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The most powerful trans films ever

Trans narratives seldom make it to the big screen, but these are the films that do it best

Donut shops, murder, families falling apart and drag queens in the Australian desert have more in common than you think. All feature in films with a trans lead or trans-themed storyline that has planted a deep footprint on the world of indie cinema. When it comes to diversity of storylines in films about transgender life, 2015 has been a bumper issue of a year (see Tangerine, The New Girlfriend and now 52 Tuesdays). The latter film, which focuses on a daughter dealing with her mother’s decision to transition into a man, packed a fucker of a punch at Sundance last year and hits cinemas this weekend. With that in mind, we’re taking a strut down memory lane to count down the most powerful trans films ever.


Let’s start with Mommy director and cinema’s new enfant terrible, Xavier Dolan. The Canadian director is still only 26 years old and has already clocked seven films. Laurence Anyways was his three-hour mega drama that hones in on a relationship between a guy and his girlfriend as they try to maintain their love once he starts accepting his identity and dressing as a woman. Spanning a decade, the film is so visually powerful its hard not to get overwhelmed. The flawless performances and the highly shareable 80s/90s soundtrack pushes it into sensory overload.


Never has a film been so fabulously fierce in terms of costume, comedy and an essentially emotional storyline. Starring acclaimed actors Guy Pearce, Hugo Weaving and Terence Stamp as a trans woman, the film follows the three comrades as they trek across the Australian Outback in a bus with the goal of reaching their destination to perform a cabaret show. Naturally, trouble ensues and the three become a lipstick-drenched, glitter-heavy version of the Three Musketeers. The film garnered such a good reputation, even straight guys weren’t afraid to rave about it.


Brandon Teena sounds like the lead singer of a badass punk band but, in reality, is the name of a very real life trans man whose harrowing story slungshot Hilary Swank to her first Oscar. Brandon was raped and murdered in 1993 after spending time living as a male in rural, culturally closed-off Nebraska. The film, directed by Kimberly Peirce, tells his story and takes focus on his relationship with Lana, the first object of his affection played by Chloë Sevingy. She also got an Oscar nod as a result, so this groundbreaking American drama really does deserve all of the acclaim it received.

MALA MALA (2014)

You want some sass? This documentary will bring all of it and then some. The award-winner is unique because it reports on the power of the transformation involved in trans stories. Told through the eyes of nine members of the Puerto Rican transgendered community, it rather brilliantly (and colourfully) flips between the bulletproof confidence of men who live as drag queens by night to a woman who identifies as a man. Each individual voices their varying experiences; the sense of community here is so real it bounces off of the screen and leaves you wishing you had that type of fearlessness.


OK, so technically this film isn’t out until November but woah, if ever a film needed to come bundled with a seatbelt – this is it. Set in LA and shot entirely on an iPhone, Tangerine is about trans prostitutes and BFFs Sin-Dee and Alexandra as they try to track down Sin-Dee’s cheating boyfriend. A little riled up having just gotten out of prison, Sin-Dee has a lot of steam to let out. The slightly sadder storylines that weave in are the real pull as is the high-octane, pumping soundtrack that underlines this Sean Baker-directed powerhouse.


If you know a thing or two about fashion, you’ll know this film. The documentary has influenced countless designers as it ventures into the world of the 80s drag scene and the glamorous balls, voguing competitions and yearning ambition. Despite its vibrancy, the documentary also captures a more tragic era when the threat of AIDS was at its peak. Even so, the costumes, personalities and sense of community on display put a positive, empowering spin on a subculture that was soon to explode.


If ever you need to be reminded that Felicity Huffman is one of the most underrated American actresses living, this is the film to do just that. Huffman plays a pre-op male-to-female just getting by in life when she learns that she fathered a son who may or not be working the streets as a hustler. Cue a turbulent but essentially bond-making road trip and the result is an Oscar-nominated indie that pushed Huffman clear out of Wisteria Lane. Oh and Dolly Parton performs a song on the soundtrack.


Who knew that British director Neil Jordan, of Interview with the Vampire fame, also held a longstanding obsession with trans culture. He later directed trans flick Breakfast on Pluto in 2005, but this early 90s critics fav was his first foray. The plot’s a little complex on the surface: think IRA, organised crime and safe houses. An ex-IRA foot soldier falls in love with a woman only to discover later she is actually a man.


This is melodrama by Pedro Almodóvar at its finest. The film was a critical and commercial success. The perfectly executed drama focuses on Manuela, a nurse who loses her son and then travels to Barcelona in the hopes of finding the transvestite who fathered her child. Whilst there she also becomes entwined in the lives of several others including Huma Rojo, the actress her son was obsessed with. In typical Almodovar style, the story thrives on the power of women coming together. It went on to receive six Goya awards and win the Oscar for Best Foreign Language film.

TOMBOY (2011)

Is anything as heartwrenching as a powerful film that’s trans focus is a child? This French drama takes us to Paris where 10-year-old Laure moves into a new home with her family. Laure wants to be a boy and introduces himself to a local neighbourhood girl as Mikael. The pair spark up a special friendship and Mikael also falls in as one of the boys with a group of local lads. All the drama and crisis of identity unfolds but this film’s USP is its positive, endearing finale.

52 Tuesdays is on limited release from this Friday