February 27, 2016

How Sean Baker's 'Tangerine' Shines a Light on Hollywood's Diversity Problems

Sean Baker's Tangerine is a spitfire film.

Not only did it take the 2015 Sundance Film Festival by storm, but it also garnered numerous nominations at this year's Spirit Awards (Mya Taylor also took home the prize for Best Supporting Female). And it was shot completely on an iPhone. And it was made on a small $100K budget. And it's a story about two trans women — played by two trans women.

Tangerine has blossomed into the little movie that could despite all of the hurdles and unspoken boundaries present in the film industry's problems with diversity and inclusion. In fact, one reading of the film from Read More Movies' Eric Harvey says Baker addresses these things directly in the narrative and visual aspects of the film.

It's unclear whether Baker intended to make such a bold statement about Hollywood's diversity problem with Tangerine, the film works to show that marginalized groups, including women, minorities, the LGBTQ community (the transgender community specifically), and those on the lower tiers of the socioeconomic ladder do have a voice, even if many times societal and political barriers tend to render them inaudible.

The topics of diversity and discrimination in the film industry is a hotly debated one that has served as something of a divisive force among filmmakers within the community. Opinions abound on both sides, but surely all can agree that films like Tangerine are needed in the world, because film is a medium not only for artists and creatives, but also for activists and advocates who strive to offer a different, and at times challenging perspective of the human experience that many of us may not be fully aware of.

Tangerine does this at full volume — that spitfire! And it's a voice the vast majority of us haven't yet heard.      

Your Comment

10 Comments

You have to be a white liberal to appreciate the exhibitionism of this exploitative film.

February 28, 2016 at 6:18AM

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Indie Guy
634

What is the non-white response to the film? Also what is the non-cysgender response and the queer community response?
I haven't read much about these responses. I haven't seen the film, but I loved the trailer. And Mya Taylor is an amazing person. I know her.

And as an aside - isn't it nice that a young, white cys-gender, male who is probably upper middle class isn't making another movie about young, upper middle class white people and their struggle post-college?

Or making a young, white upper middle class young people film and winning awards for it?
This whole, "write what you know about" trend I hope goes away.

I think there should be more films about janitors or masseuses, or bus drivers, or bowlers, or cousins, or bodega owners or uber drivers or mail carriers, etc etc. It's always about a bunch of young struggling white kids trying to find love.

:)

February 28, 2016 at 2:28PM, Edited February 28, 3:00PM

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Ed David
Director of Photography
1486

I can't speak to the racial or class messages in the film, as I lack experience there. As a trans person, though, I rather felt like the message of the film was something along the lines of "trans people are stomped upon (but are resilient)" - with the parenthetical being very much an afterthought. While it may be a somewhat accurate message, it's not a very inspiring one for someone living that on a daily basis.

At a few spots in the film it seemed to me that the actors were uncomfortable with certain elements of their roles. Admittedly, that could have merely been my discomfort with the film bleeding into my perception of the actors and their characters. I have no idea how much involvement the trans actors were allowed in the film, but my gut feeling says it wasn't enough to bring a fully honest and comfortable portrayal to their roles; it's incredibly difficult to portray a portion of a character which is meant to be similar to you, but is written contrary to your experience.

February 28, 2016 at 3:24PM

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S.J.H.
8

Hi Ed, I too think we need more films about janitors, uber drivers etc. Ramin Bahrani is one of my favorite directors because his films are about such people. Check out his work if you haven't already!

February 29, 2016 at 4:39PM

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This video essay, like many others, tends to imbue the film with meaning and intent that I'm not sure the director or writers or actors even once considered.

February 28, 2016 at 3:04PM

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jfc
Director/Writer
241

It's funny all the films with black people that weren't nominated sucked and all the films with white people that were nominated sucked so regardless of race I think the conclusion we can all come to is Hollywood and the Academy suck and indies rule.

February 28, 2016 at 4:12PM

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Daniel Duerto
Everything is me
81

Let's just say that are Academy movies, like Spotlight. It is good, but it is not that good . It is comfortable for wide audiences.

March 1, 2016 at 10:32PM, Edited March 1, 10:32PM

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Abi Stricker
Student
185

I wouldn't call them "white movies" most of them were movies for the general audience.

March 3, 2016 at 7:37PM

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Enrique Godinez
Director/Producer/Actor
281

I was pleasantly shocked by Tangerine. The story seems simple, but has a lot of feeling, and complexity, it shows what most of mainstream don't want to asume. I felt connected with the story even when I am not American, nor transexual. The score makes a lot of the work, it gives a sense of dynamics and identity with just a few songs. But I disagree with this analysis, since Tangerine is not the norm by far, it was a wide surprise because of that. I don't see that many movies like this one would have the same future, sadly.

March 1, 2016 at 10:29PM, Edited March 1, 10:30PM

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Abi Stricker
Student
185

I wasn't that much of a fan of Tangerine.

March 3, 2016 at 7:37PM

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Enrique Godinez
Director/Producer/Actor
281