Today is the Transgender Day of Remembrance, (also known as the International Transgender Day of Remembrance) which is observed annually to memorialize those who have been murdered due to transphobia.
Last year alone, according to Human Rights Watch, there were at least 26 deaths of transgender or gender-nonconforming people in the US due to fatal violence — the majority of whom were Black, transgender women. This reality, exasperated by the actively anti-LGBTQ attitudes of the current White House administration, makes days like today crucial opportunities to reflect on how our society fails many of its members.
Here are some films that you can stream right now in the US that tell trans stories that matter.
Paris Is Burning (1990)
Whether you love it or hate it, this film by Jennie Livingston changed the game for LGBTQ individuals regarding their visibility in the mainstream. Focusing on the drag ball scene of Manhattan in the 1970s, which was a major part of Black and Latinx queer, male culture for decades, Paris Is Burning unapologetically told the story of a subculture that continues to blossom today, even if it’s not exactly underground like it once was — cue RuPaul, among others.
Many have criticized the film, most famously bell hooks who wrote in “Is Paris Burning?“: “Had Livingston approached her subject with greater awareness of the way white supremacy shapes cultural production — determining not only what representations of blackness are deemed acceptable, marketable, as well worthy of seeing — perhaps the film would not so easily have turned the black drag ball into a spectacle of entertainment of those presumed to be on the outside of this experience looking in.” But the positive cultural impact, in my opinion, has far exceeded any shortcomings of this documentary work of art.
The characters were not only some of the first unapologetically trans on the big screen but also generally the first openly queer figures the mainstream discussed without the usual caveats that accompanied such topics.
This film has certainly stood the test of time and to say this film changed many people’s lives — including mine — is not an understatement. This year a new version of the film was released, which makes it a good reason to rewatch this classic while remembering that queer visibility was not a thing a very short while ago. —Hrag Vartanian
Stream it at Netflix.
Few television shows change the conversation like this one, but Pose has created a flawless and complicated portrait of New York drag ball culture decades after Paris Is Burning broke into the mainstream.
One good friend, who is a trans woman of color, told me this was the first TV program that made her feel “seen,” which is saying a lot. And the writing, acting, and cinematography are all excellent, while building on the current nostalgia for New York in the 1980s and our thirst to tell the stories of those who have been previously overlooked.
This show is entertaining, insightful, and emotionally complex, which are all the things you want from such a project. I can’t wait for season three. —HV
Happy Birthday, Marsha! (2018)
Something I love about Happy Birthday Marsha! — the kaleidoscopic 2018 short from Sasha Wortzel and Tourmaline — is the way it seamlessly reframes conversations about what actually took place at New York’s Stonewall Inn on a muggy summer’s evening in 1969.
Featuring a star turn from Mya Taylor (Tangerine) and stunning cinematography by Arthur Jafa, Happy Birthday Marsha! presents a compelling portrait of Marsha “Pay It No Mind” Johnson, the late artist and activist who, among many things, was the first to fight back against brutal police violence on that fateful evening. In just 13 minutes, the film offers an exquisite historical corrective, countering decades of erasure and making it clear that the movement for queer liberation couldn’t have made the strides it did if it weren’t for Black, trans women like Johnson. —Dessane Lopez Cassell
Stream it at Amazon Prime.
The stories of Black, trans sex workers are especially vital to honor and uplift when considering the violence undergirding transphobia. This summer, an international community rallied after the untimely death of Layleen Cubilette-Polanco Xtravaganza, a sex worker who lost her life on Rikers Island under questionable circumstances. The tragedy amplified the insidious and fatal realities of transphobia that are too often minimized.
The 2015 film Tangerine provides a gritty but spirited view into the lives of and deep friendship between two sex workers in Hollywood. Grounded in a unique love between two women, the film succeeds in its ability to be empathetic, funny, and real. Despite Hollywood as its backdrop, the film forsakes the expectations of big-budget cinema and is shot entirely on an iPhone 5. After Sin-dee (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) is released from jail on Christmas Eve, her confidante Alexandra (Mya Taylor) inadvertently reveals the infidelity of her friend’s boyfriend and pimp — the pair is then launched into a daylong journey to find the “other woman” and confront the cheater. The film is personal and warm, in color and in temperament. —Jasmine Weber
Tokyo Godfathers (2003)
Despite its title, two of the three eponymous characters in Tokyo Godfathers are female. The movie follows the homeless trio after they take custody of an abandoned baby on Christmas Eve. Like her compatriots, Hana, a onetime bar performer, is a complete fuckup. But the film, from the sadly departed genius animator Satoshi Kon, has nothing but compassion for her and the rest of its cast of drunks, runaways, criminals, and assorted layabouts. It also treats her transness matter-of-factly, as but one facet of her character.
Produced in Japan in the late 1990s/ early aughts, the movie anticipates a lot of our modern understanding of trans issues, so characters often dismiss and misgender Hana. But her identity is unmistakable — “I am a mistake made by God. In my heart, I am a woman.” Which is why, despite that roughness, she holds up so well as a character today. —Dan Schindel
Stream it at Amazon Prime.