Lolo Spencer may not remind you of any other influencers you’ve seen on your timeline. For starters, she’s starring in a critically-acclaimed film, Give Me Liberty, which received a ten-minute standing ovation at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. The Stockton, California native might not remind you of most of the YouTubers you’ve seen either— with her channel Sitting Pretty, which she founded in 2015, she has carved a distinct niche as a lifestyle influencer who speaks about her life while being female, black, and disabled. Along the way, she’s modeled for Tommy Hilfiger Adaptive and acted in Buzzfeed shorts, to boot.
Like Lolo, Give Me Liberty is a film that has made no effort to fit any type of mold. Featuring a cast of mostly first-time actors directed by Kirill Mikhanovsky, the film follows the driver of a medical transport vehicle who navigates a particularly chaotic workday in Milwaukee as he attempts to drive his elderly Russian family to a funeral, against the wishes of Tracy (played by Spencer), a wheelchair-bound passenger who just wants to get to work on time. The ensemble project results in something comedic, heartfelt, and deeply American; there is nothing glamorous about the film, which is precisely what makes it beautiful. There is everything glamorous, on the other hand, about Spencer, whose beauty is as evident as her perceptive insight and quick wit. Interview spoke with Spencer IRL about everything from dating while disabled to what it means to be an influencer in the age of Instagram.
CARINA IMBORNONE: Did you shoot the film on location in Milwaukee? It looked really cold.
LOLO SPENCER: That was not just acting. I’m a California girl, born and raised. When I found out that the film was going to shoot in the wintertime in Milwaukee, I wanted to say, “Hell no!” But because the project was so great, I challenged myself.
IMBORNONE: How cold was it exactly?
SPENCER: At night, it was 17 degrees. Luckily, the filmmakers were very mindful of how the cold would affect me.
IMBORNONE: Do you know why this movie was shot in the Midwest in the winter?
SPENCER: I would like to believe that the winter in Milwaukee feels just as barren as certain places in Milwaukee actually look. Milwaukee is not a big city like New York. It’s very cold. It’s still the most segregated city in the country. I think they really wanted to show the authentic landscape— how cold it can be, actually and figuratively.
IMBORNONE: What was working with the ensemble of elderly castmates like?
SPENCER: The elderly group of actors sang their songs with the accordion when they weren’t shooting. I learned little words in Russian. The Russian family was very reminiscent of my own family. A lot of times in the black community, everyone is extremely friendly with each other and sits around a table for these big dinners, getting drunk and turning up the music. The elderly women—I felt almost like they were my little grandmas.
IMBORNONE: What is it like having to rely on people for transit? It’s such a central aspect of the film.
SPENCER: It’s a very frustrating experience, truthfully. Rideshare services have made it a tad bit easier, but that costs a good deal depending on where you’re going. Before that, you had to rely on public transportation, which can be a challenging to one’s safety; some people feel entitled to be in your spot on the bus, and some people harass you because you’re a woman. Relying on friends or family to take you somewhere is difficult because those people have their own lives. I think about people in the smaller towns where these kinds of transit services aren’t available.
IMBORNONE: Do you have any favorite car movies?
SPENCER: One of my favorite movies of all time is Poetic Justice. That movie took place in a mail truck, so I think that counts.
IMBORNONE: I have to ask, why did Tracy give her boyfriend a sword for his birthday? It gives the whole movie this King Arthur quest vibe.
SPENCER: I’m laughing hysterically because nobody knows why the sword is in there. But it works.
IMBORNONE: On that topic, what is it like to be disabled and to date people who are able-bodied?
SPENCER: Dating in general in 2019 is a journey for everybody, which I have to remember. But I would be naive to not think that disability has some effect on my dating life. When I meet someone that I can tell is very interested in me in spite of having a disability, we have real conversations. And then, when it comes to sexual activity, we have to have honest conversations, but it does not mean that we cannot have sexual experiences and be intimate. At any moment in time, your partner or yourself could end up with a disability. Maybe both of you guys are abled now, but what if one day your partner wasn’t? Then what would you do?
IMBORNONE: That’s all about real support. Your boyfriend in the film isn’t the most intimate figure to Tracy. And then Vic comes in, and your scene with him and his records is probably the most intimate scene of movie.
SPENCER: I love that scene so much because it shows how intimate the characters are without it having to be sexual.
IMBORNONE: Sometimes the most romantic connections we have are not really all that sexual.
SPENCER: That’s the definition of real intimacy and real “romance”—being able to connect without it having to be something physical. Because you always know if we can connect on that level emotionally, physically is just the cake on top.
IMBORNONE: What is your sign?
SPENCER: I am a Cancer, which is why I am confident in my vulnerability. There’s one thing that you will never have to second guess when it comes to Cancers: how they feel about you. Every other sign wants to hide it. Leos are too headstrong. Aries, Lord have mercy. Scorpios, we’re not even going to go there, because I’m not even going to talk about dating a Scorpio. I say run for cover if you are dating one. Cancers will be emotional, but emotions aren’t a bad thing.
IMBORNONE: From one water sign to another, that’s great. What was being at the Cannes Film Festival premiere like?
SPENCER: We got a 10-minute standing ovation at our screening. You hear of the strictness and the seriousness that the French have when it comes to their cinema. And so for them to have appreciated a real human story like Give Me Liberty was just amazing. And the food was bomb.
IMBORNONE: What’s your favorite food that you ate?
SPENCER: Oh girl, the French fries. They were like thick potato chips, but they were soft.
IMBORNONE: I want them right now. Something I wanted to ask you: Does being an influencer feel authentic? Where does being an influencer intersect with being an activist for you?
SPENCER: I’m sure you’ve seen the Fyre Festival documentaries. There was this certain section of the Hulu documentary where they were talking to the influencers.
IMBORNONE: Yes, that is exactly what I was thinking when I thought of the question.
SPENCER: They were interviewing the influencers that had spent $300,000 on the cabanas, asking, “Oh, you’re an influencer, so what does that mean? What are you influencing?” It was a back-to-back cut of them trying to search for an answer, and all they could come up with was, “Just a positive lifestyle.” What the hell does that mean? I’m not trying to hate on nobody’s grind, but you have a bunch of impressionable people comparing their lifestyle to these people who don’t have a message. If you’re not promoting something that is of service to others, then you can’t really call yourself an influencer because what are you influencing people to do?
I wanted people to know the title that I go with is “disability lifestyle influencer.” A lot of times when you have a disability, you can just look at something and feel discouraged that it’s not made for you, or they didn’t intend for you to be a customer. We are just as much of a thriving and transactional community as anybody else. I don’t even collaborate or promote a product unless there’s a level of accessibility I find within it that resonates with me. I caught myself in my early videos being the stereotypical, say the right thing YouTuber. I wasn’t being my authentic self. I curse a lot. I turn up a lot.
IMBORNONE: You can curse in this interview.
SPENCER: Nobody can be surprised if they hear me say “bitch” or “shit” or whatever the fuck else I feel like saying. It’s about being authentic, through and through.