DIRECTOR J STEVENS AND THE POWER OF STORIES THAT REFLECT 2SLGBTQ+ EXPERIENCES

DGC Ontario Director J Stevens (Sort Of, Slo Pitch, Astrid & Lily Save the World) wants to shake up Canadian screens, one 2SLGBTQ+ show at a time. Recently named one of Canada’s 10 to Watch and a member of TIFF’s 2022 Filmmaker Lab, we talk to J about the importance of stories that reflect our lived experiences and why working with a team of openly trans and non-binary people on the set of Sort Of was so special. 

“I think representation on screen is extremely important and powerful, so I hope that people can watch the content I create and feel seen and less alone because of it. That’s the ultimate success for me!”

-Director J Stevens

What initially drew you to a career in film and television?

I have always watched what my parents deemed was ‘way too much TV.’ But I’ve just always loved being transported to other worlds and seeing new perspectives. So, when I got to make my first movie in grade ten film studies, I was hooked! 

In 2020 you created the webseries Slo Pitch. Tell us how that came about and what drove you to create this mockumentary about a queer women and non-binary softball league.

I have always played on sports teams, and at one point, I realized the drama I was witnessing was just screaming to be a TV series. The Office and Parks and Recreation are two of my favourite TV shows, so it seemed right to combine the sports world with the mockumentary one. I always try to make art that is true to my experience and perspective, asking myself, “What am I uniquely situated to talk about?” So the mainly queer, mainly female and non-binary team was the natural fit for my voice. 

Watch Slo Pitch on CBC Gem

Why is it important to you to keep creating content about 2SLGBTQ+ stories?

It’s important to me because they are the stories that reflect my lived experience and the people I see around me. I think representation on screen is extremely important and powerful, so I hope that people can watch the content I create and feel seen and less alone because of it. That’s the ultimate success for me! 

What changes do you think need to happen in the industry to make sets safer and more welcoming for 2SLGBTQ+ people?

To me, a big one is just the amount of 2SLGBTQ+ people working in the industry, especially in above-the-line positions. It might be a bit chicken and egg here…but I’ve been told many times that I’m the first openly trans and non-binary above-the-line person that crew have worked with. But I wish I was one of many! When people see people in those above-the-line positions who are 2SLGBTQ+, I think it feels safer and makes you feel like you can be there one day as well. 

You were recently named one of Playback’s 10 to Watch for 2022, and you’re also part of TIFF’s 2022 Filmmaker Lab. Congratulations! What are you hoping to accomplish as part of this program?

Thank you! Taking place in TIFF’s Filmmaker Lab in September was great! I’m about to start filming my feature film debut as a Director, and I was able to workshop the film and the process of making it in the Lab. I’m hoping to take what I learned there and use it throughout filming, which will take place in short chunks over the course of a year. Having the Lab and Playback’s 10 to Watch under my belt is incredible, and I hope that I can use the platform it’s given me to continue to create the type of content I want with the incredible 2SLGBTQ+ artists I have in my life. 

You recently directed an episode of the upcoming second season of the award-winning series Sort Of. How did you come aboard the production, and what was it like working on this groundbreaking show about transition in all stages of life and identity?

The Producers actually reached out to me to interview for season two last year, which was exciting because I was a fan of the first season. It was amazing working on a show that aligned so well with the type of content I want to be making: one of incredible quality like Sort Of and one where my voice added to the conversation. There were many moments on set where the cast members and I were reflecting on how rare working with other openly trans and non-binary people is and how special that actually felt.

Director J Stevens on the set of Sort Of, with co-creator, writer and actor Bilal Baig and actor Raymond Cham Jr.
Photo credit: Amanda Matlovich

Imagine it’s 2032. What does your career look like?

Oh my gosh! What a question. I would hope it looks like still getting to create and direct TV series that excite me, and that I have some feature films under my belt. But mostly, I hope that I’m in a spot where I’m really able to lift up other trans and non-binary filmmakers. My ultimate goal is to create a production company similar to Lena Waithe’s, Hillman Grad Productions, that has the production company side, but I also want the mentorship side that helps other trans and non-binary filmmakers raise their platforms. 

Season 2 of Sort Of drops on November 15th on CBC and CBC Gem, and on HBO Max on December 1st.

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