Student Spotlight

Perez hopes to bring gender equality and capture untold stories

As an aspiring film director, Amairani Perez Chamu made a deliberate choice to enroll in the American studies program at Oklahoma State University — Tulsa.

“It is really about society, culture, politics; the backbone of America,” said Perez, an immigrant from Mexico who was recently named one of 15 Outstanding Seniors by the OSU Alumni Association. “I thought it would be a good degree option in learning about what makes America, America.”

Perez has always been interested in theater. When she had the chance to direct a scene, the finished outcome inspired her to look at acting from a different view and film became her passion.

“I’m a very visual learner,” she said. “That stimulus of seeing things and being like, ‘This would look good on screen’ and the stories and the narratives. I want to do something that matters to me and could matter to other people too.”

Perez’s undergraduate thesis research is about equal opportunities for women in the film industry. She believes it was hypocritical when Lucasfilm executives said they were struggling to find female directors for “Star Wars” with the proper experience. 

“Women aren’t given the same opportunity or experience,” Perez said. “When I heard that from Lucasfilm, that drove me to want to help women and make films about women, especially the stories that we haven’t seen.”

With both parents in the medical field, Perez found it challenging to explain her passion to her family.

“It’s not that they don’t value what I want to do,” she said. “It was just that they don’t have the same appreciation of film as I do, but they are very supportive.”

Perez plans on working on some personal projects over the next couple of years after graduation before applying to fellowships such as the Sundance Ignite Fellowship and the Tulsa Artist Fellowship that’d allow her to create her first film, “Daughter of the Desert.” 

“I feel like it’d be a route to so many exposures,” Perez said. “I’m passionate about my projects, and I think I have a good chance at getting these fellowships.”

Inspired by the many untold stories of immigrants, Perez wants her film to showcase the stories about what really happens on the journey to a better life and why so many people do it.

“I feel like some people don’t understand why people would risk their lives or put their children in danger,” she said. “The need and vision of a better future for your kids is so strong that you’re willing to risk it all.”

The American studies outstanding senior honoree encourages other aspiring directors to chase their dream.

“Don’t wait for somebody to tell you that you’re good at something,” Perez said. “Don’t wait for somebody to approach you. If you feel passionate about something, just go out and do it!”

She added, “For me, school has been a big sense of freedom. Just understanding the worldviews that are not the ones you grew up with and growing from there, I’m able to work on my projects and go out there to find opportunities.”

Perez works as a field coordinator for Unidos at OSU-Tulsa. The program brings parents, youth and community together to help Latino youth succeed in high school and pursue higher education.

She is also the vice president of DREAM Act Oklahoma-Tulsa, a youth-led coalition that is an official affiliate with United We DREAM. The human rights program advocates for the rights of Hispanic groups within the community.