Few people understand the power of pure communication better than Ricki Lake. The iconic actress/television host-turned-producer has shaped an entire generation by revealing necessary truths, and she does it again in her new film Weed the People, this time joining the cannabis revolution. She and award-winning director Abby Epstein (Lake’s creative partner on her first documentary, 2008’s The Business of Being Born) worked since 2012 to chronicle the stories of several families using cannabis oil to treat their children’s cancers. Watching the emotional tales unfold onscreen, including an infant with a brain tumor and a young boy who developed an opioid dependency during chemotherapy, it’s clear that the federal stance on medical marijuana has to change.
“I have very big dreams that this film could be the tipping point [to reverse] the brainwashing that’s been done about this plant,” Lake says. “By going through a person’s stories, it takes the stigma away. At the end of the day, we’re talking about kids who are dying of cancer. The chemotherapy is wreaking havoc on their bodies, so you go to a natural substance that can only help. To show it in this light is really helpful for the public to understand.”
Weed the People premiered in March at South by Southwest and in mid-October began a series of theatrical runs in different cities, scheduled through February 2019 and slated for a Netflix release in April. This weekend marks its New York debut. Featuring experts like Mara Gordon, the founder of nonprofit organization Aunt Zelda’s – which helps families secure cannabis oil for palliative care and other severe medical treatment – the film makes an extremely convincing case for nationwide legalization.
Lake has seen an overwhelmingly positive response already, even from those who have historically been opposed to cannabis use. “Showing Weed the People to a very conservative audience is amazing. We took it to Indianapolis for the Heartland International Film Festival and to deadCenter Film Festival in Oklahoma City two weeks before their referendum.” (The effort obviously worked; in late June Oklahoma voters approved a ballot measure making the state the 30th in the country to allow medical marijuana.)
“The families that we followed are actually pretty religious,” Lake adds. “It’s easier for [most parents] to swallow when they see people that are just like them onscreen.”
It helps that Lake has had to go through much of the same education as her target audience. She admits to not knowing much about cannabis until her late husband Christian Evans, a vocal proponent for the plant, started using it as his main resource for medical treatment. “This was his passion and he was on a mission to find some remedies that would help his symptoms. He dealt with a lot of chronic pain, migraines, learning and processing issues, anxiety and sleep issues – things that affect all of us, you know? He was a pioneer in the research he was doing way back when. To see this project come to fruition for him and his legacy is really powerful.”
In some ways, Lake’s personal journey parallels the larger cultural shift sweeping the nation in the #MeToo era of woman-led change. All women are nurturers, she points out – whether by creative inspiration, parenting, political activism or anything else we might do. So it’s a particularly prescient time to get moms from every walk of life to support a natural medicine for their babies.
“[Cannabis] can reduce and treat a lot of afflictions, and so I’ve come to revere this plant,” Lake enthuses.
Her next project with Epstein will be similarly female-focused, a documentary about birth control called Sweetening the Pill that’s currently in post-production. While you may see her in front of the camera occasionally, Lake confirms her commitment to telling true-life stories as a producer: “I’ve been making documentaries for ten years. I wanted to focus on small, contained projects that I’m curious and passionate about… I love doing these issue-oriented, provocative, story-driven pieces of material that help to educate the consumer. Acting is secondary to these cause-oriented documentaries.”
That last statement was validated on multiple levels this week at New York’s Club Cumming, where Lake’s close friend, legendary actor Alan Cumming, threw her a celebratory party in advance of Weed the People’s East Village screenings. Amid joyful dancing, a fiery tribute to Josephine Baker, and Broadway duets, Lake and Cumming took every opportunity to remind people to vote in the midterms. The voices of reason are ringing – it’s time for us all to speak our truth. Just don’t be surprised if you exit the theatre (or your local polling place) cheering, “Go Ricki! Go Ricki!”
WEED THE PEOPLE screens at Village East Cinema October 26-November 1, 2018 and at Women Grow NYC on October 27. For more info or to see other scheduled screenings, visit weedthepeoplemovie.com or follow on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
Jaime Lubin is the Managing Editor of Honeysuckle Magazine. Her profiles on art and culture have appeared regularly in The Huffington Post and Observer, as well as Billboard and Irish America magazines among other publications. Also an actress, producer, and singer, Jaime is working on a solo show about Tarot. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram (both @jaimelubin).