Still from Palindromes, the film these guys are from.
In my new film, these characters are children who are dispossessed and abandoned who have been adopted by a character named Mama Sunshine. The highest virtue, the highest level of motherhood, is to take in all sorts of unwanted children. Nothing could be more beautiful than that. Then she teaches them to dance and sing and spread the Christian word as part of this band, which is called the Sunshine Singers. For example, they have a song called "Fight for the Children," which is based on the way that the Pledge of Allegiance is actually said in many parts of the country. The words "born and unborn" are added to it.
I tried to collect kids with all sorts of disabilities, some fictional and some nonfictional. I also gathered a range of ethnicities and I put them together.
The thing you might not know from watching the movie is that these kids took so much pride and joy in their performance. It was quite moving. Some of them are from privileged families and some of them are, if not on welfare, very close to it. So the fact that they all got on so well and felt so connected to each other was a touching thing to see.
I wanted the Sunshine Singers to have an NSync sound — just a few years out of touch. All the songs are that style, but embellished with the Christian touch. The way it works is that, while I am moved by their performance and how beautiful it is for me as I watch them dance and sing, at the same time I step back and I say, "Oh my God, what are they singing." That kind of friction is emblematic of my movies, you see.
So far, the audiences tend to be of a somewhat liberal persuasion. My curiosity is to see how the songs can function in two different ways. They could please someone who is from a Christian conservative family or they could serve as, let's say, an "alternative, East Village" take on it. It can go in both directions simultaneously. It is fraught with ambiguity.
Some people think it's inappropriate to have kids with disabilities engaging in this kind of levity, but I would argue that this is a condescending viewpoint. Why can't the children sing and dance? They should be able to delight in this frivolity, this mad tea party of family. The kids have now all seen the film, and they are very proud of it and their work in it.
Palindromes open in New York and Los Angeles this month.