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Saved by the Bell star Josie Totah agreed to play show’s first trans character on one crucial condition

Reiss Smith November 26, 2020
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Three high schoolers in a cafeteria in Saved by the Bell

Josie Totah is the star of the new Saved by the Bell. (Peacock)

Josie Totah agreed to join the new Saved by the Bell cast on one condition: that she was given a voice behind the scenes.

The Saved by the Bell reboot landed on streaming service Peacock Wednesday (25 November), 27 years after the original series ended.

Along with the original cast, the new series introduces a new generation of Bayside High kids, including Totah’s character Lexi – a mean girl cheerleader with a sharp tongue and an even sharper wit, who is also the franchise’s first transgender character.

“Lexi is this mean, fun, aspirational, fantastical character that also happens to be transgender — but it [isn’t] everything about her,” Josie Totah, who is also trans told Teen Vogue.

“That was really important to me and the people that I talked to in the trans community because so much of the trans representation in [media] has to do with struggle … and that’s only when it’s done in favour of trans people, [most] of the time [the media] perpetuates the negative stigmas and stereotypes that create the erasure of trans people in our world.”

Early reviews have singled out Totah as the breakout star out of the show. This is no doubt down to the fact that she worked tirelessly behind the scenes to make her character truly three-dimensional.

“It had become clear to me that I wasn’t going to participate in a show that depicted a trans character as one of the leads but didn’t have the representation in the writers’ room or on the producing team,” she explained.

“It didn’t feel just to me.”

Before accepting the role of Lexi, Josie Totah told Saved by the Bell showrunner Tracy Wigfield that she would only come on board if she was also given a producer credit.

“She was so accepting and supportive of that idea and she really pushed the studio for me to get to have that role,” she recalled.

Who is Josie Totah? Trans actor is the star of the new Saved by the Bell.

Born in 2001 (eight years after the original Saved by the Bell went off-air), Josie Totah has been acting since her early teens.

Best-known for appearing in series including the Disney Channel’s Jessie, Glee and Champions, she came out as trans in 2018 in a powerful op-ed.

“When my friends and family call me Josie, it feels like I’m being seen,” she wrote in Timeaged 17.

Josie Totah with two other Saved by the Bell characters standing at the front of a crowd
Josie Totah plays Lexi, a mean girl cheerleader who just happens to be trans. (Peacock)

“It’s something everyone wants, to feel understood. And, as a semi-religious person who went to Catholic school, I have come to believe that God made me transgender.

“I don’t feel like I was put in the wrong body. I don’t feel like there was a mistake made. I believe that I am transgender to help people understand differences. It allows me to gain perspective, to be more accepting of others, because I know what it feels like to know you’re not like everyone else.”

Totah added that when she was on Glee (she played a child prodigy who joined the show choir in season six), she would stand and watch Lea Michele.

“She was fabulous. And it was fun to see her and the other girls wear dresses and put on lavish musical numbers. But it was also hard, because I wanted that to be me. It’s a feeling I’ve experienced in nearly every project I’ve worked on.”

Now, Totah is making that wish come true. She told Teen Vogue working on Saved by the Bell was “the most fun I’ve ever had wearing clothes in my life”, with every day “full-on glam”.

But more than that, the 19-year-old is proud to be bringing layered, authentic trans representation to a major new series.

“Getting to play this multidimensional character and actually get to serve as a producer, to the point where I had a say in her layers, was a super cool opportunity,” she added.

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