When scouting reports said that Melissa Johnson ’00 had a good shot, they weren’t just talking about her jumper.
Johnson, a former Harvard women’s basketball captain, debuted her new film, “No Look Pass,” at the Outfest Film Festival in July of this year. The story revolves around Emily Tay ’09, another former Crimson basketball captain whose story revolves around the crossing of racial, cultural, and social boundaries in order to achieve the simple goal of attaining personal happiness.
In addition to her in-season battles against Dartmouth, Yale, and the rest of the Ancient Eight, Tay had to fight against the homophobia that was ever-present in her strict Burmese home life. Though she wasn’t able to come out to her parents, Tay quickly found the support of her teammates at Harvard.
“Emily came out to our team her sophomore year,” explained Katie Rollins, a former Crimson basketball player and Tay’s closest friend. “She came out to me freshman year, a couple of months into college. So, when the film was being shot, they knew she was gay. Our teammates were so supportive of her, it was great.”
Tay’s coach at Harvard, current women’s basketball coach Kathy Delaney-Smith, remembered the meeting when Emily came out to both her teammates and coaching staff.
“It had no effect on anything whatsoever, which I’m very proud of,” Delaney-Smith said. “It was kind of like ‘Yeah, so? What else?’ It was a non-factor, other than probably Emily had some difficulty with it, mainly based on that culture that we live in and the culture of her parents.”
For Johnson, one of the most important aspects of the filming process was capturing Tay’s life in a relatable way.
She aimed to create a union between the viewers and the athlete. In a way, the documentary seeks to break down the same barriers as Tay has.
“I wanted the film to tell the story about these emotional things, but with a sense of reverie and humor that [could] make it feel relatable to people,” Johnson said. “I’ve said before, you don’t have to be gay, you don’t have to be Burmese, and you don’t have to be a basketball player to understand what Emily is going through, to understand what it means to say that ‘I love my parents, but they really just don’t get me.’”
One of the biggest boundaries for Tay to break was her innate shyness. At her Los Angeles high school, Marlborough School, it was her reserved nature that immediately stood out.
“She was definitely quiet when she first came to Marlborough,” high school teammate Shaina Zaidi said. “At first, it was only her play on the court that we knew. But when she got more comfortable, her leadership really flourished, and she definitely stepped into her role. By the time the upperclassmen left and she was captain, she was leading the team. Whenever I would come back and watch their games, I could see her leadership.”
It was a similar story when Tay came to Harvard. Despite the growth in her leadership, she still remained reserved.
“She was a little non-traditional in that for such a great player, she didn’t have a lot of confidence,” Delaney-Smith explained. “I would say that was the unique part of Emily. We probably spent four years working on her confidence.”
With a shy demeanor, starring in a film does not seem like an obvious choice.
But “No Look Pass” is largely about Tay’s journey of coming to terms with herself and the different situations that she faced.