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Josie Totah Is Committed To Making 'Saved By The Bell' Reboot A Win For Inclusive TV

·4-min read

As she returns to the halls of Bayside High, Josie Totah hopes that laughter will prove yet again to be the best medicine.

The actor can currently be seen in Peacock’s “Saved by the Bell” reboot, which features a cast of young newcomers alongside stars from the original. She plays Lexi Haddad-DeFabrizio, a popular cheerleader and Bayside High’s brassy queen bee.

Totah plays Lexi like a direct descendant of Cher Horowitz in “Clueless” or Regina George in “Mean Girls”— the only difference is that she’s transgender. The 20-year-old has said she hopes to “normalize acceptance of the trans community” through her performance. For Season 2, which premiered last week, that meant emphasizing plotlines that don’t revolve solely around Lexi’s gender identity.

Midway through the 10-episode season, the show tackles the national discourse about whether trans athletes should be allowed to play on teams that align with their gender identity. Lexi reacts as only Lexi can: by staging a school musical to cure transphobia “like ‘Hamilton’ ended racism” and lip-syncing to Kim Petras.

“You get to really see Lexi’s morality come to life,” said Totah, who also counts “Glee,” “Champions” and “Moxie” among her Hollywood credits. “You get to see her get more in touch with her sensitive side. I think that’s funny to watch, given that she’s a psychotic human being who usually doesn’t delve into those areas of her life.”

In a chat with HuffPost, Totah shared her hopes for Season 2, her transgender role models and where she’d like to take Lexi and her classmates next.

Season 2 addresses COVID-19 pretty head-on, but it also steers clear of having characters wear masks or take visible social distancing measures. What was the on-set discussion about that?

We touch on it for four minutes, and then we move on — which I think is nice, because it’s not shoving the pandemic back in your face but rather recognizing it as part of our world. Our show is so self-aware, and I feel like if we didn’t recognize it, we wouldn’t be maintaining the relationship we’ve built with our audience so beautifully. But it also generates stories, specifically with Lexi’s journey and her relationship with her boyfriend Jamie Spano (Belmont Cameli). It’s a fun device.

Jaime Spano (Belmont Cameli) and Lexi Haddad-DeFabrizio (Josie Totah) share an intimate moment on Peacock's
Jaime Spano (Belmont Cameli) and Lexi Haddad-DeFabrizio (Josie Totah) share an intimate moment on Peacock's

In the fifth episode, “From Curse to Worse,” we see Lexi reject being tokenized as a transgender student in her school, and learn an important lesson along the way. What did this storyline mean to you?

It’s a beautiful story that I think people can really learn from in a way that’s not hitting them over the head. I was really privileged that I got to sit in the writers’ room that week and help them come up with a story that would really explore that, and I think we did a great job. Everything that comes out of my mouth in that episode … was golden to be able to say. And I just love it.

You’re also a producer on the series. In what ways do you think the show, and specifically the character of Lexi, have benefited from your behind-the-scenes perspective?

I love that our show is committed to diversity — authentic diversity both behind the camera and in front of it. We have an incredible staff of people from different backgrounds, races and gender identities. I think that’s awesome and I’m so proud. So I’m just honored that I get to contribute to that authenticity and be a sounding board for my character and other characters as well. I’m also the youngest producer on the crew, although Mario [Lopez] would probably like you to believe that he’s younger than me (laughs).

Do you have a favorite Season 2 episode?

I’m really proud of Episode 7, “La Guerra de Aisha,” in which Aisha (Alycia Pascual-Peña) confronts her Spanish teacher because the Spanish that’s being taught is a whitewashed version that doesn’t allow native Spanish speakers to thrive. It’s a very real issue and I think it’s done beautifully, and Alycia is one of the most talented people I’ve ever met. She’s my best friend in the entire world and getting to see her shine, as the Dominican queen that she is, just made me so happy.

What do you see as the biggest hurdle toward achieving true parity for transgender people in Hollywood?

I just think we need more trans storytellers. We need more trans producers. We need more trans executives. It needs to start from the top down. In order to have authentic representation, it needs to be three-dimensional. I’m so excited to see people like Janet Mock, like Hunter Schafer, take control of their own journeys.

Looking on from Season 2, what do you hope to explore through Lexi that you didn’t get to do this time around?

Cabo — I think she should go to Cabo. Actually, I think we should all go to Cabo. Or Paris.

Season 2 of “Saved by the Bell” is now streaming on Peacock.

This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.


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