13-year-old Emerson Basco first explored a love for filmmaking during the pandemic. Photo: Emerson Basco

From GAP ad star to filmmaker, Emerson Basco, 13-years-old, has already directed her first short film and screened it at Outfest Fusion Film Festival this spring and the San Diego Filipino Film Festival in 2021.

Basco directed her first film “Can We Play” when she was only 11-years-old. And it’s not just any film, it’s a norm-breaking film.

“This [film] is based on a true story of when I was in preschool,” said Basco. “I had a boy best friend named Ryder, like in the movie and every day we would play more masculine games, but one day I wanted to play princesses.” The short film is based on her own experience in preschool. Thinking, not too far back, she recalls the friendship that inspired the film.

Though the short film is only three minutes long, Basco makes a concise point about a child’s perspective on gender roles during a simple task such as playtime. Basco and her friend were only a few years old when they had to decide what toys to play with, in an environment away from the adults in their life. Ryder wanted to play with the “boy toys”, while she wanted to play dress up with princess dresses. Ryder argues at first but gives in and puts the princess dress on.

Emmy and Ryder just want to play.

When Ryder’s father comes to pick him up from preschool, he gets upset that he sees his son wearing a dress and makes a comment about how that is only for girls. Ryder and Emerson, only 4-years-old, have to explain to him that boys can wear dresses too and that, “it’s no big deal.”

“One day we went to play princesses and so we played head to toe in princess dresses,” said Basco. “[Ryder’s father] came to pick us up and said he didn’t like the idea of it. [So, I said]: ‘It’s OK to be who he is. He should be able to [dress up] without feeling ashamed.”

“Can We Play” has already been screened at several film festivals. Photo: Emerson Basco

This short, but impactful film does the empowering work of destigmatizing the idea of gender norms in young children and showing adults that children aren’t naturally categorized into gender norms until parents do it for them.

In a time when drag queens are being scrutinized for allegedly grooming children, films like this, directed by a child who lived the experience, show that it’s conservative ideology that can influence children into neglecting a toy or in this case, a dress.

Basco did not get her start as a director just recently. During the pandemic, she spent a lot of time creating and directing multiple spec commercials using her iPhone. Basco says that she would not have been able to do all this, without the support of her family, many of whom also act, direct and produce. 

Since her GAP ad debut, she has also starred in over twenty commercials. Basco’s other passions are aligned with music. She is a talented singer and bass player in two bands that play in and near Los Angeles.

“You should be who you are, and you shouldn’t hide it,” Basco reminds us.

Giselle Palomera is a nonbinary, Mexican-Colombian journalist from East LA, California.

This story is made possible with support from Comcast Corporation.