Okay, now I tend to be extremely conservative about jumping on Boycott bandwagons, especially in relation to entertainment/pop-culture products or projects. Before I was an activist of any kind, I was and am an actor, writer and comic performer. I’ve studied and worked in comedy for most of my life and I know what a fine line it is between what is offensive and what is funny. How often and easily that line blurs. I like inappropriate jokes, edgy entertainment and boundary pushing art.
I am also exceptionally leery of censorship of any kind, even and especially of topics that I am personally offended by. Restriction of free speech and artistic expression of any kind can be a very slippery slope. We voluntarily allow far too many freedoms to be taken away from us in the name of Political Correctness and Safety.
I also believe in basic decency and politeness though. I’m not much of a Christian, but the Bible did get it right when it said, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” I believe that. I think if we all treated each other with a bit more respect and open-mindedness the world would be a much better place.
So when I read the various Facebook posts by transgender friends and allies who were crying foul against a movie called “Ticked Off Trannies With Knives”, I was immediately on guard. I have previously defended the use of the word “tranny” as a popular colloquialism. I know it’s offensive, but it’s also fairly pervasive. I feel it’s better to defuse it than allow it to be a weapon.
That said, my immediate reaction, based on my relationship with and respect for the sources of the posts was one of personal offense. “This horrible film must be stopped!!!” My reaction was so visceral I felt I could not trust it. I needed to think before reacting. So I waded into the source material with an open mind, watched the trailer and read both the blog postings against the movie and the fan support for it.
After all, the film is being featured in the much respected Tribeca Film Festival, which was started by Robert DeNiro. I’m kind of a movie geek, so even a loosely implied connection to DeNiro is enough tom get my attention and excitement up.
The trailer immediately evoked some very emotional responses for me. It invoked the brutal death of Angie Zapata and other transgender women. Like a spell it conjured the horror of violence against my community. The violence that keeps me from being able to live with the woman I love in San Diego. Violence that I and many of my brothers, sisters and others live in fear of every day.
It tried to buddy up to me and say, “Hey, this is a movie by trannies, for trannies.” It painted itself as a movie that felt my pain and was as angry as I am!! A classic revenge fantasy. Bloody. Dangerous. Funny too. And maybe just a little inappropriate, but in the fine tradition of classic Blaxsploitation movies.
Blaxsploitation, if you’re not familiar was a genre of film that emerged in the early 1970’s that was often accused of portraying negative racial stereotypes and exploiting sensitive issues. But for all that, they were some of the first films to be made primarily for black audiences with almost entirely black casts and made by black filmmakers. For all of their faults, they are pretty amazing and groundbreaking films.
With that in mind, I was totally prepared to suspend my offense and possibly even be prepared to enjoy the trailer for a film that billed itself as “transploitation”. I actually kind of wanted to like it!
Geared up and angry from the invocation of transgender bashing and open minded from my love of movies like “Shaft” and “Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song” I found myself immediately disappointed by what appeared to be a cast of Drag Queens being billed as “transgender”. I found not identification and visceral vindication, but alienation and offense.
Even at that, I tried to remain open-minded. I all too often have people asking me if “I can do Streisand” and “What songs do you do?” When I tell them I’m a performer. Because I’m trans and an actor, people often assume I must be a female impersonator and it always pisses me off. So I was prepared to dig deeper. Maybe the movie was made by transgender filmmakers or had a transgender crew.
Nope and nope.
Turns out the movie was directed by a gay man with nary an actual transgender person* in sight. Hardly, the Melvin Van Peebles of our community. After very careful review and much critical thought I came to the conclusion that this movie, “Ticked Off Trannies With Knives” is not “transploitation” so much as simply, exploitation of transgender people.
Please, if you are a transgender person, an ally of transgender people or even just a lover of film, check out the links and the trailer below for yourself. If you are as offended as I am, let the folks who organize the Tribeca film festival know how you feel about this film.
*Author’s note: I am reliably informed that in addition to the now publicized 3 transgender women in lead roles, there were also a number of trans crew members. So there’s that. Weigh that as you will. -LE 4/19
(And yes, I know the link is broken… I left it as a sign that change is possible if we speak up. Director Luna re-edited the trailer and I’ve posted it below.)