(Clockwise from top: Rain Valdez, Noni Salma, Zeke Smith, NOVA CYPRESS BLACK, Jett Garrison, Sav Rodgers, Dana Aliya Levinson)
As anti-transgender legislation sweeps the United States, it is more important than ever to highlight the trans writers and creators, from diverse backgrounds and experiences, who are telling stories that emphasize our shared humanity. GLAAD, in partnership with The Black List, recently announced The 2022 GLAAD List, a curated list of the most promising unmade LGBTQ-inclusive scripts in Hollywood that have been hosted on blcklst.com. (To read more about the entire 2022 GLAAD List, click here.) The scripts on The GLAAD List represent the type of stories that GLAAD would like to see studios producing on big and small screens.
GLAAD is proud to have selected seven projects written by talented transgender writers. (See below for short bios of each writer.) In the screenplays they submitted, these writers centered LGBTQ protagonists in stories that were not solely about their identities, but instead placed multi-dimensional characters in tales that range from rom-com to thriller to sci-fi to sitcom and beyond. The seven projects are:
I LOVE YOU, MARGOT ROBBIE by Sav Rodgers and Taylor Gates
A teenage trans boy navigates first loves, broken bones, and high school woes with the help of his imaginary friend: A-list actor Margot Robbie.
QUICK QUICK SLOW by Jett Garrison
It’s 1992 and Jesse McAllen’s been kicked out of the military for being gay. Disowned by her small town family, she buses it to Austin, Texas where she’s taken in by two queer men running a gay country and western bar.
RE-LIVE: A TALE OF AN AMERICAN ISLAND CHEERLEADER by Rain Valdez and Rachel Leyco
A transgender woman returns to her estranged home island of Guam for her High School Reunion’s “Do Over week” to live out her childhood dream of becoming a cheerleader, but she discovers a different reunion – family.
WASPS! By Zeke Smith
A video game designer fighting imposter syndrome is dragged along by his mother on a cross-country road trip in which he must break out of his self-imposed limitations to thwart the WASPS (White Anglo Saxon Protestants) who pursue them.
BADASS by Noni Salma
At the cusp of a precarious episode that turned her into an internet viral sensation, a down on her luck trans woman must team up with her devious friends in hopes of extending this 15 minutes of fame.
BLACKSEED by NOVA CYPRESS BLACK
When a non-binary adoptee’s 21st birthday arrives with news that they have 6 months to live, they apply to join a life-saving Black town with hideous secrets.
FRAUD by Dana Aliya Levinson
Shira Rose Loewenstein, a Jewish trans woman struggling to escape her fucked up family through her side hustle as a credit card thief, is recruited into a dangerous criminal enterprise that is hell-bent on taking down the one percent.
GLAAD asked each of these trailblazing writers about the state of trans and queer representation on screen and where they’d like to see it go in the future.
Sav Rodgers, co-writer of I Love You, Margot Robbie: “The vast majority of Americans don’t believe they personally know a trans person, which means that what they see in the media informs everything they know about our community.”
Dana Aliya Levinson, writer of FRAUD: “I deeply crave more trans stories in which a character’s transness informs how they navigate the story without being the story … in real life our identities affect how we move through the world in far more subtle and intersectional ways. This nuance actually creates more universality and humanity.”
NOVA CYPRESS BLACK, writer of Blackseed: “I’m always thirsty for more trans stories that center Black gender expansive folks. … Trans characters who are actively divesting from cisheteropatriarchy. I wanna see more non-white non-light-skinned trans characters fall in love WITH EACH OTHER.”
The desire to push beyond transition or coming out narratives was something all our writers said was deeply important.
Rain Valdez, co-writer of Re-Live: A Tale of an American Island Cheerleader, expressed a desire for, “more stories about healing and love.” “There is more to us than our struggle and we have yet to see what that looks like on the screen. It’s as if this industry is obsessed with our origin story and isn’t sure if there’s anything worth telling past that.”
Jett Garrison, writer of Quick Quick Slow: “I also think we’ve seen many narratives that point to an illusion that once you ‘transition’ (whatever that means for each of us) then everything is fine and sorted. I feel it’s all more layered and nuanced than that – like, what comes next?”
Noni Salma, writer of Badass: “As much as I think it is important to tell the trans 101 stories of how a person embarks on the journey of their transition, we need more balance to even it out. We need comedies of trans women navigating the world where their trans-ness isn’t the punchline. Black trans women in particular are some of the most wickedly funny beings on earth and I think the genre of comedy can tap into that.”
She continued, “… If the story isn’t centering cis-ness or catering to their perspective, would it get anywhere in Hollywood? Be open to the possibility of magic because so many of us are walking with it but you wouldn’t know that because it lacks instantaneous familiarity.”
BLACK: “I’m often most hype about narratives that deal with intra-communal conflict removed from whiteness. I wanted to build a fictional world loosely based on Freedom, Georgia that explores the real struggles that exist between cishet folks & LGBTQ+ folks in the fight for Black liberation.”
Several writers commented that too many stories about trans people lack an understanding of the intersectionality of marginalized identities that many trans people deal with everyday.
BLACK: “Because of all my marginalized intersections I am often made invisible. Most people just see me as woman lite. Just assume my name has some allegiance to femininity, when NOVA literally means ‘new’ and ‘star.’ Many people still use her/she pronouns when addressing me, even on Zoom when dey/dem is clearly displayed in my little box.”
Levinson: “Nearly all of my work features the blend of transness and Jewishness. People are often surprised to learn that in my life, I have often felt more marginalized by the latter. And my transness interplays with my Jewishness in surprising and often unrepresented ways. This is what I’m passionate about showing people.”
Unfortunately, rather than centering the nuance of trans experiences, the narratives that are created in Hollywood often center cisgender perspectives on our lives. This results in tropes that we see played out again and again.
Zeke Smith, writer of Wasps! said, “I think the trope of ‘trans person looks in a mirror and hates their body’ reflects a very shallow knowledge of what it is to be trans. Not all of us hate our bodies.”
Valdez added that she’s tired of seeing “self-induced harm and mutilation.” “Filmmakers outside of our community have perceived this idea to be ‘provocative’ and ‘thrilling’ and they want to be the one to explore it and obsess over it.”
We asked these seven writers, how can Hollywood do better at telling transgender stories?
Smith: “Most importantly, we need these stories told by trans people. Even with the rise in the number of trans characters on television, trans people remain glaringly absent from writers’ rooms.”
Levinson: “Hollywood is in a bit of a self-perpetuating loop. Those with the power to green-light projects, or fund them, are nearly 100% cisgender people. Naturally, they fund and support storytelling which affirms and uplifts the same tropes that satisfy their cisgender curiosity about trans people.”
Rodgers: “There’s a ton of lip service paid to all marginalized communities. ‘Oh, we love your story, but let’s get someone else to direct it with name recognition. Maybe next time.’ … If we as trans people are greenlighting each other and building community together, we don’t have to wait for someone to give us permission. If we’re making the movies of our dreams independently, people will take notice and they’ll want to get in on it.”
Garrison: “I think we get more trans, non-binary and gender non-confirming folks into the development and executive studio/network pipeline — folks who share a lived experience and perspective. Also, true allies in those positions as well – those who use the word ally as a verb to champion, empower and trust us to tell our stories. To both of those points, I see it slowly happening, so I have hope!”
Salma: “Give the underdogs a fighting chance. Because so many Americans and people in the world still don’t know that many trans folks in their personal life, at least in an intimate meaningful way, it sometimes reflects in how the works of trans writers are being read.”
And as far as building a deep bench of talent, Valdez also reminded everyone that, “we also don’t need to only work on trans-related projects. We are highly capable of telling stories outside of our own personal narratives.”
In fact, two of the trans writers featured in this piece had scripts selected for the GLAAD List that did not center explicitly trans characters. GLAAD hopes that this will help Hollywood decision makers understand that trans people can tell all kinds of stories – and in fact may bring a unique and compelling perspective to stories that aren’t explicitly about transgender characters.
Each of these writers represent the immense trans talent that exists out there if one only chooses to look. We hope that production companies will look at the scripts from these writers (and at all of the scripts on the 2022 GLAAD List), to discover the compelling stories they have to tell and the perspective they can bring to any project.
NOVA CYPRESS BLACK (dey/dem/they/them) is a Black trans non-binary queer collage of Midwest tranquility, Southern hospitality, & East Coast grit. Dey are currently a Staff Writer on season 3 of The L Word: Generation Q.
Jett Garrison (he/him) is an award-winning, transgender writer/director whose work has shown in over 100 film festivals worldwide. Jett’s known for directing the digital series These Thems and was recently staffed as a writer on The CW’s reboot of 4400. He’s won an Emmy and been nominated for an Oscar for his short film work.
Dana Aliya Levinson (they/she) is an actor (American Gods, The Good Fight, Adam), filmmaker, television staff writer, theater writer, and native New York Jewess. She was a Dramatists Guild Fellow and her theatrical work has been performed from San Francisco to Paris. As an actor, they can next be seen in the Russo Brothers’ The Gray Man, starring Chris Evans and Ryan Gosling. Their short film FRAUD, based on their pilot of the same name, will screen in competition at the Tribeca Film Festival this summer.
Sav Rodgers (he/him) is the director/producer of Chasing Chasing Amy, an upcoming feature documentary about the controversy and impact of Kevin Smith’s Chasing Amy among LGBTQ+ people. Sav is an alumnus of the Outfest Screenwriting Lab, the PGA Create program, the TED Residency, and the Telluride Student Symposium. His short films have screened at top festivals, including Slamdance. Sav is the Founder of the Transgender Film Center, a nonprofit that helps trans creators bring finished films to audiences worldwide.
Noni Salma (she/her) is an Award-winning screenwriter and Filmmaker whose growing up experiences in the colorful city of Lagos, Nigeria has inspired her eclectic storytelling. She is passionate about decolonizing narratives of black and brown trans, queer folks by centering them in her writing in ways that are fresh, inspiring and kicking.
Zeke Smith (he/him) is a writer and comedian originally from Oklahoma; he’s best known from his time on Survivor, but will tell you his best days were doing improv at UCB in New York (rest in peace). He currently lives in Studio City with his devastatingly handsome fiancé, Nico Santos. Zeke enjoys cooking, skiing, and searching for someone to pay for his ostentatious wedding.
Rain Valdez (she/her) is an actor, writer and producer, who made history as the first Filipino-American transgender woman to be nominated for a Primetime Emmy in an acting category for her lead role in Razor Tongue. Rain is the founder of ActNOW, the only LGBTQ acting class in Los Angeles. And she is the Trailblazer Award recipient at the 2021 Outfest Legacy Awards.