A recent movie that came out called “Tangerine” (2015) became one of the most intriguing films of last year. The independent movie profiles Sin-dee-rella (Kitiana Kiki Rodriguez), a transgender woman fresh out of prison on a quest for vengeance. After finding out from her best friend Alexandra (Mya Taylor), that Sin-Dee’s boyfriend/pimp cheated on her with a “real” woman (“Like real fish girl, like a vagina and everything!), these two working girls set out to confront the cis gender woman all the while promoting Alexandra’s singing career and keeping up with the hustle on the streets.
“Tangerine” is a huge deal within the film industry. Not only did director Sean Baker film it entirely on iPhone 5s’s, which is a new step for film production, but the movie is a huge milestone for the transgender community. In addition to the two main minority characters (which is a progressive step regardless for movies), they are also transgender women. Other recent movies like “Dallas Buyers Club” and “The Danish Girl” are bringing attention to the struggles of transgender women within society; but both films have cis gender men playing the transgender characters. Casting decisions like these caused controversies in the LGBTQIA community. The few roles any transgender actor could play, were taken away and given to someone who is not from the same community. And that is what makes “Tangerine” so great, finally there are real transgender women representing their community in film.
“Tangerine” touched upon some struggles that the transgender community has had to endure. One of which includes working as sex workers. Taylor and Rodriguez had both worked in the sex industry and wanted the movie to be as authentic as possible. “Straight from the jump I said this has to be real,” Taylor said, “totally honest. No fabrication. And very funny. I knew that the story is very dark. So why just have it dark through the whole movie? You have to have some humor to play it off.”
Thousands of transgender women are objectified through prostitution. But for a lot of them, sex work is the only work they can get. It is popular for transgender women to be denied jobs because of their identity, forcing them to go into sex work. In an attempt for living there is a ‘Catch 22’. These trans women, although making ends meet enough to buy food, shelter, and sometimes even hormones; they are exposed to unsafe sex, violence, and sometimes even murder. Not so much living, as it is surviving.
Another part of the movie depicts the oppression of transgender women on the streets. In one scene, as Alexandra is fighting with a customer over money, the camera cuts to two cops watching the fight in their police car. “Have you ever worked with Alexander before?” says one cop to the other. As the cops get out to handle the situation, they address Alexandra, as Alexandra. This scene depicts that lack of support for the trans community by government officials by continuing to address the transgender woman by a name she does not go by anymore.
But Tangerine isn’t perfect. Yes, the movie depicts real life struggles of trans people going on today. Yes, there are real transgender actors representing their communities. But even with these steps, the movie still supports some of the social constructions society has around transgender people.
For example, in the movie the concept of a “real” woman is reinforced as an individual having a vagina. Although supported in several different scenes, the opening scene is the most prominent example. The movie opens with Alexandra and Sin-Dee reuniting after Sin-Dee’s 28-day stint in jail. In a sassy retort to Sin-Dee’s comment about Alexandra’s growing chest, Alexandra replies, “Don’t you try it, I look like the real thing.” The “real thing”. The concept of what a “real” woman is is different to everyone. Though the term “woman” is just a gender role. Society socially constructs the belief that a real woman must have a vagina or breasts, which isn’t true.
There are other social constructs depicted in the film as well. Constructs that are not just around women. Towards the end of the movie, a supporting character named Razmik is caught by his wife with foul play. While witnessing the event Alexandra makes the generalized statement, “all men cheat.” Not true. Not all men cheat. With this generalization, Alexandra enforces the male gender stereotype with negative connotation.
“Tangerine” is a charming and real depiction of the lives of transgender women in Hollywood, California. Though not perfect, the movie brings to light some of the struggles that they face within society. As a result, it is a step in the right direction off the wrong corner.