“Otherness is a fundamental category of human thought. Thus it is that no group ever sets itself up as the One without at once setting up the Other over against itself.”
- Simone De Beauvoir
Sweatmother is an American artist and filmmaker based in London. This week on GIF we invited their new platform 'The Otherness Archive' to curate a selection of films to celebrate Pride month.
The Otherness includes Artists and writers within the trans community that bring to you five films either by trans filmmakers or with trans themes and respectively discuss through a written commentary, the impact that these films had. Not only in their lives but the history of their subcultures.
In celebration of pride 2020 GIF and The Otherness Archive honor and highlight our community of trans masc, trans male, trans nonbinary, trans freminine, trans women and gender-queer people through the language of cinema.
Sweatmother " The term Otherness felt like a word I had known for so long, however it was through discovering Puerto Rican cinema, that I fully understood It as something I had experienced. The Puerto Rican cinema that contained homosexual tendencies is typically considered the other cinema. It felt right to begin a process of championing filmmakers who fell under the umbrella of otherness whether it be in relation to race, gender or sexuality and archiving their work. I understand identities are not fixed in time or space; fighting on behalf of identity politics is not a new concept. What I hope to do is acknowledge the forgotten: the pioneers who influenced cinema and the contemporary filmmakers who are creating new modes of filmmaking today. Those who’s films, representations and themes celebrate and center the multiplicity of experiences that exist beyond those solely of white heterosexual men. "
Transfinite is composed of “seven standalone short stories where supernatural trans and queer people from various cultures use their powers to protect, love, teach, fight, and thrive.” The film uses the genre of Science Fiction as a portal, allowing its characters to dream of a world where possibilities are endless, “blurring the lines between the magical and the real, personal, and political”. While many view science fiction as a genre that is merely used as a way to predict what's coming, in today's political climate it feels like Transfinite no longer just inhabits the queer utopia solely through the confines of its screen, but brings us closer to the everyday reality that we collectively share and experience in 2020.
'As a young underground German filmmaker and staunch gay rights activist, Rosa Von Praunheim took his name from the pink triangles that queer prisoners were made to wear in Nazi concentration camps. While pseudonyms are often employed by women or racially profiled creatives in order to pass as white and male, thus ensuring an unbiased treatment and their potential success, Rosa Von Praunheim’s subversion of this trend in order to instead centre the queer and feminine aspects of his identity and those of his community is typical of his filmic vision. To uphold this new name is not only an act of remembrance for the pains and struggles of queer survival, but simultaneously a message of hope for the future in the face of a society that refuses to accept those who are different: one of queer joy, exuberance, performativity, and, above all, an infinitely playful approach to gender expression. Trans survival is, in itself, often characterised by modes of performance, fictioning and a playfulness of expression in order to adapt to a given environment or situation. As we move through public space we continuously tread the line between becoming invisible and projecting a confident sense of belonging, whether performed or not. Understanding this, the potential of mediums such as cinema, performance, satire and drag to convey the complexities of navigating a hostile normative world as trans become clearer. Rosa Von Praunheim understood the power of cinema in shifting societal perspectives away from a Normal hegemonic positionality and opening up the possibilities of a queer (and especially transfeminine) gaze from the extremities. His film It Is Not the Homosexual Who Is Perverse, But the Society in Which He Lives (1971) profoundly impacted and in some cases instigated gay civil rights movements in Germany, Austria and Switzerland while also becoming a cult film in the USA.
City of Lost Souls (1983) was created amidst the emergent AIDS/HIV epidemic, the developing War on Drugs in the USA and tensions mounting along the iron curtain in a divided and torn Berlin.
Filmed during 6 weeks, mostly in Rosa Von Praunheim’s basement, the film tells the tales of a raggle- taggle group of societal misfits from the US—Black trans women, trans sex workers, strippers, performers, for the most part playing themselves—each of whom has moved to Berlin to follow their dreams. They have all found work in Hamburger Königen (Burger Queen), a 50s style burger joint run by a Black trans woman and performer from Harlem, Angie Stardust. Living in the apartment building Pension Stardust, also owned by Angie, the cast of characters attempt to carve a space for themselves and their creative expression in the city: not merely to survive—although this is of course a primary concern for trans QTIBIPOC and sex workers—but to thrive.'
'Major! (dir Annalise Ophelian, 2015) is a documentary that provides important context for how we have arrived at this pivotal moment in the pursuit of Black trans liberation, thru focusing on one of its most long standing and influential visionaries.
The film sensitively charts the daily struggles, trans familial bonds and past achievements of Miss Major Griffin-Gracy, the co-founder of the Transgender Gendervariant and Intersex Justice Project (TGIJP), activist, visionary, and spiritual mother of Black trans women across the US and who also happens to be one of the few remaining queer elders alive today who was involved in the 1969 Stonewall uprising.
Given the shocking statistic that the average US life expectancy of a Black trans woman is just 35, part of Miss Major’s exceptionalism (sadly) lies in her status as one of the few living trans women of her generation; miraculous by way of merely existing, in that having faced decades of systemic neglect, exclusion from institutions (she was ejected from two colleges before turning to sex work), imprisonment (she was imprisoned in the late 70s for robbing a john, housed in Sing Sing and then Attica, shortly after the Attica uprisings, where she became radicalised to the Black prison abolition movement) and lack of support from the wider LGBTQ community for most of her life (only receiving institutional accolades for her work w/in the past decade) - that she is able to triumphantly proclaim aged 78: ‘I’m still fucking here.’
‘Every customer thinks we’re her special boyfriend. They’re wrong. That’s how we do business.’ - Kazuki
I literally might cry a bit writing this but Shinjuku Boys (dir Kim Longinotto, 1995) is in my opinion probably one of the most perfect documentaries ever made and was also the first time I encountered other East Asian trans men represented on screen.
The film follows the lives of three young trans men who work as onabe, AFAB hosts who entertain women in exchange for drinks and tips, in the same nightclub in Shinjuku.
There is cocky and irreverent Gaish, the lothario of the bunch, who deflects his dysphoria and loneliness by being ever callous to his cloying lady callers - and Kazuki, the soft and cuddly one, in a T4T relationship with the gorgeous Kumi, a trans woman and showgirl. The third, and my favourite, onabe is Tatsu, who is quietly confident in his masculinity, shy, with a seemingly stoic comportment, which made his unexpected ruptures of vulnerability that the film documents all the more earnest and moving to witness.'
“I am a wound and a sword, A victim, and an executioner”.
“Every man has his own mask which he has carved for a long time. Some wear the same masks all their lives, others use a variety of masks… People always wear masks when they face each other. They see only masks. Even if they remove their masks their faces seldom expose themselves. Because there may be second masks. And even third masks hidden under the first ones. … Faces suffer loneliness. People try to escape from it and make new masks.”
When watching, Funeral Parade of Roses as a trans person in the 21st century is to peer into the face of a scrying glass and see one’s reflection in another time and place. A shimmering, watery vision of our culture as it was then; in the way we wore our bodies and our genders, the words we used to define ourselves, the futures we foresaw for ourselves as fringe presences in flux against a radically shifting backdrop of social and cultural revolution.
The film opens to nondescript, ivory expanses of flesh on top of sexless flesh, shot too closely, too meanderingly. This implies anything specifically gendered of these bodies; all silent and soft in a white void of light and sheets, searching, groping mouths and skin.
This is Toshio Matsumoto’s 1968 Funeral Parade of Roses. Even though it was released in 1968, its point of views and themes still hold relevance in the discourse of trans and queer identities, and its poignant parallels of the underground cultures in which these identities are fostered both then and now from.'