Representation is the buzzword of the day. But mere presence means nothing if it isn’t accurate and genuine. Authentic representation in storytelling benefits not only members of historically excluded groups like Asian-Americans and trans people but members of every group, including the dominant culture. As of 2019, 69.1 percent of all film roles were white. How do we achieve a greater variety of stories, roles, and jobs in theatre, movies, and television? How do we ensure these stories and parts are written “authentically”? How do we get producers to greenlight projects?
Interstate, a new musical by Kit Yan and Melissa Li, follows two Asian-American artists (one a lesbian and one a trans man) as they embark on a U.S. tour with their band Queer Malady. Meanwhile, trans teen Henry discovers QM’s music and finds his story in theirs. Kit & Melissa join host Ruthie Fierberg and experts Sheena Brevig of the Center for Scholars and Storytellers and AC Dumlao of the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund for this discussion about the importance and impact of authentic representation and how we can push for parity.
Create the change
- If you are a studio head, producer, director, artistic director, greenlight stories about historically excluded characters AND make sure members of that community are part of the creative team.
- Use the Kilroys List—the annual industry survey of excellent new works by women, trans, and non-binary playwrights—to find quality stories by underrepresented artists to produce.
- Read These Numbers Show How More Diversity on TV Leads to Increased Viewership
- If you are an audience member, buy a ticket to a show/movie or watch a series about a community you are not a part of.
- Download the Center for Scholars and Storytellers’ “AIR Tip Sheet for Race” to ensure authentic, inclusive representation across races.
- Read these storytelling tips to evolve the representation of boys and men.
- Enlist CSS to consult on a project or sign your team up for a CSS workshop.
- Get in touch with AC Dumlao and enroll in a workshop (i.e. Trans 101).
- Watch “Trans Literacy Project” videos from Honest Accomplice Theatre for their Trans 101 series.
- If you or someone you know needs help changing their name, seek out help from TLDEF’s Name Change Project.
- If you or someone you know needs more info about trans health services and access, visit TLDEF’s Trans Health Project.
- How to support TLDEF
- Follow TLDEF on social: @translegaldefense on Instagram, @TLDEF on Facebook and Twitter
- Read this article about the need for and benefits of authentic Asian-American representation.
- Read this discussion about trans roles for theater in American Theatre Magazine.
- See this graphic on Gender Parity in Children’s Television.
Referred to in this episode
- Ruthie’s Playbill interview with Kit and Melissa
- “On T” refers to taking testosterone hormone therapy, which some trans men choose this as part of their gender affirmation process
- “Het” abbreviation for heterosexual
- Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund (TLDEF)
- Center for Scholars and Storytellers (CSS)
- CSS’ AIR Report
- The Vito Russo Test
- The Writers Guild of America 2020 Inclusion Report (statistical source)
- UCLA’s Hollywood Diversity Report 2020 (statistical source)
- Understand racial bias communicated via television nonverbal behavior
- Quote from CSS – “Many believed having a Black president…”
- LGBTQ+ lead characters in TV and film stats
- API 1 protagonist in top-grossing film
- Dr. Sheila Murphy’s study out of USC about the impact of narrative vs non-narrative film on public health outcomes for women. (Correction from the podcast: This study was published in 2015, not 2012.)
- DEI workshops through CSS
About Our Guests:
Ruthie Fierberg, Host
Melissa Li, book writer and composer-lyricist Interstate
Melissa (she / her) is a Jonathan Larson Award recipient, a Dramatists Guild Musical Theatre Fellow, a MacDowell Colony Fellow, a Lincoln Center Theater Writer in Residence, a Musical Theater Factory MAKER, and a former Queer|Art|Mentorship Fellow. Musicals include Interstate (New York Musical Festival, Winner “Outstanding Lyrics”), Surviving the Nian (The Theater Offensive, IRNE Award Winner for “Best New Play” 2007), and MISS STEP (5th Avenue Theatre). Her works have received support from the Bret Adams and Paul Reisch Foundation, Goodspeed Musicals Johnny Mercer Colony, The Village Theater, National Performance Network, New England Foundation for the Arts, and Dixon Place, among others. Melissa has released music as a solo artist and collaboratively, including 2 Seconds Away, Drive Away Home (with Good Asian Drivers), and The Beginning (as Melissa Li & The Barely Theirs). She is proud to be from Boston, and proud to be based in NYC and Baltimore. For more info, visit: www.melissali.com. @melsaboo
Kit Yan, book writer and lyricist Interstate
Kit (he / they) is a Yellow American New York-based artist, born in Enping, China, and raised in the Kingdom of Hawaii. They are a 2019 Playwrights Center Many Voices Fellow, a Vivace Award winner, 2018-19 Dramatists Guild Musical Theater Fellow, a 2018-19 Lincoln Center Theater Writer in Residence, a 2018 Trans Lab Fellow (Public Theater/ WP Theater), a 2018 Village Theater Resident, a 2018 Mitten Lab resident, and a former Civilians resident. Their work has been produced by the American Repertory Theater, the Smithsonian, Musical Theater Factory, the New York Musical Festival, and Dixon Place. Their first musical Interstate, written with collaborator Melissa Li, won the Outstanding Lyrics award at the 2018 New York Musical Festival. Their solo play Queer Heartache has won 5 awards at the Chicago and SF Fringes. For more info, visit: www.kityanpoet.com. @kityanpoet
Sheena Brevig, Junior Fellow at the Center for Scholars and Storytellers
Sheena (she / her) is a filmmaker, actor, and fellow at the Center for Scholars and Storytellers, the only youth-centered organization that bridges the gap between social science research and media creation. She uses her own story as advocacy for mental health and disability awareness, specifically in her LGBTQ+ and Asian communities. @sheenamidori / CSS Instagram @scholarsandstorytellers
AC Dumlao, Program Manager at TLDEF
AC (they / them / theirs) is a transgender nonbinary first-generation Filipino-American activist. As Program Manager at TLDEF, they manage the Name Change Project, which connects transgender people with attorneys providing pro bono representation during the legal name change process. Additionally, AC leads TLDEF’s community education initiatives and is the lead trainer for trans cultural competency presentations and workshops. In 2019, AC was named a NYC/WorldPride Community Hero by Heritage of Pride, during the 50th anniversary year of the Stonewall Uprising. In 2018, AC co-hosted an advance screening/talkback in conversation with Lisa Ling for the CNN Original Series’ episode “This is Life with Lisa Ling: Gender Fluidity.” Their nonbinary advocacy work and words have also been featured by ABC News Live, NBC Asian America, Allure, The Huffington Post, The Advocate, Business Insider, Vice Media, and more. AC is an alum of Vassar College, where they are a co-chair for the Vassar LGBTQ+ Alumnae/i Affinity Group and Board Director on the Alumnae/i Association of Vassar College (AAVC) Board. They live with gratitude on the traditional and unceded homelands of the Lenape Canarsie people, also known as Brooklyn, NY. Instagram: @mx.acdumlao Twitter: @mxacdumlao