WEEKLY REVIEW: TANGERINE
Cast: Kitana Kiki Rodriguez, Mya Taylor, Karren Karagulian, James Ransone
Directed by: Sean Baker
Written by: Sean Baker, Chris Bergoch
Premise: A transgender prostitute tears through Tinseltown on Christmas Eve searching for the pimp who broke her heart.
Two weeks ago, I saw Tangerine and the film became one of my favorite new films of the year. It’s certainly not perfect but the film’s narrative was refreshing and throughly entertaining to watch.
Tangerine has garnered a lot of attention for its technical use of an iPhone 5s camera but as innovative and brilliant as Baker’s directing is, I would rather focus on the film’s characters and story. Why? Because the foundation of the film and certainly its strong point is the loving friendship between two black transgender prostitutes. Having trans women of color as the leads in a film is sadly, something that rarely appears in mainstream film.
Tangerine‘s depiction of its protagonists, Alexandra and Sin-Dee, as prostitutes is a stereotype though. When Sin-Dee is revealed to be addicted to drugs as well, another familiar transgender trope emerges. Yet, unlike films such as Dallas Buyers Club, the camera never encourages the audience to pity the women. The prostitution and drug use in Tangerine is something to be neither admired nor pitied. Instead, it is simply a part of the reality for Alexandra, Sin-Dee, and many real women like them who refuse to become defined as tragic victims.
Instead, the film’s central plot of Sin-Dee chasing down her pimp boyfriend allows for a glimpse into the world of these hilarious women and their wonderful comic chemistry. As first-time actresses, Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor each deliver amazing performances. There’s an endearing charm to the way Rodriguez plays Sin-Dee’s loud, impulsive and dramatic character. Alexandra is reserved and much less prone to dramatics but shots of Taylor’s small facial expressions manage to say a lot.
So, when Tangerine takes time away from the women and introduces its secondary plot about an Armenian taxi driver with a family and secret transwoman fetish, I became less interested. I understand Baker’s motivation for showing different perspectives of the people in this little L.A. location and am interested by the immigrant inclusion but overall, I simply didn’t care for the B plot. I would have preferred a secondary plotline that intersected with the film’s best elements, Alexandra and Sin-Dee, rather than be taken out of the women’s sphere and inserted into another.
Even with an unsatisfying secondary plot, Tangerine was a joy to watch. Transgender buddy comedy films are definitely something we should see more of.
I hope that projects like Orange is the New Black, Sense8, and Tangerine, prompt more transgender stories by actual transgender creators and trans actors . Baker as well as other critics pointed out the director’s position as a cisgender white man telling the story of trans women of color but at least, Taylor and Rodriguez heavily influenced the film. I was glad to hear that the trans actresses had big part in the making of Tangerine from the film’s inception to its post-production. Hopefully there will be more transgender creators in front of and behind the camera in the future.