What do you get when you put together two transgender sex workers, an iPhone 5s, and an Armenian Taxi driver? Sean Baker’s Tangerine.
Quirky, progressive, and emotional, Tangerine demolishes clichés and redefines trans representation in film. Movies illustrate the world and how we interact with it, so it makes sense for there to be diverse depictions of people. Baker’s film takes a stigma-ridden group of individuals and shoves them in the audience’s faces, not just as “transgender” but as real human beings.
The film presents the main characters with honesty, realism, and tolerance that isn’t present in most so-called “trans inclusive” films. The transgender population in Los Angeles is truly explored and portrayed onscreen without an ounce of judgement. The two main characters, Sin-Dee and Alexandra (Maya Taylor and Kiki Rodriguez), are played by real-life transwomen of color. Baker followed the actresses around as they ad-libbed lines, giving the film an even deeper feeling of energetic realism, which simply could not be achieved with a cisgendered actor dressed in drag.
This indie comedy has disguised serious, life-altering issues in a mask of hilarity, all wrapped up with a bittersweet ending. The Armenian taxi driver, Razmik (Karren Karagulian), is trying to maintain a respectable family, but on the side he picks up trans women to fulfill his sexual needs. Sin-Dee is presented to us as having a drug addiction. Alexandra has dreams of singing that can’t seem to come true, so she sells her body to make money. However, each of these seemingly twisted issues is presented in a completely impartial light. There is absolutely no judgement from the filmmaker’s perspective, echoing the message that the audience should react with compassion for all people rather than hate. It works to normalize the trans experience and that’s something I’ve never seen on film before.
Not only are the main characters transgender, but they are also black. Think about the last time you saw a film this inclusive–probably never. These actors didn’t play stereotypes. Their gender identity wasn’t used for laughs, nor was their skin color. They didn’t talk a lot about being trans women. They just simply were. And that’s what’s so beautiful about this film. It represents trans men and trans women as exactly what they are: people.