So there's a protest being organized for tomorrow in New York against the Tribeca Film Festival's decision to give "Ticked Off Epithet-That-I'm-Not-Going-To-Repeat With Knives" it's world premiere. I plan to be there, and I hope New York area Shakers can make their way down (bring a candle in memory of Angie Zapata).
Now, over here we've talked about the million and one reasons that this entire project—but most especially, the trailer—its fan-failing-tastic, but I thought I'd review some of the more pernicious defenses of the film that have been floating around the 'Nets of late. Just in case you need to defend against the concerned. (I won't touch upon the normal silencing tactics, like the appeal to the Law of Conservation of Protest or the Razor of Lighten Up, It's a Joke.)
It's a revenge fantasy, and that's good, right? I'm not going to touch on the morality of revenge fantasies (mostly because I've been guilty in that regard myself), but it's important to note two things: First the absolutely despicable use of the real life tragedies of Angie Zapata Jorge Mercado. We've all talked about that. But the trouble doesn't stop there: as Gina notes, director Israel Luna made the film because, essentially, gay revenge fantasies are played out and trans folk are the next in thing:
I didn't want to write about a male gay bashing victim. That's a story we've seen all too often, and I wanted to do something more modern and I thought "Whose story do you never see on the news these days?" It's not gay men—it's transgenders.It seems the word most strongly associated with this film shouldn't be revenge—it's appropriation.
But he says it's part of the culture he knows! And his trans friends use say um, you know, all the time! All that may be true. I myself have known a few trans subcultures that superficially resemble Mr. Luna's mise-en-scene. I'm not even incredibly freaked out about the obvious dragginess of all the trans characters, because there are definitely trans drag queens.
But. This film deliberately invokes trans experience. The trailer mentions a murdered young woman who lived a life nothing like that of the characters in this story. And the truth is, many trans folk don't live a life anything like the life depicted in this film. (Most trans women of my acquaintance wouldn't have a name like Emma Grashen even to do sex work.) The film deliberately conflates trans and drag experience in order to provide the most exploitative titillation possible to the audience—to keep you always aware that these are "really" men, not women.
Well, it's a transploitation film. It's, like, a homage to the blaxploitation films! Only with tra—okay, okay, that word. And here is where we move into the really offensive territory. Folks, the "ploitation" in blaxploitation is there for a reason. Most of the films of that genre were made by white directors, producers, and writers, and furthered a whole host of lazy stereotypes under the thin cover of finally giving African-American actors leading roles. So to use the idea that this is a throwback to a fun genre is to be stupendously clueless.
But wait. It's even worse. Most of the first films of the "blaxploitation" genre were actually made by black people. Movies like Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song (directed by Melvin Van Peebles), the original Shaft (directed by acclaimed photographer Gordon Parks), and Cotton Comes to Harlem (directed by Ossie Davis) not only were all directed by black people, but were also very different from the cheaply exploitative films that followed in their wake, once they proved that there was an audience eager to watch actors who looked like them on the big screen. Take, for example, Shaft: Beneath its sensationalistic (if often beautifully shot) exterior, there are messages of racial solidarity, standing up to a prejudiced power structure, and perhaps most importantly, an African-American man as a private investigator, post-war cinema's favorite male heroic myth. (And notably, his office isn't uptown in Harlem, it's downtown on Times Square, the metaphorical heart of New York City.)
For Luna's defenders to hide behind the idea that they are making a harmless, campy trans version of "blaxploitation" movies is to ignore the proud origin and subsequent ugly history of the genre. It's not even the contextless cluelessness of, say Tarantino, who at least obviously loves both the films and the people who made them. It's to shortcut the whole idea that stories about a marginalized community should originate in that community.
That's not even hipster irony. That's just being a douchebag.
But trans women are in this movie! Yeah, and Rock Hudson was in a bunch of movies that implied heterosexual marriage was the only path to happiness, and even Nathan Lane played straight for a bunch of years. Given the incredible scarcity of roles for trans actors—I mean, I love Felicity Huffman and all, but the movie had the word trans in the title and the main role was still played by a cis actor?—I'm not surprised that trans people worked on this movie. And more power to them. I'm not in the habit of criticizing the ways that people try to come to terms with their oppression.
But trans people didn't write the film. They didn't produce the film. They didn't direct the film. They didn't edit it afterwards. And they for fuck sure didn't make the trailer. All those have a hell of a lot more influence on the final result than their performance.
And about that word—surely it's okay to use it if you're being... Seriously, don't. And Israel Luna should know better—as somebody who works for the Dallas Voice, he should remember (or they should remind him) about the furor they stirred up last year when they declared that RuPaul had made it okay to use the word tra**y and us poor trans folk should not get our panties in a twist. Or maybe he does remember, because he's enacting the exact same appropriative, inappropriate BS where in people in the gay community get to tell people in the trans community how we should refer to ourselves, present ourselves, and—hi, Christian Soriano!—allow ourselves to be slang expressions for all that is ugly, dowdy, and in poor taste about women.
Well you know what? We're not going to listen. This time we're going to make ourselves heard. Because we're tired of our dead being marginalized, overlooked, and even used as advertising material for a cheap gimmick of a film.