A few weeks ago we talked to you about The Emoji History, a documentary that tells us about the origin of something we use every day. We had a chance to chat with the film’s producer, Jennifer 8. Lee and she told us many curiosities about her experience and what the struggle for inclusion is like so that everyone can feel represented in an emoji.
Here we go!
The idea of this documentary-style film is really novel and innovative. That is, we use emojis every day but we never stop to think about what is behind them. So we wanted to ask Jennifer how she came up with the idea for this movie. And it was like the best things in life: unexpectedly. Just read …
“I was in a car with a friend and she was eating a dumpling. Dumplings are just like universal food, like every culture has its dumpling with empanadas and ravioli and Brookie. And what happened then was a couple of minutes later she designed this dumpling emoji. It’s like showed up on my phone. She had hand drawn. And it just made me really curious where emojis came from, because emoji are universal, dumplings are universal. And so it just felt like the system was broken. So I started looking into Unicode,which is an organization that oversees emoji.
And through that, I had already recently done a documentary about a General Tso’s chicken with a director named Ian Cheney, so I texted him and said, how do you feel about doing a documentary on a movie? And he was like, “sounds great”. And that is how we started. So was partially my attorney trying to figure out the story of how Moja created and then documenting that journey, as you know, with that like a team. So at that time, it in tandem kind of worked with our efforts in fighting for more inclusive and representative emerging, like we actually have an organization called Imagination whose models emerged by the people, for the people. And, you know, and then a lot of the people that we work with in the documentary actually, you know, are kind of guided in part by imagination”.Jennifer 8. Lee.
One of the things that surprised us the most about this documentary is the struggle and strength of women who belong to a minority to have an emoji that could represent them, that would represent them all. So we wanted to know what surprised Jennifer the most about making this movie. And this is what she answered us … we assure you that you will love it.
“That’s an interesting question. I mean, it’s a tricky thing because I knew a lot of the stuff that was going into the movie thinking we interviewed and we went through, what I’m really about not like surprised me, but something I was pleasantly,I was happy for, which is how much of the world our documentary touched. Like you touched Japan because that there were obviously in the United States, you know, this a Saudi Arabian girl lives in Europe. We have a Latin American angle. So I really like the fact that it emphasizes that emoji were a global phenomenon.
The other thing, I also think that I was born in a different way, which is when there were things that I hope that we can nail in terms of like takeaways for the audience, because it’s a documentary. Your storytelling form is kind of limited to what you can capture on screen. So one of the ideas that I really wanted to emphasize is that there’s a whole generation of kids who can read and write emoji before they can read and write their native language.
And that’s very powerful because I think it influences how they see the world, which is all the more reason why we need to kind of think about, like how they see the world and what vocabulary that we’re offering up to them through the emergency keyboard. And this is one of the reasons that we fight for more inclusive and representative emoji. And that makes sense for both of us”.Jennifer 8. Lee.
Jennifer is the producer of this documentary and we were curious to know what this experience was like for her and if she enjoyed it. In her response, you can see the love she feels for her work and the passion that she puts into everything she does.
“It’s always tricky in a documentary, it’s very different from doing a feature film because you can raise your money along the way. You know, the thing that you’re simultaneously trying to do is trying to raise the money to make the project happen, trying to figure out what the story is. Because, you know, we knew we wanted to do something on energy, but we didn’t necessarily know when we started in 2015 what that would be. Actually what really kind of like I was going like this will make the documentary is that when we got the email through Unicode of the girl who advocated for the hijab emoji, like she just wrote in and said she would like a hijab emoji.
And I remember emailing her back and saying, look, where are you based? How old are you? And she said she was 15. And I was like, I got this isl this is going to be one of the main characters in our documentary. So I see the fact that she kind of showed up was a huge thing for us. And and that was like one of those great moments you have as a producer. You know, the other thing you’re doing as a producer is trying to like I had this kind of interesting role where I was both a producer and a documentary, but also very active in getting a budget passed. And I just always had an eye all the time actually making sure that, you know, the beats of the various stories or things that we could capture on camera”.Jennifer 8. Lee.
After the minority struggle brought us much more inclusive emojis, we wanted to know what Jennifer thought the future of emojis was and this is what she told us.
“I think this is the future. Rheumatiz is actually very much under debate right now in the Unicode Consortium. You know, there’s like a school of thought that it’s like, you know, you should try to. You know, get as many options and things represented through America, and we should just keep on moving until that world is populated. But there is also another world that says, you know, the thing that people use most are smiley faces, hearts and hand gestures. And if you just lean into the things that are most popular. So, you know, there’s also a debate about whether or not code, this non-profit organization that mostly has large US multinational tech companies as members, is the right governing body to be deciding like a local and visual curated language on behalf of everyone.
You have this kind of tension with making something a standard, but also making something universal. And I don’t know, the Unica wants to stay at the center. I think it inherited it because you don’t happen to be the standard setting organization for tax in terms of like getting Russian or Cyrillic in the Latin alphabet and Chinese and Arabic, all unifying but unifying a pre-existing language and making it sort of something that you can use that on computers is very different from like inventing Homogenise, as you know they happen, if that makes sense”.Jennifer 8. Lee.
We confess that we use emojis every day. Several times a day. We were very curious to see if Jennifer did the same. And we think you will like her answer…
“Yeah, I use emoji all the time with friends, you know, in Twitter and Instagram like you know the way that I tell someone that I’m awake in the morning as I send them a sun emoji or I used to work with one of my editors who would be working, working, working, and then he would be up for air. And so when he was up there, he would send that emoji of the flying dove. And that’s how you would signal to me about that. So, you know, all the things like if I’m tired and I’m in bed also on the bed emoji or sleeping emoji, I mean, it’s just… it’s great because if you only have a couple of emoji that your phone often makes them bigger. And there’s many times when I’m on the laptop was much harder to get an emoji that you I get very annoyed and I’m like, do I want this emoji enough to like to go through all of the keyboard commands to make it happen?”Jennifer 8. Lee.
Being such a multifaceted artist, we had to know what Jennifer’s dream job was in the industry. What was it she wanted to do, what she dreamed of. And of course we love her response and hopefully her dream comes true.
“Oh, I’m going to be really fun to be like a TV or movie producer. I mean, I’m doing an one hour documentaries and I’m also working on, like a scripted or fictional TV project. You know, I really like it just personally. What I do in my life is I run a company that has to do with writers. And our goal is to make writers write for a living to come up with this business model. So it’s kind of being able to make a difference in that world to help creative people make a living. Being creative is one of my goals”.Jennifer 8. Lee.
Continuing with this, the next question is a must, what is her next project? We’re going to follow her in everything she does and we were curious to know what she will be working on next, to keep track of her. You have to read what she told us.
“It’s an interesting question. Is it a secret? I’m not a multi-manager, but it isn’t a secret. I’m working on a documentary about it and I like basically it’s a documentary that play video games. And I’m helping to produce that and put that together and we’re playing for film festivals right now. You know, there’s Tribeca Film Festival has a new gaming section. So maybe we can be included as part of that. And hopefully it’ll get into one of the festivals. It is a very interesting year to do festivals. But this year and last year, last being 2020 it was the end of because you have so many film festivals having a physical presence in that physical buzz and it’s now different. And so the question is, what will people watch and see and how will they learn about these projects? So I’m very curious about what will happen this year with all of our film projects”.Jennifer 8. Lee.
After that, Jennifer told us a little more about her experience in this documentary and her vision of emojis. And we’re simply going to let you read it because we assure you that it’s worth it.
“We have this little group called Imagination and it’s emerging. I was interviewed by the people, for the people. And it’s going to bring more representative and inclusive emoji. And then I would say one surprising thing that happened along the way was that I was made a vice chair of the Unicode Movie Company. That makes sense. Yeah. So that is kind of like from like outside, you know, instigator to being inside. That really surprised me”.Jennifer 8. Lee.
And here ends our interview with Jennifer 8. Lee. You have to know that she is such a kind person. After our official interview ended, we ended up chatting about this movie and what it meant to her as if we were two old friends having virtual coffee together. It was a pleasure chatting with her because these are the kind of interviews that make you learn and exchange ideas and different points of view. That make you grow. Jennifer is wonderful and we hope you enjoyed the interview as much as we enjoyed doing it.