Director Justin Folk knows people would rather avoid the highly-charged conversations tied to the trans community.
He’s one of them.
It’s why he initially balked at directing “What Is a Woman?” Matt Walsh’s documentary tackles the subject head-on.
“I wasn’t that interested at first,” says Folk with a laugh. “Oh, man how do you go about doing that?”
Once Walsh shared his vision for the film Folk warmed to the task. The “Johnny the Walrus” author would ask basic questions to various experts on the topic. No hectoring or raised voices. Just calm, rational queries to learn more about the subject in play.
“His method and approach are what got me on board,” says Folk, who previously directed the 2019 docudrama “No Safe Spaces” which explored free speech’s decline on college campuses.
“What Is a Woman?” finds Walsh crisscrossing the country, and even touching down in Africa, asking doctors, local, and tribal leaders the titular question.
And, in most cases, failing to hear an answer.
The Daily Wire production also introduces us to two female athletes who say their hopes were dashed when they competed against trans females.
“They’ve trained their whole lives, they’ve worked so hard… and somebody comes along, a biological male, and they easily beat them,” he says.
One of the athletes is shown in the dark, her voice distorted to protect her identity. Folk was happy to grant her that anonymity.
“Once you get branded as a hater or bigot, it really can affect opportunities for you in the future,” he says of the blowback trans critics, like “Harry Potter” author JK Rowling, routinely receive.
Folk says the two trans-related issues that spark sizable debate involve sports and bathroom access.
“Some feelings have to take a back seat for the feelings of a very few,” he says. “It’s a clash of rights … whose rights here take precedence?”
“What Is a Woman?” is available exclusively to Daily Wire subscribers, but the film’s reach could extend far beyond the site’s cyber walls, he predicts.
“It’s gonna make a major impact … there’s a lot of word of mouth on this thing,” he says. The film’s trailer is closing in on 7 million views in just two weeks, for example, and the title trended on Twitter during its premiere. Plus, Folk says Walsh may take the documentary on a college tour in the months ahead.
“What Is a Woman?” offers a secondary theme beyond its attention-getting premise.
“How do you talk about issues, how do you solve problems, if one side is shutting down the other side down?” he asks. And, as he learned during the production of the film, people crave more conversation on the subject.
“[Matt Walsh] represents a lot of people in how they feel about this … it gives people some courage to be able to speak up more,” he says.
The film’s June 1 debut at The Daily Wire didn’t go as planned, though.
The site suffered a “sustained” DDoS attack, temporarily preventing site subscribers from accessing the world premiere presentation. Such attacks feature a swarm of bots accessing the content all at once, overloading the systems as a result.
Folk predicts similar challenges will greet “What Is a Woman?” in the coming days.
“People simply don’t want this film to be seen,” he says. “It really does show the point that when they disagree with you they wanna shut you up.”
The other reason Folk didn’t leap at the chance to direct “Woman?” Folk understands tackling this material could have personal and professional repercussions.
He eventually decided to take that chance.
“If I stick to telling the truth and keep making films that are fair, even if people disagree … they really appreciate that kind of storytelling,” he says.
Helming “What Is a Woman?” could trigger his left-leaning Hollywood peers, diminishing his chances for future gigs. His entertainment lawyer set him straight on that front.
“That ship has sailed for you, buddy. You made ‘No Safe Spaces,’” Folk recalls the attorney saying. That documentary got pounded by both liberal critics and entertainment media for embracing free speech principles and co-starring conservative talker Dennis Prager.
“This is my niche,” he says. “My job is to tell the truth. If I can do that effectively and fairly, whatever closed doors appear, maybe I didn’t want them open anyway,” he says.