Two-Spirit and queer writer W.A.W. Parker’s (Northern Cheyenne) short film “The Roof,” starring Phoenix Wilson and Wes Studi, has been released in the second season of Disney+’s Launchpad series, a collection of live-action shorts from BIPOC writers and directors. The short film centers around a Two-Spirit youth (Wilson) who goes to stay with their grandfather (Studi), eventually learning more about their grandmother’s identity and finding a new way to connect to their community.
Parker traces their love of film back to movies like Amadeus and West Side Story, remembering how they wanted to create stories with expansive worlds and dynamic characters. They began writing screenplays focusing on queer historical figures, and eventually, they delved into novels, including their books “The Divine Proportions of Luca Pacioli” and “The Wasteland.”
The story of “The Roof” comes from a difficult period of Parker’s life when their grandfather suffered a health crisis. “At intermittent points, just like my brothers, sisters, and cousins, I’d get sent to stay with him for different periods of time. I wrote this while I was visiting him after he had a stroke. He was 93 years old…I wrote this in the mindset that this may be my last time with him; what do I really want to say to him, and what do I wish he’d say to me.”
Parker wasn’t introduced to the term Two-Spirit until much later in life, and they recalled how their grandfather had felt uncomfortable speaking about his experiences when it came to boarding school. All of these unspoken conversations fueled some of the central themes present in “The Roof,” culminating in the heartfelt journey we witness between the two main characters.
Back in 2021, Disney put out an open call for scripts for their Launchpad series, and realizing the impact this story could have for other Two-Spirit people, Parker decided to submit their script. Once it was accepted, the film was slated for the second season of the series, completed filming in August of last year, and released this September.
The highlights of the film are the performances from Phoenix Wilson and Wes Studi, who expertly capture and portray the emotions of their characters in situations that many Indigenous viewers can relate to. “Phoenix is such an incredible actor and wonderful person who delivered such a delicate and powerful performance that really gave me goosebumps. Phoenix had a wonderful connection to the character as well, not just being Native or Two-Spirit, but also told me this relationship with the grandfather was their relationship with their grandfather as well.”
Phoenix and their mom, Marty Wilson-Trudeau, even wrote a book, “Phoenix Gets Greater,” about the experience of growing up in a loving and supporting Native household.
Parker recalled how they had essentially written the part of the grandfather for Wes Studi. “He’s such an amazing actor who doesn’t get enough opportunities to show how layered he can be, especially when it comes to comedy…for him, it was about the story and showing up to support the Two-Spirit community.”
A story such as this featured on a platform with as wide an audience as Disney+ is yet another hopeful change for the future of Indigenous involvement and storytelling in mainstream media. Parker is particularly excited for their film to be shared with their community and to provide representation that has so long been ignored; “To me, it’s wonderful because I hope it connects with the audience that I want to see it…So far, I’ve just been blown away with the overwhelming positive response, and I’m so glad that so many Two-Spirit people get to see my friends, L. Frank, Landa Lakes, Buffalo Barbie, and John Sneezy on the screen so they can feel a part of this as well.”
You can learn more about and follow W.A.W. Parker on Instagram @wawparker