“I was born in Manhattan. My parents are from the Dominican Republic. I lived the first nine years of my life in Manhattan, but I lived in a place called Inwood. I don’t know if you know New York City. , but Inwood is at the northern tip of Manhattan. It tapers off. Manhattan Island is really narrow, “she said, without taking a breath.” So there’s a bridge – well, two bridges – which connects you to the Bronx. In fact, there are three bridges. And I lived in this neighborhood where two blocks from me was the river. And I looked across the river, the Bronx was there. ”
Her father, she said, had a liquor store in the South Bronx, which they went to every day after school. It was so close to Yankee Stadium that you could hear the roar of the crowd on game day.
“My connection to the Bronx is very, very deep. We eventually moved there, but technically I’m not from the Bronx.”
This geography lesson is reminiscent of everything Peña does as a filmmaker: the power of storytelling lies in the contagious energy it puts into it and its laser-cutting specificity. Her short film “Full Beat”, for example, is a moving play about a trans teenager who finds an ally in a most unlikely place when she needs it most.
Peña’s keen eye and singular tone are increasingly sought after in an industry that demands distinct voices.
She’s determined to do things her own way, however – a spirit that has served her well since the days when she was selling drawings on the playground for a dollar a coin.
For her latest work – an anthology feature film called “Trans Los Angeles” – she took matters into her own hands. Through fundraising and grants, she raised $ 150,000 to make part of the project a reality. This happened after years of roadblock after roadblock in industry.
“I didn’t dare ask Hollywood for money when I graduated from film school, because I’m a logical person,” said the former City College of New York student. “I didn’t dare to do that until I went to film school for four years, and then I worked for seven, eight years on my craft.”
The industry, Peña said, supports “members of the mainstream culture” while they are still in film school, while film students who are people of color have to wait years for their time. come.
And even then, sometimes the doors never open.
“There was another ‘no’ I got in late 2018 where I was just fed up and I was like ‘I’m going to prove to you who I am as a writer-director and that I’m more of a screenwriter. -dealer than those other writer-directors they think are so important to celebrate. Look what I’m going to do. ‘”
And she does. She was able to complete two of the four games and hopes to raise $ 350,000 to complete the last two parts of “Trans Los Angeles”.
Carmen Carrera, “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” Stephanie Beatriz and YaYa Gosselin star in an episode about a Latinx trans woman. Other episodes tell stories about a 10-year-old black trans girl whose father is a gang member, another about a white trans man, and another in Spanish about a trans woman from El Salvador seeking asylum.
Whether the project is celebrated with praise or not, Peña is empowered by the fact that she has taken control of a narrative that too often has been out of the hands of the trans or Latinx community of which she is a part.
Every year when unwritten trans or Latinx stories by members of these communities are celebrated, it is “painful,” she said, as it means a multitude of lost opportunities for people in these marginalized communities. .
“Notice all those white filmmakers who told these Latinx stories, notice how they never came back to our communities to tell another of our stories. It’s because they moved on,” he said. she declared. “They exploded and now they’re doing their thing. Me – or any of us – we’ll be back because it’s our community. I tell people, I don’t care if I make a movie with a budget of $ 100 million tomorrow, I’ll always come back to tell the story of my community. That’s how I started, and I care about the stories. ”
For Peña, it is also more than just a moment. It’s about taking control of the narrative now for future generations.
“And when Latinxes in a hundred years and transgender people in a hundred years go back in time and watch movies? Everything they go to watch is written and directed by someone who isn’t us,” he said. she says. “How is that a good thing? ”
A good thing ? That people in a hundred years will know Kase Peña.
Questions and answers
Last name: Kase Peña
Employment: Writer / Director
My work includes: shorts “Full Beat” (available on HBO Max) and “Trabajo” and anthology feature “Trans Los Angeles”.
Years in Entertainment: 20
Latina … from dónde ?: First generation American, daughter of immigrants from the Dominican Republic, born and raised in Manhattan and the Bronx.
Latinx trope that I would banish forever: “When Latinxes are portrayed as having an accent for laughs. There is nothing wrong with having an accent. A lot of people in this country and around the world have accents. You have an accent, you are not. never taken seriously. There are people with accents who have doctoral degrees from their country. Also, something someone told me years ago was, “You know what they do people say with accents? languages. ‘How are you going to laugh at someone who speaks multiple languages? ”
Latinx actor / actress I think he will become a huge star one day: “Carmen Carrera, who just played in my movie” Trans Los Angeles “. She’s been trying to act for many years and Hollywood told her she couldn’t do it. She just played the lead role in my movie and everyone raves about his performance. ”
Overused line executives say when they pass on a Latinx project: “‘We already have a Latinx show,’ which is the same people transgender people hear. ‘Oh, we already did a transgender show.'”
What I think all filmmakers could do to help increase Latinx representation: “Put us at the center of your story. We don’t always have to be in the background. We don’t always have to be a stereotype. They know the stereotypes because they are the ones who write them. “