Earlier this month, the groundbreaking show earned yet another honor: an Emmy nomination in the newly-created category of Outstanding Short Form Comedy or Drama. The award nomination is not only a win for the Her Story's incredible cast and crew. It should also serve as confirmation to the greater creative media community of the importance of transgender voices and faces in the portrayal of trans narratives.
With the commercial and critical success of TV series like Amazon's Transparent and films like The Danish Girl, the lives of transgender people have entered mainstream media consciousness. However, the bulk of these trans stories so far are written by and are portrayed by cisgender people. When Her Story premiered in January, it smashed through those paradigms. It stars two talented trans actresses, Jen Richards and Angelica Ross, and was co-written and co-produced by Richards.
The series focuses on the dating lives of two trans women, Violet (Richards) and Paige (Ross). Violet, a waitress who is new to Los Angeles, is being interviewed for a local LGBT publication by Allie (portrayed by series co-writer Laura Zak), about the experiences of trans women. She begins to develop feelings and chemistry with Allie over the course of their interviews, as their time together draws them into a friendship and eventually a relationship. Paige—a very successful attorney with Lambda Legal—has begun dating James, a handsome and charming newcomer in her life. Paige and James hit it off, but Paige worries about disclosing the fact that she's trans and how James could react.
What gives the series its profound power is how wonderfully developed and three-dimensional the main characters are, an impressive feat for a series whose total running time is under 60 minutes. The writing is rich with the authentic, diverse experiences of trans people in a way that few other trans narratives have been.
In an email interview with the series creators, Ross explained the origin of that authenticity to The Advocate, saying "Up until this point, most portrayals of trans stories have been from the outside in. Her Story gives audiences a fresh perspective from the inside out. Much of the heart of Her Story comes from many of the experiences and conversations Jen and I had while living together in Chicago."
At a time when most trans characters are pigeonholed into portrayals of transition and the ways in which their existence affects those around them, the story of a pair of trans friends who have lives outside their trans identity, who have careers, relationships, and a life full of experience beyond transition is downright revolutionary. When asked about how the project originated, Jen Richards explained, "it was born of ... my desire to show trans people in the way that I saw them, in all their trauma, humor, and complexity."
When asked if she had expected the series to garner the amount of attention that is has, Laura Zak said the following:
"A year and a half ago, right after Jen and I completed the script, I would have said absolutely not. We aspired to tell this story but imagined a much smaller scale production. When Katherine Fisher and Speed of Joy Productions took on the project, and then Sarah Baker came on to help produce, we secured talent like Sydney Freeland as director and Berenice Eveno as director of photography. Each person who signed on to the project elevated the quality and scale of the series. By the time we were watching early cuts of the footage, we knew we had something very special. But even then, we couldn't have anticipated the overwhelming love, support, and exposure we received since releasing the show in January."
Ross shared that she felt "a big sense of relief" seeing the show's Emmy nod after months of building anticipation. She described the recognition as "absolutely affirming," explaining: "I once thought I would have to give up on my dreams of acting and making music when I transitioned, but I realize now I only surrendered to the experiences my life was presenting me with and one by one they've brought me here. I'm no longer chasing my dreams, my dreams are chasing me."
Zak and Richards are hoping the Emmy recognition will help them with their push to get the show picked up by a major network or platform. Zak detailed, "We absolutely want to make more show, and have written a treatment detailing everything that happens next with the core characters, plus a new cast of characters we've not yet met. Our goal is to develop a full first season of the show versus making more of the web series."
Richards said that they have treatments prepared for 10 half-hour episodes telling a deeper story with more characters. She also hopes to be able to get compensation for all their hard work, saying, "This has been a labor of love, truly, but it's time for us to get paid."
Richard and Ross plan to continue to stay busy, regardless of the outcome of the awards and whether the show gets picked up. Richards shared, "I have a feature, also about trans women, that was in the Outfest Screenwriting Lab, have a docu-series with Silas Howard coming out soon, and am finishing up a pilot and book proposal, both of which I'm excited about." Ross is voicing "The Mayor" in the new Amazon animated series Danger & Eggs, which was produced by trans woman Shadi Petosky, which Zak now writes for. Ross will also star in and executive produce the Toni Newman film Heart of Woman, in which she sings the film's title track.
When asked if felt that the incredible response that Her Story has received would be a catalyst for major networks to promote more trans creators, Richards remained somewhat skeptical, saying: "I don't mean to sound cynical, but it's a business. It has no need to promote anything unless there's money to be made."
However, she remained hopeful that Her Story could be a catalyst for more trans stories to be told.
"My hope is that Her Story inspires other trans creators to keep telling their stories, and keep telling them better and more insistently, and that it gets some people inside Hollywood to look for stories in places they haven't before," Richards said.
Zak shared a hope a that the series and its success could serve as a evidence of the need for new kinds of narratives in popular media.
"The fact that Her Story has received this attention, and now the additional affirmation of an Emmy nomination, suggests that there is an audience hungry and ready for authentic, intersectional storytelling that elevates voices that are massively underrepresented in mainstream media," Zak concluded.
Watch the trailer of Her Story below, and see the first season on YouTube.