Transgender in Latin America: Two films exploring sexual identity enter festival circuit

  • Directors Naji Abu Nowar and Paddy Breathnach on Jan. 2, 2016 in Palm Springs, California.

    Directors Naji Abu Nowar and Paddy Breathnach on Jan. 2, 2016 in Palm Springs, California.  (2016 Getty Images)

  • Flavio Florencio.

    Flavio Florencio.

This year’s film festival circuit includes two films that delve into the pains and joys of gays and transgenders living in Latin America. The Palm Springs Film Festival showed Flavio Florencio's “Made in Bangkok,” while both PSFF and Sundance featured the acclaimed “Viva,” set in Cuba, by renowned Irish director Paddy Breathnach.

“Made in Bangkok” is a full-length documentary that follows a Mexican transgender called Morgana Love as she travels to Thailand to take part in one of the top transgender beauty contests worldwide.

Love is a successful opera singer whom Florencio, an Argentinian who lives in Mexico City, met one night at a cantina.

In Florencio's eyes, Morgana epitomizes a woman stuck in a man’s body and he wanted to show how everything about her is so strongly feminine.

“It’s easy to see why Morgana had such a huge mega fan base,” Florencio said in an interview with Fox News Latino. “Not only is she beautiful among many Latino transgenders, but she is truly a gifted singer/performer.”

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“I wanted to try to help in some way, to show that [members of the] transgender community have lives, a voice, and they deserve to be respected,” added Florencio, who debuted in 2010 with the short “Y Dios Quiso.”

Love also explores the possibility of undergoing a sex reassignment surgery, since Bangkok happens to be home to one of the most renowned plastic surgeons in the world.

Florencio noted that most transgenders in Central and South America are not fortunate to be as gifted as Morgana — they are typically making ends meet by working in prostitution.

In Mexico, he explained, a man who wants sex from a woman usually cannot afford it, so the cheaper option is to have a transgender prostitute. “They are so much cheaper, and the man gets a similar experience, but it’s all fake,” he told FNL.

“Viva,” the other film touching on sexual identity this season, takes us in a journey through the life of a young Cuban gay man trying to find his true self.

Directed by seasoned filmmaker Paddy Breathnach, “Viva” is a feature film about change and a story about transformation. Breathnach said he became enchanted when he first visited the island and saw drag performers on stage.

“There is great richness as I see it from my Irish background. We had that in Ireland, where we were on the cusp of change,” he said.

“Cuba has a lot of potential and wants to express itself,” he added.

“Viva” tells the story of Jesus, a young gay man wanting to fit in but has to deal with his father’s rejection and his desire to be part of the family again.

“Much as the country itself, Jesus is going through change and is using his art through drag shows to discover his inner voice,” Paddy said.

“I told a real story that touched on the truth about prostitution, and in Cuba gay and transgender prostitution is part of it,” he noted.

Mildred Brignoni is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles.

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