New TUTV series aims to share marginalized stories

Asha Norman-Hunt, technical director for The Athena Project, teaches students how to use the equipment in the Tufts University Television room in Curtis Hall on Feb. 3. (The Tufts Daily / Rachel Hartman)

Disclaimer: Ray Bernoff is a staff photographer at The Tufts Daily. He was not involved in the writing or editing of this article.

“The Athena Project,” an anthology-style docu-series, will be released next year through Tufts University Television (TUTV). The series’ producers and co-founders, junior Amanda Rose and sophomore Rachel Sobel, said they aim to create a platform for marginalized individuals’ voices.

Sobel and Rose said they aimed to interview any female-identifying, gender-non-binary or transgender Tufts student interested in telling their story and then take portions of each account to construct a cohesive series that will air on TUTV’s Youtube channel. According to Sobel, the producers currently have 25 individuals scheduled for pre-interview meetings, about half of which have been completed.  

The creators explained that they recognize how empowering it can be to share one’s personal story, and wanted to “upend” what they saw as society’s blind spot for people of marginalized gender identities.

“[We were] mad as hell … because we see the stories that are not getting told in the modern media and pop culture, and that are getting replaced with white cis male stories,” Sobel said.

The anthology is structured around the stories that individuals share, so the contributions do not need to fit into a particular mold. The focus is on the stories themselves, rather than on an idea or a political point, according to senior Kerry Crowley, co-producer of “The Athena Project” with Ray Bernoff, also a senior. Sobel stressed that the focus is on creating a safe space specifically for marginalized gender identities, so that anyone can feel comfortable sharing their story.

Participation is also open to those who wish to be filmed anonymously, a request that Rose and Sobel assured they will work to accommodate. Sobel mentioned how relieved some interviewees were to know that they did not have to be identified to contribute.

In an attempt to welcome as many people as possible, they hosted a training for those who did not have experience working with cameras and other required equipment, according to Sobel and Crowley. Sobel said that this reflects their efforts to uproot demographic imbalance and stick to their model of inclusivity.

Crowley said she felt the idea was remarkable. While series like “Humans of New York” have similar ideas, Crowley stressed that a docu-series so invested in a variety of different voices, rather than a mutual cohesive standpoint, was a novel concept. The project’s videos will not be structured around themes until after the interviews are completed, according to Crowley.

Rose and Sobel also said they want interviewees to feel comfortable speaking up about whatever topics they choose to emphasize. Sobel said they are not specifically looking for stories about gender.

“Many, if not all, of our episodes’ themes will be tangentially related to gender or not even related at all — for example, we’re anticipating episodes with themes like home, religion and spirituality, and what makes you happy,” Sobel told the Daily in an email. “However, many individuals do come to us with specific experiences, positive and negative, related to their gender identity, and we certainly welcome those stories.”

Crowley also noted that Rose and Sobel are being transparent about the project and are making sure all interviewees are happy with how they are portrayed.

After envisioning the idea for “The Athena Project” last November, Rose and Sobel pitched the project to TUTV, which accepted it. They then recruited members for their rotating crew, as well as potential interviewers and interviewees. Rose and Sobel said they wanted to make sure anyone who was interested did not feel the pressure of total commitment, so they plan to switch out the crew periodically.

Rose stressed that she wanted crew members to be involved at every level of the process.

“A lot of these crew members we are also inviting to be editors as well so they can be part of … post-production,” she said.

The producers said they hope to make edits to all of their footage over the summer. According to “The Athena Project” GIM Facebook event, they will most likely be airing the docu-series in winter 2019.