If the rumors suggesting that a new Wonder Woman movie adaptation will be hitting theaters soon are true, then I have a perfect casting suggestion: Tani Ikeda. Back when she was interviewed this May, the 22-year-old was having a busy week: she had just won a $25K grant for her educational filmmaking program, “imMEDIAte justice” and had to get ready to work on Kylie Minogue’s new music video, “All the Lovers.” With her cutting-edge ideas about starting a revolution, the self-made Seattle native strives for a fairer world in which women gain more power in the movie industry, and in which filmmaking serves as a platform to drastically alter the current U.S. sexual education system.
Could you first introduce the readers to the concept of imMEDIAte justice?
imMEDIAte justice is an eight-week summer program which started last year in conjunction with the Institute for Multimedia Literacy and the USC film school where fifteen high school girls of color from underresourced communities were trained in media literacy, pixelization, animation, poetry — they were also introduced to industry professionals who critiqued their work and talked about what it meant to be a woman in the film industry. The concept really stemmed from a conversation with Laney Rupp and Sylvia Raskin in which we wondered what would happen if we were to empower young women of color and young queer youth instead of marginalizing them when talking about sexual education. What could other students learn from using a model that doesn’t create gender binaries or treat sexuality as a normative, cohesive, whole? My friend and I figured that film and media were the most efficient vessels for these girls to communicate important messages about youth and sexuality.
Congratulations on the Pepsi grant! How are the $25K going to help the program in the short and long term?
They’re going to make imMEDIAte justice a sustainable program and allow us to fully fund this summer’s eight-week program. Now we’re able to hire staff, most notably the first tier of young women from last summer who are being brought back as mentors on the project. We’re also going to be able to do a feature length about reproductive justice in America, which will be a teaching tool for students and a way for us to connect with key players in the justice movement.
So I take it that you have issues with the current sexual education provided to young students as well as gender equality in filmmaking, right?
Completely. As a teenager, I felt like my sex ed class addressed in no way sexual violence, or what it means to be queer, what is queer sex… As a woman, the message was all but liberating: “You’re going to get your period and sex will ruin your life.”
As an activist, you seem to put so much of yourself in your projects… How did your vision for a “revolution” really start?
In high school I wrote my senior thesis about Asian-American women and how we are negatively affected by the media: all the stereotypes, negative images… The conclusion of my essay was, “I know that no one in Hollywood is going to create strong, positive stories about Asian-American women, so I’m going to do it myself!” It was at that point that a lot of my ideas and political framework started to build and I realized some kind of revolution was necessary. Things could not stay the way they were. Whether I would be doing that working inside of the film industry or doing something more on the fringe with social organizing media… So flash forward four or five years, and I’m trying to do both simultaneously. It’s a bit of a balancing act sometimes because during the day I’m on the set of a music video shoot where there’s a lot of bling and huge mansions, cars, the girls, all of that, and then my other projects are programs like imMEDIAte justice where I work with inner-city youth from South Central and East Los Angeles and am teaching them about film, theory, media literacy, film production and sexual education so they can create their own media about their own experiences and share that with their peers.
Going back to filmmaking, what exactly are you doing for the new Kylie Minogue video?
We’ll be shooting tomorrow her new video called “All The Lovers,” and I was hired to be the A.C. (assistant camera).
How do you find the energy to be Wonder Woman and do a million things at once?
[laughs] Well, I don’t know about Wonder Woman, but I think that for the majority of my youth, I’ve felt shut down, silenced, and abused. And what I realized early on is that nobody is going to change that for you. So you have to do it yourself. You have to create the things, the programs and the communities that you want in the world.
How can our readers contribute to the success of imMEDIAte justice?
Since we’re going to be going through the application process for imMEDIAte justice staff members, we’re looking for individuals who might be interested in helping mentoring girls. If you have experience as an editor, cinematographer or animator, please contact me. Of course, we’re also accepting applications for the program — if you are a young woman of color with a passion for filmmaking, you might be a great candidate. We’re also looking for interns: if you ideally are a film production student, critical studies or a student at the Institute for Multimedia Literacy, we could get you some school credit for working with us.
You know, what I find incredible about your story is how you’ve constantly managed to inspire an impressive amount of people to support your projects and to create change…
Everything I’ve done has been in a collective and with the collaboration of others. Without a critical mass, you can’t start a revolution… which is what I’ve believed in since I was a little girl. In fact, my closest friends call me Tani Appleseed because when I was a kid, I would save all my apple seeds from lunch apples, put them in my pocket, and plant them. I grew this tiny, tiny, apple tree in my room when I was seven. My mom thought that I was so strange! [laughs] So oftentimes, I find myself being the person who plants the seed of ideas for little movements to start germinating. Or at least at this point in my life I’m planting the seeds. In a few years it might be Tani Applesprout or Tani Appletree.
I think you’re definitely not Tani Appleseed anymore!
I’ve graduated from the seed! Now onto the sprout level… [laughs]