How 52 Tuesdays tackles transgender issues in cinema

05 Aug 2015 BY Joe Ursell in Film Features

6 mins
Still from the film 52 Tuesdays
Still from the film 52 Tuesdays

52 Tuesdays is an Australian coming-of-age story about the relationship between sixteen-year old girl Billie and her mother Jane, who has recently come out as transgender, and changed her name to James.

The film follows James through his gender reassignment over the course of a year. Billie, meanwhile is going through her own identity issues, documented in a series of frank, self-made home videos, as she begins experimenting with a new group of friends.

Although the film's story might seem unusual, it deals with universal issues regarding identity, growing up, and the complicated, often fractious relationship between parents and their children in a warm-hearted, entertaining and humorous fashion. Billie is the kind of spiky, intelligent, and slightly troubled teenager that many of us will recognise. This particularly comes across in the use of Billie's home videos, which provide the film with an intimate, confessional tone and allow for a mature and sensitive discussion around developing sexuality.

A Unique Production

Living up to the film's title, the filmmakers took the unusual approach of filming only every Tuesday, over the course of a year. The cast were only given their scripts one week at a time, and only for the scenes in which they appeared, lending the narrative and performances a uniquely organic feel. Filming would always conclude by midnight and everything was shot in sequence - highly unusual for a feature film, as most are usually shot non-chronologically, for practical purposes.

The film's structure actually came about before the filmmakers had even developed their story: screenwriter Matthew Cormack suggested the idea of two people meeting once a week over the course of a year, with filming only taking place on those days, and the story evolved from there.

The film is also fairly unusual in that the cast are all non-professional actors. Being an independent film with a unique shooting structure, this was partly due to practicality and budgetary constraints, however, artistically, the approach also allows the audience to invest further in a group of performers that they've never seen before. It also encourages the actors to take more creative risks with their work, unencumbered by concerns about their image.

Path to the Screen

52 Tuesdays is being distributed in the UK by Peccadillo Pictures, who specialise in bringing LGBT cinema from around the world to bigger audiences. Our catalogue is stacked with loads of their great films - we particularly recommend The Way He Looks; Before Stonewall; GBF; and The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros.

52 Tuesdays has already had tremendous success at various film festivals around the world - even more impressive given the fact that this is director Sophie Hyde's debut feature. As well as being the closing night gala of the 2014 BFI Flare Festival, the film also picked up awards at such prestigious events as Sundance and Berlin, where it won the Crystal Bear award, presided over by a jury of young people. For a film of this size, success in these international festivals is crucial, encouraging film distributors around the world to buy the film and screen it in cinemas. These festivals have helped to launch the careers of many of the biggest filmmakers around today, and we hope that 52 Tuesdays director Sophie Hyde might be the next star on the list.

Transgender Roles in Cinema

Transgender representations in mainstream film remain quite rare, although this does seem to be slowly changing, and more positive trans stories are being told. In Hollywood, Jared Leto recently won an Oscar for playing a transgender character in Dallas Buyers Club. We'd also recommend Transamerica, a sort of inverse 52 Tuesdays, where a son bonds with his transgender father, and also 1970s crime thriller Dog Day Afternoon, which features a trans character.

Within world cinema, legendary Spanish director Pedro Almodovar has long been celebrated for his positive contribution to transgender representations on screen, particularly in such films such as All About My Mother and Bad Education. Young French-Canadian auteur Xavier Dolan recently made the hugely ambitious Laurence Anyways, and for something a bit more exuberant; you can't beat the Australian classic, The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert.

Two of our personal favourites are French films Tomboy and Ma Vie En Rose, which both tell stories about children who are questioning their gender identity. Both are important, empowering and accessible films, that are sure to resonate strongly with all audiences.

These films are important pieces of cinema, and show how film can elicit empathy, and allow for a greater understanding of LGBT issues in a society which can often appear complicated and distant. These films deserve to be seen, and to be discussed, and the next big step will be seeing more stories told where a character's atypical gender identity is incidental to a film's narrative, rather than the sole reason for the story.

Portrait picture of Joe Ursell

Joe Ursell, Film Curator

Joe has a BA in Film & American Studies from the University of East Anglia and an MA in Contemporary Cinema Cultures from King's College London. He has worked with the BFI London Film Festival and on the production of ITV documentary 56 Up.

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