Tangerine the Film-not a Sweet Fruit, but a Bitter yet Bright, and Necessary LA story

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I really enjoyed this debut feature film by Sean Baker.

The film was shot entirely on a number of iphones all over East and Central Hollywood, this film tells a few interwoven stories about LA’s often unheard, street hustlers over the holiday weekend during Christmas: from sex workers, to pimps, to taxi drivers to all of the above.

And I’ll admit that I’m no expert on trans film, but it seems like Tangerine is important narrative for both trans, and sex workers alike and the cultural stigmas we often have been pushing for within both the trans communities and or your immigrant taxi driver types which makes me wonder-why do we undervalue so many people who don’t look like Brad Pitt or Emma Stone? Of course that thing we all call as being ‘white privilege’ pops up and out yet again as these were the dominant people who founded this suposed civilized society.

And what about the Armenian people? Overall, in 90% all films/TV, they are generally written into the roles of mobsters, thugs or some like a dim-witted mob boss. In most all western films we are told through the roles written and portrayed that most all non-native English speakers in America cannot be intelligent at all right? Not so much. A thick accent does not mean that one is stupid nor hot headed.

And what about trans people, or trans people of color? They are shown as either sex workers or an inmate not unlike in Orange Is The New Black? And I guess that’s the way Hollywood works rights? In every portrayal of people of color and or non-white non-heterosexual people were first shown as maids, butlers, bad guys/girls and or sex workers or something else like ‘lower than’ society’s norms.

Not to say that this film is not an amazing achievement via cinema and as it gives real and true voice, humanity and feeling who are often never given anything more than some kitschy one liner that some old white guy thought up.

And so what about trans people and their representations? Especially in this ever growing climate of more prominent and real representations of trans people like in Amazon’s Transparent.

From what I understand, Transparent, was created as more of a reflection of the creator Jill Soloway’s story of her own family life and experiences about her own father coming out as trans later on in life .

And yes at first, alot of us (myself included) were mad at Transparent mostly being based upon a rich white family from a background of college education and white privilege. And yes I am not saying that I myself do not come from some forms of privilege, because I do.

But I ask, should we as a people hate Jill’s family story because it is that of a white privilege and advantage? Not exactly, yet this still reflects our larger problem within that old, white Hollywood film machine.

For my own take on it: diversity inside stories like Transparent are important, yet it’s also important to allow for those non-white,  economically challenged people to make and create more opportunities for self expression as if we simply throw in one black character for the sake of fullfilling complainting bloggers (like myself ) rather than helping these other non white voices have a complete and lone standing narrative, then we are no better than the people who cast only the black butlers back in the late 1930s during Three Stooges episodes. Unless you are talking about HBO’s “Girls” which actually did this exact thing, yet it seemed like not an attempt to respond to claims of racial exceptionalism but more so a reflection of a larger sort of ‘fuck you’ subtext. As for me, HBO’s race problem is just that, the only time you hear a true voice of color on HBO is in some sort of inspirational documentary, and then when it comes to more fictional narratives (exceptions excluding like: The Wire and Treme) we seem to only see those same white faces over and over again.

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As for And yes, I do belive that Tangerine doesn’t reflect the feelings of all trans sex workers of color, just how Jill Soloway’s show could never reflect the entire culture of all trans people everywhere.

And aside from Jill’s show, and this new film, we have few exceptions in Hollywood except for Laverne Cox in Orange is The New Black. 

I’d like to hope and or guess that there will be other newer shows coming out soon.

In closing I’d like to hope for a better now and future so, but again we have to look at all of this through a larger lens-that of the post colonial lens as this is what America is: a country still affected by the ramifications of slavery i.e the first narrative most people will normally pay attention would be that of a white person’s, as that is what this society has been conditioned to understand and follow.

The time has come for even us white people to try and unlearn all these concepts and precepts that our post slavery and white dominated society has been telling us to pay attention to and for us to untrain those jaded eyes into that larger and wider world view of life and so many and varied cultural understandings of what life is for all people as to what life should be for us and us alone as I for one am sick of it and that same old tired story heard over and over again.

I’ll also note that trans and or Amenian film tangents aside Tangerine was mostly shot in my old/current neighborhood of East Hollywood/Silverlake. There are even scenes by my infamous former apartment building over in Little Mexico on Santa Monica Blvd. I lived there not so long ago when I was a newbie to LA, had no car, nor money and was often mistaken for a street hustler myself. On more than one occasion I was approached by mostly older married men of all sizes, shapes, colors and classes. I once even had an elderly white guy, who must have been in his mid to late 70s, waving a hotel key at me and offering me to make some nice money, and not to say this wasn’t the first time in my life that I’d been mistaken for a hustler, which would a long couple chapters on my 90s youth of east coast-runaway-Boston-bus-hopping-hustling to stay fed life.

Regardless of my former opportunities to become an ‘independent small business owning rent boy,’ a lot of my old neighbors in Little Mexico looked very much like the stars of this film. From Kitana Kiki Rodriguez as Sin-Dee, and Mya Taylor as Alexandra or even the future super star leading man James Ransome. For whom was recently in Sinister 2. I first noticed James in HBO’s The Wire, but was more noticeable in HBO’s Generation Kill-in which he played a rather charismatic if not semi-sociopathic American solider in Iraq. Not failing to mention an unforgettably Armenian taxi driver by Karren Karagulian as Ramzik.
Now in my old hood on more than one night while I lived in the old ‘Harvey Apartments’, I’d share an elevator or a few with many an upset and or crying sex workers and the occasional pimp/ connected partner. I’ve also seen many a hateful remark yelled out in the night and other LA problems that were addressed in Tangerine. Not to say that life was all bad back then, as at times; I’d also get a number of cat calls here and there from my friendly trans neighbors, and sometimes we’d give each other various forms of protection when ‘shit got hot’ so to speak, (but that was another story) in itself.

And it also reminded me of an ensemble cast driven script I wrote, about LA over the winter holidays with a trans narrative as well (disclaimer: not to say that anyone in this film stole from my script at all) as there are many stories out here in this Los Angeles landscape, and hey, maybe great minds think alike (wink wink). Incidentally, my or that script has been on hold until I find both the time and the right trans writing partner/consultant as myself being a white non-trans writer, there is no way I myself could channel such a voice. This is just my own philosophy on writing, I feel that giving others direct agency in any narrative is a good way to start some serious change in an already bankrupt system of voice/agency.

Screenshot_2015-08-27-12-47-59My old East Hollywood apartment was to the top left adjacent to Marilyn Monroe’s left breast. That was my fire escape at Harvey Apartments. Harvey Apts were (not sure about now), mostly known for it’s trans populations of people of color and for those numerous enterprising drug dealing types.

Once, I even thought that I’d seen ‘Hollywood Jesse James’ hiding out. I was wrong, but it could’ve been his cousin or something right?

Regardless, and personal tangents/personals struggles aside, when we dehumanize our fellow human beings, whether they be on the streets of Hollywood or the Hollywood Hills: trans, Armenian, or hustlers alike-no good will ever come of it and from the famed words of Sin-Dee:

Sin-Dee: Merry Christmas Eve, Bitch.

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