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Powerful Transgender Immigrant Film “Lupe” Premieres on HBO Max

Film Poster: Lupe
Transgender Immigrant film "Lupe" Film poster art:  woman in the foreground city night scene behind her.
Official Film Poster Courtesy of “Lupe”/HBO

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 This shows particularly for those who fall outside of outdated traditional cultural norms.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.

Transgender immigrant-focused Close up of young man fists up boxing stance in natural sunlight.
Rafael Albarrán (playing a character of the same name) in “Lupe.” Directors
André Phillips & Charles Vuolo. Photo Courtesy of “Lupe”/HBO


Transgender Immigrant-focused film "Lupe" still Young woman with brown hair looks at the shadow face of man. Man's hand is bleeding and blurry in the background.
Christine Rosario as Elsa in “Lupe”. Photo Courtesy of “Lupe”/HBO
Teen girl with arm around young boy.
L to R: Lucerys Medina as Isabel and Pedro Rodriguez as young Rafael in “Lupe”.
Photo Courtesy of “Lupe”/HBO

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.

Portrait of woman with purple hair.
Executive Producer Kerry Michelle O’Brien Photo A. Covington

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.

Transgender Immigrant film "Lupe Woman looking at blurred man.
Celia Harrison as Lana in “Lupe”. Photo Courtesy of “Lupe”/HBO

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. 

Transgender Immigrant-focused film "Lupe" - Three quarters portrait of man with brown hair in black jacket.
Rafael Albarrán Photo Courtesy R. Albarrán

Authenticity Reigns

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.

Transgender Immigrant-focused film "Lupe" shows a Trans woman wearing auburn wig with bob style.
Rafael Albarrán (playing a character of the same name) in “Lupe”. Photo Courtesy of “Lupe”/HBO

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 .

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5 comments

  1. A point this article mentioned that I had not considered prior is how the distribution of movies and shows on streaming sites has such a major role in ideas and social constructs being shared with the public. As cable fades out and streaming services gain more and more traction, the public is really exposed to what they chose to share. The social idea presented through their selection in media can shift ideas, like this article mentioned. I really liked how not only the show was discussed, but we got to hear about some of the behind-the-scenes moments as well, like how the press for Lupe put O’Brien and her children back in contact. The story was compelling, emotional, and relevant to us all as we move with our ever-changing world and society.

  2. It honestly makes me so happy to see more transgender representation within the film industry. I know that socially it is becoming more acceptable but I don’t think it will fully become normalized until we are exposed to it in a way that shows the struggles that specific individuals face with their transition or life before and after their transition. If people who are wary about it can see these struggles and empathize with a character they love, maybe the world will become an even more accepting place, where individuals don’t have to face unnecessary hate all the time for simply being themselves.

  3. Finally transgender representation! Not only is three trans focus, but sex work and immigration focus. I believe these aspects of humanity have negative stereotypes attached to them, and it will be good for the public to see a different side. I think this is an incredibly modern film, and I hope it reaches the eyes of those that need to see it. Still, in society, people are being ridiculed, bullied, and beaten to the point of death for being who they are. Thank you for making this!!!

  4. It’s great to see more marginalized identities represented in film, but even more importantly, it’s great to know that the filmmakers were dedicated to authenticity by casting and hiring real people from these communities and giving them a voice. Representation for these marginalized identities — particularly transgender ones — are not common enough in mainstream media. More representation may help individuals struggling with their identity by offering some comfort and reassurance that they are not alone with this community. I also didn’t realize how significant the film festivals are in bringing these sorts of films to life in mainstream media, and it’s wonderful to see that Lupe was one that made it.

  5. This article is interesting because it combines the demonstration of the abstract cultural trend with a specific film story. Every character in this film represents a certain kind of trans-gender group. By reading their story, I managed to know more about them. It is also the purpose of this film to increase acceptance for gender marginalized people. Although there have been some other works of this genre before, Lupe attaches great importance to authenticity. People who are involved in this production have something to do with trans gender. Also, they are cured by this film because they are allowed to express themselves. I think it is the magic of great artwork. All in all, it is fair to say that Lupe is a landmark of the increased acceptance of the transgender group.

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