THE BLOG

Creating a Vision Through Her Lens

04/29/2013 01:28 pm ET | Updated Jun 28, 2013
Getty Images

What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? In Tani Ikeda's case, it's creating films that offer a fresh take on sexuality education.

Ikeda, an award-winning director and filmmaker based in Los Angeles, has received early success and was named one of 25 Visionaries Who Are Changing Your World by the Utne Reader as she continues to foster media that matters.

With help from her best friends Sylva Raskin and Laney Rupp, they co-founded ImMEDIAte Justice, a summer workshop and community outreach program for girls devoted to revolutionizing sex education through filmmaking.

Their curriculum places an emphasis on body awareness, gender and sexuality. Topics include teaching self-examination, transgender-friendly anatomy and queer safe sex. Not your mama's sex ed class, right? Ikeda wouldn't have it any other way.

"For many of us, sex education consisted of half-truths whispered in the school cafeteria or movies in health class that suggested abstinence and heterosexuality as our only options," she explained.

Ikeda was born and raised in Seattle, which isn't Hollywood but is home to the WTO protests and a thriving activist community.

It was in Seattle where Ikeda first imagined using film to create change. "In high school I felt ashamed of my sexuality and invisible in the media as an Asian American girl."

She began writing about the hyper-sexualized media representations of Asian women: "Everyone who looked like me on television were either kung fu fighting bad guys or fetishized sex slaves and I aspired to be neither." Ikeda hungered for something more, and she promised herself she would go to Los Angeles to change that.

Most recently, Ikeda directed a music video for her idol, Margaret Cho, who has a Grammy nominated comedy album, Cho Dependent.

"Growing up, Margaret Cho was the only Asian American woman in the media who was fierce, funny, and unapologetic," she recalled. "Directing the music video for her song Asian Adjacent was a special nod to my 13-year-old self," she related. "It tackled classic Asian female stereotypes like the Dragon Lady and Lotus Blossom rendering them powerless through Cho's killer comedy."

With her program, ImMEDIAte Justice program, she teaches the girls how to write, direct and film their own sex-education videos, and that day she brought the girls on set to gain hands on experience. "The girls shadowed crew members, and it was inspiring to see them get exposure to filmmaking with such a powerhouse feminist."

Before she worked with celebrities like Cho and got imMEDIAte Justice off the ground, Ikeda attended school at the University of Southern California where she earned a bachelor's degree in film production. As a student at USC, she was selected to participate in the {Bill} Clinton Global Initiative Conference (CGIU) in Austin, Texas. At CGIU her commitment to action became ImMEDIAte Justice; she received seed funding from CGIU to begin work on her nonprofit.

Now, imMEDIAte Justice has received attention and support from many including CNN, NBC, Univision, DoSomething.org and The Pepsi Refresh Project. Ikeda and her staff have gone on to expand and offer summer camps on the Quinault Reservation, Uganda and China. Their network has reached more than 1,000 young women and continues to grow.

Ikeda hopes her work as a filmmaker and efforts with imMEDIAte Justice "will foster more spaces that center rather than marginalize the experiences of young women of color." She beamed, "imMEDIAte Justice is the type of community I always yearned for growing up. I hope it gives other young women the courage to speak with truth about their lives."

Programs like this, which embrace female sexuality and create empowering media images of women, contribute to the success of every girl. Without its existence, there are few opportunities for young women to create more accurate representations of themselves in media. And if more women see empowering images of themselves they can grow up to be the heroes they are waiting for.