Emmy winner Joey Soloway visited Occidental

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Joey Soloway at a Q&A hosted in Choi Auditorium at Occidental College in Los Angeles, CA. Oct. 27, 2022. Dylan Herbert/The Occidental

Director, writer and show creator Joey Soloway visited Occidental Oct. 27 for a Q&A session with Media Arts and Culture (MAC) professor Aleem Hossain. Soloway was the director, writer and producer of Amazon’s five-season show “Transparent,” and is a leading non-binary figure in Hollywood. “Transparent” was nominated for multiple TV awards and won the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor and the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Original Main Theme Music, according to the Emmy website.

Hossain’s questions focused on how Soloway started their career, why they wanted to work in film and how they became the director and writer of “Transparent.”

“Not just for the students but for myself as well, it’s just good to remember that even these things that are big and famous and shiny — there’s people behind them,” Hossain said.

Soloway said during the session that they wanted to be on the inside of the TV from a young age. After majoring in advertising at the University of Madison-Wisconsin, Soloway began an experimental theater group. Soloway’s career grew as they began to write for shows and films, they said. According to Soloway, the experience of writing for television taught them about the fast paced culture around filmmaking.

“You’re always on to the next draft and the next draft and the next draft,” Soloway said during the session. “TV writing is like throwing something against the wall and 10 percent of it sticks and 90 percent of it goes.”

According to Hossain, having Soloway speak at Occidental exceeded his expectations of who would come share their story of working in film. Soloway represents a time in filmmaking when streaming platforms were just starting to become more widely used, Hossain said.

Hossain said that when “Transparent” came out, in 2014 before the many niche shows on streaming services, a breakout show was much bigger than it would be now.

“Transparent” focuses on the experience of a parent coming out as a trans woman. The show follows a family as they navigate the experience of learning that their close relative is a woman, highlighting the ups and downs associated with the transition. According to Hossain, the show was groundbreaking for its time.

Soloway said the show was inspired by their own family’s experience of having their parent come out as a transgender woman, they said during the Q&A. According to Soloway, sharing their family’s experience was not easy, but they believed that producing a show like “Transparent” was important for reflecting transgender experiences in media.

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Joey Soloway at a Q&A hosted in Choi Auditorium at Occidental College in Los Angeles, CA. Oct. 27, 2022. Dylan Herbert/The Occidental

“I wanted to let my parent know it would make the world safer,” Soloway said. “It was very nerve racking.”

According to Hossain, Soloway’s show was not only groundbreaking because it was about transgender people, but also because of its release on Amazon. As a new streaming platform when “Transparent” was first released, Amazon was still gaining credibility for creating shows and Netflix was the dominating force in the streaming world, Hossain said. According to Hossain, Amazon won the first Golden Globe for a comedy series, beating Netflix to the punch.

“The first Golden Globe for a comedy show is ‘Transparent,’ not a Netflix show,” Hossain said. “That bugs Netflix to no end to this day, and it’s because Amazon took a risk with this one filmmaker.”

Soloway’s visit allowed students to connect with an individual who is an integral part of Hollywood and media today, Hossain said. According to Hossain, providing a platform for someone like Soloway helps students learn and connect with the industry in a more visible way.

Olivia Greene (junior) is a MAC major who attended Soloway’s Q&A. According to Greene, Soloway’s visit was great for students because they could learn about the behind-the-scenes of filmmaking from someone who has spent years working in the business.

“I want to work in the film industry and do similar things to what they do, so it was a great opportunity to hear insight from someone in the career I want to have,” Greene said. “Especially as a queer person, knowing that they are one of the most prominent non-binary people in Hollywood.”

According to Greene, hearing from Soloway was inspiring and informative, and provided helpful background information for how to work in film.

“What stuck with me the most is how they spoke about directing the show ‘Transparent,’ and created a safe environment on set, and how they would have time for the cast and crew to talk and hang out before filming,” Greene said. “I liked how they emphasized having a welcoming environment, especially because on other sets that is usually not the case.”

Contact Olivia Correia at ocorreia@oxy.edu.