The pivotal shot in Oscar-nominated Chilean film “A Fantastic Woman” finds transgender woman Marina (Daniela Vega) sitting nude with her legs slightly propped up and a mirror covering her genitals reflecting her face. It’s a beguiling image that illuminates the movie’s central theme of a woman in tune with her identity and a world at odds with it, and now, the visual has company. Janelle Monaé’s new music video for her single “Django Jane,” one of two tracks recently released from her upcoming album “Dirty Computer,” contains an identical image with the singer doing the same thing.
Both images may owe their existence to an earlier source, Armen Susan Ordjanian’s 1981 photograph, “Self Portrait.” Social media users first picked up on the similarities in the hours after “Django Jane” went online.
“Django Jane” by Janelle Monáe, Dir. Andrew Donoho (2018)
“A Fantastic Woman,” Dir. Sebastian Lelio (2017) pic.twitter.com/oigswLuKKs
— Manuel Betancourt (@bmanuel) February 22, 2018
And the OG: “Self-Portrait” by Armen Susan Ordjanian, 1981. pic.twitter.com/zgZqk1YHUU
— Manuel Betancourt (@bmanuel) February 23, 2018
However, the timing is suspect. “A Fantastic Woman” has been making waves since its premiere at the Berlin International Film Festival in early 2017, when it was picked up by Sony Pictures Classics. The movie has gone on to find critical acclaim at numerous other festivals before landing an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film, where it is widely considered to be the frontrunner. The movie has catapulted Vega to stardom in her native Chile, while confirming Lelio’s stature as one of the most prominent directors of unconventional female stories, following the breakout success of his 2013 drama “Gloria.” After its qualifying run in the fall, “A Fantastic Woman” opened theatrically on February 2. Lelio also premiered his first English language feature, the lesbian romance “Disobedience,” at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival. It opens later this year.
Monaé’s reps and the video’s director, Lacey Duke, did not respond to requests to comment, but Lelio told IndieWire in an email message that he was unfazed by the resemblance. “I love Janelle Monaé and I love her new song,” he wrote. “I don’t know if she saw ‘A Fantastic Woman’ and if the moment with the round mirror between Marina’s legs inspired her. But anyway, it’s exciting to see it reflected — pun intended — in her new video.”
While some storytellers cry foul when they see their ideas in other work, in this case, a single creative idea has traveled through several vessels: Ordjanian’s photograph is a feminist meditation on a woman seeing her identity reflected in her physicality, while the shot in Lelio’s movie implies the feelings of a woman whose gender identity transcends the limitations society imposes on her, and Monaé seems to be exhibiting a more explicit message of female empowerment in a vicious battle of the sexes. “Let the vagina have a monologue,” she raps, as the camera zeroes in on the singer’s face in the mirror, and she continues, “Mansplaining, I fought ‘em like origami.”
For Lelio, the recurrence of the image speaks to its long-term viability. “Nothing is stronger than an idea for which the time has arrived,” he said. “It’s beautiful when cinema overflows into the fabric of society and popular culture. It’s exciting and an honor. I hope this moment of self-reflection is multiplied many times over.”
As for the earlier photograph by Ordjanian, Lelio said he hadn’t encountered it during the making of his film. “I’ve always liked photography that plays with bodies and mirrors but have never seen this one before,” he said, calling it “beautiful.”
This isn’t the first time that a revered arthouse release has found its way to the mainstream. In one of the most prominent recent examples, Beyonce’s 2016 visual album “Lemonade” included several explicit references to Julie Dash’s 1991 drama “Daughters of the Dust.”
Watch “Django Jane” in its entirety below.