This month, UCSB’s Carsey-Wolf Center (CWC) is hosting Trans Media, a multi-night series of films created by or about transgender and gender-nonconforming people at the Pollock Theater. The series is a timely one. With shows like Amazon’s Transparent and Netflix’s Orange Is the New Black, trans-focused works have introduced nonbinary lives to a wider audience than ever.
UCSB film professor Patrice Petro, the Dick Wolf Director of the CWC and presidential chair in Media Studies, oversaw the series curation and felt it was high time to introduce audiences to an array of film pieces. “There was a lot of new work out there by trans people both in front of and behind the camera,” she said.
The series will feature post-screening Q&As. Last Thursday, May 4, Raising Zoey screened, a documentary about a family’s experience as their child transitions gender identities, with a Q&A by director Dante Alencastre. It was followed by two episodes from Transparent on Saturday, May 6, with Professor Amy Villarejo leading the Q&A. On Wednesday, May 10, Director Jacqueline (Jac) Gares spoke after a screening of her documentary Free Cece, about the survivor of a hate crime. Still to come, on Tuesday, May 23, Director Kortney Ryan Ziegler will give a talk following the screening of his documentary Still Black: A Portrait of Black Transmen. The series concludes on Thursday, May 25, with Tangerine, a buddy film in the tradition of Thelma & Louise, about a trans prostitute and her friend, with an appearance by lead Mya Taylor.
Petro thought it was especially important to diverge from more clichéd accounts of transgender lives and to offer audiences a chance to think more expansively and critically about trans portrayals. “I wanted to move away from [how] the trans issues have been represented since the beginning of cinema — in the last couple of decades, there’s been a number about trans people who are murdered or are murderers or are frightening or pathetic or dead,” she said. “I thought it was really important to carry a series that highlights the work of media makers in the trans community that really try to produce a different view of what it is to just live.”
“I don’t feel like we’ve been fully embraced as people,” agreed Tangerine’s Taylor. Trans themes make for well-received films — “as long as it’s we’re getting killed and being victims,” she said. “I cannot tell you how many auditions I have done for how many prostitution roles.” — while series such as LaVerne Cox’s Doubt, about being a trans lawyer, quickly get canceled.
Taylor also hopes her work and the series itself will inspire gender-nonconforming performers and artists to continue despite the odds. “Before I got discovered for Tangerine, I had applied for 86 jobs in one month and I didn’t get one,” she said. She recalled a long, difficult streak of unemployment, which she feels was largely due to discrimination. Her advice: “Don’t give up, and don’t trust nobody, and follow your own rules.”
With its Trans Media series, the CWC will help, in its way, to break the usual cinematic boundaries and rules and open audience’s eyes to a wider lens. For more information, visit carseywolf.ucsb.edu/pollock.