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REVIEW — Tangerine (2015)

March 29, 2016

FilmJuice have my review of Sean S. Baker’s endlessly superb Tangerine.

Released at last year’s Sundance film festival, Tangerine is an intensely human and intensely beautiful drama about an African American trans woman sex worker who gets out of jail only to discover that her long-term pimp-slash-boyfriend has been hooking up with another woman. Shocked, saddened, and enraged by the fact that her boyfriend’s new squeeze is rumoured to be cisgender, the film’s protagonist rampages around North Hollywood in search of answers and vengeance.

As I explain in my review, Tangerine is a technical triumph in so far as it was made entirely with tools that are within the reach of amateur filmmakers. This means no expensive post-production processes, no experimental HD digital cameras, just a couple of old mobile phones and a lot of vision. However, aside from being a technical triumph, Tangerine is also a film about the emotional lives of trans women and so speaks to the humanity of a group that are frequently misunderstood, slandered, and oppressed even by people who would normally consider themselves progressive.

 

Aside from being a moving and insightful character study of both Sin-Dee and Alexandra, Tangerine also goes out of its way to comment on broader issues of gender and sexuality. For example, there’s a lovely scene quite early on when an elderly Native American complains to a taxi driver about his mother’s decision to name him Mia as while the name means ‘red bird’ in Cherokee, it just sounds like a woman’s name to Anglo-Saxon ears. The old man then goes on to joke that his mother might as well have looked out the window and named him after some animal droppings, such is the hardship of growing up with a name that does not fit your chosen gender. Now, imagine if your problems regarding gender extended beyond your name to your entire body. Imagine if your every effort to make your physical body and personality a better fit with your gender provoked more pain and more abuse. Imagine both of those things and you may be part of the way towards understanding what it means to be either Sin-Dee or Alexandra.

 

At time of writing the state of North Carolina has just passed a new law making it a lot easier to discriminate against LGBT people and the thin end of the wedge was the idea that protecting a trans person’s right to use the toilet of their preferred gender would somehow make it easier for rapists to gain access to women’s toilets and locker rooms.

Aside from being little more than a right-wing myth with no basis whatsoever in reality, the mere framing of this argument shows the extent to which supposedly enlightened lawmakers are willing to speak of the transgender community in the same breath as they speak of criminals and deviants.

Thankfully, the constitutional basis for these new laws is already being called into question and hopefully they will not be in place for long. However, the fact that people in this day and age could support such laws and present such arguments speaks to both the importance and the timeliness of Tangerine. This is a beautiful film and it is more than deserving of your attention.

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