Hunter Schafer on the Intersection of Art and Activism


Chloe Hall

Article Header Image by Hunter Schafer published on

“Making work in order to get the oppressors to humanize you is kind of sad when you think about it,” shared Hunter Schafer this Wednesday night. When describing her perspective on queer liberation playing out in front of mainstream audiences during a time of rising codified political transphobia and homophobia, she said, “It doesn’t inspire me trying to convince people [that] you deserve human rights. I don’t want to make work for those people.”

Schafer, an actor, producer, and writer for the Emmy-award winning HBO show Euphoria, model, and LGBTQ activist, spoke with Vanderbilt Professor of Cinema & Media Arts Iggy Cortez, who specializes in Queer Theory, at the IMPACT Speaker Symposium on March 30th. 

Cortez opened the discussion by asking about the cultural influences in Schafer’s upbringing. She was a “comic book nerd” and internet culture guinea pig from the start. Comics inspired her early love for art, illustration, and storytelling; Schafer wanted to be a comic book illustrator since the “earliest I can remember.” Her interest in the costume transitioned into her love of fashion moving into high school. 

On her hometown of Raleigh, N.C., Schafer said, “Queer culture isn’t right outside your door when you walk outside,” so the internet provided a space to see people “experiencing the same feelings and shifts in identity that I wasn’t finding at school or in my neighborhood or in my church.” At the same time, Schafer got her start in art and modeling in large part because of Instagram, which connected her to Rookie, an online magazine run and written by teenagers, where she published her illustrations and comics. 

Rookie was also a place to discover and explore Schafer’s relationship with fashion, which was “one of the more accessible ways to experiment with the otherwise very rigid role I was assigned as a trans person.” This experimentation included stealing her sister’s dresses, which is “is still, to this day, one of the most powerful experiences with clothing I’ve ever had.”

Schafer also described her early connection to the fashion industry: “Even though the clothes they wear in Vogue [are] not accessible in North Carolina, Goodwill is!” This remixing and reworking of popular culture is still the vision Schafer hopes to follow. Her own fashion goal is for it to give “a bubbly feeling inside” and find “some kind of parallel of how you feel on inside and how you look outside,”

Schafer’s modeling connections are what got her connected with the Euphoria audition, landing the part of Jules Vaughn, a trans character in the series. Schafer spoke to the level of responsibility she felt playing this character, saying, “Everyone can hate the show but if trans people didn’t mess with it then that would have sent me.” 

Schafer acknowledged that Jules, as a character drawn from her own life experience, shows a privileged experience of being trans that’s protected by whiteness, but it is her own truthful experience. “It’s not my fault I feel the pressure to represent an entire community because we have so little trans representation,” she said. “That’s what we have to change and what motivates me to keep making stuff.”

Of the content she’s already made, Schafer worked with Euphoria’s creator Sam Levinson to write, direct, produce, and star in a special episode of the series during the pandemic that delves into the spiritual and amorphous experience of being transgender. Schafer also described her goal as to “show how rich Jules’ interior world is” since it represented to her how “trans people are good at creating interior worlds and livelihoods until we are able to bring them out as a survival tactic.” 

Schafer expressed frustration with the media rounds after the show’s season one release.  She said the press asked “basic cis people questions” about a complex trans character,” such as being pushed to label Jules’ sexuality. In Schafer’s own experience of trying to adhere to labels, she says they are just “helpful in terms of oppressing people,” which was part of the conversation she wanted to put on a larger platform.

Responding to audience questions, Schafer stated that the process of writing, acting, and producing have each informed each other, but that producing and directing “feels more down my lane.” Before Schafer commits to an acting career, she wants “more of the dolls in Hollywood before focusing on snatching all the roles I can get.”

Now, the Euphoria star lives as one of the top dolls in Hollywood, with her platform and audience ever-growing since the start of her Rookie comic days. Vanderbilt, along with the rest of the world, is waiting with bated breath to see what Schafer will do next.