If you’re any kind of movie buff, then you know very well that that there are very few movies centered around trans characters, and almost none that aren’t overflowing with transphobia in the form of turning trans people, specifically trans women, into caricatures of cisgender imaginations. Tangerine is a deeply refreshing break from this toxic norm.
In Tangerine, we experience a day in the life of trans sex worker Sin-Dee Rella (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) and her best friend, fellow trans sex worker Alexandra (Mya Taylor). Sin-Dee is fresh out of jail after a 28-day sentence and meets up with Alexandra to help her find her boyfriend and pimp, Chester (James Ransone). As badly as she wants to hide it from Sin-Dee, Alexandra slips up and accidentally tells her friend that Chester has been cheating on her with a cisgender woman. Furious, Sin-Dee leaves to go find the other woman, promising that she will make it to Alexandra’s musical performance later that night.
As we see Sin-Dee’s rage, and separately, Chester’s disregard for her and any other woman, we are pulled into Sin-Dee’s anger, even while knowing that it is ultimately futile and won’t change Chester at all. When Sin-Dee finds the other woman, Dinah (Mickey O’Hagan), fights go flying, but it doesn’t take long for Sin-Dee to realize that, like her, Dinah is just another sex worker trying to survive, and that she isn’t the real enemy here, just another woman being exploited by a selfish man.
As Alexandra goes about her day, we meet one of her clients, Razmik (Karren Karagulian), an Armenian cab driver with a wife and child. As he covertly solicits Alexandra and other sex workers, desperate that his family not learn of his infidelity and trans attraction, we get a very realistic view of how transphobia affects cis men as well. Razmik certainly has his secrets, as does Alexandria, and when those secrets come to light, everyone is forced to come clean, and do their best to be the sort of people that they try so valiantly to convince others that they are.
Tangerine is incredible to watch for a few reasons. It’s realistic. Trans sex workers, especially Black trans women sex workers, are an incredibly marginalized and vulnerable group. While the film doesn’t minimize the discrimination Black trans women face, especially at the hands of cis men, it doesn’t exploit this fact and become full-blown trauma porn, either. Tangerine also stars two trans women, both of whom are former sex workers. That’s right: Not cis women, or gay cis men/drag queens, or straight cis men in dresses. Tangerine tells one of the myriad of Black trans experiences from the perspective of actual members of that group. As a result, it doesn’t center cisgender people in the trans experience, nor does it demonize sex workers, both of which are incredibly important aspects of the film.
Often labeled a trans revenge flick or a dark-comedy, Tangerine is actually none of these things. Rather, it is a completely ordinary, extraordinarily-moving depiction of the intersectionality of race, gender identity, and socioeconomic class that is touching without being exploitative of this already under-protected group of women.
I give this one 4.5 stars.