She doesn't give a fuck what you think. Unless you're Lil Wayne.
Lucky Torres does not give a fuck what you think about her. That's the immediate impression you'll get after watching the Laura Checkoway-directed self-titled documentary about Lucky. I've watched the documentary take shape as Checkoway created it; the gift and the curse of real-time filming is that as life unfolds, a lot changes, which is why the documentary took over half a decade to create. Checkoway, already a respected veteran journalist, met Lucky on the streets of NYC's West Village. She was fascinated immediately—the face tattoos, vibrant hair, everything– and asked about her story. After pitch to the Fader made Lucky hipster fodder, a local celebrity was born. There was so much more to her story and Checkoway knew it needed to be told. Lucky is homeless; she's a child of the system, a child of rape, a child with a child, two in fact. The 30 year old still resides on an uphill climb, trying to find a home and raise her son—she’s estranged from her daughter, though reunited with her during the creation of the film.
There’s another thing: she’s obsessed with Lil Wayne. It’s less about fanhood and more about holding him as an icon of aspiration. It’s like when Tom Hanks painted a volleyball and named it “Wilson” in Cast Away. In extreme moments of desperation, we find a glimmer of hope, an emotional meal ticket, and that’s Lil Wayne for Lucky. She’s convinced that if she got some face time with him, he’d recognize her star power and bring her on board the YMCMB yacht, thus, saving her life. In the doc, she attends Wayne’s trial date in New York City in 2009 and hands her number off to a hanger-on from the Cash Money camp. The look of hope in her eyes at that moment is humbling, considering the rest of the film is filled with exhaustion. She attempts a rapping/singing career in the film, along with bit modeling gigs and unearths inventive ways to screw the system, providing temporary housing. Lucky's also a fixture in the LGBT community, and finds herself being shot by iPhone cameras both out of shock and notoriety.
Yet, she’s still homeless.
You'll learn that Lucky is not the figment of a video camera. She’s the real deal, and has no qualms about telling her friends in the audience (Many are co-stars in the film) to shut the fuck up, asking me to take a t-shirt with her face on it on the way out (“Not like I can sell these. Who knows me?”), and storming off stage once Checkoway is asked about her next film (Lucky is incredibly attached to Checkoway. She calls Laura her “mother”). The film is as amazing as Lucky’s story, and while it had its independent promotional run in the U.S., it’ll jump across the pond this spring to hip Europe to the tale of a survivor.
I spoke with Lucky about the film and her life—which are essentially the exact same thing. Far from timid, she kept things candid yet graceful, which is a stark contrast to what others received when they interviewed her at the premiere. Call me “lucky” in this case.
Noisey: Where did you get your nickname Lucky?
Lucky Torres: Growing up in the foster care system and in different foster homes, I was always told, “Oh, you're so lucky that I can't whoop your ass right now!” Like when I got hit by the yellow cab or when I had the four surgeries on my spine because I was born with scoliosis. I have severe scoliosis, and the surgery just made my back even worse, so I have a severe hunch that messes with my breathing and my ribs still turning. So it's like, I was just called lucky since I was younger because it was just more like, “You're so lucky that I can't do this to you,” or, “You're lucky that you're even alive!” It's just like, “Well, I'm Lucky. That's my name! Don't wear it out, thanks!”
How did an article with Laura [Checkoway] turn into a film?
Laura wasn't supposed to film me. It was not something that was planned. It was more like, when she was writing the article... I think the first magazine was Fader if I'm not mistaken? When I met Laura, I was already writing a book about my life.Oh really?
Yeah, she has that book and we're working on finishing the book now. So the edits and the documentary will be added to the book in the finishing touches. But I was already writing a book about my life, so it was like when she came in, it was like, “Wow, the book and the film? What can I say!” It was about time; she actually just pushed it a little faster.
You've spent so much time with Laura over the years.
Yeah, going on eight years.
What's your relationship like with her now?
With Laura, it's never been about business. She never looked at me as just a subject. You know, other people just come into individual's lives, and they just base it on, “Okay, we're going to do this, this and that,” and when it's done, they're like, “Okay! Good luck now!” With Laura, it's more like her mother, her sister, her father...especially her father, he's a big supporter, which I'm grateful for. Her family looks at me like I'm a part of them, treats me like I'm a part of them. And it's like, I'm not a subject. With this girl, I'm a daughter, I'm a family member that's not blood, but it's more like an adoption. You ain't going nowhere! I tell Laura, “Don't think this is going to end, because you ain't going nowhere!” When I get attached, it's like, “I don't know who told you or who didn't tell you, but I'm telling you now. We're going to be like this for the rest of our lives!” [laughs]
You're like, “You're stuck with me.”
At the premiere I overheard you telling your friend, “You remember those scenes where I told her to get that camera out of my face, right?”
I did that all the time! [Laughs] All the time, all the time! I was like, “What the fuck! I'm tired of this shit! You know what? No more!” It was interesting because Laura would persuade me. She's like, [imitating Laura] “Five more minutes, Lucky!”
Do you see those people on reality TV and relate to them at all with a camera in your face?
No, the people on reality TV, I think they enjoy this shit. They like the camera. I literally don't like the camera. Everywhere I've traveled, I've honestly told people, “I don't even like people!” You know? Like when I went to Boston, Massachusetts, I sat there and was like, “I don't even like people. All of y'all here! I don't even like people! Thank you for coming, but I don't like people!” It's a battle because now I'm in this, and it's more like, “Lucky, don't scare the people away!”
What was it like to watch yourself in the film?
I guess it feels funny because it's like the reality hitting you all over again like, this is really me! This really happened. I don't really look for sympathy from people, I just look for people to understand one's life like myself. People look at me and think, “Oh my God, she got money because she got tattoos!” or because I dress nice and underneath it all, nobody knows what's really going on.
Is that intentional? How important is to not look like you're in pain, or not look like you're struggling?
I don't look at it as being important. I think I just look at it as just because I'm down, doesn't mean that I've got to look like it on the outside of me. If I'm still able to hold it together, why not wake up in the morning and take a shower and feel good to look good, instead of knowing that I really feel shitty? I ain't gotta look shitty on the outside, because a lot of people look up to me. Sometimes I don't understand why people look up to me, but I'm grateful for it, so it's like I got to keep up with the struggle and the fighting on that. Just because no one helped me, doesn't mean that I can't help anyone else. Realize and understand that just because you're going through pain on the inside, doesn't mean you've got to be noticeable with it on the outside.
What do you say to people who are kind of in that same situation?
It depends on my mood. Like if it's people that I know that open up to me and want to talk about something, I give them the best advice to the best of my ability. Then if it's someone that I don't know and they're like, “Oh, can I get some change because I'm hungry,” that pisses me off because I'm like... I let them know, “I'm hungry too! You don't see me walking around here asking for some change! Just because I don't look like it doesn't mean nothing! Go to a shelter! There's walk-in churches, there's places that you're able to get free meals if it ain't from the people that live door-to-door. I'm sure that they'll provide you with some food just the same.” It kind of upsets me because I'm not walking around there begging and asking for change, because I feel like if I'm still able to stand up on my two feet, then I'm still able to fight. I don't have nobody cleaning my ass, so I got to clean my own ass.
So what did you learn about yourself from the film?
It's not the end of the world yet. [Laughs]
One thing I learned is that you don't take anybody's shit.
I don't care what people think. Sometimes I actually test. You know that part of the movie documentary about me trying to look for a job, and my sister actually got more upset about it because she got the job and I didn't? So I'm trying to explain to her, “You expect this from people. This was a test. I wasn't really out there trying to get a job. I was trying to put it to the test. Over the phone, I was told to come in and bring what I needed to bring and I did so, and then in person, it was like, 'Uh sorry, there's no opening for you.'” You know what I'm saying? “Oh, there was no opening for me because of the way I look? Because over the phone, I sounded intelligent enough for me to come here, and for you to set this time and day for me to come for this interview, and now that I'm here, you're looking at me like I'm some time of freak show. I'm still a human being. My brain still works.”
So what is it about Lil Wayne that drew you to him?
To me, I looked at him... I'm not a fan. I can care less, but he's just one of those that knows that people know this about him and he still doesn't care. He's more like, “I'm surviving for me and the family that I'm creating. I'm thankful for the people for making me who I am, but at the end of the day, I still don't give a fuck.” That's his attitude, you know?
You have quite a few Lil Wayne tattoos. You've got the one of his face that's tatted on your rib cage, then you've got the “Fear of God” on your eyelids.
Yes, I have “No Ceilings,” “Misunderstood.” I got a couple of Lil Wayne tattoos on me.
How much of your face tattoo design was inspired by Wayne?
The face tattoos I've gotten because I was always told that I was ugly, and then to also go with the rage that I carry within, so I used it as self-expression. I'm saying, I put my pain onto my skin. So basically, I feel like talking about Wayne is more like, this is the way he expresses himself, the way he uses his music to express himself! He feels like he's expressing himself better through his music, and then putting it on his ink as his journey goes on. I express myself with my ink on my skin, and then my writing when I write. At the end of the day, this is the way we like it. We're comfortable with this way. This is what fits us best and it works for us.
I saw in the film there's people that come up to you on the street and they're like, “Can I take a picture with you?”
Sometimes I say no. “No, I don't feel like it!” and then they go sneak one of me, or sometimes I'm standing on the subway and I hear [Makes camera noise] and see the flash and I'm like, “Well damn! You could have asked! Put the shit on vibrate, something! Make sure the flash is off. Let me know so I can pose next time!” I was standing on the welfare line one time, and some girl tapped me from behind, talking about, “Oh my God, is this you? I have a picture of you from like four years ago at Gay Pride!” I was like, “Wow, you still got the same phone? Because I done changed four outfits. That was four Gay Prides ago!”
There was this scene in the film where you showed up to Lil Wayne's court date, and you gave your information to one of the guys in Cash Money. Are at all disappointed in what your progress was in trying to meet Lil Wayne?
I just want him to take me under his wing, because I'm very multi-talented. I can write R&B music, I can write rhymes, I can write poetry, I can be one of those standing-there type fashion models. My look is one of a kind, and I'm just into a lot of things. A person like Lil Wayne, he doesn't give a fuck about nothing but what makes him happy. That's the way I am! I was sitting a couple of seats directly behind Lil Wayne the day he was getting sentenced, and across from Baby! So I was like, I'm going to get in there, and I'm going to get out before he leaves out and somebody's going to take my number. It's been for a very long time that I've been trying to reach out to him, so when I finally was able to give my number and Baby told me to pass off my number to this other person, it was like an excitement. I just thought about it as making progress. I didn't think, “Oh, I'm going to get a phone call tomorrow!” I'm not that dumb. It didn't happen for Lil Wayne like that when he was younger.
Is there anything specific that you would want him to know about you?
If I would want him to know something, it's keep living the life that makes him comfortable and I know everybody’s lying about the seizures. You know when he was in and out of the hospital, “Why you getting seizures?” If he's still alive after coming out the hospital, keep living your goddamn life. When God is ready to take you, he's ready to take you. It's plenty of times that I could have died. I don't want people to be like, “Oh my God, you almost died!” Bitch, shut up! I'm alive. I don't need your sympathy. You just grow to grow stronger. You don't grow to get weaker, you grow to be wiser! Just make sure that he's doing the right thing, so he can leave a better path behind him for his children. I’m just a human being just like he is, and if a helping hand is something he's able to do, then I'll be grateful for it. I'm not begging for one, I'm not praying for one. I'm not one of those. I'll just keep fucking fighting the way I been fighting if it takes me to get where I want to get to at the end of the day.
For more on LUCKY: A Documentary by Laura Checkoway, check out her site here. The doc, executive produced by Steve James (Hoop Dreams) has been named one of Indiewire's 10 Must Must See Films and is nominated for a DOC NYC Audience Award.
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