Shooting an entire movie with three iPhone 5S’ sounds like an undertaking that only a seasoned director might take on, not for someone making their directorial debut.
From a financial standpoint, it may make sense; most people have these cameras at their everyday disposal so why not utilize a device to its maximum potential if you’re spending thousands of dollars on it already? But with using a camera that fits into the palm of your hand, any auteur is going to be met with limitations.
Knowing this information going into my first viewing of Tangerine a few months ago, I thought that a movie told through this lens would sell the transgender experience short. However, I think it provided the perfect lens for those without a transgender point-of-view.
The movie begins at a donut shop, and immediately director Sean Baker throws you into the animated lives of transgender sex workers Alexandra and Sin-Dee. After serving a 28-day prison sentence, Alexandra fills Sin-Dee in on her boyfriend, and pimp, Chester, who has been disloyal during her time away.
Upon finding out that Chester has been hooking up with a cisgender female, Sin-Dee is livid; she’s not going to let the fact that it’s Christmas Eve prevent her from giving Chester and his new girl a piece of her mind. From this point forward, you’re trying to play catch up with Alexandra as Sin-Dee stalks her Hollywood neighborhood. The journey is an introductory transgender slice-of-life.
Tangerine was released in 2015. That same year, the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey found that 45 percent of transgender people with unsupportive families experienced homelessness. There are a few subtle moments throughout the movie that bring to light to this sad betrayal.
One of them comes in the opening scene after Sin-Dee asks to use Alexandra’s phone in order to call Chester. Alexandra then explains how her phone had been shut off in order to cover Sin-Dee’s rent while she was locked up. We all like to think that we have good friends, but the way the transgender community looks after each other sheds new light on what it means to be a good friend in the modern age. With no family to look after her, Alexandra knows she’s one of Sin-Dee’s only lines of support.
It’s highlighted once again when Alexandra gets in a fight with a male who refuses to pay her after a sex act. After a police officer approaches them fighting over money in the street, the cop mentions how it’d be unfortunate to have to call both of their families on Christmas Eve to fill them in. Alexandra, without hesitation, quips back, “What family?”
Tangerine is able to use the lens of a phone to bring us closer to Sin-Dee and Alexandra as they walk the streets to highlight transgender hardships like prostitution, drug use, and homelessness. The use of the cell phone as the storyteller creates a personal, immediate connection to the characters and gives the viewer a bird’s eye perspective you couldn’t get through a standard camera lens.
Tangerine by no means captures the entire transgender experience, but it’s been one that I think does a powerful job at getting people to discuss injustice and socio-economic hardships of this specific LGBTQ community.