Review: Tranny Fag (Dir. Kiko Goifman and Claudia Priscilla, 2018)

In the traditional Portuguese Tranny Fag translates as Bixa Travesty, a little less confrontational than the English but that’s just not the style of the documentary’s subject Linn da Quebrada – the self proclaimed “tranny fag”. Residing on the outskirts of São Paulo, she is marginalised economically before even considering the fact that she’s black and transgender, struggling to exist amid poverty and in a world that, for the most part, doesn’t comprehend her.

Rather than shy away from the public eye, Quebrada is taking the Brazilian funk scene by storm, alongside her partner-in-crime Jup do Bairro. Their songs – (performed throughout) providing a back story of sorts for the 27-year-old – contain abrasive coarse lyrics which pull no punches and berate society and the expectations it places on women, what it means to be a woman like her, and dismantling the patriarchy one bridge and chorus at a time. Her words are a weapon intent on holding the world accountable and paving a way of acceptance and understanding without inciting hatred.

As a subject, the singer-songwriter and spoken word artist is fascinating and inspiring. She’s pre-op and has yet to start hormones, consider breast implants or remove her facial hair because as far as she’s concerned she’d be pandering to society’s ideal of womanhood. Quebrada – who also co-wrote the script with directors Claudia Priscilla and Kiko Goifman – is a “black fag doll. Neither man or woman” embraces nudity, here and in her stage shows as an attempt to undermine, even recondition the collective mindset associating gender with genitalia and highlighting the façade of gender performance.

A real turning point in the documentary which jumps from talking head to music gig almost exclusively is the footage made during Quebrada’s treatment for testicular cancer, the physical effects and the profundity it had on the way she controlled her body. The scene which shows her literally pulling the lustrous locks of hair from her head, chemotherapy having ravaged her immune system is particularly powerful and in keeping with her persona, completely transgressive. This and the scenes with her mother offer a rare intimacy which is needed in an otherwise repetitive and prosaic documentary. The static camera and simplistic editing coupled with the pulsating combative stage performances start to feel isolating.

Tranny Fag is a LGBTQIA+ positive, important and transgressive, if slight, profile of a bold and beautiful artist who is unapologetically her confident self. She espouses her ideas and beliefs provocatively, is always interesting, and determined to not only stand out but belong in an accepting world.


Review: Kiss of the Spider Woman (Dir. Héctor Babenco, 1985)

Héctor Babenco’s collaborative Kiss of the Spider Woman, is a stunning film which, in part, plays with the harshest realities and escapist fantasies and yet challenges both social and political norms, even some twenty years after release.

Luis Molina (William Hurt) and Valentin Arregui (Raúl Juliá) share a prison cell in Brazil. They are unlikely bedfellows, not least due to their partisan beliefs. Valentin is a revolutionary; a political prisoner – tortured almost daily by the guards – while Molina identifies as trans and is incarcerated for engaging in a sex act with a minor. There is little more to add in relation to the plot as it unfolds so surprisingly and gracefully, that is really needs to be discovered unspoiled. Based upon Manuel Puig’s novel of the same name, …Spider Woman was initially a potential vehicle for Burt Lancaster. After languishing in development hell while director Babenco made several attempts to seduce author Puig with ice-cream (!) in order to obtain the rights.

It is a spirited film in spite of its subject matter and is truly one of the most intriguing prison-dramas, I have had the pleasure of viewing. While there are small supporting roles, it is Hurt and Juliá’s film. The way they play off of each other is astonishing; like a dance – rhythmic, precise, sophisticated and incredibly moving. It is a complete role reversal, Juliá is restrained as Valentin while Hurt – usually so staid on film – is the extroverted one in his flowered kimono and blood-red turban. His costume(s) and hair colour pop against the greys and blues of the dreary cell backdrop. As they serve out their respective time, Molina describes a love story he has watched at the cinema – in actuality a Nazi Propaganda film named In Her Glory – recounting the affairs of lounge singer Leni Lamaison (Sonia Braga); ‘our’ film cutting to the sepia toned histrionic set of the other. These intercuts are a little clunky and it is no surprise that these sequences were filmed after the main story had wrapped, however, regardless they work and Braga is mesmeric, not only as Lamaison but as Valentin’s girlfriend Marta as well as the titular Spider Woman. Her presence shapes the reality and fantasy aspects of the film and helps them merge as the imagined eventually takes over.

Kiss of the Spider Woman is a visually gorgeous masterpiece, it is rich, ambivalent and mysterious while playing with an ideology which is truly rewarding. There are nuances amid the themes of pain, fear and humiliation as the homosexual and Marxist attempt to discover what makes a real man. Released during the Reagan-era and as Rock Hudson died, declaring his sexuality and the illness which would claim his life, …Spider Woman captures the zeitgeist of the 80s and yet, amazingly, remains captivating and somewhat timeless.