Trans representation goes well beyond coming out stories. This film shows how
This column is an opinion of Rhea Rollmann, writer, journalist and radio producer in St. John’s. For more information on the Opinion section of CBCplease consult the FAQs.
When I became a trans woman and started transitioning, I noticed that some low-level anxiety came with me as I entered the world. Everyday activities – shopping, leafing through a bookstore, taking the bus – made me nervous and unsettled.
It had nothing to do with me being trans – I was happier than ever with who I was. I felt mentally grounded and emotionally stable like never before. I was finally starting to feel comfortable with my body, thanks to the life-saving wonders of hormone therapy.
Rather, my sense of unease had everything to do with the reactions of people around me – the uncertainty and confusion of a society that still accepts the fact that gender is neither binary nor fixed nor so simple. that many of us have come to think about.
This anxiety subsided over time, partly due to hormones and other transition-related care, and partly because I started to trust my identity more and worry less about confusion. others.
It’s also thanks to the work of those who are actively building a more inclusive and educated society — it’s truly admirable how many shop assistants today eschew the old-fashioned “sir” and “ma’am” (which, let’s be honest, were never really appropriate in the post-Victorian era) for the very folksy and inclusive “my friend”, “my dear” or, in Newfoundland, “my love” – which looks odd on the page , but said in a warm Newfoundland accent it’s the most natural greeting in the world.
But a similar kind of quiet anxiety continues to flavor my encounters with media and popular culture, especially when trans people are the subject.
Pop culture strives to be diverse and inclusive – incorporating a growing range of identities in film and television – but too often screenwriters slip into a handful of easily recognizable tropes.
When it comes to trans characters, that means plots invariably focus on coming-out stories. The drama centers around themes of rejection and exclusion, and the misguided genre is a plot. Trans protagonists become a foil against which we are reminded of all the ways our society excludes and hurts the marginalized.
To watch any major streaming service, you would think that the life experiences of trans people consist of nothing but perpetual coming-out stories. When I’m told a movie is about “trans issues,” that low-level anxiety returns, and I watch through gritted teeth, bracing myself for those inevitable plot devices to appear.
Being trans or having a trans child doesn’t mean these larger challenges go away, and that’s something pop culture makers often seem to forget.– Rhea Rollmann
Fortunately, the Canadian-Swiss film Something you said last night steer clear of these overused tropes. Director Luis De Filippis is one of the exciting young filmmakers taking trans cinema in new directions. The award-winning director and co-founder of Trans Film Mentorship premiered her feature debut at the Toronto International Film Festival in September, where it won the 2022 Changemaker Award.
The film arrives at the St. John’s International Women’s Film Festival on Sunday.
Something you said last night refuses to fall into conventional trans storytelling techniques, and that’s refreshing. It’s a reminder that cinema is driven by imagination, and imagination allows us to devise new ways to tell old stories.
The story told in Something you said last night is of a family struggling to maintain bonds of love and connection against all the challenges of modern life. And although the key protagonist – a 20-year-old girl named Ren – is trans, her identity isn’t one of those challenges. She is accepted and loved by her feisty Italian-Canadian family – case closed.
But acceptance doesn’t mean life is going well. Ren and his family face the same challenges we all face: a hesitant labor market devoid of meaningful opportunities for young people, intergenerational conflict driven by the competing desires of parents to protect and young people to assert their autonomy, and the alienation from a world we live in virtually on cellphones and social media sites, but yearn for the visceral: physical and sexual contact with others.
Being trans or having a trans child doesn’t mean those larger challenges go away, and that’s something pop culture makers often seem to forget.
We learn by doing – but seeing others navigate these struggles gives us an idea of how it could be done. Something you said last night reminds us that even though our lives are difficult, it is through our connection with others that we find the strength to move forward.
Our expectations of the social world are influenced by what we see in movies and on television.– Rhea Rollmann
Yes, we all feel resentment and anger at today’s world, the sting of missed opportunities and the acrimonious judgment of others. But we do have a powerful tool – empathy – which, if used correctly, can prove the correspondence of many of these negative emotions that we encounter. Knowing when to open up with empathy to others, and when to reject compromises that would undermine our sense of dignity, is the challenge of modern life.
It’s a challenge that this film deftly explores.
Something you said last night tackles these questions in a kind-hearted, well-produced film that not only resonates with cis and trans audiences, but also reminds us that we have more in common than differences. Remarkably, this is a debut effort for Carmen Madonia, who was named a TIFF Rising Star for her portrayal of Ren. Her performance is sublime, authentic, moving and perfectly complemented by the talented cast surrounding her.
His relationship with his sister in the film offers a beautiful and consummate example of the depth and complexity of sibling relationships awkwardly balanced between love and rivalry, but spared hatred or bigotry.
The film doesn’t ignore Ren’s trans identity – far from it – but offers a more real and authentic portrayal of what it’s like for a trans person moving around the world than cinema normally provides. This type of representation is important. The tropes I repeatedly encountered in pop culture undoubtedly helped shape my own anxiety about leaving home during these first months of transition.
Our expectations of the social world are influenced by what we see in movies and on television.
When we move beyond tropes and stereotypes, we realize how rich life can be, and in that life truly imitate art. Director Luis De Filippis has crafted a perfectly crafted drama that eschews stereotypes without ignoring the ubiquitous contradictions of modern life.
It’s a moving reminder that what we should focus on isn’t how others are different from us, but how to understand and forge truly meaningful relationships with one another. Relationships strong enough to last a lifetime, yet flexible enough to adapt to whatever changes life will bring.
See Something you said last night at the Avalon Mall Cineplex on Sundays at 7 p.m. Tickets can be purchased online from the St. John’s International Women’s Film Festival, or join me for a Q&A brunch with Luis and Carmen (reserve your free spot here).
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