The documentary Ovarian Psycos follows the titular group of women as they patrol the streets of East Los Angeles on bikes at night, shouting, “Whose streets? Our streets!!” The film premiered at SXSW, and as of May 5, had scheduled dates to open in San Francisco and New York. On the film’s Facebook page, the creators gave a shoutout to L.A.: “L.A.—Hold tight, we have exciting plans to bring the film home soon—stay tuned!”
But the filmmaking process wasn’t easy for either subject or filmmaker. Xela de la X, the Ova’s leader, was worried about directors Joanna Sokolowski and Kate Trumbull-LaValle’s motivations, and their lack of inherent understanding of the Ovas’ culture. Sokolowski and Trumbull-LaValle, in turn, were forced to do some serious self-reflection, ask themselves what their motives really were, and be persistent yet respectful in trying to reach an understanding with de la X.
Before you see the movie — or indeed, just because you live in Los Angeles — here are six things you need to know about the Pyscos, as told to us via email by de la X.
The Ovas came into being as a result of daily street harassment.
Says de la X: “I was tired of the unsolicited harassment and catcalls during Critical Mass Rides, or while I was simply riding my bicycle to work; the ridiculous entitlement of most men to comment on my body, commanding me to smile, to think they can dictate how I move, or limit the spaces I move in, with this sometimes unspoken but very real threat of harm. In short, I was tired of the constant, abrasive and unchecked misogyny so pervasive in every aspect of our lives.”
The Ovas aren’t only fighting back against the treatment of women, but the treatment of anyone who doesn’t fit society’s norms.
“We’re all targets, all of us who don’t fit within this white, cis, heteronormative construct. Even more so we are targets when we refuse to accept these passively submissive and docile roles imposed upon us.”
When Sokolowski and Trumbull-LaValle first approached her to be the subject of their doc, de la X told them “no.”
“I was completely distrustful and apprehensive; I had no problem saying ‘no, and no, because you’re white.’ White folx have an extensive history of exploiting other peoples, their cultures, their land, their resources dating as far back as 1492. Let’s be real—and the shit hasn’t changed. Look at Echo Park, Highland Park…So, the fact that they wanted to do this documentary was for me, at first, suspect. They’re not doing us any favors. In fact, we feared they’d exploit our work, come and take this story and bank off of it.”
Trumbull-LaValle’s Mexican heritage wound up saving them.
“The fact that Kate’s mom is Mexican—having grown up in the border town of Tijuana—coupled with the fact that Kate was also in the process of working on this film, No Más Bebés, about the coercive sterilization practices suffered by brown, mostly immigrant, mostly Spanish speaking womxn from our very barrios in Boyle Heights/East L.A., was really their saving grace. Their intentions spoke through this work specifically, and so we began to trust them, but still in increments.”
De la X agreed to the film in part because she hoped it would inspire others.
“Ideally, the film should serve as a blueprint of sorts, a very raw model for other folx hanging from the margins that also refuse to just surrender. Ideally, the film will incite others to start organizing in their own communities around these same issues detrimentally affecting people of color throughout the world. For the folx that already organize, the film hopefully will be a testament or a reminder that our stories are important and need to be shared, and definitely need to be documented by us and for us.”
The understanding between the filmmakers and the subjects is built on ongoing conversations.
“To this day, we continue to have very real, very honest conversations with [Sokolowski and Trumbull-LaValle]. We are still building trust with them and making sure to hold them accountable to their ethical responsibility to reciprocate. So it’s been difficult, but definitely a learning lesson for both parties, and really ultimately a labor of love.”