The earliest memory Richie Shazam has of feeling like herself was when, in Paris, she wore her first pair of heels. After growing up with gender dysmorphia as a child of Guyanese immigrant parents in Queens, N.Y., she recalled that putting on the heels suddenly made her connect with her body in a way she hadn’t experienced before.
The moment is immortalized in Shazam’s first short film, Savitree, which is named after her mother, who died when Shazam was in high school. Shazam has made a name for herself as a model and photographer, so when she was approached by Converse to work on a film about her life and her “found family,” she knew it was time to venture into something new.
“Visual arts have always been a passion of mine, and I find power in expressing myself in my truest forms,” Shazam told In The Know. “Creating this film was such a cathartic experience for me; celebrating my journey, where I came from and who I want to be next has really allowed me to open up in new ways.”
Savitree debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival and was truly a love letter to Shazam’s mom as well as Shazam’s found family, all of whom she met after her mother’s death.
Found families are a valuable safety net within the LGTBQ community. According to research by the Pew Center, adults who identify as LGBTQ still feel stigmatized, and 39% of those interviewed said that they had been rejected by a close friend or family member because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. About 40% of homeless youth are LGBTQ.
“Found families are an integral part of many people’s experiences in the queer community,” Shazam explained. “I found my family when I found the strength to be myself, and my family has been a fundamental part of building my identity, centering love above all else. I don’t know if I’d be here without my found family supporting me each and every day.”
After Shazam’s mom’s death, Shazam found herself more alone than ever. Her father wasn’t the warm, receptive figure his wife had been, and Shazam described how there would be nights when she would ride the subway for hours to avoid going home.
Actress Julia Fox was one of the first members of Shazam’s found family, along with stylist Briana Andalore and, as of 2021, Shazam’s partner, Ben Draghi. But Fox, Shazam and Andalore have been inseparable since they were teenagers, and in the film, Shazam describes locking eyes with the other two and knowing that she’d found her people. Fox and Andalore were there that night in Paris when Shazam first wore her heels. The trio sat together at the panel following the premiere of Savitree and seemingly never stopped holding other another’s hands.
“My greatest hope for viewers … is that they see that every journey is worth taking,” Shazam said.
Fox, who has been best friends with Shazam since they were teenagers, asked Shazam after the premiere about what her mom would think — of the film and of Shazam’s identifying as nonbinary and femme-presenting. Shazam told a sweet story about how her mother would sneak her $20 to go to dance classes that her father didn’t approve of — she was always supportive.
“There’s a family for everyone, and love, care, acceptance and support are in your grasp when you find the courage and freedom to be yourself,” Shazam said. “Also, I want people to know that when given the proper opportunities and resources, a queer woman of color can make something magical.”
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