Lindsey Whitus is not your typical high school sophomore. At 15 years old, she is kicking ass and winning awards for it.
Whitus has been creating awareness about societal issues through her acting and independent documentaries, and lately the local teen has been getting the recognition she deserves.
Whitus' documentary Women Unmasked was awarded Carolina Film Community's Best Student Film at the 2017 Made in Carolinas Film Project. The film follows four women who face gender inequality, sexual abuse and gender identity issues. Whitus raised $1,500 through GoFundMe to finance the project, which was chosen to be in the Princeton Film Festival earlier this month.
"I really wanted to tell authentic stories in real raw way," she said. "There's all sorts of glamorization when it comes to problems and I wanted it to be real raw emotions with no filter."
Her interest in acting didn't become serious until her family moved to France for three years. At twelve years old, Whitus felt isolated by the language barrier and didn't have many friends. Everything changed after she found an English-speaking acting group.
"I became addicted to it," Whitus said. "I looked forward to Saturdays where I got to act, I got to perform, I got to be myself."
After she and her family returned to Charlotte, Whitus was cast in Fake Emma. She was the solo actor in the short film about a teenage girl dealing with depression. The film, directed by Asheville's Kira Bursky, won Best Scripted Film for 2017 at Charlotte's 100 Words Film Festival in early November.
Whitus draws from her experiences of feeling alone as a middle schooler in France, losing a friend while she was away and living as a teenager in Charlotte. "It was a lot for an 11-year-old to deal with all at once," she said.
After seeing Whitus in Fake Emma, I had to meet her. The film is powerful, leaving me haunted by Whitus' character and wondering how depression distorts our view of the world and how quickly we are to push others' feelings aside. On a recent day, Whitus and I met up to talk about her important work.
Creative Loafing: Who's influenced you?
Lindsey Whitus: Kira Bursky, director of Fake Emma. She's really the reason I created my series, Women Unmasked, because she's only 21 and has already made more than 40 short films or music videos. She's the person that told me. "You can do it." She inspires me to explore different types of emotions and feelings and stories that aren't often told or aren't often mainstream. She inspires me to be 100 percent myself and do what I want no matter my age or gender.
How has Women Unmasked become more important now that so many women have stepped up to publicly out their abusers over the last couple of months?
There's so much sexual assault and pressure that women are feeling. That was a daunting thing to see. There are so many stories of women not being heard or not being taken seriously when they make these allegations. There's so much victim blaming as well. A lot of people don't believe that women are still oppressed. These are very real stories, and I think people need to see them.
Where does your strength and energy for these powerful projects come from?
Acting is definitely a way for me to get my emotions out. I am a very emotional person and there's not many outlets for emotions, other than crying or laughing, in everyday life. But acting, you can let it all out, whatever you're feeling or whatever you felt in the past that you pushed down or bottled up.
How accurate is Fake Emma in its portrayal of depression in teens?
(Fake Emma) is a new look on depression. It tells a very real story, but it has a very creative and different outlook on depression with the cardboard, warped version of Emma. I feel it sometimes – emotion that's just telling me all these negative thoughts, but aren't accurate. It's self-esteem, a weird teenage version of yourself that's telling you, "You look weird in that outfit," or "You need to lose some weight," — I definitely think people experience that and have that fake version of themselves.
What's your future look like?
I hope to be making many more films and documentaries. Also acting — that's my biggest passion. I want to be juggling both. I want to be spreading positivity and awareness of different issues through my work.