I grew up in an apartment on the 15th floor of a building that overlooked a widely jaywalked multi-lane boulevard in the heart of one of the most culturally diverse places in the U.S.- the borough of Queens in glorious NYC. As a kid, I thought it was pretty normal to head outside the lobby doors after high fiving our favorite doormen, then veer left and walk ten paces to descend the tired, gum-splotched concrete stairs down to the F train. Only after living in places other than the universe that is New York City did I realize the uniqueness of my situation (which has blessedly made me a pro at navigating public transportation).
But growing up in Queens did something else. I was so accustomed to its diversity, to having friends of different backgrounds, where English was not the dominant language in the home, and where ethnicities and identities mixed, overlapped and morphed into something new, that when I moved away I found the absence of diversity more striking than its presence. So did Tamara.
I met Tamara at the Forest Hills annual Children’s Day festival the summer she was about to turn 8. I was still 7, a few months behind her on the birthday calendar. I remember there being some sort of scary swing ride and we must have had cotton candy. Shortly thereafter, I was invited to her party and decades later (ok, not that many decades, but still, the number of years is impressive) she has remained a faithful, funny, thoughtful, very dear friend who has taught me much about her world- her love of theater and Japanese culture, in particular.
Now Tamara Ruppart, based in LA, is pursuing her passion to share the stories of her favorite playwright, Velina Hasu Houston, “through the medium of film.” Houston, who is Japanese-African-Native American, explores in her work, as Tamara puts it, “themes of race and identity, engendering empathy in the audience by making the foreign relatable…and instills in her audience the courage to surmount the barriers that separate us by exposing the prejudices that slow society’s progress.”
“As I gained more life experience, I eventually learned that not everyone saw the world in the same way. I have since lived in Japan and traveled extensively throughout Asia and Europe. When one travels, the differences between cultures are apparent, but as a girl from Queens, I have always marveled more at the similarities. These similarities are what I want to celebrate. I share a worldview with Velina Hasu Houston and a passion for promoting that worldview. That is why I have to share her stories,” she says.
Tamara, who is an experienced and accomplished play director, is seeking to make her first film, Path of Dreams, about the legend of Ono no Komachi, a story of a fiery female character who does not conform to the structural rules of ancient society. Despite being well known in Japan, the legend is not often told in the West, though its themes can apply to women of all cultures, even today.
I asked her why this film and why now. “I think the world needs this film at this time,” she replied. “People don’t fit neatly into boxes and the world wants to put them there.” My friend wants to show us ways in which we are more similar than we are different. Only then can we empathize with and relate to those we initially perceive as “other.”
Tamara recently returned from a scouting trip to Japan and though she has lots in place to put this film together (i.e a production crew and actors), she needs to raise $10,000 in the next 38 days to get the filming off the ground. Can you help her get there? Any amount, however small, helps!
Check out her Indiegogo site to hear from her directly and to donate. My talented, flaxen-haired friend makes her pitch in Japanese too, no less.
On her blog In Short, Making a Short at www.tamararuppart.com, she talks about her journey so far.