Tangerine is another 2015 film that I missed out on, but I kept telling myself that one day I would fire up Netflix and watch it. It’s been a few years, but here I am writing about one of the most touching films I’ve seen involving sex workers and the people they affect.
Directed by Sean Baker, Tangerine is set in Hollywood and revolves around Sin-Dee (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez), a transgender woman being released from a 28-day prison sentence on Christmas Eve. After meeting with her best friend Alexandria (Mya Taylor) at a donut shop we learn a few things. One: Sin-Dee’s boyfriend and pimp Chester (James Ransone) has cheated on her with a cisgender woman, and two: Sin-Dee is going to beat her ass. Immediately after learning this Sin-Dee rushes out of the shop, hellbent on finding her boyfriend and the girl he cheated with. Tangerine might seem like a comedy, but the comedy aspect is only the outer layer, and the emotional drama is the actual fruit.
One of the things that makes Tangerine unique is that both the main stars of the film are transgender actresses portraying trans sex workers. These two actresses bring authenticity to their roles; it often felt as if I was watching a documentary instead of a feature film. I actually had to Google both these actresses to find out if they were real sex workers. That is how convincing their performances were. I would later find out that these two made history. They were the first openly transgender actresses to have campaigned for an Academy Award. Unfortunately, they didn’t receive a nomination.
The way Sean Baker and his talented crew shot this film is worth noting. Not because the film was shot with a few iPhone 5s, but because of how well he captures the atmosphere of Hollywood on Christmas Eve. As a Floridian, I know what it is like to celebrate winter holidays in the heat, so kudos, Sean. I love the way the nightlife is shot; the lighting from natural and unnatural sources gives the film a serene feel as it reaches its climax. At first, I found the way the scenes and camera moved at a frantic pace to be jarring, but as the plot eased into the night the camera work slow down.
A sample of scenes from Tangerine
The reason I praise this film and recommend it is the third act. Tangerine features a parallel plot about a taxi driver who loves to get intimate with trans sex workers. What makes this griping is that he has a family. The way the story of this taxi driver intertwines with that of our two stars is bound to tug at your heartstrings.
Tangerine might seem like a comedy but it is a touching drama not only about sex workers but how American society views transgender people. The final shot of the film ties the themes of beauty and friendship together but may also make you think twice about your perception of transgender people.