Visibility of transgender men and women is at an all-time high thanks in large part to television: scripted shows like Netflix's "Sense8" and Amazon's "Transparent," along with reality series such as ABC Family's "Becoming Us" and Caitlyn Jenner's forthcoming "I Am Cait," all of which create an unprecedented window into the transgender experience.
The world of film, however, has been slower to evolve. Aiming to change the landscape are films premiering this week at Outfest that Lucy Mukerjee-Brown, the Los Angeles LGBT film festival's programming director, called "the new frontier of transgender films."
"Instead of just exploring the struggle of what it means to transition, these films are about transgender protagonists who just happen to be trans," she said. "We feel like that's definitely a step forward."
FOR THE RECORD:
Outfest: In the July 7 Calendar section, an article about the Outfest film festival included an information box that said the screening of "Tig," a documentary about comedian Tig Notaro, was sold out. Tickets are still available. —
Of the 166 films from 33 countries premiering at Outfest from Thursday to July 19, about 15% center on the transgender experience or include transgender actors, looking beyond celebrities like Jenner and "Orange Is the New Black" actress Laverne Cox.
In the documentary "From This Day Forward," showing at 3 p.m. Saturday, director Sharon Shattuck explores how her parents' marriage survived her father coming out as a transgender woman named Trisha more than 20 years ago.
"Growing up with my parents, it was the most normal thing in the world," Shattuck said. "The fact that my dad was transgender wasn't weird to me, but it was fascinating to my friends and the community around us."
Set against the backdrop of Shattuck's impending nuptials, the doc is an intimate portrait of how "love and sexuality and gender are way more fluid and forgiving than we think," she said. Her family's story expands conceptions of transgender identity as Trisha's presentation of self is less feminine than others'.
"Not every transgender person is a very femme-presenting person," Shattuck said. "If you are trans and identify as a woman, you don't have to wear makeup, skirts and high heels to be a woman. A lot of the representation focuses on these people who are very feminine, but there are lots of butch or gender-neutral transgender people out there."
The feature "Two 4 One," screening at 4:30 p.m. Sunday, was inspired by writer-director Maureen Bradley, her partner and their experience with insemination, as well as the story of Thomas Beatie, who landed an interview with Oprah Winfrey and People magazine in 2008 as "the pregnant man." The film is about a transgender man named Adam (played by Gavin Crawford) who, while off his hormone treatment, gets pregnant along with his ex-girlfriend Miriam (Naomi Snieckus). Bradley sees "Two 4 One" as a response to the dearth of complex stories about transgender people in film.
"I got tired of the coming out story and transition story," she said. "I wanted something that doesn't have transgender 101, and I hadn't seen a real rich diversity of films that look at trans masculinity."
Transgender activist Chaz Bono's stint on "Dancing With the Stars" in 2011 gave Bradley hope that she might find an audience for her romantic comedy. With the recent Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage, "the time is right," Bradley said.
"I'm creating a narrative," she said. "The time is right for bolder representations of all the lives out there in the LGBTQ community. People are hungry for the stories we haven't been told."
"Deep Run," screening at 5 p.m. July 18, is a documentary that follows Cole Ray Davis and his girlfriend as they navigate unemployment, immigration status (he's Canadian) and his transgender identity within their rural North Carolina town. The film also addresses the couple's struggle to find a church that will affirm Cole's identity and the couple's relationship.
"This film is about how people in their everyday lives live with incredible amounts of bravery just by setting up a household," director Hillevi Loven said. "It's a microcosm of how change and gender identity and faith are being redefined and re-envisioned by this millennial generation."
Other highlights of the festival that center on transgender experiences include the Spanish-language film "Carmin Tropical," 7 p.m. July 14, about a successful transgender nightclub singer who returns to her hometown in Mexico to investigate the murder of her best friend; "Raising Ryland," 9:15 p.m. July 16, about a family raising a transgender child; and "Black Is Blue," 9:30 p.m. July 15, about a black trans man working as a security guard in Oakland.
The benefit of these transgender-related films showing at Outfest cannot be understated, Mukerjee-Brown said, as they help empower people finally seeing themselves reflected on-screen to tell their own stories.
Susan Sarandon, who executive produced "Deep Run" and has a son who blurs the lines of gender, said she hopes films like hers better the lives of trans men and women.
"The more you can humanize and give a face to the struggle for authenticity and search for freedom through expression, it becomes more difficult for people who are threatened by the idea of someone transitioning to strike out blind against people who are trans," she said. "We're seeing more and more people who are beyond the limiting definition of male and female and are embracing the fluidity of gender."
These films, she said, help everyone realize that there are more colors in the crayon box of life.
"And they're allowed to be other colors too," she said, "and they can color outside the lines. It's going to open up a beautiful world."
'Tig' and Opening Night Gala
When: 9 p.m. Thursday
Where: Orpheum Theatre, 842 S. Broadway, Los Angeles
'Naz & Maalik'
When: 7 p.m. Sunday
Where: Directors Guild of America, 7920 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles
'Out to Win'
When: 7 p.m. July 15
Where: Directors Guild of America
SAG-AFTRA Transgender Hollywood Panel
When: 2:30 p.m. July 18
Where: Directors Guild of America
More information is available at (213) 480-7065 or http://www.outfest.org.