At Finding Ferdinand, not only do we love colorful lipstick, but also colorful people. Along with being a beauty enthusiast, Joanna Fang is an Emmy Award winner for sound design and one of the only out transgender women in her field. Joanna and the rest of the Cartel Land sound team hit the red carpet in Los Angeles on September 12. Leading up to her big debut, Joanna took the time to chat with us about makeup, the film industry, and finding the perfect color.
Finding Ferdinand: When and how did your love of beauty begin?
Joanna Fang: My love for beauty began really in middle school. Growing up in the closet as a transgender woman, the first time I got to play with makeup was for the annual school musical. The theater moms had everyone purchase a Ben Nye theatrical makeup kit and insisted every cast member (boys included!) learn how to apply basic foundation, liner, lipstick, and powder. Needless to say, I was the only “guy” who took it rather seriously and put on full makeup every single night of the musical. Imagine just one of the barbershop quartet members wearing full makeup during a production of the Music Man. I remember my friend Christi turned to me and said “dude you look like a drag queen,” I took it as a high compliment. I kept that makeup kit hidden in my room for the duration of middle school and high school and experimented with it when I could. It was one of the very few ways I could quietly express my gender identity, and it would constantly give me hope that one day I could leave my room wearing exactly what I want.
FF: What were your first experiences with beauty products and the beauty industry?
JF: Throughout college, I dated a freelance film makeup artist and she taught me a lot of techniques and introduced me to more specialty beauty products -- stuff far beyond the middle school musical requirements. All of the makeup lessons I gleaned from watching trans vlogger Princess Joules late at night finally came out of the closet along with me. It was pretty scary walking into Sephora for the first time, albeit “mancognito” and having to nervously try on a few BB creams. It was, in a lot of ways, my first forays into embracing the more difficult and public parts of my transgender identity. Now I can walk into a retail store confident in my customer rights and in my purchases. One Stila eyeliner please.
The other experiences I have with the beauty industry is pretty tangential. I am a professional Foley artist working on film and television. A Foley artist for those of you who don’t know, is someone who performs sound effects in sync to a moving image. Basically, I perform the sounds that actors make on set: footsteps, props, etc. The difficulty in the job is having a large breadth of experience to draw from: what does it sound and feel like to put on lipstick? How about mascara? I often debate with my male colleagues on the “feel” of putting on makeup, whether it’s the wetness of mascara on the eyelids or the tackiness of certain matte applicators. Translating those to audible sounds is what makes my job hard, and more often times I have to “cheat” the sound by creating something over the top that better represents the experience. In the end, if I do my job right, you won’t even realize we did anything at all.
FF: How does using makeup affect the way you see yourself?
JF: I find it pretty fundamental to my being. Makeup was always one of those things growing up that I had to love and practice in secret. As an out transwoman, it’s empowering and essential for me to be proudly femme and bare my makeup in all of its glory. Although i’ll be real, most of the time, all I need is a bit of lipstick and maybe some eyeliner. It’s pretty amazing to see myself in the mirror and say “yep, that’s finally me staring back at me”.
FF: What are you planning for your Emmy Awards beauty look?
JF: My girlfriends and I were debating a few things. I’m wearing a blue Vera Wang chiffon gown with guipure lace trim in a deep blue, with silver and blue accessories. My earrings are of the dangling variety. As a person of East Asian descent, my skin tone doesn’t give me too much color latitude especially with such glamorous earrings and such specific color dress. With the added jewelry, I have to focus on either having exquisite lips or elaborate eyes. Lipstick is my signature makeup of choice, so the debate is tough. I’m hiring professional makeup artist Quendie Joy to help sort the options with me. At this point in time, I’m thinking a deep matte plum lipstick that doesn’t necessarily match the shade of the dress (that’d be just a touch strange if it did), and simple smokey eyes. My hair will be up. In a lot of ways, the entire look is an embrace to my round face shape.
FF: What are your thoughts as you approach your big red carpet moment?
JF: I’m mostly nervous. On one hand, I hope my sound team wins and we go home with an Emmy. However, that’s asking for a lot when we’ve already done something incredible. I never got to go to prom as a woman, so this is in a lot of ways, my big debut to the world as Joanna Fang. I’m one of the very few transgender people working in the film-sound industry. I like to hope that by being out and proud, confident and strong, I can help prove that it’s possible to have your career and be true to oneself. I am proof that transfolks exist in nearly every facet of the world, whether in front of the camera or behind it. I think Sarah McBride said it best as the DNC this year, one’s dreams and identity do not need to be mutually exclusive.
Be sure to check out the documentary Cartel Land on Netflix as well as tune in to the 2016 Emmy Awards on September 18 to cheer on Joanna and her team.
Melanie Schnell, Contributing Editor