The prolific ladyboss behind the Tiny Feminist series will carve out her own damn space, thankyouverymuch.
By Mishki Vaccaro
Los Angeles based writer/director Yulin Kuang might only be twenty-seven years old but she’s got the resume of someone nearly twice her age: she was a finalist for the Sundance Screenwriters Lab in 2014 as well as a quarterfinalist in the prestigious Nicholls Fellowship competition that same year; her short films have screened at Sundance and Palm Springs ShortFest and she’s participated in the 2016 Sony Pictures Television Diverse Directors Program as well as the 2016 Sundance- YouTube Creators Intensive. Oh, and did we mention that her personal YouTube channel, appropriately titled Yulin Is Working, has over 27, 000 subscribers plus she has a show on the CW Seed? Needless to say, girl has been busy. Yulin’s work is kitschy, fun, innovative and female-focused, embracing nerd culture and online fandom as sources of inspiration. We caught up with Yulin by phone to chat with her about everything from her (equal parts adorable and bad-ass) series Tiny Feminists, using YouTube as a platform to create the kind of work she wanted to make and giving yourself permission to be selfish.
Your work covers female friendships, romantic relationships, zombie apocalypses and musicals to name a few subjects. You’re prolific and have managed to make your work stand out in the age of YouTube. How did you first get your start as a writer/director and start to develop your oh-so-specific voice and point of view?
The short answer… is that in college I studied creative writing and I knew I wanted to tell stories in a film and TV kind of medium, so I was writing all these screenplays and handing them off to other people to direct—I went to Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh, which doesn’t have a film program and so there weren’t that many people who were interested in film. It was like, a couple of dudes that wanted to direct. So I would hand them off these screenplays about love and growing up and all these other things and they would direct them to a point that wasn’t really to my satisfaction. So essentially I decided fuck it, I’m going to try directing it myself and I just fell in love with it completely and never went back.
I’m a huge fan of the Tiny Feminists series, produced in collaboration with YouTube’s International Women’s Day initiative. It’s funny, informative and feels very of the moment. Can you tell me a little bit about the inspiration behind the series and how it got started?
I’ve always liked plucky, intense female heroines. And I did a short film called Irene Lee, Girl Detective several years ago that’s about a seven-year-old girl detective who wants to solve mysteries. And I like stories about young people because I think the world seems infinitely possible when you’re young. You’re not cynical and nobody’s told you [that] you can’t do it and for all you know you can do it.
There’s a whole controversy around celebrities announcing that they’re not feminists (Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga, even Katy Perry at one point). You seem to address this type of feminist denial in in the first episode in a tongue in cheek way. Is this intentional?
I guess in a small way, sure, I wanted to put forth a definition of feminism since the series is about tiny feminists so I wanted people to understand what I consider that to be.
But as far as feminist denial, that actually really frustrates me because I think that yes it is a problem that these powerful females… who are in positions of influence think that they’re not feminists, but I think the bigger issue … is that they’ve been put in a position where they think that they’re not feminists when I would say that if you look at a lot of their actions, no they’re not perfect feminists, but a lot of them do I think believe in the basic tenants of feminism.
I think that the definition of feminism is very important to understand so that we avoid those situations in the future.
To ask the very obvious question—do you consider yourself a feminist and how does this show up in your work overall?
Yes, I absolutely consider myself a feminist. In terms of how it shows up in my work overall—first and foremost I’m a creator and so I don’t go into a project thinking. “What’s the feminist message that I can put into this?” I like to think that my perspective informs whatever story I’m going to tell and… the way that manifests itself is that I do gravitate towards female protagonists.
While things are certainly starting to change as more attention is given to hiring diversely, directing is still are still fairly male dominated profession. How have you personally had to pave your own way?
The greatest example of how that has affected my career is that I went and created a YouTube channel because it was the only place that I could go to do what I wanted to do now. And I think that’s the great thing about our generation. We don’t really have to wait for permission.
YouTube has been that for me. I wanted to be a director, I wanted to direct films and I wanted to write things that were the kinds of things that I would want to do.
So I would say, being somebody of this generation, I’ve been able to carve my own path when people said no whether it’s because I’m a woman or because I’m young and untested.
Let’s shift gear a bit and talk about your series I Ship It. It follows Ella as she breaks up with her boyfriend and starts a band with her roommate Tim in an attempt to get back at her ex by competing in a battle of the bands contest. Ella has to make difficult choices about pursuing her career versus pursuing a new relationship. Why was this an important storyline for you to pursue?
It was important to me to pursue that because I want to be a considerate storyteller and I wanted to tell a story about a girl and have ultimately a feminist message at the heart of that. I think a lot of time in romance the thing that frustrates me the most is a story where a woman is forced to choose between love and a career and somehow by default that means she has to give up her career.
It was important to me that Ella, when making a choice between a career and her love life… that she not betray me by giving up everything that she told me she cares about in order to deserve somebody’s love.
In the series, the character Tessa gives Ella some great advice: “You have to let yourself put you first.” This felt so real and personal. Is this advice someone once gave to you?
We were having some trouble figuring out what Ella’s motivation was and we were talking, me and the development exec, and that kind of spilled out of my mouth at some point.
I think that’s something that a lot of women don’t think to do… We’re kind of taught to be ingratiating and accommodating and be the hostess and make everyone happy and don’t be difficult to the point ultimately where it’s not second nature to go, “yeah, I’m going to be a little bit selfish, I’m the one that has to live my life.”
I think it’s absolutely advice that women should know and have.