Back to IndieWire

Meet The Subjects of Tribeca Doc ‘Mala Mala,’ Which Looks at the Lives of 9 Puerto Rican Trans Folk

Meet The Subjects of Tribeca Doc 'Mala Mala,' Which Looks at the Lives of 9 Puerto Rican Trans Folk

The Tribeca Film Festival kicks off a week from today, and right at the top of our list of films we think you should see is Dan Sickles and Antonio Santini’s doc “Mala Mala.” The film celebrates the trans community in Puerto Rico and the divide between their internal and external selves, exploring self-discovery and activism through 9 amazing subjects including  LGBTQ activists, business owners, sex workers, and a boisterous group of drag performers.  “Mala Mala” looks at a fight for personal and community acceptance paved with triumphant highs and devastating lows, and is sure to be one of the most talked about docs at Tribeca.
More on the film next week, but in the meantime introduce yourself to its 9 subjects with these gorgeous shots by photographer Adam Uhl and bios provided by the filmmakers.. 

Alberic made his mark on the local drag scene when he won the most coveted competition crown donning a $7,000 gown dripping with crystals and gold. With his numerous cosmetic surgeries and alterations, he presents himself as a physical intermediary between male morphology and female femininity, but as he becomes more resentful of the energy it requires to stay at the top of the drag scene, he donates all of his dresses to charity and retires Zahara. In search of a more stable lifestyle, Alberic enrolls in law school, working to become a corporate lawyer.

April (Jason)
By day, Jason is a typical 23-year-old, working at the local ice cream shop. By night, she’s April, Puerto Rico’s rising drag superstar. Her unique brand of avant-garde style and cultural awareness lands her an important, career-changing gig which opens the door to the future he’s always dreamed of. With the support of her drag family, The Doll House, April lands a spot on the sixth season of RuPaul’s Drag Race, hoping to spread her artistic message of gender expression beyond the club stages of the island.

Ivana, the most well known transsexual on the island, devotes her life to the advancement of LGBT causes: organizing health conferences at the local LGBTT center, working to fill in the gaps of sex & gender education in schools, and supplying sex-workers with contraception free-of-charge. Aware that it’s her captivating body and not her outreach work that lands her on magazine covers, she hopes she use the attention directed at her body and redirect it towards towards community’s needs. Together with her friend Sandy, she organizes fundraisers for the Butterflies Trans Foundation to build a retirement center for trans sex workers approaching old age.

Paxx is a gender-queer biological female aspiring to a female-to-male transition. He lives with Audrey, his girlfriend of 5 years in Hato Rey. Despite Audrey’s pressure to make him commit to his gender identity, at 35, he’s still not “out” to his conservative parents, which causes tension within this otherwise stable relationship. While still not ready to commit to testosterone treatment or top surgery, he works to combat his fears by coming to terms with who he really is. Paxx finds himself in a rut, limited by a lack of information and medical support for F2M transitions in Puerto Rico and access to testosterone therapy.

Queen Bee
The line between Carlos and Queen Bee is as thin as a layer of foundation.  On stage, she is not a distinct alter ego, but rather an expression of Carlos’ most authentic self.  As Queen Bee’s fan base grows on the island, the memory of Carlos begins to fade, leaving the members of her drag house to speculate on a possible future transition.  Already at the top, she’s bored and unimpressed with her local celebrity status, used to performing weekly at quinceañeros, nightclubs, and birthdays on the island. Bubbling up from below is a desire to move onto a newer, more challenging scene in the States. Through her performance videos online, Queen Bee has become one of the most talked-about contestants aspiring for the crown at this year’s Miss Continental pageant, the famed annual female impersonation competition in Chicago.

Samantha identifies as a “former transsexual.” She began her transition as Nelson, a teen boy seeking to feminize his body. With little access to information, Samantha turned to black market hormones bought at gay clubs. Due to the resulting medical complications from self-medicating, her transition came to an abrupt halt. In spite of this, Samantha maintains positive attitude about her future. She channels her inner woman through drag performance, dreaming of the day she has the health & income to give transitioning another shot.

A rapid succession of ups & downs led Sandy to a life of sex-work on the seedy streets of Santurce, Puerto Rico. At 35, she faces the reality that clients won’t shell out as much cash for her services, as they eye the younger generation of girls on the streets. To satisfy her client’s demands, Sandy puts off her genital reassignment surgery while working towards a future where she won’t have to make money exploiting her male anatomy in combination with her feminine essence. Hoping to leave behind sex work & secure a stable future, she launches the first Trans alliance in Puerto Rico with her gang of friends to demand equal protection under the law. Together they fight to pass Bill 238, which bans employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity/expression on the island. Though she isn’t able to make a full exit from the streets, Sandy succeeds at landing her first “legitimate” part-time job at a library, hoping to eventually start her own business with her chef boyfriend, something she considers would be a big accomplishment for herself and her community.

After a successful transition in NYC, Sophia moved to Puerto Rico to “own a little bar on a small island.” As an outsider, she’s faced with getting her hormones shipped in from New York, dealing with local celebrity status, and finding love in a seemingly hopeless place. In a year, Sophia’s nightclub goes from the biggest gay club on the island to closing its doors. Instead of wallowing in regret, she picks up and moves to back to New York City, a continuation of her quest to find fulfillment in a world that makes it difficult for her to be who she is. Today she lives and works in California. Sophia aspires to be a motivational speaker, hoping to inspire her community with the story of her successful but challenging transition, and the wisdom she has garnered from her experience.

Soraya is one of the first and few Puerto Ricans to win the legal battle over changing their gender on their birth certificate, and the only transsexual to run for public office on the island. Throughout her career, Soraya has been public about the gender reassignment surgery she underwent in New York over four decades ago, and her challenging experience with a condition that she identifies as “gender dysphoria”. In an island where reassignment surgery is not a viable option, Soraya serves as a predecessor for the process of transitioning. Now at 65, she is gearing up to cement her legacy by publishing her first book, a memoir titled “Hand Made”, while operating a popular hair salon outside San Juan. She is the grandmother of the trans liberation movement in Puerto Rico, and her wisdom serves people of all persuasions.

Sign Up: Stay on top of the latest breaking film and TV news! Sign up for our Email Newsletters here.

This Article is related to: Festivals and tagged

Get The Latest IndieWire Alerts And Newsletters Delivered Directly To Your Inbox