'A Fantastic Woman' and 10 great transgender films

06 Mar 2018 BY Joe Ursell in Film Features

5 mins
A Fantastic Woman
A Fantastic Woman

Chilean drama A Fantastic Woman is a humane and moving story that recently became the country's first film to ever win the Oscar® for Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards. Its star, Daniela Vega, also became the first transgender actor to present an award at the ceremony.

Directed by Sebastian Lelio, it tells the story of Marina, a nightclub singer working in Chile. When her older boyfriend Orlando dies suddenly, Marina, rather than being allowed to grieve, finds herself facing bigotry, hostility and persecution from Orlando's family and the state authorities because she is a trans woman. However, Marina fights against this discrimination and persecution to stand defiant, as an inspirational figure.

With luck, the international success of the film at awards ceremonies will encourage and enable a wider audience to discover it,demonstrating that the true significance of such occasions lies not in film stars handing out statues to one another, but in bringing a wider range of cinema to the attention of more people around the world. A Fantastic Woman is a tremendous example of film's ability to generate empathy, deepening audience understanding of complex issues through its powerful telling of simple, but achingly human stories. Marina herself is an inspiring role model. 

Explore the themes of A Fantastic Woman further with our Into Film Recommends podcast below, or log in to SoundCloud to download the podcast and listen on the go.

The Into Film Recommends Podcast Series is also available on iTunes.

Following on from the film's success, and with trans issues part of the wider cultural conversation as never before, here are ten more great films that deal with aspects of trans culture and inform and entertain young audiences about an oft misunderstood subject matter.

52 Tuesdays

52 Tuesdays is a beautiful coming-of-age drama from Australia about the relationship between teenager Billie, and her mother Jane, who has recently come out as transgender and begun living life as James. The title is taken from a unique shooting approach, filming once a week, every Tuesday, for a year, as James goes through his gender reassignment, with Billie experiencing her own set of identity issues. Tackling its subject matter with tremendous honesty, the film also engages with universal themes around growing up and the complex relationships between parents and their children with warmth and humour.

The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert 

Australia is also the setting for this exuberant, vibrant and highly camp classic about a pair of drag queens and a transgender woman travelling around the dusty outback on a bus, bringing their unique brand of cabaret to unsuspecting audiences. Riotously entertaining, the film was a huge mainstream hit, and demonstrates that social and political points can be made just as powerfully through the sheer force of entertainment, vitality, and pride (as well as some utterly fabulous costumes) as they can through hard-hitting drama.

All About My Mother 

A Fantastic Woman has attracted comparisons with the work of Spanish auteur Pedro Almódovar, the director of many seminal LGBT themed films. For many, All About My Mother is his masterpiece, notable for the significance of trans characters to the narrative, the film dealing with a grieving mother who never told her late son that his father was a transsexual woman, as is the mother's best friend. The film's depiction of trans women as three-dimensional characters of wit and warmth was a huge factor in the acclaim this gorgeous, compassionate story received around the world.

Dallas Buyers Club 

Jared Leto won an Oscar® for his portrayal of a fictional woman living with HIV who helps protagonist Ron Woodruff overcome his intense and violent bigotry towards the LGBT community at the height of the AIDS crisis. The film was instrumental in using star power to bring previously taboo topics to mainstream audiences and helped to raise the profile of issues affecting some members of the trans community, although the casting of a cis-male in the role of Rayon was controversial at the time. Attitudes have changed so rapidly since that it seems likely the filmmakers would take a more authentic casting approach today. But it remains a powerful film of gritty, raw emotion.

The Danish Girl 

Into Film ambassador Eddie Redmayne was nominated for an Oscar® for his role as artist Lili Elbe. One of the first known people to undergo gender reassignment surgery, in 1930, the film deals movingly with Lili's struggles to articulate who she is to a woefully ignorant outside world. The casting of a straight cisgender male star in the lead role was controversial for some, and the film also faced criticism for supposedly watering down Lili's bohemian lifestyle, but it is an important title for using mainstream cinema to discuss a subject many in the audience may know little about, with empathetic performances from Redmayne and Alicia Vikander as Lili's wife Gerda.

Listen to our interview with the Screenwriter of the Danish Girl, Lucinda Coxon. Also available on itunes.

Laurence Anyways 

Directed by French-Canadian wunderkind Xavier Dolan, this sprawling, hugely ambitious film takes place over ten years and tells the story of Laurence, a university lecturer with an overwhelming desire to live as a transgender woman. Laurence and girlfriend Frederique are faced with vicious discrimination in their personal and professional lives, testing their relationship to the limit. Operatic, stylish and passionate, the film was made when the director was still in his early 20s and further showcases him as one of the most significant cinematic voices of his generation. 

Ma Vie En Rose 

Ludovic is a seven year-old boy whose favourite pastime is to dress up in makeup and dresses, and keeps telling people that he would prefer to be female. The sensitive story generates enormous empathy from its audience, who are witness to the patronising Ludo faces, being constantly told that their behaviour is simply a phase. When Ludo begins appearing in public as a girl and declares their intention to marry the boy next girl, the bigotry and intolerance of the family's neighbours and peers are exposed, but the film retains a warmth and humanity throughout. 

Tangerine 

Sean Baker has become one of the most exciting filmmakers on the American indie scene. His breakthrough feature, Tangerine, was filmed entirely on iPhones on a micro budget. Shot on the streets of downtown Los Angeles, the verité style complements a narrative about a transgender street worker recently released from prison on a mission to track down the ex-boyfriend who broke her heart. Told with an unflinching gaze and vibrancy, the film depicts an underground area of urban culture with rawness and humour, eliciting a remarkable trust amongst the community where the film takes place, largely thanks to the casting of trans actors in central roles. 

Tomboy 

This beautifully understated, naturalistic story about childhood gender confusion is hugely touching and affecting. Ten year-old Laure has moved with her family to a new neighbourhood on the outskirts of Paris, but begins introducing themselves to new classmates as Michael, leading an increasingly complicated double-life that is kept a secret from her parents. The film makes no judgement or presumptions about Laure/Michael's future, but passionately advocates for children and young people to be given the time and space to experiment and discover who they are without judgement or persecution. 

XXY 

This sensitive, gentle Argentinian drama tells the story of Alex, a 15 year-old intersex person, who cannot be physically characterised as male or female due to an extra X chromosome, but has been living as a girl. When she was younger she was always able to conceal her condition from others, but now she is a teenager and hormones begin to take over that becomes increasingly challenging. To avoid too much scrutiny Alex's parents move her from the city to a tiny village in Uruguay where she develops a budding romance with the son of a doctor encouraging her to consider gender reassignment surgery. A sweet, moving drama about a little discussed subject.  

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Cras sit amet felis eget eros tristique aliquet volutpat id erat. Quisque consectetur commodo elementum. Duis tempus consectetur enim a varius. Donec in dapibus nisi, iaculis suscipit odio. Mauris ac nulla interdum, dapibus est molestie, sodales lacus. Donec id luctus mauris. Donec non vestibulum turpis. Donec tempus libero sapien, in commodo risus vulputate suscipit.

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.

You may also be interested in...

Viewing 4 of 4 related items.

film club

Clubs

Discover free films for watching, discussing and exploring filmmaking.

write articles for us

Want to write for us?

Get in touch with your article ideas for the News and Views section.