‘My Dead Friend Zoe’ Filmmaker Explains Why He Chose Two Women of Color to Tell His Own Army Veteran Story at SXSW

When “My Dead Friend Zoe” filmmaker Kyle Hausmann-Stokes set out to adapt his own experiences as an Army vet onto the big screen, he made two very big changes: gender-flipping the main characters and two women of color in the roles.

Starring Sonequa Martin-Green and Natalie Morales, “My Dead Friend Zoe” is a dark dramedy that follows Merit (Martin-Green), a U.S. Army Afghanistan veteran who is at odds with her family thanks to the presence of Zoe (Morales), her dead best friend from the Army.

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Director Hausmann-Stokes co-wrote the film with AJ Bermudez inspired by Hausmann-Stokes’s time serving five years in the Army as a paratrooper, during which he received the Bronze Star in Iraq, and the death of his good friend and platoon mate. “My Dead Friend Zoe” marks Hausmann-Stokes’s feature film debut after attending USC film school.

My Dead Friend Zoe

Photos by Michael Moriatis
“My Dead Friend Zoe”/Michael Moriatis

“One of the first few ideas, when I finally mustered the courage to finally start putting this down, was that I knew that I wanted this to be funny, and I knew that I wanted the two main characters to be women,” Hausmann-Stokes said during a Q&A after “My Dead Friend Zoe’s” premiere at SXSW Saturday. “For starters, it’s so personal, I just needed some separation from the main characters. And I’ve done so much work for the VA over the past 10 years, PSAs. One mental health campaign in particular, I traveled the country and interviewed for 400-500 veterans, and I met so many incredible women veterans and heard their stories. And I was so humbled. So it was just no question. And we never get to see women in roles like this, and why would you not do that?”

Morales says the stars have already been asked, “Have you ever heard of a white man telling his story through two women of color?” while doing press at the Austin festival and have pride in being the exception to the rule here.

“The whole time, for me, it was me telling his story. I’m him,” Martin-Green said. “I know for me, a lot of times, it was time to suck it up, because it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. But I would just look at him, who really did it and he really lived it, and the other veterans who graciously graced our presence and told their stories.”

Also starring Ed Harris and Morgan Freeman, the Legion M Entertainment and Radiant Media Studios film boasts Travis Kelce as an executive producer and is the first film title the NFL star has produced.

“My Dead Friend Zoe” producers include Paul Scanlan, Hausmann-Stokes, Terri Lubaroff, Ray Maiello, Mike Field, Richard Silverman and Robert Paschall Jr.

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