According to GLAAD, formerly the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, almost 90 percent of Americans say they personally know someone who is gay, lesbian or bisexual, but only 16 percent know someone who is transgender. That is where the power of storytelling comes in.
“Representation is where acceptance and understanding begin,” transgender performance artist Zackary Drucker explained in an interview with The Huffington Post. “Film is such an integral component in creating empathy. It shapes how so many people perceive the trans experience.”
Drucker, who also works as a producer on the series “Transparent,” is the guest curator for the upcoming TransNation Film Festival, a three-day survey of trans films showing at Los Angeles’ The Cinefamily cinematheque. “I’m a huge film buff. I always have been,” Drucker said. “I’m especially fascinated by representations of trans people in cinema, to examine the ways it has impacted our perceptions in culture at large.”
The festival, which runs in conjunction with beloved trans beauty pageant Queen USA, features documentaries, narratives and shorts, ranging from cult classics to under-acknowledged gems.
The series kicks off with “Major!” a documentary about Miss Major Griffin-Gracy, a veteran of the Stonewall Rebellion, former sex worker, community leader and human rights activist who has spent 40 years fighting for trans women of color, specifically those made to endure police brutality and incarceration in men’s prisons.
The final film, Wu Tsang’s “Wildness,” explores the past and future of an iconic LGBT bar in Los Angeles, a longtime safe space for Latinx that becomes a hotspot for queer art kids.
In between are a sundry selection of films from the 1960s to present day, each offering a nuanced portrait of what it can mean to be transgender. “We’ve gone from being victims and villains to more sympathetic and realistic characters in films and representations made by allies,” Drucker said. “We didn’t have allies before. We didn’t have people looking out for our community. It’s those people who have inspired us, as trans people, to make our own content.”
As exciting as trans representation in film is, Drucker looks forward to the day when trans filmmakers, writers and actors are the ones telling their own stories. “I think that what will come next is the conversation about trans content,” she said. “Content that is created, written, directed, produced, by people who are trans.”
In anticipation of the festival, Drucker shared 10 of her favorite films that bring transgender lives to the screen.
1. “Ma Vie En Rose” (1997)
When 7-year-old Ludo announces to their parents that they are, in fact, a girl, the parents assume it is just a childish phase. Before long, however, Ludo is dressing up in princess dresses, wearing lipstick, and dreaming about the boy next door. In the enchanting and overall lighthearted film, Ludo’s family struggles to understand their self-described “boygirl” in a world that views difference as a threat. (Directed by Alain Berliner)
2. “Trash” (1970)
The entirety of “Trash,” also known as “Andy Warhol’s Trash,” takes place over a single day, as Joe, a heroin addict struggling with drug-induced impotence, hunts for drugs with the help of his girlfriend and amateur trash collector Holly, played by trans actress and Warhol muse Holly Woodlawn. At once a deadpan parody and exuberant work of art, “Trash” captures the beautiful ugliness of countercultural life. (Directed by Paul Morrissey)
3. “Female Trouble” (1974)*
John Waters’ buzzy follow-up to cult classic “Pink Flamingos” follows high school troublemaker Dawn Davenport, played by drag queen Divine, as she runs away from home and gets carried away in a life of crime. The dark comedy, inspired by Waters’ prison visits with Manson family killer Charles “Tex” Watson, revels in gloriously bad taste, from tacky hairstyles to murdering someone with a butcher knife! Fun fact via Drucker: the film’s title is referenced in Judith Butler’s iconic treatise Gender Trouble. (Directed by John Waters.)
4. “All About My Mother” (1999)
Pedro Almodóvar’s dizzying “screwball drama” revolves around femininity, artificiality, and the glorious overlap of the two. The film begins when Manuela, a nurse living in Madrid, loses her teenage son who is run over by a car while chasing his favorite actress for an autograph. The death leads Manuela on a journey filled with past lovers and friends, including rekindling a relationship with her son’s father, now a trans woman named Lola. Whether telling the stories of cis or trans women, Almodóvar captures how every woman is, in some way, an actress. (Directed by Pedro Almodóvar)
5. “Wild Side” (2004)
Named after Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side,” the French language film stars trans actress Stéphanie Michelini as Stéphanie, a pre-operative trans woman working as a prostitute. When her mother ― who fails to recognize her child’s transition ― falls ill, Stéphanie returns to her small hometown to care for her, accompanied by her male roommates, an AWOL Russian soldier and an Algerian street worker. The two men both end up falling in love with Stéphanie, and a relationship that defies nearly every norm emerges between the three of them. (Directed by Sébastien Lifshitz)
6. “Free CeCe” (2016)
On the night of June 5, 2011, CeCe McDonald and her friends were walking to a store by her Minneapolis home when they were physically attacked by group of people hurling racist, transphobic and homophobic slurs. At the end of the confrontation, one of the attackers was killed with scissors that came from CeCe’s purse. CeCe was subsequently sent to a men’s prison in Minnesota, charged with second-degree manslaughter due to criminal negligence. Laverne Cox executive produced this documentary about race, gender and the criminal justice system, using CeCe’s incarceration and eventual release to examine the horrific nationwide violence, hatred and invisibility trans women of color face today. (Directed by Jacqueline Gares)
7. “The Queen” (1968)*
In 1967, Andy Warhol, Edie Sedgwick and Jackie Curtis served as judges for the Miss All American Camp Beauty Pageant, in which drag queens were judged according on their walks, talk, bathing suits, makeup, hair and beauty. In this glamorous and sentimental documentary, the precursor to “Paris is Burning,” viewers can glimpse behind the scenes at the substantive conversations accompanying the primping and priming, discussing issues ranging from sex confirmation surgery to racism within the drag scene. (Directed by Frank Simon)
8. “Southern Comfort” (2001)
Trans man Robert Eads is the subject of this sparse and gut-wrenching documentary, set in the barren wasteland of Toccoa, Georgia. Eads was diagnosed with cervical and ovarian cancer, and denied treatment by over a dozen doctors who worried about whether treating a trans man would reflect poorly on their practice. When he was finally accepted for treatment, his cancer had grown so much that medical care was effectively futile. He died in 1999 at 53 years old. The film quietly follows Eads as he discusses his lifelong journey to overcome isolation from himself and others. (Directed by Kate Dries.)
9. “Wildness” (2012)*
”Wildness” tells the story of Los Angeles’ historic bar Silver Platter, which has long served as a refuge for Latino LGBTQ communities. The film is told from the point of view of the bar itself, with actress Mariana Marroquin narrating as a magical, protective party spirit. The tension arises when a younger group of queer artists of color (including the film’s director Wu Tsang) begin hosting a weekly performance art party in the space, as the two generations of queer party animals set out to see if they can share this sacred space. (Directed by Wu Tsang)
10. “Something Must Break” (2014)*
This Swedish film follows an electric and at times destructive love affair between transgender teen Sebastian/Ellie and Andreas, a sexually confused man torn between his feelings for Ellie and his refusal to accept his attraction to a trans woman. Transgender filmmaker Ester Martin Bergsmark’s combines signature love story tropes ― dancing on rooftops, running through dimly lit allies ― with lesser visualized aspects of gender and sexuality. (Directed by Ester Martin Bergsmark)
*These films will be featured in the TransNation Film Festival.
TransNation Fim Festival takes place Thursday, October 20 through Sunday, October 23, 2016, at Cinefamily Cinematheque in Los Angeles. Buy tickets here.