by Aarushi Agni
Madison comic and transgender activist Dina Nina Martinez is taking the jump from stages to the small screen. She is the force behind the in-production web series The Misadventures of Delilah James, a sitcom workplace drama to be filmed locally. Voted Madison’s favorite comedian in 2015 by Isthmus, Martinez has acted (you can see the top of her head in an episode of The Office) and performed her stand up routine around Madison and the Los Angeles area.
Connecting with Madison
“What I wanted was connection, and I didn’t really have that in Los Angeles,” said Martinez.
Martinez has lived in Madison for three years. She initially traveled to Madison with a friend, as a stop on the way to Arkansas.
“I told him, nope– I’m gonna stay here. It just felt home-y,” Martinez explained. “Coming to the Midwest, I’m able to just be me. For the first time in my life I was able to just be a chick in the Midwest.”
Write it yourself
In The Misadventures of Delilah James, Martinez will play another version of herself– a busy event planner, who is savvy in the workplace, but just as confused in love as any other girl–with the added complication of being a transgender woman.
“I was talking to my friend Ann Walker [from the 2000 independent film, Sordid Lives], and saying, I would really love to play a transgender detective on something, that sounds fun. She said, ‘Well honey, if you want to do that, you’re going to have to write it yourself,’ so that’s how I got here.”
Martinez took that advice to heart. She describes her character, Delilah James, as an event planner first, transgender second; James’ gender identity is not the primary dramatic focus of the show, just another aspect of her identity. It fuels the comedy of the show.
“She’s very…reserved. She compartmentalizes a lot more than I do,” said Martinez. “She’s got this awesome career and she’s in charge in that arena, just falls apart in love. Negotiating, talking to people about business stuff, that’s in her wheelhouse. Talking about negotiating sex and emotional territory, she’s just… AHHH… kind of a mess.”
Martinez co-wrote the show with her partner, UK-based Steve Williams, who will also work on direction. The two have communicated and collaborated via video-conferencing.
“He gets me, he gets where I’m going. I’ve been working on this project for like four years… I approached him about a year ago,” said Martinez. “He told me I’d love to be a part of this project, but it has to get made.”
Martinez said that much of the show is autobiographical, including the many misadventures Delilah James has with dating. She said that she thinks that all sorts of people will relate with James’ struggles.
“I love that she’s just quirky, and odd and curvy and uncomfortable with her body sometimes. She doesn’t like her inner thighs, just like I don’t like my inner thighs,” she waxes. “Those are things that all women can identify with.”
Martinez added that the show also shines a light on the diversity of women’s body shapes. Acting, she said, has made her painfully aware of the narrow realm of categories that women can occupy.
“Everyone says you’re too big to play a normal person, and too small to play a big person. You can either be tiny or big– there’s no space in between,” said Martinez. “My priority is loving, or trying to love the body I’m in, and being comfortable.”
Martinez said she’s aware that TMDJ is riding a wave of transgender visibility with the rise of icons like Laverne Cox, television shows like Transparent, and the public transition of Caitlyn Jenner. She said she thinks it’s “awesome.”
“We just want to be accepted by society as who we are, as women. So putting that face on… it’s what you feel society should see,” said Martinez. “The timing has been so long coming. I’m super excited about it. And to have Ian Harvie from Transparent.”
Martinez said she realizes that her existence as a woman is considered political, but she wants to maintain her identity as just another girl.
“Like Laverne Cox has said before, ‘Being visible is an act of activism.’ I would never shy away from being a transgender woman. But in a setting where I’m just trying to do the job that I’m doing, or date or see somebody, it’s kind of horrible when that comes up, I’m just a woman trying to find love. I’m less compartmentalized, but that’s one of the things that Delilah holds back.”
Martinez said that she feels privileged to have the opportunity to bring her vision to life, and hopes to use her exposure as a platform for allyship.
“I’ve had a much easier road than many of my sisters and brothers. I would not deny that at all. I am blessed. But the truth of the matter is that transgender people, mostly women, especially women of color, face such harder battles than anyone else. So I’m visible for us, and I hope I’m visible for them. I hope that what I do helps them. I’m an activist; I will speak about it. I’m me, and I’m just gonna be me.”
In a world where 1/4 of transgender women of color will face violence, Martinez noted that discrimination against transgender people in the workplace is prevalent, especially the experience of being “outed” by co-workers.
“A study done by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force states that when trans people are presenting as who they are and feel comfortable in who they are, they are more productive, so I don’t understand why workplaces would want to stifle that. Being trans is an asset,” said Martinez.
“There are so many things about society that frustrate me, that’s why I do what I’m doing. I just want you to see who we are. I’m just a daughter, a sister, a friend, sometimes a lover. Once, twice, three times, a lady.”
Martinez is running an Indiegogo campaign to fund the film; she hopes to raise $15,000 to fund the first season of The Misadventures of Delilah James. The show will star Martinez, Transparent’s Ian Harvie and Ann Walker of Sordid Lives. On September 16th, the show will have a fundraising event in Chicago at Stage 773, where the show runners will give the crowd a mini-episode preview.