Non-binary Indian-American performance artist, scholar, and writer Alok Vaid-Menon made the radical decision to use “we” as a pronoun to embrace the collective acceptance of humanity as a whole.

The trans PhD scholar is at the center of 2024 Sundance 18-minute short documentary film “Alok,” which marks filmmaker Alexandra Hedison’s directorial debut. Hedison’s wife, Oscar winner Jodie Foster, executive produces the film, which features appearances by Dylan Mulvaney and Chani Nicholas. Natalie Shirinian, Elizabeth Baudouin, and Meggan Lennon are producers on the film.

During the IndieWire Studio at Sundance, presented by Dropbox, director/producer Hedison told IndieWire’s Christian Blauvelt that she knew she wanted to capture Vaid-Menon on camera “the instant I heard Alok speak.”

“There is so much that appealed to me intellectually, emotionally,” Hedison said of Vaid-Menon’s art. “I could feel what Alok was saying, and I think that’s one of the things about being a poet, is that you use words in a way that lands in an art form. It affected me as an artist, it affected me as a person. Alok invites me and all of us to unfold and become as much of ourselves as possible.”

Documentary subject Vaid-Menon addressed the rise of transphobia amid the current political landscape, and revealed how we move forward into an era of compassion.

“I think when people see trans people, they’re threatened because we’re introducing a language or an authenticity that holds a mirror where they have to ask themselves, ‘Who would I be outside of being told what I should be?’” Vaid-Menon explained. “So the lie doesn’t often have to be conscious: It’s a sense of self-betrayal of having to mold yourself into the image of what other people want instead of yourself. I think what challenges people about transness is the clarity of this decision in saying you get to change your mind and you get to give birth to yourself.”

Vaid-Menon continued, “I had my retribution era. I had my sense of being angry and wanting to clap back. But then I realized that actually when I was holding onto that bitterness and that resentment, it had a corrosive quality to my own life. I was unable to show up and experience joy and delight because I was so frustrated by other people. So I freed myself from that burden.”

Vaid-Menon added, “A lot of people see compassion as just benevolence to the other, but I actually think compassion is also an extension of self-love. It’s saying, ‘My time is precious. My energy is sacred. I don’t want to contaminate it with bad vibes.’ I had to get to a place to say I wasn’t responsible for the trauma but I was responsible for my own healing, and what that looked like for me was compassion was the best way to heal. And it also helped me see the world for what it is, kind of revealed the matrix that most peoples’ prejudices have nothing to do with me, it has to deal with themselves.”

Executive Producer and actress Foster weighed in on “Alok,” saying that the short film “really challenged me to change too and be open to new voices and learn and transform. That’s the beauty of the piece is that it really is about all of us transforming all the time and that willingness. There’s such joy to that.”

Check out the full interview above.

The 2024 Sundance Film Festival runs January 18 to 28, with festival talks taking place January 19 to 26. See the full list of IndieWire Studio at Sundance, presented by Dropbox, lineup here.

Dropbox supports and champions independent makers, crews, and teams behind the camera who bring their unique perspectives to life at the Sundance Film Festival. We’re proud that over 60% of films at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival leveraged Dropbox in their filmmaking process.It takes a monumental effort for film projects to go from ideation to completion, and Dropbox is dedicated to helping filmmakers get their projects across the finish line faster. Filmmakers used Dropbox as one organized homebase to keep video files secure, to remotely collaborate with teams around the world, and to get real-time video feedback with Dropbox Replay.

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