Art For Cultural Change
Film festival lineups determine which movies are bought and distributed. As such, festivals and awards are often both a gatekeeper and an indicator of cultural change.
Movies purchased by mainstream outlets gauge general shifts in ideas. Social change does not happen overnight, but films discovered today are indicative of widening cultural acceptance. This shows particularly for those who fall outside of outdated traditional cultural norms.
Transgender Immigrant focus
“Lupe,” is a film festival darling and dual-language flick premiering on HBO Latino and HBO Max Feb. 26, 2021. The movie beautifully connects the intersecting and contrasting identities of its main character, Rafael. Played by Rafael Albarrán, Rafael is a Cuban immigrant who struggles with transgender identity. Rafael also is on the hunt for their missing sister in New York City’s underground sex industry.
Community filmmaking often produces art that is representative and impactful. Instant LGBTQ+ film canon, “Lupe” strives for authenticity in its storytelling. Executive Producer Kerry Michelle O’Brien joined the team for both personal and professional reasons. She longed to see trans characters representing her lived experience.
Walk the Walk
O’ Brien dislikes the way trans transgender and immigrant characters have been portrayed in films and credits the team for incorporating voices of immigrants, sex workers and transgender individuals. Creating diverse teams that tell these important stories can help foster understanding about marginalized and misrepresented communities.
Trans performer Celia Harrison plays the role of Lana. Lana befriends Rafael while also struggling with her own identity.
Producer Anthony Ambrosino loved how the directors emphatically sought to retain Celia’s voice and perspective. Also, he wanted to create a truly authentic character he left all of her scenes unscripted.
Art and Personal Transformation
O’Brien joined the project in post-production to add another layer of authentic trans voices. O’Brien also lived the experience of coming out and losing everything. An immigrant herself, she was estranged from her children. But because of press for “Lupe,” she reached out. They have reconnected. Being discriminated against for daring to live as her authentic self combined with the trauma of being estranged from her children was a struggle. However, working on theTransgender Immigrant-focused film and knowing that it will be released in a mainstream venue has helped open the door for reconnection with her children.
When Art Mimics Life
Also impacted is San Francisco-based Puerto Rican actor Albarrán (who uses”they/them pronouns). Partially due to their role in “Lupe,” a few years ago they explored gender and the art of drag. ” Upon deep introspection Albarrán had the realization that their gender was not part of the binary. Albarrán ceased acting after completing “Lupe” to focus on their writing. Another collaboration with O’Brien may be in the future, as she is currently reviewing Albarrán’s screenplay.
As more and more artists co-create work that reflects their true selves, the stories we consume will continue to grow more diverse and compelling, too. When the gatekeepers start to look more like the artists waiting outside the gates, it is certain more projects that center those on the margins will premiere.
When the gates are opened wider by streaming platforms like HBO Max, freedom of expression becomes more pronounced. Art that represents the wholeness of self and reflects the value of being a culturally fluid person needs to be elevated beyond the festival circuit. With this motion, we can look forward to more films like “Lupe”, telling stories that are authentic, moving and transformative.
“Lupe” aired on HBO Latino and HBO Max .