Meet the Filmmakers Behind the New Hulu Documentary 'We Live Here: The Midwest'

Melinda Maerker and David Miller’s film explores the joys, struggles and daily lives of LGBTQ+ families in five states across the Midwest.

Courtney, Denise and Marek during filming of the Hulu film We Live Here: The Midwest
Kansas couple Courtney and Denise with son Marek. Photo:

Courtesy of Hulu

Filmmakers Melinda Maerker and David Miller know that Americans disagree on plenty these days. Yet nearly everyone can agree that family—however you define it—is both complicated and beautiful. These universal, relatable themes take center stage in the duo’s new documentary, We Live Here: The Midwest, debuting December 6 on Hulu. The movie features five queer families who welcomed film crews into their homes and communities to share a personal glimpse of their daily lives in Iowa, Nebraska, Ohio, Minnesota and Kansas. Pivoting from joy and heartbreak to discrimination and resilience, the stories collectively paint a colorful portrait of courage—while also challenging some of the recurring fears and judgements that create unwelcoming atmospheres for transgender, gay and queer Midwesterners. Maerker and Miller shared an early screener of the film with Midwest Living, then answered questions about their ambitious undertaking.

Why did you choose the Midwest as the setting for this project?

MM: It’s the heartland of America and the heartland of family values. In many ways that’s such a wonderful thing. But the families in our film often felt excluded from some of those values. We wanted to look at why—why are they not able to participate in some of the things and have the same rights as other people in the Midwest while also wanting many other aspects of the culture that are positive?

What was the early inspiration?

MM: When something is codified, like marriage equality, there is often backlash. We’re seeing a lot of that right now and over the past decade across the U.S. And it’s making people uncomfortable.

DM: I think many people are fearful of the LGBTQ spectrum. One of the things we wanted to show is “look at these families” and just let the camera speak for itself. They are parents, they love their kids, they have burdens just like anybody else—financial, health and whatnot. So what is this fear all about?

Do you have personal ties to this topic?

DM: I’m a gay father, married with three boys. So for me it’s very important. My husband [director and writer Ryan Murphy] and I had to go out of state when we got married, because at the time California had not passed marriage equality.

MM: I was born in Ohio, and my family all comes from the Midwest. I’m also a lesbian, living with a partner of 10 years and our three dogs. 

How did you find and select these families who were so open?

MM: It was not easy. It was a process, turning to everything from social media to local organizations and personal connections, like hearing about friends of friends of friends. First and foremost, we wanted to introduce people to courageous families.

DM: Some families understandably refused because they couldn’t take the risk of losing their jobs. Living in Los Angeles, we don’t have to think about that as often. One family had to drop out just a few days before we arrived in Wisconsin. Ultimately, I think there were at least 11 families that didn’t want to do it or had to turn us down.

While plenty of scenes in We Live Here are inspiring and uplifting, the film ends with a situation in Minnesota that feels more raw, emotionally complicated and challenging. Why did you decide to close on that note?

MM: A lot of the time when LGBTQ and queer families are in the mainstream, they have to be the perfect family. We wanted to show that these families are like other families, which means complicated. In the last story, there is a complicated family dynamic—divorce, children and reconciliation. I think more people can relate to that than to what seems like a perfect family.

Who do you hope watches this film most of all?

MM: The people in the middle of the road on this topic. Sometimes it’s not just fear around this issue but lack of awareness. People don’t know who’s out there unless they have the opportunity to have a queer neighbor, like you see with our Nebraska family. And as one character, Nia Chiaramonte in Iowa, says: “These aren’t just issues, they are people.” We wanted to give a fuller picture of these people and their families.

DM: This documentary is a fantastic opportunity to get Americans thinking about “why is there so much hate for these types of families?” They’re very much like everybody else: complex, and also joyful.

The title of this feature sounds like it could be a series. Is a sequel in the works?

DM: Melinda and I loved this project so much, we would love to explore another region of the country and find out what’s going on there. We are researching families right now and are looking forward to exploring and going further with this.

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