By Laurel Busby
A year ago, Britt Alphson, a feminist and Marymount High School student, created a gender-switching script to help explain sexism to boys.
“I thought, ‘Maybe if I put it in their perspective . . . then maybe they’d understand what women go through and why they are feminists,’” Alphson, now 17, said. So she wrote a five-minute screenplay, Sucker-punch Sexism, for her film class focused on a male high school student who struggles to understand why boys are deemed loud or opinionated when they express their opinions, why they get called “sluts” when girls don’t, and why they are mocked as “meninists” for standing up for themselves.
Alphson, who is also a soccer coach with her twin sister and fellow creative spirit, Kristiane, liked the result, which she also made into a short movie. She decided to submit the screenplay to a writing contest, the National Scholastic Art and Writing Awards. Regionally, she won a gold key and moved onto the national awards, where she won a silver medal, and also earned inclusion in the book The Best Teen Writing of 2016.
Earning the kudos gave Alphson “a really incredible feeling; it took me by surprise,” she said. “I think it really validates a teenager’s work, when it’s recognized at any kind of level. Just to know that a board of established people were resonating with what you had to say means a lot.”
Alphson and other winners were honored in Washington, D.C., at the opening reception of Art.Write.Now, an event conducted in partnership with the U.S. Department of Education and the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities.
For Alphson, who plans to study filmmaking and screenwriting in college, the entire experience with Suckerpunch Sexism has been enriching. She met and befriended other young writers, including one who writes occasionally for the New York Times. She had also never directed something she had written, and she found that she was a stronger, more passionate director when she worked from her own screenplay. In addition, she felt more satisfied writing this piece because it was meaningful to her.
“I’ve written a few screenplays in the past, but I didn’t feel like there was anything substantial behind them,” said Alphson, who also writes for her school newspaper. “This screenplay felt like it could make a difference with the people who read it. It had a pointed political message. It wasn’t just fluff.”
Her sister, Kristiane, is also a creative person, who chooses music as her main venue to express herself. She sings and plays both piano and guitar, and she is currently going through the audition process for her college applications while also recording her first EP, which she hopes to finish by February.
The two girls lived in Pacific Palisades with their parents, Lisa Up de Graff and John Alphson.
“I’m producing myself in my laundry room,” Kristiane said. “I bought a cheap mic and a pop filter to block noises.” She has already created a few home recordings and released seven of them on soundcloud.com, where one warm, evocative cover of a Coldplay song has earned her more than 1,110 listens. Her songwriting is also featured on a few of the songs, including her newest release, “I’m Not Her.”
Together the two sisters share a longstanding interest in soccer. Both played for about a decade, including time on both AYSO and highly competitive club teams. After they tired of playing, the two still wanted to stay connected to soccer, so two years ago, when they were 15, they chose to coach their own AYSO team of six-year-old girls.
The experience was overwhelming at first, but it was also liberating as it was so different than the stresses of being a serious sophomore in high school. “That first year was my favorite,” Kristiane said. “It was fun to be really immature and silly with a bunch of really cute girls.”
Each year since then, the two have taken the reins of a new team. They’ve learned how to put aside personal differences while coaching, become less shy and figured out how “to act as a coach and not just the helper teenager,” Kristiane said.
She added that four of the friendships she formed when she was a youngster playing soccer have stayed with her, and she hopes to help her team members develop similar bonds. “We teach basic skills, but most importantly it’s the importance of working together and camaraderie,” Kristiane said. “We try to facilitate those friendships as much as possible.”