Looking 'Under The Table' At The Reluctant Modern Family Grace McLeod is a 19-year-old filmmaker with a message to self-proclaimed social progressives: Tolerance and acceptance are not equal. She talks with Scott Simon about her new work, Under the Table.

Looking 'Under The Table' At The Reluctant Modern Family

Looking 'Under The Table' At The Reluctant Modern Family

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Grace McLeod is a 19-year-old filmmaker with a message to self-proclaimed social progressives: Tolerance and acceptance are not equal. She talks with Scott Simon about her new work, Under the Table.


OK, film idea now - Park Avenue family waits for Nell, their college-aged daughter, to come home for Thanksgiving. They've got Obama bumper stickers on the fridge and literature on their bookshelves that proclaims their liberal convictions. They're eager to meet the boyfriend they're expecting Nell to bring home. All is in place when...


JACKIE VISCUSI: (As Nell) Mom, hi, Happy Thanksgiving. This is Laura, my girlfriend.

SIMON: Who is African-American, by the way. Grace McLeod is a young filmmaker who packs a lot of laughs and hypocrisy into 22 minutes in her first film "Under The Table." It premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in April. Grace McLeod is 19, will be a freshman at the University of Chicago next fall. She join us in our studios. Thanks so much for being with us.

GRACE MCLEOD: Thanks for having me.

SIMON: You call this a comedy about lesbians, mashed potatoes at the reluctant modern family.

MCLEOD: That's sort of the log line, but I think overall, you know, it's really about expectations that are sort of shattered in the moment and how people try and cope with them gracefully.

SIMON: May I ask - to what degree might any of these perceptions be drawn from your personal experience?

MCLEOD: Yeah, I didn't really make - I didn't make this film to point fingers at anyone at all.

SIMON: Yeah.

MCLEOD: And I went to school on the upper-East side of Manhattan and I had a tremendous experience in school. I was really supported by my friends and my family. But, you know, at the same time, I realized that it's a culture of just sort of brushing things under the table when they might not go as planned.

And, you know, diversity is talked about all the time, but sometimes I felt it was a point of discussion because people felt that it had to be and they had to talk about these things in order to seem liberal and open-minded. And, you know, there's a difference between, you know, tolerating something from afar and, you know, liking an organization on Facebook and actually totally accepting your lesbian daughter or your lesbian friend. And I really wanted to call attention to that difference.

SIMON: I - the younger sister...

MCLEOD: (Laughing) Yes.

SIMON: ...Gets the best line.

MCLEOD: She does.

SIMON: My favorite character - without giving too much away - she turns to her sister who's come out and says why weren't you this interesting in high school. (Laughing). Where does that come from?

MCLEOD: (Laughing) She's not 100 percent based off of my actual sister, but my sister is very funny, she has a lot of snarky humor and so some of that tone is derived from her. But they're very different.

But I realize, you know, the best way to talk about these issues that I wanted to discuss in the film is through comedy and, you know, a lot of the comedy is very subtle, but I think the little sister really brings out the one-liners and the punchlines that really get to the heart of, you know, these issues that I wanted to discuss.

SIMON: Working with actors can be hard enough, but how - I admire the way you directed the dog.

MCLEOD: (Laughing).

SIMON: Who serves food. Who is that dog and how did you do it?

MCLEOD: That dog is my family's dog. His name is Luke. I was originally thinking of, you know, getting an actor dog. And it just turned out to be completely ridiculous. I remember being on the phone with someone from an agency asking me if I wanted a union or nonunion canine. I was like, oh, gosh.

SIMON: Excuse me, I'm a union member and I certainly - I would've hoped you go with the union dog.

MCLEOD: (Laughing).

SIMON: That's what the union movement's all about.

MCLEOD: (Laughing) If I could've afforded the union dog I probably - I would've gone that way.

SIMON: Yeah.

MCLEOD: But it wasn't really in the budget so I just decided to use my dog.

SIMON: I wonder, if you go on to make films, if 30 years from now you might wind up making a film that might be a little bit more forgiving of the mother.

MCLEOD: You know, when I was writing the script I thought, you know, everyone is going to expect me to write the daughter and her girlfriend as the main characters and it's going to be their story. And then I thought, you know, to me, the mother is the most interesting character. And so I sort of made the shift to make her more of the central character of the film.

And I certainly think that, you know, a lot of the film is this sort of generational conflict where the daughter and her girlfriend and her little sister sort of confront their parents with all these things and force them to realize that what they're doing and what they're saying, what they're not saying is a little out of line.

So, you know, I think in 30 years I might not even have to write a film about anything like this whatsoever. I think that we're just sort of just in general shifting to become a more open-minded - more accepting as opposed to tolerant culture.

SIMON: Grace McLeod, 19 years old now, who's new film "Under The Table" premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival. Thanks so much for being with us. Good luck and everything.

MCLEOD: Thank you so much for having me.

SIMON: You're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News.

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