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I.S.S.’s Ariana DeBose and Gabriela Cowperthwaite on nationalism and normalizing queer ID

I.S.S.’s Ariana DeBose and Gabriela Cowperthwaite on nationalism and normalizing queer ID

<p><em>I.S.S.</em>’s Ariana DeBose and Gabriela Cowperthwaite on nationalism and normalizing queer ID</p>
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Ariana DeBose in I.S.S.

Oscar-winner Ariana DeBose and director Gabriela Cowperthwaite chat with the Advocate Channel about their new sci-fi thriller I.S.S. about a conflict that unfolds aboard the International Space Station.

While the world burns, humanity versus nationalism plays out in the International Space Station 250 miles away in Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s taut sci-fi thriller, I.S.S. Renowned for her socially penetrating documentaries like 2013’s Blackfish and the 2022 series Children of the Underground, Cowperthwaite’s first fiction film about the struggle for control of the I.S.S amid a fiery war on the ground between the United States and Russia is as prescient as her nonfiction storytelling.

Oscar winner Ariana DeBose stars as Dr. Kira Foster, an astronaut and scientist on the I.S.S. where astronauts and cosmonauts live peaceably until they’re given the order to turn on each other. Grounded in a belief in her work and hope, Kira seeks alternatives to the instructions she’s been given by the U.S. government.

Shot in alternately vast and claustrophobic spaces from the cosmos to the interior of the I.S.S., the view of a series explosions on earth is terrifying for Kira, her American colleagues Gordon (Chris Messina) and Christian (John Gallagher Jr.), and the cosmonauts Weronika (Masha Mashkova), Alexey, (Pilou Asbæk), and Nicholai (Costa Ronin).

“We were in post [production] when the Ukraine and Russia situation happened,” Cowperthwaite tells teh Advocate Channel, adding that there was a moment of questioning if the film should even be made.

“[There is] that documentary side of me where it’s like, okay, there’s real people, real subjects, and real things that I’ve worked with before. And you don’t mess around with fiction with that world,” she says. “And in this world, there was a part of me that was like, okay, do we have the luxury [as] filmmakers to be simulating conflict?”

“But what have I wanted to say about this movie since the beginning…is real toll when these decisions are made on national levels…the toll that’s taken is the little people right?”

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“These American astronauts and these Russian cosmonauts, very different people from different cultures who have a reverence and respect for science and the cosmos, but an extraordinary circumstance ensues and they are forced to sort of choose,” DeBose tells the Advocate Channel.

“Is it love of country or can we look at each other as the human beings that we are? And that’s a very real thing that we all do today,” she adds. “What did we learn in school? I can tell you I didn’t learn much about the Russian people, but I was told a lot about their government. But in my adulthood, I now know that people are not their government.”

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Another piece of I.S.S. that is culturally relevant is that Kira exists as a queer character without a meal being made of her identity. DeBose became the first queer BIPOC person to win an Academy Award for her role as Anita in West Side Story in 2022. From The Prom to Wish, she has acted as an inspiration and role model at the intersections of her identities throughout her career, and she views playing Kira as another step in normalizing queer storytelling.

“Our identities are vast. I think allowing her queerness to be part of the story without it being plot-dependent is part of that normalization,” DeBose says. “I’m proud of that. I’m glad I had the opportunity to do this because you will see that the… projects I continue to take on, some are straight, some belong to the queer family, but there’s a fullness to their identity and a conversation that I think is fun to have because it’s what we should be doing with each other —seeing each other for the fullness of our identities and not just the one aspect.”

Watch the full interview with Advocate Channel below. I.S.S. is in theaters now.

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