The 11th Annual Philadelphia Trans-Health Conference, held this year between May 31st and June 2nd at the Convention Center, was a free three-day conference composed of workshops, seminars, and films “focused on the health and well-being of transgender people, communities and allies.”
“PTHC proudly offers a space for transgender people and allies, families, and providers to come together to re-envision what health means for transgender people. The focus of this unique conference is promoting transgender health and wellness in mind, body, spirit, and community. PTHC recognizes the interconnections among all aspects of our well-being; including health, safety, education, employment, housing, and social support.”
One of the seminars was devoted to Bollywood Cinema’s depictions of Hijra; a Male-To-Female trans identity in Hindi culture. Ultimately, the seminar underscored the power that cinema has to frame identities, struggles, and attitudes – whether slanted positively or negatively. Philly screens have been host to a number of films this year that explore trans narratives and characters, including the acclaimed Tomboy, Sundance favorite Pariah, Almodovar’s savagely dark The Skin I Live In, as well as the trailblazing Israeli film Melting Away shown at the Philly Israeli Film Fest. Fortunately all these films have been fair, sensitive, and dynamic in their handling of such subjects (taking care enough to make these individuals into subjects rather than objects)
Without A Screen takes the time to curate a hypothetical film sidebar to the Trans Health Conference, with titles that feature trans individuals in complex portrayals. *where appropriate, the pronoun “They” or “Their” is used in place of he/she her/him in the following film descriptions.
Bad Education (2004) – Almodovar’s noir-est of noirs, Bad Education films charts a convoluted course of false identities, torrid histories, first loves torn asunder, is arguably the filmmakers best work. Ignacio (Gael Garcia Bernal), who demands to be called Angel, approaches filmmaker Enrique to option a script, and claims to be Enrique’s first love from their days in a Franco Era Catholic school. Bernal’s character will have many other names before the credits role, and the truth is ever more strange and severe as Almodovar churns his story. Filled with gay and trans elements, Almodovar uses them to enrich the narrative’s exploration of idetntity.
Boys Don’t Cry (1990) - Based on actual events, Hillary Swank (in her oscar winning role) plays Brandon Teena, the new guy in a Nebraska town, who drinks with the best of them, and charms the local girls. Unfortunately, this simple and rugged bliss is taken to task when Brandon’s police record catches up with him, and his true identity is exposed.
Orlando (1992) - Queen Elizabeth I bids nobleman Orlando (Tilda Swinton) “Do not fade, do not wither, do not grow old.” The film follows Orlando as he metamorphoses – while sleeping through a revolution – into a woman, retaining the same mind and soul but housed in a new body. The sensually rendered story spans centuries of.
Zatoichi The Blind Swordsman (2003) – Takeshi Kitano’s Venice Film Festival winner is a revival of one of the most beloved and prolific franchises in film history, and a wonderful entry at that. The blind masseur/swordsman arrives in a town controlled by warring gangs, and while bunking with a farming family, he meets two women with a hidden agenda. Though the trans element to Zatoichi is rather minor, the geisha character Osei (played by male actor Daigoro Tachibana) presents a memorable and sympathetic image of a trans individual where their nature is informed by the drama and vice versa. PS: Every movie should end the way this one does.
Tamanna (1998) - 1975 Mahim, Bombay. Tikku, a eunuch (Hijra), is destitute. In the throws of grief after their mother’s death, Tikku witnesses a woman dumping her child in a garbage bin. Tikku rescues the chiled, names her Tamanna, and raises her as a single parent, and even arranges Tamanna’s education and marriage.
Breakfast on Pluto (2005) – Cillian Murphy is nearly saccharine as Patrick “Kitten” Braden. Neil Jordan’s film, a return to the transgendered character (partly an analogy for a divided Ireland), takes place in the 70’s. Kitten leaves their hometown, partly in search of their mother and partly because their transgender nature makes some unpleasant waves. He’s taken in by a rock band where he falls for the lead singer, has brushes with the IRA, is arrested, and works in a peep show. “Throughout, his nationality and his nature put him at great risk.” While seeking the idealistic image of their mother retained from childhood (which informs Kitten’s own imaging as a woman), they manage to charm a strange cross-section of society and change people lives with kindness.