Erin Hallard is fearlessly herself and, in middle school, that character trait doesn’t come easily. What’s usually a period of depression and anxiety for other kids has no place in Erin’s story, because she simply wasn’t written that way. Thanks to writer and director Julianna Notten, Erin's Guide to Kissing Girls subverts the usual tropes of schoolyard sexuality for something fresh: a story of a girl who just wants to kiss the coolest girl in school at the annual spring fling.
For the queer writer and director, the story comes from a place of personal resonance. “I suppose this script is a love letter to my younger self in many ways,” she says about Erin’s Guide. The film comes two years after her award-winning short, Earth to Avery, and reflects Notten’s commitment to creating strong, queer female protagonists—and it shows.
Erin doesn’t come out or face some anguished, tortured existence for being a queer 12-year-old girl of color. Played by newcomer Kyria Ossa, she radiates the confidence Notten wanted in the character—she’s headstrong, confident, and unapologetic in her pursuit of love interest Syndi, who's played by Belle Lemieux-Chan.
As the film rounds the final bend of production and takes to Kickstarter to fund the final push to distribution, we talked with Notten about creating a positive, queer story and avoiding the clichés of an “it gets better” narrative.
OUT: Tell me about the importance of present a story that doesn't involve coming out or shame.
Julianna Notten: It was important for me to present a story that didn't center on, or involve, coming out or being ashamed about being queer. I think we've seen that narrative quite often–to the point where it almost seems like it's the only one. I wanted to show kids, especially those who may be questioning their own identities, that their stories don't always have to be rooted in shame or tragedy, that they can still have adventures and see themselves in stories that aren't solely focused on the fact that they are queer.
What sparked the idea to write the story?
It's hard to pinpoint exactly where the idea for Erin's Guide came from. I've always been drawn to coming of age stories, and as a queer woman, I noticed a distinct lack of those stories for LGBTQ+ youth. If there was a coming of age story focused on LGBT+ youth, it was usually about coming out. I suppose this script is a love letter to my younger self in many ways. I wish I could have been as unapologetically myself at that age as Erin is in the film.
You've made it your mission to create well-rounded female characters. What was your favorite part about creating Erin?
Erin has definitely been one of my favorite characters to write. I love how honest she is with others and herself. I love her spunk and how she turns everything in her life into one big adventure. She is genuine, funny, and lights up any space she is in. It has been such a privilege to work with the fantastically talented Kyria Ossa, who plays Erin, to bring that character to life.
What message do you hope people will take away from the film?
I hope that people will realize that there’s a myriad of stories to tell for and about queer youth. Maybe we don't have to talk about how it "gets better.” Maybe we can just be better and create a world where same-sex attraction isn't so othering. And, of course, I hope it encourages the kids who see the film to be as unapologetically themselves as Erin is.