Morgana is a transgender soprano with a relentless determination to fight against social stigma and family prejudice to attain the universal milestone of asserting herself as a human being with societal recognition and dignity. To this end, he embarks on an odyssey to build an identity for which he has been persecuted throughout his life, an identity made in Bangkok.
“Made in Bangkok” premiered at Guadalajara FICG 2015’s Premio Maguey Section where it won the Press Award for Best Documentary. Its U.S. premiere happened last week at FICG in L.A. Unfortunately turnout was not a full house which makes me think the reported support of Outfest and the LGBT Center of Los Angeles did not include any publicity. Had I put a poster in every store and lampost on Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood, I could have guaranteed a full house.
However, it means that “I” discovered it on the L.A. circuit and now want to give the community another chance to see this gift, so stay tuned! This is a fabulous film, so real that it seems staged. But it is authentically Morgana who is such a natural and beautiful woman that she and the filmmaker Flavio Florencio took Bangkok and takes the audience by storm.
I won’t give away the story but I will call it a Cinderella story and give it a huge endorsement with the fervent hope that it will receive much deserved attention from not only the LGBT community but the community at large. Buyers would be crazy not to acquire this prize. Even universities in Mexico are able to use it as an educational film because the fabulous Dr.Preecha Tiewtranon explains the sex change operation with very clear illustrations.
During the FICG in LA Fest, I interviewed filmmaker Flavio and Dr. Tiewtranon.
How did you come to choose this subject for your first film?
Flavio: 15 years ago, on my first night in Mexico, friends took me to a club where all the performers are transvestites. These clubs are called cantinas and are very popular in Mexico. The second and third time I went I wondered, Where are these people in the day?
Dr. Tiewtranon: In Bangkok they can be hairdressers, masseurs. When I started forty years ago, transsexuals were very low class, dirty and worked as prostitutes. When they came as outpatients to the university hospital where I worked, no one wanted to work with them.
Flavio: I returned to the cantinas looking for the focus of a story about the trans world (-gender, -vestite, -sexual). For three months, every weekend I went to these cantinas looking for the one to be the subject of the film. I saw Morgana singing under the name of Maria. Was it real singing or slip sync? It was really her singing. I asked her what her story was and knew she would be the subject of my film.
This was Flavio’s first feature but he knew film. He was born in Argentina, studied Social Documentary in Barcelona and was part of the International Film Festival in Zanzibar, Tanzania. He organized the first African film festival in Latin America, Africala, and is currently artistic director of the Film Festival on Human Rights of Mexico.
Flavio: I wanted to make a universal story.
Sydney: What is universal?
Flavio: Our human nature, our feelings, desires, dreams, how we spend our time, do we want family, to have children. The film portrays these as natural human conversations and Morgana represents everyone’s dream to become the person you really want to be.
To do this she entered an international trans beauty contest, first by winning the Miss Mexico title and then going to the Miss International Queen Pageant held in Bangkok. If she could win the $10,000 prize she could afford a sex change. There, the second protagonist, Dr.Preecha Tiewtranon who loves opera music though he has never seen an opera, saw the pageant and was also taken by Morgana.
Dr. Tiewtranon: In the past, they thought such people with gender identity disorders were crazy and so doctors gave them anti-depressants. But the solution is to change the chemistry of their bodies by using female hormones not by giving anti-depressants. When they are ready for the operation, after it they wake up happy. Their mental problems disappear.
I always wanted to be a doctor, to help and to heal people. I have done 2,000 operations. 10% of them are done for free. It’s my duty. Morgana is a new person. Everyday she is happy.
My first patient was from Iran. He had asked the Ayotollah about the fact that God gave him the wrong body, telling him, ‘I’m confused, what should I do?’ The Ayatollah said to him, ‘Have a sex change. You cannot serve God if you are confused’.
Flavio: The Mexican embassy in Bangkok saw the film and invited the whole diplomatic community. Dr. Tiewtranon saw it there.
Dr. Tiewtranon: This movie is like an ambassador and so I wanted to help. Transexuals are very desperate. They have so many problems.
Flavio: He has helped many. He paid for everything for both of us – hotel, the hospital, everything. Dr. Tiewtranon is also acknowledged internationally as the foremost surgeon for sex change operations.
Flavio: People that hated Morgana before love her now. Mexico has the highest rate of murders of transgender and transvestites outside of Brazil. But when Morgana became a “real” woman, all the hatred disappeared.
Dr. Tiewtranon: In the future we need to accept people as they are.
Flavio: My duty as a filmmaker is not just to make a movie.
I was alone with Morgana when she went for the operation; I was the only one in the waiting room. That should not have to be like that.
This movie makes everyone comfortable. People thank me; they cry in the movie. Three came out of the closet; a mother said her children should choose to be whoever they are. It is educational and is shown at universities.
The film won the Press Award at FICG for Best Documentary, in Durango it won the Audience Award Special Mention. In Guanajuato it won for Best Documentary.
Dr. Tiewtranon: When big popular trans shows began on TV, the upper classes who were hidden began to come out.
In the U.S. a law was passed two years ago making transexual operations legal. Obamacare covers the operation with insurance.
To qualify one does not need to “look” like a woman.
Flavio: In Mexico you must “look” like a woman.
Dr. Tiewtranon: I operated on a 75 year old who had worked for a big company. When he retired he went to a psychiatrist and spent 10 years in his care and finally decided that if he could not live as a woman, at least he could die as one.
International sales agent is Habanero. The Mexican National Cinematheque chose it as the Most Important 20 International Movies (only 2 docs were included). In october it will go to Paris in the Viva Mexico Film Festival. In Thailand it will go out theatrically. For the 40th anniversary of Mexico-Thailand relations, Mexico chose this film to show. It will be shown on public TV in Mexico as well. It is doing very well at universities with young adults.