Saved by the Bell star Josie Totah's fast becoming a powerhouse within her short career at the age of 19. Since acting bug bit her early on, she was able to take her talents on the small screen with Mindy Kaling's Champions before getting her big break on Peacock's revival/sequel Saved by the Bell playing Lexi, a trans character like herself and cheerleader, who's looking for acceptance with her identity at Bayside High. Speaking to Entertainment Weekly, Totah opened up on how her career has been shaped since coming out and using the sitcom as a platform to expand representation through its writing, cast, and her role as a producer.
"I've been able to play roles that align with my gender identity and live freely in my own skin, experiencing this new part of my life where I don't have to hide anything," Totah said. Showrunner Tracey Wigfield, who revived the Sam Bobrick series, wrote Lexi with Totah in mind, but the actress felt reluctant initially before being offered an additional role as producer to help personally influence her character. At the same time, she's trying to use her position to help expand voices from other communities. "I think it would be dumb to say that Hollywood is at a point where everyone is getting equal opportunities and that as an actress who is trans I'm not having to work twice as hard as someone who is cisgender," Totah said. "But that goes for any marginalized identity. I can't claim to know how hard it must be to be an actress in Hollywood who is Black, Asian, or Latina, for example. It's a tough world." She's bonded with her female costars Alycia Pascual-Peña, an Afro-Latina actress, and Haskiri Velazquez, the main focus of the ensemble cast. The two play Aisha and Daisy, respectively.
"I'm so proud to have not only two incredible Latinas on the show, but to have an Afro Latina, who is a beautiful actress and person," says Totah, a film studies major now in her junior year at California's Chapman University. "It's really important when talking about intersectionality because a lot of people are ignorant. Alycia is fully Dominican and a proud Black Latina. There's a lot of ignorance about Afro-Latino history, and people don't really understand that. Seeing her and Haskiri shine in their roles is so inspiring and empowering." The actress says the dialogue will expand in season two.
"We'll have these conversations within the same culture and communities, and how we navigate those paths and nuances of identity like colorism and classism within specific identities," Totah said. "I'm so proud to know that I've been able to help so many kids and adults feel less alone just by being able to show them a nuanced, three-dimensional character on screen who might share some parts of their identity. Had I had that growing up, it would've been easier to see there was a healthier and happier future for me." Totah closes out offering more words of encouragement to anyone who's struggling. "For so long I was told it would get better, and those words kind of sounded offensive to me. What does it even mean, that things will get better?" she said. "But keep pushing. You're not alone. Figure out what serves you and what creates a safe space for you. That's the most important thing." The second season of Saved by the Bell, which also stars Mario Lopez, Elizabeth Berkley, Dexter Darden, Mitchell Hoog, Belmont Cameli, John Michael Higgins, and Mark-Paul Gosselaar, is currently filming. You can check stream the first season on Peacock.
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