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'Matrix' Director Lana Wachowski on Trump and the 'Power of a Crisis'

The elusive filmmaker spoke with NBC News at a fundraising dinner for New York's LGBT Center on Thursday.
Image: Hillary Clinton Receives Trailblazer Award From LGBT Center In NYC
Film director Lana Wachowski speaks at an LGBT Center event on April 20, 2017 in New York.Drew Angerer / Getty Images

Film director Lana Wachowski is notoriously press-shy: She and her sister Lilly make few public appearances and give few interviews.

But on Thursday, the co-creator of "The Matrix" and "Sense8" spoke with NBC News about concerns that the Trump administration is devolving years of hard-won civil rights progress.

"It’s despicable. You hope that the majority of America has moved beyond a lot of this kind of hate and disrespect and fear of otherness," Wachowski said. "He just keeps trying to pull us back towards those things."

Film director Lana Wachowski speaks at an LGBT Center event on April 20, 2017 in New York.Drew Angerer / Getty Images

When asked what she thought of Trump's first 100 days in office, Wachowski riffed on the president's campaign slogan, "Make America Great Again."

"It doesn’t feel like it’s the best America, or a version of a great America," Wachowski said. "It sounds like the opposite of greatness."

The director, who became the most prominent transgender woman in Hollywood when she publicly came out for the 2012 premiere of her film "Cloud Atlas," was in New York Thursday to attend a fundraising dinner for the city's LGBTQ community center.

Onstage at Cipriani on Wall Street, Wachowski presented fashion designer Marc Jacobs with the center's Visionary award. Later in the night, Arianna Huffington presented an award to Hillary Clinton— who gave a speech warning that LGBTQ rights are threatened under Trump.

Jacobs was visibly moved to tears by Wachowski's introductory speech, in which she thanked him for "fairy godmother-ing" her gender transition in the early aughts (rumors of Wachowski's transition hit the press in 2003, nearly 10 years before she made an official public appearance).

But Wachowski also spoke about her own journey, revealing that she first noticed she was "different" in elementary school, where her second grade teacher quietly offered support.

"It was lunchtime, and she was tying girls’ hair into pigtails. She noticed me staring, probably as mournfully as our dog stares at us eating buttered toast," Wachowski remembered.

"To my surprise, she asked me if I wanted pigtails too," Wachowski said. "For this very small kindness, for an afternoon with pigtails, I will forever be grateful to Miss Colleary. It was one of the last afternoons that I truly felt like I was myself in school."

The filmmaker also revealed painful details of her coming-out years, when the simple act of shopping for clothes suddenly became "something resembling the Donner Party on the deck of the Titanic."

"Mirrors can be tough for all of us," Wachowski said, "but for trans people, they can be brutal."

Outside the event, Wachowski stood with Jacobs on the Cipriani steps to speak with NBC News. When the pair was asked whether they had any hope for the Trump administration, Jacobs chimed in to say, "For this administration? No. But...out of emergency, comes emerge."

The designer explained that he was paraphrasing Rebecca Solnit, the author whose 2004 book "Hope in the Dark" sold out in the days after the election. In the book, Solnit wrote, “Inside the word 'emergency' is 'emerge'; from an emergency new things come forth. The old certainties are crumbling fast, but danger and possibility are sisters.”

That's the kind of transformation, political and civic, that Wachowski said is possible now — and a beacon of hope to cling to for the near future.

"Rebecca Solnit, she’s a source of hope. She reminds us that often it’s in the worst crisis that things move forward," said Wachowski. "You go to a show like Art AIDS America, and you realize — we were just talking about it in the car — the galvanizing power of a crisis."

Wachowski became impassioned as she revealed that many of her friends have become "really actively politicized" in the months since the election.

"This is what our democracy has been lacking," Wachowski said of the recent surge in civic engagement. "That could be the greatest gift any administration could give, like a charged, informed populace. This could be amazing for us."

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