Emmy-nominated writer and director Janet Mock discussed her experiences as a transgender woman of color in the entertainment industry during a Q&A event Wednesday at the Carolina Union.
At the hour-long event, Mock, who directed the FX series “Pose,” gave advice to young QTPOC — queer and/or transgender people of color — reflected on her personal journey of healing and identity and discussed the show, which is based on New York’s underground ballroom culture.
“What does it look like for these castaways, who have been pushed out of homes, to build a network, family, resources and sanctuary within the ballroom?" Mock said of the show.
The event — titled "An Evening with Janet Mock" — was co-hosted by UNC QTPOC, a student support and advocacy group for members of those communities, and the Carolina Union’s Office of Student Life & Leadership.
Eri Kakoki, who serves as co-founder and president of UNC QTPOC, asked about the authenticity of affirming language in “Pose."
“It was a great process of collaboration, and it was rooted in lived experience,” Mock said at the event.
In addition, Keoana Nettles, student leadership coordinator for Student Life & Leadership, asked about the importance of language in QTPOC spaces. Mock said she would often take input from the show’s actors about the script to make sure it felt genuine.
She also talked about her experiences growing up and rising through the ranks of the media and film industries. Her first piece of advice to young transgender people and people of color: "look for your people, find your people.”
Mock said trailblazing multiple industries, as she did, takes resilience, tenacity and being purpose-driven. Although difficult, she felt like it was her duty to push forward.
Working to enact change in non-affirming spaces creates a need for QTPOC to have their own spaces, like the ones UNC QTPOC provides, Mock said.
“When we have spaces of our own, it is to be safe spaces and oftentimes to recharge, so we can re-enter spaces where we’re not affirmed,” she said.
Shelby Armstrong, a junior communications major, and Lauren Garland, a junior public policy major, attended the event because they are fans of the show.
“All the stories that they tell, the characters that you see, they’re so distinct,” Armstrong said. “And the challenges they face — it’s like nothing else that was on TV at the time.”
Garland said she was inspired by Mock’s advice for transgender people and people of color to show up as they are rather than change to make themselves more palatable to others.
“Especially being on a campus where you’re very hyper aware of being a minority, you may want to conform in a certain way,” Garland said. “But you don’t need to — you shouldn’t.”
Armstrong, who is taking a screenwriting class at UNC, cited Mock's discussion on the importance of giving opportunities for QTPOC to work behind the scenes on film projects.
“All these people behind the scenes have Pose as a credit and can now go work on other productions,” Mock said.
When Kakoki asked about how students can maximize their impact on social justice, Mock said legislation follows in the footsteps of cultural changes like media and the creation of safe spaces.
“Social justice takes a multi-pronged approach, but it definitely comes through the culture and through people first,” Mock said.
Kakoki said much of their work on campus focuses on creating social networks and support for QTPOC students, which Mock reflected on during her discussion.
“I connected to her on that level of feeling an obligation to fight for other members of my communities,” Kakoki said.
But Mock said it’s important to always practice self-care and self-compassion, even when doing important social justice work.
“Be kind and patient to yourself,” Mock said. “As long as you’re always being truthful and honest with yourself about what fills you up, you’re going to do the right thing for yourself.”
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