Over the last decade, trans actors and creators have gradually become a powerful force in Hollywood. The still nascent trans canon has moved past simply telling trans stories; mounting critical pressure finally showed the powers that be that trans stories must above all center on trans people — both in front of and behind the camera.
This year saw the release of several quality films and TV shows steeped in authenticity, joy, and a genuine grappling with the complexities of the trans experience. There’s no better time to visit these projects than during Transgender Awareness Week, a week of celebration that culminates with Transgender Day of Remembrance on November 20, which memorializes victims of transphobic violence.
A decent place to start is the Laverne Cox-produced Netflix documentary “Disclosure,” which offers a comprehensive overview of trans folks onscreen, as well an impassioned argument for why representation matters. Continuing on the educational bent, Tanya Cipriano’s “Born to Be” is an affectionate portrait of a tireless surgeon who has committed his entire career to serving the trans community, and it releases this week.
On the TV side, Abby McEnany’s “Work in Progress” is a welcome discovery from Showtime. The dark comedy stars a gender non-conforming neurotic in a May-December relationship with an adorable trans guy, played by everyone’s favorite “The Politician” crush Theo Germaine. Showtime has proven a loyal friend to the trans community, as its biggest drama “Billions” continues to showcase non-binary actor Asia Kate Dillon in a pivotal role.
Here are nine fabulous trans movies and TV shows from 2020 that you can watch right now.
Exuding charm, infectious energy, and unshakeable confidence, Alice is the teenage trans girl protagonist of your movie dreams. She’s a runner-up in a reality competition show for young models, which she never lets her adoring public forget via her bubbly YouTube updates. She’s living her best life in a chic Brazilian city when her father unexpectedly moves her to the more conservative countryside. As Alice contends with boys’ school uniforms and ignorant bullying, she also opens herself up to new forms of friendship. First-time feature director Gil Baroni makes a grand entrance with this flirty, funny, heartfelt, and celebratory trans comedy. More trans films like this one, please.
Available on Netflix.
Courtesy of Disclosure Films
Director Sam Feder and executive producer Laverne Cox serve up a survey of trans representation on film, shaping the narrative around personal reflections from interview subjects, all of whom are trans. There are countless examples of trans characters being portrayed as evil and duplicitous or sad and pathetic; most of the time, trans characters die before the end of the story. When viewed all at once, this history is as surprising as it is troubling. From D.W. Griffith to “Law and Order: SVU,” “Disclosure” offers an accessible, moving, and in-depth account of trans representation in media. In making the film, Feder and Cox are rewriting the very history they set out to tell, adding one more title to “positive representation” list. That alone is worth coming out for.
Available on Netflix. Read IndieWire’s review here.
“The True Adventures of Wolfboy”
“The True Adventures of Wolfboy” follows a young boy named Paul (Jaeden Martell) who has Hypertrichosis, a rare condition causing excessive hair growth on the face that’s sometimes called “werewolf syndrome.” On his 13th birthday, Paul receives a note from his estranged mother after a fight with his well-meaning dad (Chris Messina), and sets off to find her. In his epic journey, he encounters a nefarious carnival master (John Turturro), a pink-haired modern-day pirate (Eve Hewson), and a wise-beyond-her-years trans girl who practically glows from the power of unabashed self love.
Radiating an otherworldly confidence, Aristiana (Sophie Giannamore) is the most important character in Paul’s journey to self-acceptance. She is the rare example of a young trans character standing fully in her power, whose arc is as far from the transition narrative as Paul is from home. While “Wolfboy” will surely resonate with anyone who has ever felt different or out of place, Aristiana’s prominence seals the film’s trans allegory — and it’s the heart of what makes it such an inspiring and tender coming-of-age fairytale.
Available to rent on iTunes, Amazon Prime, and all VOD platforms. Read IndieWire’s review here.
Isabel Sandoval’s luminous third feature announces the arrival of a new era of trans auteurs, illustrating the woefully untapped potential of marginalized storytellers. “Lingua Franca” follows the fiercely independent and self-protective Olivia, a trans woman and undocumented Filipina immigrant who falls for the grandson of the elderly woman she aids. Though the film is not autobiographical, Sandoval is a trans Filpina immigrant and stars in the film, keeping the point of view securely in Olivia’s control. Sandoval’s inspired editing draws the film’s relevant themes together with unexpected precision; she strings seemingly disparate moments together with a poet’s skill, blending the images into a discordant harmony. The film premiered in competition at the 2019 Venice Days Film Festival before its acquisition by Ava DuVernay’s ARRAY.
Available on Netflix. Read IndieWire’s review here.
“Born to Be”
“Not every patient wants to have a surgical transition. Transition can take many forms,” says Dr. Jess Ting in the trailer for “Born to Be,” a poignant and finely tuned documentary about his work as head surgeon at Mt. Sinai’s Center for Transgender Medicine and Surgery. Ting’s sensitive approach to the transgender population is just one reason he makes such a satisfying documentary subject — his sense of humor and background as a Juilliard-trained classical musician does the rest. Taking a page out of his book, filmmaker Tania Cypriano treats her tireless subject with utmost sensitivity. The film made its world premiere at the 2019 New York Film Festival, and was picked up for distribution by Kino Lorber.
Available on VOD through Kino Marquee beginning November 18. Read IndieWire’s review here.
HBO Documentary Films
Set in Kansas City, this tender documentary follows four trans kids over five years, shrewdly focusing on families and kids in America’s so-called “heartland.” While filmmaker Sharon Liese is not trans, she artfully navigates the nuances of some complicated narrative turns, assuring “Transhood” avoids the usual pitfalls to focus on their humanity. As legal challenges to trans kids’ human rights continue to follow a sinister path through conservative courts, “Transhood” is a vital record of what it’s like to grow up trans in the Trump era.
Available on HBO Max. Read IndieWire’s review here.
If you haven’t caught up with Tanya Saracho’s brilliantly entertaining and sizzlingly sexy series “Vida,” what are you waiting for? The half-hour dramedy is by far the best show about queer women of color on TV, perhaps ever. While the show was sadly canceled before it could fully explore Eddy’s shifting gender expression, the tender performance by non-binary actor Ser Anzoategui is a highlight. Even more impressive is how the story tracks the shifting Los Angeles neighborhood of Boyle Heights, navigating the difficult choices that communities face in gentrification’s unceasing churn. Although “Vida” is sadly no longer, the little queer show that could will always have a place in our hearts.
Available on Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, and Starz.
“Work in Progress”
The neurotic chubby butch finally gets her day in the sun, delivering the smartest, funniest, and most surprising queer show in years. Starring the hilariously delightful Abby McEnany, a Chicago improviser who co-created the show with Tim Mason, “Work in Progress” packages bold and vital commentary on mental illness, gender identity, and fat-phobia with a Larry David-esque dark sense of humor. The May-December romance between Abby and trans cutie Theo Germaine (“The Politician”) is not only sweet and sexy, but a brilliant way to examine inter-generational divides in the queer community.
Available on Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, and Showtime. Read IndieWire’s review here.
From its web series roots to its cult status on HBO, “High Maintenance” has always captured the heart and soul of contemporary New York City (or more realistically, Brooklyn) in profound ways — how could it not be queer? The stoner comedy strings humanist vignettes together through the eyes of an unnamed weed dealer, whose delivery service affords him poignant snapshots of everyday life. The most recent fourth season proved that creators Ben Sinclair and Katja Blichfeld have plenty of stories to tell, some of them downright transcendent. The eighth episode in Season 4, “Solo,” features a lovely and hilarious vignette starring trans actors Becca Blackwell, Rad Pereira, and Esco Jouley.
Available on HBO Max, Hulu, and Amazon Prime Video.