Tangerine: An Opportunity Emerges for Transgender Actors

Tangerine: An Opportunity Emerges for Transgender Actors

Writer and director Sean Baker’s newest film, Tangerine, focuses on the friendship of two transgender sex workers in West Hollywood, Sin-Dee (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) and Alexandra (Mya Taylor), who seek revenge on Sin-Dee’s pimp boyfriend upon discovering that he cheated on her. This hilarious and authentic film is sure to be a major turning point for transgender actors, due to the current lack of roles for trans actors across the entire film and entertainment industry.

While the number of current films and television shows featuring transgender characters is increasing, those roles are often portrayed by non-trans female and male actors, as opposed to trans female and trans male actors. After the American actor Jared Leto won an Academy Award for his role as a drug-addicted, HIV-positive trans woman in the 2013 film The Dallas Buyers Club, there was some backlash from the LGBT community. Despite the importance of this film in portraying a trans woman, many people argued that Leto’s role should have been portrayed by a trans actor instead, and that ­­­­his performance was a slap in the face to trans actors. In the new 2015 film The Danish Girl, Eddie Redmayne stars as Lili Elbe, one of the first known recipients of gender reassignment surgery. While this film is surely groundbreaking in its portrayal of a transgender individual, some are already critiquing the film, stating that the role of Lili should have gone to a transgender actor instead of Redmayne. However, director Tom Hooper explained his reasoning in casting a cisgender male over a transgender male, and noted the importance and need to open doors for trans-actors in the industry. Regardless, the film industry has yet to fully accept trans actors as equals in the business, and has not granted trans men and women the opportunity to flourish in film.

Sean Baker’s film is groundbreaking for that exact reason, though. Tangerine’s honest performance from two trans female actors portraying trans female brings a genuine approach to the film and a new, but promising glimpse into the future for trans actors. As Baker stated in an interview, “if there are trans actors out there, why not give them roles?”  Mya Taylor and Kitana Kiki Rodriguez are fresh faces who are sure to make a splash with their breakout performances in Tangerine. Take a look at some of the current transgender actors who are helping break boundaries and creating a name for trans-actors everywhere.

 Mya Taylor

Relative newcomer Mya Taylor is quickly bringing attention to the transgender community after her role in Tangerine. Approached by director Sean Baker to help craft the truth and honesty that Tangerine evokes, Taylor is certainly one to watch. Since her performance in Tangerine, Mya has already completed another film project, and is working on producing an album. Taylor’s work with Sean Baker allowed the film to emit truth, as a lot of the material was based on stories and experiences Taylor’s friends have had. The humour and banter with Kitana Kiki Rodriguez (Sin-Dee) was also totally authentic, because Taylor insisted that if she were to be in the movie, the humour must stay true to who Taylor is as a person. As a transgender actor portraying a trans woman, Taylor is helping break down previous social stigmas towards trans actors, and is also opening doors and acting opportunities for transgender actors in the future.

Kitana Kiki Rodriguez

Kitana Kiki Rodriguez is a transgender actor who stars alongside Mya Taylor in the new film, Tangerine. A lifelong friend of Taylor’s, Rodriguez was introduced to the film when she met director Sean Baker through Mya. Rodriguez, like Taylor, is similar to her character in the film because she wanted her personality to be displayed through the film, and she insisted that director Sean Baker portray the honest reality of West Hollywood throughout the film. It is through the genuine portrayal of Rodriguez, alongside Taylor, that audiences are allowed an authentic look at the lives of two trans women, something that is sure to change the conversation and break down social stigmas that surround trans persons currently.

Laverne Cox

Known best for her reoccurring role in Netflix’s hit show, Orange is the New Black, Laverne Cox portrays a trans woman locked up for credit-card fraud. With this role, Cox has taken the opportunity to bring awareness to transgender rights. She has been the only transgender person thus far to be nominated for an Emmy award, and through her own series TRANSform Me, speaking and writing for news and social media outlets, and even posing for magazine covers, Laverne Cox has put her name and face out to the world, and started a global conversation about transgender persons. Cox has become an extremely influential actor and advocate, and a role model for many transgender and cisgender persons alike.

 Caitlyn Jenner

Caitlyn Jenner has made major headlines over the past year for her openness about her gender transition. Though she is technically not an actor, Jenner is forever linked with the Kardashian clan after starring on the reality show Keeping up with the Kardashians while married to ex-wife, Kris Jenner. Caitlyn was a public figure even before the Kardashians, though, and is best known for winning the men’s decathlon in the 1976 Olympics. Using her popularity to her advantage, Jenner has paved the way for many transgender persons by speaking openly of her lifelong struggles and her identification as a trans woman. With her new documentary show, I am Cait, focusing on her gender transition, Jenner has become one of the world’s biggest LGBT’s advocates, and a huge role model for people around the world. Jenner’s very public gender transition has started a global conversation on transgender persons, breaking down social barriers on what was once a topic few chose to discuss.

TANGERINE is in cinemas Friday. 

About The Author

Reviews Editor, Contributor and Festival Coordinator

Ollie has written for Front Row Reviews pretty much since its inception about seven years ago whilst still studying Film & Television. Since then, he was trust into the world of independent film distribution and has recently started working with Picturehouse Entertainment in their Marketing Department. Having written and produced two radio series, he is moving hoping to (one day) write a web series/short film/feature (delete as appropriate ;)). His favourite director is David Lynch (which makes him make a lot of sense!) and his favourite films are The Hours, Mulholland Drive, Volver, Blade Runner and Bridget Jones Diary.

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