“You can’t be erased until you actually exist in the first place.” -Mx. Tiffany Leigh
Alaina Daniels states, “Power influences what stories will be told and who gets to tell them. Authentic representation is so important because people relate to the world through windows and mirrors; mirrors reflect who we are while windows let us see into other people’s experiences.”
Academy Award and Golden Globe nominated film A FANTASTIC WOMAN provides windows for some people and mirrors for others, and it marks a significant milestone in the telling of transgender stories. Variety made note of this in an early review: “Chilean director Sebastián Lelio and star Daniela Vega give the growing bracket of transgender drama a new, luminous touchstone work.” With the release of this glorious film, to get a clearer look through those windows, we at the Angelika spoke with a few members of the queer and transgender community, who could help us shed some light on what LGBT+ representation on screen means to them, and why in particular this film is so truly fantastic.
“From the age of 6, I’ve searched for people like me in media,” Bailey Pope reflects. “As a transgender woman, that meant grasping onto watching talk shows that sensationalized exaggerated stories of women having to “come clean” to their significant others. As an adult, I continue to look for people like me in media. We’ve come a long way. However, trans stories told by cisgender people have yet to truly convey the full story.
Within the first ten minutes of A FANTASTIC WOMAN, I knew that Marina was about to take me on the authentic journey I’ve been looking for. The experiences Marina goes through are so authentic for a transgender woman that I found myself reeling in my seat through scenes of transphobia, misgendering and violence from her late-partner’s family. I also found myself tearing up in joy for the people around her who simply love and protect her throughout the film. I hurt for her and I celebrated for her.”
Some may wonder why this accurate, authentic representation has so long been unseen. Alaina continues, “When every example of transgender people in media is portrayed through a cisgender lens, the years of stereotypes and oppression that trans people have had to face distort the portrayal and reinforce systemic power imbalances… If every human life has value, then every person should get to see themselves in the stories that we tell.”
Marie McGwier has a similar take, “Queer representation in media has a long and storied past that involves a dearth of complexity, accuracy or variety. Before we were made intentionally visible, queers were coded into storylines as villains, sissies, or people without sexual agency. Eventually we were the gay best friends and the sex workers, but still we lacked control over our own image. For so long queer stories, like the stories of many folks in the margins, have been at the mercy of straight and cisgender storytellers and actors. So, to experience the world of Marina in A FANTASTIC WOMAN through the eyes of Daniela Vega is validating, complicated, emotional, non-sensationalized, and accurate. Her story is simultaneously heartbreaking and empowering, and she tells it so, so well.”
“Positive trans representation in film is the Big Bang”, Tiffany continues. “It’s an origin story, the opening line of our own histories. Seeing those like me portrayed onscreen by people like me grants permission for me to be myself. It provides irrefutable visual evidence that I exist – that millions of us exist – and that I (or we, they, and every other preferred pronoun) are not alone.
When transgender people are represented authentically in film, the two-dimensional images step from the screen and become three-dimensional in life. They shatter the tyranny of transness as an abstract concept. These portrayals become a living embodiment of the truths, hopes, and dreams of millions. They give us a face, voice, and beating heart to show the rest of the world.”
“I saw myself and transgender people honestly represented in A FANTASTIC WOMAN,” says Bailey, “and I can only hope this is a sign of more trans people acting and telling trans stories.” A FANTASTIC WOMAN provides one authentic story, which in itself is a milestone, but there are still many steps to be taken on the journey to complete on-screen representation.
Alaina adds, “Each authentic portrayal shows some of the beautiful multitudes of transgender experiences. It is important to have more than just one example because there is more than one transgender story. And not all of the stories can be from transgender people who have more privilege, power and access. Trans people also have overlapping intersections. The world needs to hear the stories of trans people of color, non-binary trans people, disabled trans people and non-passing trans people. When the world shows a variety of positive examples, then children get to grow up thinking that they can express themselves in a variety of positive ways.”
Learn more about our contributors on their social media: Mx. Tiffany Leigh – @tiffanyleigh on Twitter, Alaina Daniels – @AlainaADaniels on Twitter, Bailey Pope – @BaileyBeePope on Instagram, and Marie McGwier – @the_CityLion on Twitter. Marie co-founded If You Want It, LTD, a nonprofit that supports the fight for gender self-determination and body sovereignty.
View the trailer:
About the film:
Director Sebastián Lelio’s A FANTASTIC WOMAN is being heralded as “ravishing” by the Hollywood Reporter, and received both Oscar and Golden Globe nominations for Best Foreign Language Film. Waitress/singer Marina’s (Daniela Vega) world is shaken when Orlando suddenly falls ill and passes away. Instead of being able to mourn her lover, Marina is treated with suspicion and, as a transgender woman, is met with harsh judgment and discrimination by Orlando’s family. The struggles she faces in the aftermath of her lover’s death become a microcosm for her life, as she battles the very same forces that she has spent a lifetime fighting in order to become the woman she is – a complex, strong, forthright and fantastic woman.