Oakland Tech senior Madds Dittmer (right, with Alex Mayr) wrote, directed and acts in an episode of a miniseries that will premiere May 19 on YouTube. (Photo/Ari Arroyo)
Oakland Tech senior Madds Dittmer (right, with Alex Mayr) wrote, directed and acts in an episode of a miniseries that will premiere May 19 on YouTube. (Photo/Ari Arroyo)

Trans Jewish teen from Oakland puts their reality on film

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“Does it ever scare you how close you feel to someone?”

This question is posed to Rudy, a trans, Jewish teenager by his best friend in the opening scene of “StarCrossed,” the third episode in a four-part miniseries written and directed entirely by Oakland high school students.

“StarCrossed” tells the story of Rudy and Eden, friends in their junior year of high school. Though close, the two are very different. Rudy is open about his identity while Eden, who was raised Christian and conservative, has not yet come to terms with the romantic feelings she has for Rudy.

Madds Dittmer, the Oakland Tech senior who served as writer, director and co-star of “StarCrossed,” said they wrote the episode in an effort to help others feel seen.

“It tells their story and how shame can impact you so deeply,” Dittmer, 18, said.

“StarCrossed” is part of the miniseries “There’s Nothing Left for You,” which was created by students in conjunction with Youth Beat, an Oakland-based after-school program that provides digital media training to young people from low-income neighborhoods.

Working with Dittmer on the project are Alonso Bernal Baltazar, Lindsay Hoang, Sofia Reyes and Spencer Smith, all seniors in Oakland’s public school system. Students or pairs of students took creative control of one episode covering a year of high school.

“Each different year of high school comes with new fears,” Dittmer said. “Those fears and experiences are personified in a sci-fi way.”

“StarCrossed” features characters in their senior year. Though Rudy is Jewish, it is not the biggest part of their identity — an intentional choice, said Dittmer, who plays the character. Dittmer used to attend synagogue but now observes Shabbat and holidays at home, and they wanted the script to reflect their own experience.

“I thought it would be valuable to have someone Jewish and not have to prove it,” Dittmer said.

“StarCrossed,” which will premiere on Youth Beat’s YouTube channel on May 19, also addresses issues of antisemitism and transphobia. Dittmer has experience with both, they said, having attended a Catholic elementary and middle school as a Jewish and transmasculine person. (Transmasculine, or transmasc, is an umbrella term used in the queer community to describe a transgender person whose gender expression is masculine, but who does not necessarily identify as male.)

“I don’t know a single other Jewish transmasc person, and that was an experience I really wanted to cover,” said Dittmer, who plays Rudy. “I think there is an importance in having your actor actually represent what you’re trying to represent.”

Dittmer has been interested in film for years. At 11, they wanted to be an actor and even recorded an audition for the Netflix show “Stranger Things.”

When entering high school, Dittmer was introduced by Youth Beat to the production side of filmmaking, and was hooked. Youth Beat provides the resources, and the rest is up to the students.

“It’s pretty much like we get there, and they’re like, ‘Go make something good,’” Dittmer said.

The idea for the miniseries came from Narce Guinto, a filmmaker and Youth Beat teacher who themselves participated in the program in high school.

Guinto wanted to bring together students who had been with the program the longest to create a multi-episode project from beginning to end. “I came in with the simple prompt of it’s set in a high school and weird things are happening,” Guinto said. “The students ran with it.”

Over the last four years at Youth Beat, Guinto has watched Dittmer grow as both a person and an artist, they said. “They have fully come into their own. They have their own unique style as a filmmaker and person,” Guinto said.

Like many of their Gen Z peers, Dittmer creates videos on TikTok (@diet.cok3), where they have over 30,000 followers, though they wouldn’t call themselves an influencer. They use the platform to document their life, and also to promote their Youth Beat film projects and stand-up comedy.

“I use it to express myself,” Dittmer said about TikTok. “It’s nice having people watch my silly videos, but if I could redirect them into things I’m actually proud of, that’s what I like doing.”

In the fall, Dittmer plans to study film at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York. They hope to keep writing. The experience of creating “There’s Nothing Left for You” has been transformative, they said, adding that “it’s cathartic to write about what you’re going through.”

Lillian Ilsley-Greene
Lillian Ilsley-Greene

Lillian Ilsley-Greene was a staff writer at J. from 2022-2023.