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Artist/Actor Chella Man on Intersectional Identities, Art

Chella Man in profile from chest up, no shirt, silver necklace, hearing aid visible
Chella Man

On March 25, the Social Justice Academy, a program of Intercultural Student Affairs, hosted a discussion with model, YouTuber, and LGBTQ+ activist Chella Man. Man, a transgender, deaf, genderqueer, and Jewish person of color, played mute superhero Jericho in the second season of the DC Universe series, Titans.

Following this year’s theme of Intersectional Solidarity, the discussion broached topics of personal care, discovering (and rediscovering) yourself, and art as a form of activism. The event was moderated by Monica Keipp ‘23, an undergraduate participant in the Social Justice Academy.

The conversation was followed by a quick Q&A, where Chella Man answered questions from members of the Emerson community about love, self-awareness, and the struggles and pressures of being a social media influencer.

On intersectional solidarity:

I think of what are the identities that are not necessarily dominant in our modern day and age that people have, and typically when others use the word intersectional, it means that someone has a lot of non-dominant identities all at the same time. But for me, recently, I have been trying to reframe my identity as something more beyond the social, political categories, and also just identifying as curious, identifying as determined, you know, identifying as stubborn or very much sometimes impatient.”

On art and the medium:

“There are a lot of factors involved when choosing mediums.  There’s a concept, and how the audience interacts with it, and how you, as the artist, want it to be digested, and how you want it to sit with people.  So it truly depends — there’s so many factors, so many factors about why I choose the mediums I do.”

On being a first-time actor:

“The first thing [I wanted to bring] was authenticity with the Sign Language to the role, because that’s something that was historically underrepresented and wrongfully represented. I wanted to ensure that all of the signs I was using were correct, and it made sense for the context, etc.

Reading this script, it was clear to me that Jericho had a sort of innocent vibrance to him, and he was almost, he’s almost so loving to a fault.  …I feel like in my own life I have had many experiences also that way, so I could really relate to him in those moments.”

On reminding yourself that your story is worth being told and uplifted:

Of course, your story as any human being story is important just because you are worthy. There’s nothing you have to do in life to prove that you are worthy, and that your story is necessary, and that your voice is important. There’s so much history of people like us, but it just has not necessarily been recorded, or it has been lost, or intentionally taken from us, and that is all the more reason to tell your story if you feel safe enough. If you have the privilege to tell your story, please, please tell your story. Because I guarantee you there are people out there who relate to it. If you find yourself in the continuum on gender, race, disability, there are so many people like you and we need your story.”

On discovering (and rediscovering) yourself:

“It has been very nonlinear and overwhelming, riveting, terrifying, all of the above. And that pressure should not ever fall on one person, nor can I represent an entire anything.  I’m just my story, you know, in my one experience.”

On practicing self-care:

“Put yourself first, and put your mental and physical health first, because if you are not OK, you could maybe try to help other people, but it would not be sustainable activism. We’re alive to be, to feel joy, to create art, to laugh, to cry, to do other things. We are alive to advocate, I believe, unfortunately, because of the circumstances that we live in, we have to, we don’t really have a choice, but it’s very important to take care of yourself first.”

Q&A: What is something that if you want to share, that you love about yourself and something you love about the human race?

“I love my ability to be very intentional with the way I move and think in the world. [What] I really appreciate about the human race is how we center love. [T]he way that people make choices and are driven by love sometimes of course can be very detrimental, but there’s something so beautiful about it.”

The Social Justice Academy partners students with social justice organizations within and around Emerson. In the past, they have tackled subjects ranging from Intersectional Feminism (2019) to Hip-Hop Artivism (2018). The program aims to use tools of reflection, action, and introspection in workshop settings to inspire students to position themselves in identifying systems of oppression and actively advocacy work, both within and around the College.

tamia jordan, director for Intercultural Student Affairs, is excited to be a part of the Social Justice Academy, seeing the program as a place to celebrate the individual growth and change process, while also reflecting on ways the program can improve and flourish.

“Movements are living things. And movement-building requires us to be hyper aware and involved deeply in the causes to which we are devoted — all while living our already complex day-to-day lives. And while we’ll often acknowledge the interconnected nature of various struggles for justice because we know that to be true; it’s also no wonder that it is difficult to show up fully and astutely for communities and causes that are not at the center of who we are.

“The Social Justice Academy can’t remedy that entirely. But we do attempt to structure it in a way that allows us to hold space with folks from movements that are not at the heart of our own activism. To go deeper on a topic of social justice that impacts us all in some way. And that hopefully leads to greater understanding of each other and some direction for the path ahead,” jordan says.

The Social Justice Academy has multiple upcoming events in April, including a chat with antiracism activist Yavilah McCoy Plenary on April 12; a Parable Luncheon on April 15, an interactive luncheon inspired by Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower; in addition to a Tough Topic Tuesday talk on intersectional solidarity on April 19, and ArtsEmerson’s Parable of the Sower opera on April 21. For more details, visit EmConnect.

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