The “Ticked-Off Trannies With Knives” Premiere

24 Apr

Last night Marc and I went to the midnight premiere of the controversial Ticked-Off Trannies with Knives, which played at the Village East Cinema as a part of the Tribeca Film Festival. A few protestors marched up and down the surrounding blocks on 2nd Avenue, signs in hand, to picket the film, but it didn’t seem that they were much of a deterrent for any of the excited movie-goers. Besides for the small protest and the overwhelming police presence, with officers stationed right up to the entrance of the theater itself, the event felt more like any other movie premiere than the unveiling of a film that has been burning up the queer blogosphere for months.

Ticked-Off Trannies with Knives played in the extravagant main auditorium, which boasts stadium and balcony seating, in addition to a forty-foot ornamental ceiling with a lavish Star of David and chandelier in the center (the building opened in 1926 as the Yiddish Art Theater). I can only assume that all the hype over the film helped it earn the coveted location, rather than being shown in one of the six smaller theaters in the complex. It was a wise move on the part of the festival, because the audience, made up mostly of gay men, nearly filled the house.

In his introduction, director Israel Luna introduced his cast, thanked the crowd for coming to the film despite the controversy it has generated, and encouraged us to laugh, cheer, boo and scream at anything we were moved to, explaining that he wanted to fully embrace the grindhouse tradition in which he had conceived and created the film.

Ticked-off Trannies can be best described, as it so often has been in the past couple of months, as a “transploitation” film, largely because of its style. Filmed almost entirely with a handheld camera and including a number of narrative ploys based on its “low quality” (like missing film reels of the superhuman acrobatic moves described), the movie is satirical, self-effacing, and wicked. It follows a group of trans woman who perform together at an after-hours club, all with over-the-top stage names and larger-than-life personalities. When the leading lady, Bubbles Cliquot (played by the beautiful Krystal Somers), is attacked and subsequently stalked, the girls become the embroiled in a dangerous game of cat and mouse with the movie’s main villain, Boner, played by Tom Zembrod, whose redneck caricature is as terrifying as it is comic. After they become victims of a brutal bashing, the girls decide to take matters into their own hands and fight back. Watch the trailer below:

Despite the heavy subject matter, the movie is intentionally hilarious, due in large part to its heavy stylization and the witty back-and-forth comprising much of the dialogue. Willam Belli’s performance as “Rachel Slur,” the self-proclaimed bitch of the group, and Kelexis Davenport as the big Momma-type, “Pinky La’Trimm,” were especially funny. The film’s humor is, of course, one of the things members of the queer community have gotten most angry about, worried that a funny movie about a horrific hate crime diminishes the reality of the violence so many trans people face. While this is certainly a fair concern, Luna never intended Ticked-off Trannies to be a true-to-life action movie, instead choosing to use humor and satire to create an alternate reality in which the victims of hate crimes have the chance to get even. In a question and answer session after the film, Luna explained that he was inspired to make Ticked-off Trannies because he was so frustrated by our community’s response to hate crimes and the message that the solution is not to be angry, but to extend the olive branch and spread awareness. With this movie, he explained, he wanted to give victims the chance to fulfill their revenge fantasies. (And let me tell you, there hasn’t been a revenge fantasy so satisfying since Inglorious Basterds!)

However silly and cartoonish some of the violence may be, the fear the movie produces is very real. When Boner chases, corners, and terrorizes Bubbles Cliquot, the movie allowed me to break away from its often light-hearted mood and feel genuinely scared. And I don’t think I was alone in this reaction—these were the few moments when the otherwise raucous audience was quiet. In the question and answer portion, Krystal Somers, who played Bubbles, said that the biggest challenge she faced while making the film was having to hear the things Zembrod’s character said to her in these scenes, some of which “hit close to home.”

It’s also worth mentioning that Luna, who received a lot of flack for making this film as he himself is not actually transgender, makes a few digs at his own bisexual identity in an early scene at a gay bar when the girls riff on the impossibility of a male bisexual.

Does the film offer a complex or particularly well-considered conception of gender? Not exactly. But this kind of content would be incongruous with the style, and within its own grindhouse schema, Ticked-off Trannies offers some interesting, if unsophisticated insights. In the aforementioned gay bar scene, the buxom Tipper Sommore (as played by Jenna Skyy), explains that God created Eva, the first transwoman, as a solution to the conflict between the male Adam and female Eve. The girls’ unabashed references to their anatomically male genitalia in the film also trouble the strict gender/sex binary, as the characters refuse to strictly conform to one or the other.

The issue of gender identity and the use of the controversial word “tranny” was addressed twice in the question and answer session after the film. First, a transwoman in the audience asked the actresses what the word “tranny” meant to them. First, Erica Andrews, who plays Emma Grashun in the film, explained that it was just another word she used to describe herself, stressing that she claimed the word as her own, and also mentioning that she was Mexican and not offended by the term “wetback.” Krystal Somers then responded that though she would choose to be described simply as a woman, she thought that the more politically correct Ticked-off Transgender Women With Knives would have been an “ickier” title. Another transwoman shared that though she had been a part of the original protest against the film, she had enjoyed it and was looking forward to writing a positive review. It was obvious that Israel Luna and his trans cast members were touched by her warm words, and clear to me at this moment that there were never any bad intentions behind Ticked-off Trannies.

I won’t say that the movie is unproblematic. And speaking as a gay man and not as a trans woman, I’m sure this affects my reaction to the film. But I can say that the hearsay controversy about the film does not accurately capture its purpose or its style, and that if you feel passionate about the issue, either way, it’s worth seeing so that you can form your own opinion based on the film itself, rather than GLAAD’s reporting (as queergoddess recommended in an earlier review on BLoGT). Check the movie’s schedule and buy tickets here.

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15 Responses to “The “Ticked-Off Trannies With Knives” Premiere”

  1. queergoddess April 24, 2010 at 1:59 pm #

    Great to read your review of the film, and great that you’re encouraging others to make up their own minds, like my earlier post: http://wp.me/pGIi0-el
    Thanks!

    • emancipationofjamie April 24, 2010 at 2:40 pm #

      I loved your take too, and, as you said, hope all the controversy will not only spur more interest in trans-themed films, but also encourage trans filmmakers to make movies that they feel better represent the community!

  2. Israel Luna April 26, 2010 at 5:19 pm #

    Hi, emancipationofjamie.

    Thank you so much for attending our screening Friday night.
    Your review was really smart, well-written and very fair. I’m glad you “got it.” That screening was pretty nerve-racking for me since it was our first screening…and with all the controversy and protests, I had no clue what a curious audience would think.

    I’m glad our message came through and your comments about our good intentions with making the film. Thanks for a great review and I may just use your comment about Inglorious Basterds in future art! ; )

    Thanks again for your post!

    Sincerely,
    israel luna

  3. laughriotgirl April 26, 2010 at 6:22 pm #

    “Tipper Sommore (as played by Jenna Skyy), explains that God created Eva, the first transwoman, as a solution to the conflict between the male Adam and female Eve. The girls’ unabashed references to their anatomically male genitalia in the film also trouble the strict gender/sex binary, as the characters refuse to strictly conform to one or the other.”

    Jenna “Joe” Skyy is one of the drag queens playing a trans woman in this film. This is a gay man telling people that trans women aren’t *really* women, but something else. Given that every single murder of a trans woman is defended on this basis, that every time a murder is reported someone (many actually) call her an “it” or a “he/she” this line seems to give tact approval to this line of thought with a “for us by us” stamp of approval.

    Non-binary genders are a perfectly valid and interesting conversation for TRANS PEOPLE to have. To have a non-trans man make this clam in a film by and for gay men is putting words and assigning an identity to me and other trans people. An identity that is use to justify murder, rape, and denying access to social services in the event of violence.

    I’m glad you and a theater full of mostly gay men and queergoddess could like this.

    • queergoddess April 26, 2010 at 8:07 pm #

      laughriotgrl –

      I agree with you. I didn’t like the film, but I wholeheartedly defend its right to exist without being censored. That is what my earlier review and post on BLoGT says, if you care to read it – link in the comment above.

      Further – I think Mr. Luna’s move to “greek out” part of the title is an interesting first step in the dialogue that this film has created in the larger LGBT community. However, changing the appearance of the title will do nothing to change the content of the film or the minds of those opposed to it. Clearly, though, he he listening, and reading.

      I, for one, am glad it’s gotten people talking.

      • laughriotgirl April 27, 2010 at 2:20 pm #

        queergoddess

        I have no issue with the movie being shown. I have rather strong opinions about GLAAD’s intervention in this and their call to remove the film. It should be noted that the call to remove the film did not start among the trans women who started the boycott – although the initial criticism of the film was met with accusations of “censorship” from the start by the (mostly) cis gay men who were defending/supporting the film.

        I think the move to change the trailer and the title are worth noting, and I have done so publicly. I have no reason to believe that he and his intentions intend harm or disrespect. Intentions are important, and I acknowledge that.

        As far as dialogue and “talking” – I’ve been involved with online and off line activism for the greater GLBT movement. I have been involved with this particular protest/ boycott early on. What I see as the dialogue, or the conversation around this film is cis gay men defending their need to use “tra**y” and insinuating that trans women are either not politically savvy enough to understand reclaiming language and/or not sophisticated enough to understand artistic expression or media. “It’s just a movie” and “artistic vision” get trotted out often enough lately to dismiss concerns or justify any manner of perceived slights/misrepresentations/problematic content.

        Perhaps this is a good conversation for some/many folks to be having. But is it the right one? Do you see other conversations happening that I do not?

  4. emancipationofjamie April 26, 2010 at 9:38 pm #

    Israel-

    Thanks so much for reading and I’m glad to know I took away what you intended from the film! Feel free to quote me anytime. :-)

    laughriotgirl-

    I completely understand how and why TOTWK may be offensive to many trans people, particularly those who feel the film does not represent their particular trans identity. People should be considered and referred to as the gender with which they identify, and I agree that the common error of using incorrect gender pronouns after a trans person’s death is a travesty.

    Believing as I do, however, that gender exists on a broad spectrum (even beyond what we typically consider trans and cis), I’m hesitant to reserve the discussion of non-binary genders to people who themselves identify as trans. Likewise, I worry that a conscious effort to curb representations of people with non-binary genders, including third gender and genderqueer people, sends the message that these are less legitimate trans identities, precisely because they consider themselves “something else.” People who do claim identities as “something else” do not deserve to be subjected to murder, rape, or discrimination any more than trans people who consider themselves strictly male or female.

    If you haven’t, I highly recommend reading queer goddess’ review, as well as Kate Bornstein’s piece for Out (http://out.com/detail.asp?id=26757). Like you, Bornstein is not a fan of the film, but has some great things to say about the multiplicity of trans identities (and, for what it’s worth, about the troubles inherent in cis-representation of trans issues).

    • laughriotgirl April 26, 2010 at 10:48 pm #

      emancipationofjamie

      The marketing of the film “It takes balls…” Eva in Eden, the various references to genitalia all set up the handy (for the audience) “they are just men” or at least they aren’t “real women” out for the violence against them. This runs parallel to the actual real life violence that happens along with the further dehumanizing of how our murders are reported and the subsequent commentary in news reports. How many times is a trans woman killed and the comment threds fill up with “it” and “he/she” and assumptions that trans women trick guys into sex and this leavs the poor guys no choice…

      Kinda what gets claimed by Boner in the film.

      So we have the set up – trans women = not real women/ fake women
      Then we have Boner claiming to be the actual victim due to his conflicted attraction to a tran (fake) woman
      Finally we get a cis man saying this isn’t actually far off because, well, God needed to make a he-she to, what?? help cis people work through cis people’s problems ala Adam and Eve.

      THIS is why cis people don’t have a voice in discussions about non-binary and trans identities. They frame non-cis folks to meet their needs ignoring our needs, identities, and perspectives. It is clumsy, erasing, and often results in real actual harm.

      • sophisms May 12, 2010 at 1:46 pm #

        “Cis” and “trans” is a binary as problematic and divisive as any other.

      • laughriotgirl May 12, 2010 at 2:17 pm #

        ‘“Cis” and “trans” is a binary as problematic and divisive as any other.”

        This has what to do with the marketing of the film (by non-trans men) except to act as a derail?

  5. Amy Lou April 27, 2010 at 12:51 am #

    Thank you for your thoughtful review. I am a friend of the producer and director of this film…I’ve been watching the press very carefully and I find the subsequent dialogue interesting.

    Let me say that I am a married heterosexual female with seemingly little stake in the topic of the film. When I was invited to the screening of the film in Dallas, I was skeptical-primarily because of the title. I went to see the film to support my friends, the film makers.

    To state I have seemingly little stake in the film, I mean that I am not a transgendered female-leading one to believe I have nothing to say. I am, however, a female and fellow human being, and I have a stake in anything that speaks to violence against women and/or others. I find real life violence against anyone reprehensible, vile, and inexcusable. But, we are talking about a movie.

    I believe in art, and I believe in freedom of speech. I also believe that art is a reflection of life, a reflection that is malleable and fluid and an extension of our fantasies. Art gives us an opportunity to take what is and change it. As much as I hate violence, I love having a safe place in which to process real life. A place like the movie theater.

    When I saw this film, I was pleasantly surprised. I laughed my ass off. I fell in love with these characters. I have not, unfortunately, had the opportunity to interact with the transgendered community much in my day-to-day. This movie brought me closer to them…and don’t fret, protesters, critics, and skeptics. I fell in love with the characters’ vulnerabilities, their humor, their strengths. I saw these women as women I’d love to get to know. I was sad and horrified when they were harmed. And yeah, I cheered them on in their revenge, just as I did Uma Thurman when she kicked some ass in Kill Bill.

    This genre is not for everyone-there are many critics of Quentin Tarantino, David Lynch, and David Cronenberg, to name a few-directors who have been dubbed misogynistic. I can’t explain why I don’t feel slighted or abused by these directors as they graphically display the plight of women. I suppose it is because to me, it is what it is. I respect those who are “keeping it real.” Women continue to be objectified and abused. I love film as an arena for portraying what is in the world, the safe expression of what lurks within the psyche of (wo)man, and I appreciate the ongoing discussion.

    Like all art, film gives us a starting point. A place from which to leap-to think, to talk, to interact, to believe, to aspire, to grow. And sometimes, those positives are born from a not-so-positive experience.

    I loved this film, enjoyed getting to know these women, and I applauded the ass-kicking (because it twasn’t real…); I respect the opinions of those who couldn’t make the leap and am sorry they couldn’t.

    Pardon the 90’s cliche…but…you go guuuurrrrrlllllssss!!!!!

  6. queergoddess April 28, 2010 at 8:11 am #

    laughriotgirl et al –

    I have been having far more wide-ranging discussions than to ban/boycott the film. In fact, one of the more disturbing issues for me was the rampant racism depicted in TOTWK. We’ve been discussing who has the right of representation and claiming of stereotypes on all levels in media. I’ve heard from trans women who are too scared to protest in public and some who are scared to reveal that they don’t want to protest at all. Discussion sparked by this film has opened up a larger public window on the trans community that people in the LGB part can’t ignore. I for one, think that’s beneficial. Just because it doesn’t get posted on a blog/facebook/twitter, doesn’t mean the discussion isn’t going on between folks face to face, the old-fashioned way, where it makes the most impact.

    • laughriotgirl April 29, 2010 at 12:43 pm #

      queergoddess

      I’m not seeing this in my local community or online. I think the discussion sparked by this film is being resoundingly ignored by GLB folks who are telling T folks to essentially STFU and let them represent us in any way they like with whatever language they like with whatever folksy Adam and Eve Genesis BS they want to assign to us.

      Really lots of the same happening with a new veneer.

      Considering that much of the media is reporting the violence in the film as “gay bashing” – I’m sure the GLB will see some greater awareness out of this. Again, more of the same.

      If you are seeing different things happen, I’d be interested in hearing about them.

      • queergoddess April 29, 2010 at 10:57 pm #

        Again, laughriotgirl, et al –

        The conversations I am having with transwomen and other folks in the community as well as straight people are happening offline. A colleague came out to me as a transwoman because of the film, and I don’t know if that would’ve happened in another context. So, I value the dialogue that _I’ve_ experienced. I can’t speak for you, nor do I claim to. Neither can you speak for me and the positive interactions I’ve had with people regarding issues of representation and ownership of images and language. I’ve also found it refreshing that the most meaningful discussions I’ve had were in person, away from the glare of the internet. All this while writing 2 huge term papers at the end of the semester (like any of us have time for film or protests)!

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Israel Luna Responds to BLoGT « BLoGT: NYU's Queer Blog - April 26, 2010

    […] Luna Responds to BLoGT April 26, 2010 by sophisms Israel Luna has responded to emancipationofjamie’s review of the “Ticked-Off Trannies With Knives” premiere! Hi, […]

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