Here's How 'Relish' Could Raise The Bar For Transgender Teens In Film

Justin Ward's road trip drama features trans actor Tyler DiChiara as Kai, who is nobody's victim. The movie hits the Burbank International Film Festival on Friday.

A transgender teen bonds with four other adolescent outsiders in Justin Ward’s “Relish,” which utilizes a classic Hollywood plot device ― the road trip ― to deliver a powerful message about inclusion.

HuffPost got an exclusive sneak peek at the drama, which premieres Friday at the Burbank International Film Festival in California, via the clip above. In it, the character of Kai (played by Tyler DiChiara), who identifies as trans, is racked with emotion while viewing himself in a mirror with his chest bound.

The film follows Kai as he escapes from treatment facility with four additional patients: social media influencer Aspen (Hana Hayes), drug-addicted athlete Levi (Mateus Ward), bipolar Theo (Rio Mangini) and alien-obsessed Sawyer (Chelsea Zhang). Together, the members of this motley crew head to the fictional Dreamland Music Festival and, along the way, learn a few things about perseverance.

DiChiara’s performance as Kai has already generated significant buzz, given the scarcity of openly transgender actors in trans roles in both television and film. Ward told HuffPost he and the movie’s casting director spent four months auditioning hopefuls before selecting DiChiara, who recently won a Young Artist Award.

Justin Ward's coming-of-age road trip drama, "Relish," debuts Friday at the Burbank International Film Festival.
Justin Ward's coming-of-age road trip drama, "Relish," debuts Friday at the Burbank International Film Festival.
Courtesy of Justin Ward

“Before I wrote the script, [producer] Terry Nardozzi and I discussed “Relish” being about five teenagers who need inclusion in their lives to survive,” Ward said. “I knew this was a character I had to handle with care ... [Tyler’s] tape was raw, over-the-top, and it was clear he had very little experience, but man, did he get it! His choices were clear, smart and real. He was Kai.”

The filmmaker was adamant that Kai be set apart from other transgender characters in that he had “other interests and quirks ... that existed beyond [his] gender identity.”

“This character would be wild, the life of the party, confident,” Ward said. “Flawed? Absolutely, just as much as the rest of the teens, but not the victim. [He’s] a strong character who loves life and wants to make the most of it.”

Relish” debuts Sept. 6 at the Burbank International Film Festival.

Watch the official trailer below.