‘Quantum Leap’ Director Shakina Says Transgender Youth Episode is About Liberation

Credit: NBC

NBC drama series Quantum Leap is bringing important transgender history stories to the forefront of mainstream media.

Actress and trans activist Shakina Nayfack (Difficult People, Connecting) wrote and directed the powerful episode about a transgender teen named Gia.

The episode, titled “Let Them Play,” follows Dr. Ben Song (Raymond Lee) as he leaps into the midst of the Mendéz family as they try to help their transgender daughter Gia, who dreams of playing on her high school basketball team. The catch is that Ben leaps into Gia’s dad, who is also the basketball coach.

“So it’s a father-daughter story, it’s a family drama, it’s a teen sports movie all rolled up into one episode,” Shakina told Gayety editor Caitlynn McDaniel.


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Writing the Episode

Shakina had worked with Quantum Leap showrunner Martin Gero before, and wanted to try her hand at writing an episode.

“And I pitched this episode at my interview. I knew pretty much going into it that because Quantum Leap has Mason Alexander Park, we have a trans actor as a series regular. The show was committed to addressing trans issues in the first season, which is huge. A lot of times, special interest issues have to be kicked back to later seasons. But there was a commitment there and a willingness to take a big step to stand up for trans kids, not only from the writer’s room and the producers of Quantum Leap, but from NBC and Universal. So we did it.”

Shakina added that one positive aspect of working on a show like Quantum Leap is that every episode is a whole new genre. This allowed her creative freedom to share her story and take the audience on a journey.

“I really wanted to capture the heart and soul of what it means to be a young trans person just trying to live your life and express yourself. And I wanted to welcome our viewers into that experience in a way that felt almost familiar because we all know the teen sports movie and we’ve just never seen a teen sports movie with a trans kid at the center.”

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Shakina Talks the Making of the Episode

The episode initially focused on soccer as the main sport instead of basketball, but it was switched due to scheduling issues. However, the swap gave the episode more meaning for Shakina who quit playing basketball in high school because “all the boys around me started to go through puberty and I was like, ‘this is not me. I don’t fit in here.’

“And it was actually really moving to get to reclaim basketball for myself while making this episode,” she continued. “I got to reclaim a lot of my youth for myself in a healing way while making this episode.”

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During a pivotal moment in the episode, students in the bleachers hold up a large “Equality” banner with rainbow hands painted around the edges.

“I actually made that sign when I was 16 years old throwing riots in my high school. The art department recreated it for the episode, which is so powerful.

“Then you have Trace Lysette talking about what it was like to leave home and join a ballroom house and all these aspects of trans liberation and trans history that aren’t part of the pop culture narrative yet, but they should be. And the more we get to tell these stories in mainstream media like Quantum Leap, it’s like an iconic cultural touchstone of a show and for us to be dedicating a whole episode to not just trans kids in sports, but really liberation is what this episode is about. It’s mind-blowing.”

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Where to Watch Quantum Leap

Quantum Leap stars Raymond Lee, Ernie Hudson, Caitlin Bassett, Mason Alexander Park and Nanrisa Lee. Martin Gero serves as executive producer along with Dean Georgaris, Don Bellisario, Deborah Pratt, Chris Grismer, Steven Lilien and Bryan Wynbrandt.

“Let Them Play” also includes special performances by Josielyn Aguilera as Gia and by Shakina as a colorful character named Dottie.

Watch the full interview with Shakina below and see Quantum Leap‘s “Let Them Play” episode on Feb. 6 at 10pm PT on NBC.

‘Quantum Leap’ Director Shakina Says Transgender Youth Episode is About Liberation
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