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Tangerine (2015)

Tangerine (Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia)
Tangerine (Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia)

Whenever I see a movie about the lives of sex workers, I find myself automatically assessing whether or not the story represents us authentically—or, more accurately, picking apart the ways that it inevitably doesn’t. Tangerine was really the first time I’d seen a movie about us where I didn’t leave the theater with a mental catalog of all the ways they had screwed up. Still, I felt a little ill-qualified to write a review, seeing that it centers around the lives of two black, transgender sex workers on the harsh streets of L.A., and I’m a white, cisgender chick who did pretty much all her hustling online. On one hand, it felt like someone had finally gotten it right, and on the other, I felt like a total faker for feeling that way about the experience of women whose lives are so different from mine in so many ways.

Though I didn’t know it going in (perhaps for the better?) Tangerine was directed by Sean S. Baker, a straight, white, cisgender guy with a film degree from N.Y.U. Collaborating with Mya Taylor, a black trans woman he met in L.A., Baker created a film about the sex workers he saw working in Hollywood. The idea to make a comedy rather than a tragedy was Taylor’s, which puts so much of the film in perspective for me: I know sex workers (and likely trans women, too) have seen ample tragic portrayals of their lives crafted by men outside the business.

It’s Christmas Eve in Hollywood, and Sin Dee Rella (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) has just been released from a 28-day jail sentence, which we find out later was her punishment for holding her beloved pimp/boyfriend Chester’s (James Ransone) stash. While celebrating her newfound freedom over a donut with her BFF, fellow transgender sex worker Alexandra (Mya Taylor), she learns that while she was doing time, her pimp/boyfriend Chester had been cheating with a “fish” (which I learned means a cisgender woman). And thus begins a rampage through the L.A. underground to find the offending fish and confront Chester.

American Courtesans (2012)

The tagline for American Courtesans describes it as a “documentary that takes you into the lives of American Sex Workers” and telling “a different kind of American story…” The film is (thankfully) less ambitious in scope, focusing on high-end escorts instead of the entirety of the sex trades. What American Courtesans does, and does powerfully, is offer an intimate perspective into the lives of its subjects, giving them a space to talk about their lives and work. The women share stories of both triumph and trauma, showing that there is no single or simple story about work in the sex industries. With exceptional production quality and sincere, candid interviews, American Courtesans moves us further towards changing the popular conceptions of sex work.

The film weaves the stories of eleven current and former sex workers together through interviews and casual conversations with Kristen DiAngelo, the driving force behind the project. Though all of the women ended their careers as independent escorts charging high rates, their backgrounds up to that point are extremely varied. The majority of the women are still working, and quite a few illustrate the fluidity of the sex industries as they describe their experiences in pro-BDSM work, porn, stripping, and other fields of sex work than escorting. The women in the film give the audience a diverse set of experiences in the sex industries. From Juliet Capulet in San Francisco, who talks about escorting as a way to explore her identity as a sexual being, to Gina DePalma in New York City, who was working on the streets as a thirteen-year-old runaway, the audience is reminded that sex workers belong to and come from all communities.

The Manor (2013)

Bobby explaining club rules (c) Six Island Productions
Bobby explaining club rules (c) Six Island Productions

In one of this film’s first scenes, a manager tells a stripper “I’m fining you $20 because I’m so pissed at you,” while handing her a $40 payment for a shift. She tells him she was scheduled for one shift, she showed up for it and he couldn’t “fine her” or withhold her pay. “I can do whatever I want,” he says. 90 seconds in, and I already have a grudge against the people running this strip club.

Director Shawney Cohen tells us that The Manor, which opened the 2013 Hot Docs film festival in Toronto, is not a documentary about the titular strip club—it is about his family. Shawney’s parents bought the Manor, a combination strip club/downmarket residential hotel in Ontario, when he was a child, and now it’s run as a family business with their two adult sons. The film is more mystifying than revealing, as it cites connections between family disorder, dysfunction and the running of a strip club which are never really clarified.

Strippers vs. Werewolves 2012

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At the age of five, growing up in in the desert six hours from the nearest town and hospital, I had recurrent nightmares about a hirsute, razor-toothed werewolf with glowing red eyes. I haven’t ever really gotten over those dreams, so at 29, I can still get a little too spooked at all things werebeast. That doesn’t stop me from watching supernatural horror, though.

While engaging in self care, I want to stream and watch something. Sifting through films that I’ve already seen, that I have no interest in, and—what the hell?

Strippers vs. Werewolves? Oh baby! Why has nobody told me about this?

Klute (1971)

You guys, this was my first time seeing Klute and I am totally sold on it. I was into it pretty much from the first few seconds because I am one of those people who decides whether they will like a film based on the colors and whether they feel “good” to me or not. I’ve been having a green moment of late, and there is so much green in that opening scene! There seems to have been (from what I have gleaned from interior design books from the 70’s) a lot of that happening, the garden in the house thing. It reminded me of this post at Desire To Inspire. I love it. If I didn’t kill plants I’d start a garden!

But I do.

So let’s get into this film, shall we?