'The Joneses' is a story of 'forgiveness, compassion, tolerance and hope' that stars the larger-than-life transgender matriarch Jheri
'The Joneses' invites viewers into the home a unique family in Bible Belt Mississippi, which lives happily under the leadership of transgender matriarch Jheri
At a time when the people of the United States are finding it difficult to relate to one another and even look at each other as fellow humans, the story of 'The Joneses' comes as one of "forgiveness, compassion and tolerance and hope for generations to come," as the director Moby Longinottopoints out. This brilliant documentary, which has been seven years in the making, invites viewers into the homes of the Joneses, a unique family in Bible Belt Mississippi, who live happily under the leadership of their transgender matriarch Jheri.
Jheri lives with two of her four sons in a trailer park home and when we meet her in the documentary, at the age of 74, she is on a brave new path of revealing her true self to her grandchildren, even as her son Trevor ventures on a surprising journey of his own.
The very second you start playing this documentary you feel like a part of the Joneses, like you are privy to a very private and every-day moment in this beautiful family’s life. "When I first arrived, Jheri welcomed me into her home with a plate of mac and cheese. And mealtime was always a big part of the day for the family. It’s when they would get together, say grace, and they’d always set a place for me at the table," says Longinotto, who wanted to make the filming process as informal as he could for the family.
He tells Meaww, "My intention was to put everybody at ease and try to capture what their day to day life was truly like." This mission has definitely been successful, and we get to share some extremely private moments with each member of the family – be it about Jheri’s journey from father of four who was estranged from his sons for many years to being a loving mother to them currently, about one of her son’s deep fear that he will not amount to anything in life, even as his brother battles with the idea of mortality and his advancing weight’s relation to it or one of his son’s fearing to tell his own children about their grandmother technically being their grandfather.
Longinotto has taken the utmost care to treat this family with love and respect, allowing them to come out with their respective stories in their own time, not forcing it at all. He reveals, "It took years to gain their trust. When I first arrived in 2009, Jheri didn’t want to talk about being transgender and Trevor didn’t even want to be filmed. In my original short film of the same name, there’s not even a mention of Jheri’s backstory. She was worried about recriminations from people she knew or who lived locally. But over the years, she began to want to tell her story. And as her grandchildren were growing up, they became a part of the film too. But I was determined not to be insensitive to Jheri's decision to open up on camera, as that wasn't the film I wanted to make."
He hopes Jheri’s story will inspire younger generations to "stand up and be yourself no matter how much pressure society, family or peers may put on you." Longinotto was similarly inspired by Jheri’s story and has been wanting to tell this story for many years.
He elaborates, "I initially heard about Jheri's story by a writer of the name John Howard. He had been living in London but was from the South and friends with Jheri. He had written a book on the queer history of the American South which included an interview with Jheri. He’d seen a previous short film of mine and he was also friendly with a producer that I was working with."
Fascinated by Jheri's story, he went out to Mississippi to meet her in 2009. "I’d never been anywhere like Mississippi before and as soon as I met Jheri and her family, I instantly knew I wanted to make a film about them," he says. The journey to Mississippi and the making the film has definitely been worth it.
'The Joneses' has been digitally released globally as of October 30. To learn more about the various screening, visit The Joneses film website.