‘March On’ captures audience award at AGLIFF

Dallas activist Laura McFerrin’s documentary about the 2009 National Equality March, “March On,” was named Audience Favorite at the Austin Gay & Lesbian International Film Festival over the weekend. McFerrin said in an e-mail Tuesday morning that the film’s world premiere was a success and that everyone featured in the documentary came to Austin for the event (photo above). A big congrats to Laura. For more info about “March On,” go here.

—  John Wright

Making use of a chance to educate

Instead of working to block controversial film, TENT wants to put transgender issues on the front burner at Austin film fest by sponsoring discussion of movie

Recently, Transgender Education Network of Texas has made a very difficult decision. We have been following  the controversy surrounding the film, “Ticked-Off Trannies With Knives.” We have been discussing the issue with Austin Gay and Lesbian International Film Festival (AGLIFF) and both organizations believe that there needs to be dialog surrounding the film.

To that end, AGLIFF will bring the film to their well-attended festival in the fall, and TENT will facilitate a discussion afterward. This was not a decision we made lightly and we want to take a moment and clarify our position.

Many trans activists, as well as GLAAD, have been very vocal critics of this film and the “negative portrayal of trans people in it.”

The majority of our board has screened this film and, though many of us don’t think the film the greatest piece of celluloid art out there, we all pretty much agree that on its surface, it doesn’t portray trans folk too negatively.

Quite to the contrary, it shows drag queens (part of the trans community) fighting back against people who want to hurt them (and are very successful … at least physically).

I’d like to lay all of our cards on the table here. Originally, we were looking at this film to use as a fundraiser for TENT. After all, with all the controversy and shouting, it was bound to be a money-maker.

And we felt strongly that we needed to have a conversation around what was really making us angry; as an organization whose mission is to educate folks about the gender diverse, we felt an obligation to facilitate a conversation.

But after our second viewing and subsequent discussion, it became clear to many of us that using this film as a fundraiser would be adding more fuel to an already over-stoked fire.

We also felt that doing nothing was not an option either. You know, if folks didn’t raise a fuss about this film it may not have even made a ripple in our community.

As a matter of fact the controversy, arguments and protests have done more to pique the interest of viewers than any standard marketing that La Luna Entertainment had planned to do.

So, it is out there; we can’t do anything about that. So we feel it is necessary to talk about it.

We also feel that to have an intelligent discussion about the film, it is necessary to actually see it. Many of the protesters have not seen it and don’t plan to for fear of giving the appearance of condoning the film. We hope they change their minds when it comes to Austin.

Let’s take a moment to talk about what the critics are saying.

One of the biggest issues early on was the use of the murders of Angie Zapata and Jorge Mercado in the trailers marketing the film.

The film gives a nod to the “blacksploitation” films of the 1960s and is graphically violent, shot in high contrast and is very campy. The protesters (rightly, in my opinion) strongly objected to the use of the two very real and very tragic murders in the marketing of this admittedly violent and campy film.

The filmmaker listened to the critics and quickly removed those quotes. I didn’t see that trailer (it had already been pulled) and when I spoke to Israel Luna, the maker of the film, I said to him that had I seen the original trailer, I would probably be equally as offended.

I asked him if he understood that and he answered, “Yes, and that is why I removed those references.”

Although they have been removed from the trailer, this is still an issue that the critics hold on to as a reason to protest.

The other reason that the protesters and GLAAD would like to see the film banned is because “… it demeans actual transgender women who struggle for acceptance and respect in their day-to-day lives.”

We’re not so sure we agree with this statement.  Whereas drag queens are not indicative of all or even most of the gender diverse community, they are a part of the community and, I for one, am proud to stand side by side with them.

After all, it was the drag queens that hurled the first bottles to start the protest at Stonewall, a protest that launched a movement.
Now drag queens, by definition, are usually caricatures of women. We all know what it means to wear “drag queen” make-up, and few women wear the exaggerated make-up and clothing on the street in their day-to-day lives.

But that is the nature of being a drag queen; they are performers wearing a costume. And guess what?  They exist in real life. I know quite a few and are honored to call them friends.

In my opinion, the drag queens characterized in the film are pretty darn accurate. For the most part, I liked these characters. They were real!  Yes, I said it: Real.

Finally, there are a couple of criticisms that I may agree with. The first is the title.

I don’t condone the use of the “T” word; I don’t use the “T” word, and I advocate that no one use it.

The other criticism that has a bit of credence is the speed in which the film goes from a relatively realistic portrayal of horrendous violence perpetrated against these trans women to a “check your brains at the door” campiness. I have some real problems with that and would have a few suggestions for Mr. Luna for a re-edit if he wants to hear them.

But, all of those things aside, it is time to watch the film and talk about it.

It is for that reason that we are not blocking AGLIFF from bringing it to the film festival. In interest of full disclosure, we were given the opportunity to block it; if TENT said “no,” AGLIFF would not have brought it in.

But we feel strongly that this controversial film can open a dialog that can do a lot of good. So we said, bring it in and let us sponsor the discussion after. We hope to have the filmmaker, the critics, the supporters, and GLAAD all participate in this important discussion.

Lisa Scheps is executive director of Transgender Education Network of Texas, based in Austin. The talk-back will be held immediately after the screening of the film on Friday, Sept. 10 at 9:45 p.m. at the Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar. Everyone is welcome to attend.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 27, 2010

—  Kevin Thomas