mic-checks, etc. This was probably not ideal–and it’s probably exactly what the cops wanted. The protest was effectively fragmented. I was getting word that a General Assembly was happening, and even though I suspect I was only half a block away from it, there was no way to get to it or hear what was going on.

I just stayed until there was a decision made to march back to Washington Square Park. Perhaps the situation in Times Square was too tense, crowded, and tight. According to reports, people stayed in the Park until midnight or 1 a.m., when police enforced the curfew.