Meet the Fokkens, a 2011 documentary directed by Gabriëlle Provaas and Rob Schröde, follows the lives of Martine and Louise Fokkens, 69-year-old twins who have spent many years as full service sex workers in Amsterdam’s red light district. At the time of filming, Martine was still working, albeit reluctantly, while Louise had been retired for two years because of her arthritis. Though the documentary’s main focus is the sisters’ careers as prostitutes, we also see their homes, meet their friends, and hear pieces of their personal histories.
In addition to its focus on a fascinating topic, Meet the Fokkens also presents a charming aesthetic experience. The movie involves many scenes of the Fokkens sisters in matching outfits, and at least one of those outfits is primarily pink! Louise brings her Chihuahua with her everywhere she goes. Even if nothing else in this movie caught my attention—which is not the case—the matching outfits and Chihuahua would have been enough to enchant me. But, happily, Meet the Fokkens is as intellectually engaging as it is, well, precious. The film does more than skim the surface—it delves into sexuality and labor through the exploration of the lives of these two women.
There are a million implausible moments. The scene in which Vivian and Edward run into Kit’s pimp is Crocodile Dundee levels of ridiculous, and the white knight climbing up the fire escape ending is utter dreck. But frankly, I don’t care about the standard criticisms of Pretty Woman. It’s less sexist than My Fair Lady and yet no version of “Pygmalion,” including that classic musical, takes as much flak as this one. And that makes me suspicious. Beyond the obvious pleasures of songs like “King of Wishful Thinking” and insane late ’80s women’s wear, let me outline a few of my favorite aspects.
Vivan’s giant curly hair. I am a naturally curly girl and never once in my adult life has my hair been in style. It’s all blowouts and permanent relaxers for me for the foreseeable future, at least until I’ve seen a client enough times that they’ll think seeing my natural hair is being let in on some intimate secret about me. But part of Vivian’s transformation involves her flaunting her armload of curls around Richard Gere like it’s a mink stole. This is pro-curl propaganda and the world needs more of it.
So, my apologies for showing up a little late to the Pretty Woman threesome. I hadn’t realized how painful it would be to watch this movie again, and so I had to take it in small bites over the course of the week.
I had already been a hooker for a couple years before I ever saw Pretty Woman a few months ago. Even before I had seen it though, I’d casually reference it all the time with my friends when we’d make fun of tricks who thought they could be our boyfriends. Yes, I know this happens in real life, and even has happened to a couple of my friends. But it’s never come even close to happening to me, especially not with the kind of guys who’d be into “saving” me.
My boyfriend finally made me watch it one day several months ago, and I was even more grossed out than I had expected.
The film’s one saving grace: Julia Roberts is incredibly, uniquely beautiful. It somewhat mitigates the torture of listening to her slip in and out of an unplaceable generic “tough girl” accent (doesn’t Vivian say once she’s from Georgia? doesn’t sound like it…) and a super lame script. (By the way, drooling over Sasha Grey was the most redeemable part of The Girlfriend Experience, too.)
Some of the things that make me cringe, roll my eyes, or just say “huh?”:
Roxanne,a short film about a trans sex worker who reluctantly takes in an abandoned child, was recently selected as a Vimeo Staff Pick and has been accepted at 14 international film festivals, including two Oscar qualifying fests. It will soon be made into a feature film. The following interview was conducted by Sarah and Caty with director Paul Frankl over e-mail.
Roxanne is played by a genderfluid drag queen performer, Miss Cairo. That adds an interesting layer to her portrayal of Roxanne, because a lot of trans workers exist in gender variant spaces. Sarah noted that Roxanne is a character she could actually imagine working alongside her in a trans parlor, and she’s never seen that done on film before. Can you tell us more about this casting choice?
Casting someone of fluid gender was not something I initially set out to do. I auditioned eight trans and genderfluid women (because I knew I wanted someone from the trans community, as an ethical choice), and of them, Cairo was the one I wanted for the role. We then had many discussions around gender (her own and Roxanne’s) and it was her who brought the genderqueer aspect, which I wanted to embrace and thought made a great extra dynamic to the film. Exploring someone as genderfluid is something that’s rarely seen in the media (even less than representations of trans people given the rise in awareness over the last couple of years), and something I think is definitely worth exploring more in film.
Another thing we loved about the short was the way you holistically represented all the aspects of Roxanne’s life—her morning run was given just as much if not more film time as her nightly sex work. In your Hunger TV interview, you stated that, “by pushing the fact that she is a trans sex worker to the background, I hoped to humanise her and make her a character that everyone can relate to.” Why do you think it’s so hard for mainstream audiences to see beyond the label of “trans sex worker” and understand trans workers as whole persons beyond their jobs and gender identities?
I think films can allow people to connect with others on an emotional level, in a way they can’t through many other mediums. This is why it’s a great way to help change attitudes towards trans people and sex workers, because the audience can see their hopes, fears, and daily life—things that we all have—and relate to them. Too often, trans sex workers (and sex workers in general) are presented as victims, crazy, or drug addicts. I wanted to show a trans sex worker who was in control of her life—with her own issues, but ones that don’t revolve around her gender or career. In this way I hoped to be able to change some attitudes towards sex workers of those watching. Hopefully, this can be done more (to a wider audience) with the feature.
We were surprised by Roxanne’s agreement with Lily’s statement that she puts on her makeup to be someone else, rather than telling Lily that the makeup is just part of being the woman she is. In the Hunger TV interview, you also said that “[p]art of the key to the film was differentiating between the light and dark aspects to Roxanne’s life. We wanted to visually separate the day from the night scenes, and show the duality of her life—her real self vs. her masked self…” What is Roxanne’s “masked self”? A common stereotype about trans women holds that they are pretenders to womanhood. How is Roxanne not being her real self when she puts on makeup and displays her femininity?
Her ‘mask’ relates to the glamorous role she feels she has to play on the scene. The line about her “being someone else” when she puts on all the makeup, refers to her playing this glamorous person that doesn’t connect to her daily self—the one you see in the day time, who has interests outside the clubbing scene. It can be lonely to present a beautiful and glamorous person all the time. This is her mask—it has nothing to do with her womanhood or transness. But I think in general, makeup does disguise who you are somewhat—it physically changes the way you look. She feels she has to portray this person in order to get clients, rather than presenting herself as the sensitive, (hurt) person she really is.
Imagine a city so bleak, so hopeless, so full of darkness, that only criminals and social rejects have a fighting chance to survive living there. Imagine villains so desperate, so foul, so vile, that the ugliest death for them still wouldn’t feel like justice. Now imagine heros who are so full of vice, rage, and demons that they are not much better than our villains. Picture a city that doesn’t have a violent underbelly, because its entirety is a violent underbelly. This is the setting Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller have built for us with Sin City and its sequel, Sin City: A Dame To Kill For. Based on Miller’s comic book series of the same name, the two have constructed a nightmare town that is terrifically gory and hellbent on destroying every person who enters it.
The characters that seem most equipped to survive Sin City are its sex workers. (Spoilers ahead.)