It’s no secret that the moving image can leave a lasting impact, both consciously and subconsciously. This is especially true regarding images of people engaged in struggle and/or enjoying wild success—a phenomenon that supports the necessity for thoughtful representation of people of all backgrounds and experiences in film.
Today, representation is too often conflated with diversity, but they’re not exactly the same thing. Representation goes beyond the surface inclusion of different types of people popular media—it’s about lived experience and authenticity. Of course there are all types of communities that haven’t received much authentic representations of themselves in traditional cinema. For example: the trans community, which is itself unique and disparate far beyond what has been rendered onscreen, even recently.
This week—Wednesday, August 23—Film Independent Presents will hold a Members-only screening of Vuk Lungulov-Klotz’s directorial debut Mutt, about a trans man living in New York City who is visited by important people from his past over the course of a day. In celebration of the film’s acclaimed depiction of a transgender character (and in anticipation of our upcoming screening) here’s a curated list of six other great scripted stories about trans protagonists.
FUNERAL PARADE OF ROSES
Writer, Director: Toshio Matsumoto
Producers: Mitsuru Kudo, Keiko Machida
Starring: Shinnosuke Ikeehata, Osama Ogasawara
Why we love it: A number of things make this early contemporary film special. Its distinct editing and timeless cinematography already make it impressive. But what’s most impressive is its respectful and creative depiction of trans women—or “queens” as they were referred to—in 1960s Japan. These women essentially worked as sex workers, as gender nonconforming people were greatly denied “respectable” work from many establishments, an unjust reality for many trans people to this day. Regardless, these young trans women are seen admiring themselves, while others admire them. They are celebrated for who and how they are, which can offer today’s queer youth a much-needed boost of confidence.
Where to watch: Kanopy, Fright Night Plus
Writer, Director: Sérgio Toledo
Producer: Sérgio Toledo
Starring: Ana Beatriz Nogueira, Raul Cortez, Aida Leiner
Why we love it: Based on the life and work of São Paulo writer and poet Anderson Bigode Herzer, this Brazilian biopic was among the first to center its narrative on a complex, sympathetic trans character. It’s common for trans people to experience the psychological disorder known as body dysmorphia, which Toledo carefully and incisively depicts in the film. Regardless of the oppression and hardship he experienced in his life, Herzer held onto his passion for writing and his authentic self before tragically taking his own life in 1982 at age 20—a heartbreaking outcome many trans and queer people are still endangered by, making this biopic a layered document about trans life in the 20th century. Resources.
Where to watch: The Criterion Channel
ALL ABOUT MY MOTHER
Writer, Director: Pedro Almodóvar
Producer: Agustín Almodóvar
Starring: Cecilia Roth, Marisa Paredes, Antonia San Juan
Why we love it: This Spanish film is perhaps the most controversial pick for this list, seeing as the trans characters are supporting, not lead characters. However! The monologue by trans character Agrado (Antonia San Juan) is particularly notable. “You’re more authentic the more you resemble what you’ve dreamed of being,” she says, which alone holds so much insight as to why people transition. Agrado’s overall bond with the cis women characters in the film is another reason—they don’t fully understand her views or experiences, but whether she’s right or wrong is not what’s important. What’s important is that she’s not treated any differently by her cis peers. She’s not invalidated for who she is. She’s one of the girls, and is treated as such with friendship and kindness. This relationship symbolizes that regardless of differences, womanhood can be inclusive and still be cherished.
Where to watch: VOD rental, all major platforms
BY HOOK OR BY CROOK
Writers, Directors: Harry Dodge, Silas Howard
Producers: Harry Dodge, Silas Howard
Starring: Harry Dodge, Silas Howard
Why we love it: As biased as it may seem to include this American indie featuring Silas Howard (executive producer of Mutt and Film Independent Fellow twice over), it’s absolutely not. Why? Because the movie’s great! It’s one of the few films to depict dimensional and sympathetic transmen/masc queer people in leading roles. Shy and Valentine struggle financially, which, sure, leads them to engage in illegal activity, but they do it because they have limited options to the contrary. But above all they enjoy life as best as they know how. The film set a new standard for thoughtful portrayals of people who fall under gender nonconforming identities. As Shy (Howard) says in the beginning of the film, “I’m like Dorothy, but with biceps and no dog.” If that’s not enough to entice, consider a special appearance by the iconic Joan Jett.
Where to watch: The Criterion Channel, Prime Video
Writer, Director: Xavier Dolan
Producers: Charles Gillibert, Nathanaël Karmitz, Lyse Lafontaine
Starring: Melvil Poupaud, Suzanne Clément
Why we love it: A rollercoaster of emotions and self-discovery, this French-Canadian drama is a truly unapologetic trans odyssey. It challenges stereotypes about trans women by showcasing the intricate evolution of a trans protagonist. Laurence is happily involved with a cis woman before her transition. But after sharing her newfound identity, Laurence’s partner Frédérique (“Fred”) proceeds to stay in the relationship and accompany her lover through the transition process. Spoiler alert: it’s not easy. Not only do they experience problems between themselves, but from their friends, family and the world at large. The film is a unique depiction of gender and sexuality between lovers that not often seen, especially not so well thought out and performed. Multifaceted and full of passion, there is much to digest in Dolan’s romantic drama.
Where to watch: Fandor, Kanopy
Director: Sean Baker
Writers: Sean Baker, Chris Bergoch
Producers: Sean Baker, Karrie Cox, Marcus Cox, Darren Dean, Shih-Ching Tsou
Starring: Kitana Kiki Rodriguez, Mya Taylor
Why we love it: Fast paced and quick witted, anyone who pops this on is guaranteed entertainment. But! In the process of being entertained, insight on the perspectives of two low-income transwomen of color in Los Angeles is also gained. Rodriguez and Taylor’s performances feel incredibly raw, and the dialogue sounds right off the cuff, as if they had no idea there was even a camera around. This charm is only enhanced by the choice of camera Baker used to film—three iPhone 5s model smartphones. It’s a film that’s both significant in content and filmmaking, which landed Taylor the Film Independent Spirit Award for Best Supporting Female, a trans awards show landmark.
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(Header: Funeral Parade of Roses)