TransMilitary

TransMilitary follows the lives of four trans military members over the course of several years. It begins in the years leading up to the lifting of the military ban in 2016, and continues until the Trump administration’s attempted reversal of the ban the following year. Jenna, Logan, Laila, and Lee are part of a SPARTA, a group that advocates for transgender service members, and that was integral to the 2016 reversal of the trans military ban. The documentary is most compelling when it focuses on the everyday lives of these trans folks, such as candid shots of Jenna’s family in a nerf fight, or when Lee visiting his mom and dad before a deployment in Iraq. I was the most touched by the film’s depiction of the relationship between two SPARTA members, Logan and Laila, who are fiancées.

Also captured are the indignities that trans folks suffer in the military. For instance, Laila is required to keep her hair short and slicked back according to male military regulations. While deployed in Iraq, Logan discusses how he’s less than excited about returning home. In Afghanistan he’s allowed to follow male regulations, but when he comes back to the U.S., he’ll have to grow out his hair and wear a woman’s uniform.

What didn’t quite work for me were the factoids about trans folks scattered throughout the documentary. While these were informative, I felt like they were distracting and broke the movie’s flow. Also, if you’re looking for any criticisms of military problems outside of trans issues such as imperialism, nationalism, and PTSD, you won’t find them here.

The stories of these brave trans folks are presented in an unadorned, straightforward manner will appeal to a wide audience. These stories are of utmost importance today, given that Trump’s administration is still pursuing the military ban against transgender members.

White Rabbit

Even though White Rabbit isn’t exactly a comedy, its clever absurdity kept me laughing. It follows the everyday life of Sophie (Vivian Bang), a Korean-American performance artist living in L.A. For her performances, Sophie assumes a kind of silver-haired, jumpsuit-wearing alter ego. Through a portable amp, she blasts monologues on racism and the immigrant experience at unsuspecting audiences in unique venues, such as a supermarket, ramen shop, and public park. Her day job is working as a “TaskRabbit” – hired through an app to perform odd jobs. During the course of her outings, she continually runs into a woman named Victoria (Nana Ghana), for whom she quickly develops a major crush.

All of this is presented with the freewheeling energy of a French Nouveau Film, all close-ups and quick cuts and bright colors. Vivian Bang’s energetic performance meshes well with this style. One of the best, funniest moments is her interaction with a douchey white director who tries to cast her as an “empowered Asian accountant” in a film about a social media start-up. Her and Victoria have some great chemistry as the connect with each other over art and their different immigrant experiences.

White Rabbit is more or less a slice-of-life experience. We leave Sophie much as we first encounter her, lonely and aimless. So if you’re here for the fun ride rather than the destination, I can’t recommend this film any more.

Rafiki

A subversive love story par excellence, Rafiki follows the romance between two women in Kenya, where the LGBT population faces both legal and societal persecution. Samantha Mugaatsia puts on a powerful performance as Kena, the daughter of a merchant and politician. She falls for Ziki, the daughter of a rival politician. Though this Shakespearean love story is well-trodden cinematic territory, the backdrop of contemporary Kenya’s conservative society raises the stakes. It makes the film feel fresh and revolutionary. The natural chemistry between the two stars more than makes up for Rafiki’s well-worn plot. Though the film was banned in its home country, I think it will find a loving audience abroad.

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