On Christmas Eve day in Tinseltown, trans sex-workers Sin-Dee Rella (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) and Alexandra (Mya Taylor) meet up at the local Donut Time shop. Alexandra reveals that while she was in prison, Sin-Dee’s pimp boyfriend Chester cheated on her with a “real fish” (cis-gender woman) named Dinah. Hilarity ensues as the two best friends embark on a trek across West Hollywood in search of Chester and Dinah … and vengeance.
This hilariously colourful and innovative film was huge hit at this year’s Sundance, Toronto and London Film Festivals, thanks in no small part to Tangerine’s wonderfully refreshing and distinctive approach to the transgender world.
The portrayal of transgender women by trans actors is something Director Sean Baker felt was especially important to capture the realism in his film. “If there are trans actors out there” he has said in interviews, “why not give them roles?” Real-life friends Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor signed onto the film with the reassurance that the humour would stay true to who they were, and that they could work with Baker to ensure the film emitted truth.
To celebrate Tangerine’s cinema release this Friday, FilmJuice steps back in time to look at groundbreaking films which have placed LGBT issues firmly in the spotlight. Why not share your own favourite with us on Twitter?
Longtime Companion (1989)
As one of the first films to ever take note of the AIDS epidemic, Longtime Companion was a revolutionary film for its time. Despite criticism for its focus on affluent white men, this film’s realistic approach towards the LGBT community’s struggle could not go unnoticed. Director Norman René took a bold step in his film’s portrayal of (mostly) gay friends in 1980s New York City, and how their relationships both blossom and struggle through the turmoil of disease and the emergence of AIDS. Longtime Companion was one of the first mainstream films to focus on the AIDS epidemic, and one of the first to portray gay men with such sensitivity and emotion. Its genuine, yet radical, content rings true to the struggles those with AIDS faced during the 1980s, marking this film as one of the most important films in LBGT cinema to date.
Paris Is Burning (1990)
This 1990 documentary directed by an NYU film student is nothing short of groundbreaking. Paris Is Burning focuses on the gay, transgender, African-American, and Latino drag culture in New York City that had never before been acknowledged. The documentary features “ball culture” in New York City, in which contestants are rated on their drag appearance, clothing, and dancing ability. Interspersed throughout the balls, Director Jennie Livingston incorporates interviews with many members of this community, focusing on their struggles with racism, poverty, and homophobia. These interviews discuss gender-reassignment surgery, prostitution, and AIDs, and were meant to open the world up to a culture that was unknown at the time. Livingston’s impressive work (she spent seven years compiling footage) depict the gender, class, and race struggles her subjects face in a “white world,” and bring to light LGBT concepts and issues the world had never before been exposed to. While the documentary brought about controversy, Livingston’s work is still admired more than twenty years later, as it was revolutionary in its focus on gay and trans communities.
Boys Don’t Cry (1999)
When 21-year-old trans-man Brandon Teena was raped and murdered by two male friends in 1993, his story made national news. The 1999 film Boys Don’t Cry portrayed the life of Brandon Teena (Hilary Swank), his relationship with his girlfriend Lena Tisdel (Chloë Sevigny), and his struggle to hide the fact that he was born a female, due to society’s lack of acceptance for trans-persons. Boys Don’t Cry is an exposé of the life and death of Brandon Teena, a tribute to a trans-man who struggled to find acceptance and live a normal life. This film raised awareness to the often brutal, problems trans-persons face in their everyday lives, and helped start the conversation on gender norms, sexuality – challenging people to re-examine and re-define society’s definition of “masculinity” and “femininity.” Boys Don’t Cry was radical in its approach to LGBT rights, using a real-life tragedy to both help open audiences’ eyes to bigotry and help promote LGBT equality through film and cinema.
Hedwig And The Angry Inch (2001)
Based off the hit Broadway musical of the same name, Hedwig And The Angry Inch tells the tale of Hansel, a punk-rocker in East Berlin who falls in love with an American soldier. In order to marry and leave East Germany, Hansel—now Hedwig—takes over his mother’s identity and suffers a botched sex-change operation, left with an “angry inch.” Several months later Hedwig is dumped by Luther, and abandoned in a Kansas trailer park when the Berlin Wall falls. Determined to move on, Hedwig begins a relationship with a much younger man named Tommy, and after collaborating on music together, he runs off with her songs. Hedwig and her band follow Tommy’s tour, forced to perform in coffee shops and restaurants while they struggle for a copyright lawsuit and Hedwig faces her complex gender identity issues. This film was dubbed the new “Rocky Horror Picture Show,” and received positive reviews for its emotional take on the struggles of its transsexual protagonist, delicately focusing on gender identity and sexual confusion. Nothing like Hedwig had ever been attempted before, and this punk-rock musical changed perspectives on LGBT issues.
Brokeback Mountain (2005)
Brokeback Mountain proved itself as a major success upon its release in 2005, after receiving eight Academy Awards nominations and winning three. Starring Jake Gyllenhaal as Jack Twist and Heath Ledger as Ennis Del Mar, the film chronicles a summer the two spend in the mountains of Wyoming herding sheep. It is there, after a night filled with too much whiskey, that Jack (Gyllenhaal) makes a sexual pass at Ennis (Ledger). Although deciding that it was a one-time affair, the two continue their romance throughout the remainder of the summer, and then go their separate ways. Years go by, both get married, and when they are reunited, they realise their emotional connection and love for one another has far from diminished. Through infrequent “fishing trips,” the two are able to reunite, but their attachment towards one another ultimately ruins their respective marriages. While many viewed the film as a “gay cowboy film” upon its release, this harsh simplification does not begin to describe this movie for what it actually is. The vulnerability and emotions that viewers feel through witnessing the twenty-year relationship of two men confined by hyper masculinity is poignant and excruciating. Brokeback Mountain is a powerful film that portrays the long-standing love between two men, and is an honest and emotional film that urges for acceptance and understanding for LGBT equality.
January 1978 marked a turning point for American politics when politician Harvey Milk became the first openly gay man elected into public office in California. Harvey Milk only spent eleven months in office, though. In November of 1978, Milk and the Mayor of San Francisco were savagely murdered. Milk chronicles Harvey Milk’s life, following his move to San Francisco, his campaigning and election, and his ultimate assassination. What makes this film so extraordinary is Harvey Milk himself. Milk is still one of the most important and influential LGBT politicians ever, and that the film was made at all is a fitting tribute to his pioneering work.
Dallas Buyers Club (2013)
While Dallas Buyers Club is not the first film set during the AIDS epidemic, it tells the true story of a man who sought to change the lives of those affected with HIV. Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey) was diagnosed with AIDs in the mid 1980s after having sex with a drug-using prostitute. Woodroof goes to Mexico for experimental treatment and on his return meets an HIV-positive trans-woman named Rayon (Jared Leto), with whom he begins the “Dallas Buyers Club.” With the help of Rayon, and their Club, the duo buy and distribute the non-FDA approved drugs to help treat those diagnosed with HIV and AIDS. Dallas Buyers Club is a film that mixes activism with emotion – and does it so well that McConaughey and Leto both won Academy Awards (Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor, respectively). While some have criticised for not giving the role of Rayon to a trans actors actor, the film has done much to promote an awareness of LGBT rights.
TANGERINE is in cinemas Friday.