Lily Ahree Siegel is a film student at the Rhode Island School of Design. She is also a Jewish, Korean-American, physically disabled adoptee who grew up in the American South. In an age where the concept of intersectionality (a social system in which the interconnected nature of social categorisations such as race, class, and gender overlap creating independent systems of discrimination or oppression) has become a hot-button topic, Siegel decided to use her final semester to turn her personal coming-of-age journey into a documentary that touches on her experiences with these matters.
Written, filmed and narrated by Siegel, Letters From a Birmingham Girl is a charming and moving autobiographical short that explores her identity and family ties. Born in Korea with syndactyly – a congenital malformation of the limbs – she was adopted by a white couple from Alabama while still an infant. The documentary touches on her adoptive father’s terminal illness, as well as her relationships with her adoptive mother and sister, and her subsequent connecting with her birth family. It also explores some of the lessons Siegel learned as a minority with numerous identities growing up in small town America.
“I think it’s a very important time to talk about intersectionality within film and media,” explained Siegel. “I’m building on ideas I have been exploring throughout my college film work: family relationships, intersectionality of identity, belonging and transition.”
“It’s always been important to represent the minority, but during this point of American history, it’s especially relevant… so how are we supposed to empower ourselves? How does one speak out for themselves and let their message be heard? I believe this story has the power to do that.”
Letters From a Birmingham Girl forms part of Siegel’s final year thesis project at RISD where she is majoring in film, animation and video. She is currently running a crowdfunding campaign at Indiegogo (which concludes in less than two weeks) to raise funds to complete the documentary in time for RISD’s spring senior film festival.