Manvi Dixit is a third year English Literature student with a desire to work in investigative journalism. She is very passionate about achieving accurate and just representation for POC within mainstream media. She serves as BAME Politics & Representation Current Events Reporter for The Clandestine.
Featured Image: A still from the movie, featuring the characters Sin-Dee and Alexandra]
Baker’s ‘Tangerine’ seeks to accurately and authentically represent trans street culture in Los Angeles. He underlines issues sex workers face on a day to day basis and gives the community a voice rather than speaking over with societal preconceptions. There is no overshadowing of villainization, victimhood or slut-shaming which is usually attached to the identity of the sex worker. The plot, genre choice, casting and cinematography combine to achieve a realistic image. As The Guardian writes ‘it represents a major leap for transgender people on film.’ Baker was able to successfully portray trans folk due his willingness to tell real stories in combination with the efforts of the stars: Kitana Kiki Rodri and Mya Taylor. Both Taylor and Rodri are black trans actresses who have experienced the ups and downs of living within subcultures in LA. Hearing their demands about creating ‘Tangerine’ to ‘present these characters to mainstream audiences in a pop culture way.’ Therefore, they would be relatable without stripping them of their legitimacy or vulnerability. The commendable balance of comedy and emotion does not take away from the gritty tone of the film. ‘Tangerine’ refuses to romanticize the life of an avid sex worker.
One of the most potent parts of the viewing experience is the cinematography. The film was shot on iphones which gives the film a raw feel and places the watcher right next to the two protagonists: Sin-Dee and Alexandra. This technique erases any distractactions whilst subverting heteronormative expectations. The space Sin-Dee and Alexandra exist in, within Santa Monaca, is established as the norm. You, as the watcher, are in such close proximity of the two – literally and metaphorically through intimate moments, one cannot focus on anything else. As opposed to many mainstream films about queer identity that showcase queerness as trying to assimilate within the fixed restraints of heteronormativity. By eliminating any plot about Sin-Dee and Alexandra ‘fitting in’ or teaching people acceptance, ‘Tangerine’ is able to focus on the protagonists as multi-dimensional characters whose identity doesn’t revolve around being trans. Plainly speaking, trans is not portrayed as ‘The Other’ for once. The buddy comedy aspect of the film normalizes the existence of trans people for an audience who is used to cis, white men inhabiting the buddy comedy genre. Not only is the representation solid in terms of trans folk but all three main characters are people of colour. Black bodies are not exploited or sexualised in the way they usually are in pop culture.
Moreover, the presence of the setting is so encompassing – it becomes a character of its own. Vibrant and eccentric but a ‘beautifully wrapped lie.’ Setting during Christmas Eve strikes as a strange choice considering the context of the film but ‘Tangerine’ is full of these oxymorons. The festive mood features through bright Christmas lights whilst in the foreground Sin-Dee drags Chester’s mistress bloody and brutalized through the streets. It serves as another example of how Baker destabilizes heteronormative standards. Ambulance lights and sirens frequently distract the audience from focussing on the Christmas-y atmosphere and instead make the whole experience disorientating. LA’s plastic, fast paced reputation highlights how false realities can fester. Especially in the case of Razmik’s character whose sexuality and affairs with trans sex workers is hidden from his family. The stirring climax of ‘Tangerine’ confronts adultery and shows us a typical scenario when a man is prompted to take accountability but chooses the method of gaslighting who he has hurt instead. It is a true to life portrayal of how the patriarchy lives on today. The duality of their characters is a remarkable foil for the openness and integrity of the two protagonists. Chester (Sin-Dee’s cheating fiance) and Razmik become mirrors for each other’s facades. In this manner, ‘Tangerine’ is relatable in battling issues many face in their personal lives as a result of toxic masculinity.
Baker maintains the balance between acknowledging the struggles of trans women without centering the characters’ identities around it is the nuanced depiction of perceived femininity. I.e society’s expectations of perceived femininity. For instance, Sin-Dee’s violent rage towards the woman Chester cheats on her with is rooted in the fact the mistress is what society thinks is a ‘real woman.’ In terms of Sin-Dee and Alexandra’s identity as sex workers, ‘Tangerine’ hihglihgts multiple grievances the community faces regularly. The self awareness intertwined with the portrayal comes from Taylor and Rodri’s experiences. Light is shone on drug abuse, homelessness and being exploited by customers but sex workers are not painted as criminals or demonized for their means of getting by. A big deal in the face of many warped or overtly glamourized depictions of sex workers. One of the latest being ‘Hustlers.’ The strength of friendship between women prevails over all in ‘Tangerine’ which is embodied through Alexandra gesture in giving Sin-Dee her wig after hers is ruined as a result of a hate crime. The wig turns into a symbol of solidarity between trans women in the community. Sin-Dee and Alexandra’s boundless compassion for each other is at the heart of this film and clearly why so many adore it.
Tangerine. 2015. [film] Directed by S. Baker. Los Angeles: Duplass Brothers Productions.
Dargis, M., 2015. Review: ‘Tangerine,’ A Madcap Buddy Picture About Transgender Prostitutes (Published 2015). [online] Nytimes.com. Available at: <https://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/10/movies/review-tangerine-a-madcap-buddy-picture-about-transgender-prostitutes.html> [Accessed 28 October 2020].
Smith, N., 2015. Tangerine Is A Big Deal, Not Just Because It Was Shot On An Iphone. [online] the Guardian. Available at: <https://www.theguardian.com/film/2015/jul/10/tangerine-film-iphone-buddy-comedy-transgender-prostitutes> [Accessed 27 October 2020].IMDb. 2015. Tangerine (2015) – Imdb. [online] Available at: <https://www.imdb.com/title/tt3824458/> [Accessed 28 Octobe