Transgender Day of Remembrance, celebrated every year on Nov. 20, acts as a day to honor and memorialize those lost to anti-transgender violence. Started by transgender activist Gwendolyn Ann Smith following the death of Rita Hester in 1998, the day has become an annual commemoration of lives lost and struggles faced.
This year, the Avenue comprised a list of films, documentaries, shows, artists and more centering around transgender identity and the community’s fight for justice.
“The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson” (2017)
This documentary follows activist Victoria Cruz’s investigation into the death of Marsha P. Johnson, a catalyst in New York City’s transgender rights movement during the 1960s through the 1990s. The film dives into the city’s LBGTQ+ scene and the hurdles faced by those both behind the scenes and centerstage of the movement. Featuring interviews with some of Johnson’s friends and family as well as fellow activists of the time, the film documents footage of Johnson’s work at protests and in the community, paying tribute to the impact she left and those she inspired to follow her.
“Orange is the New Black” (2015)
The show, which is set primarily at a women's prison, tells the story of various characters, including Sophia Burset, a transgender woman who was imprisoned for stealing credit cards to fund her transitio and is played by Laverne Cox. As one of the first Netflix original series, “Orange is the New Black” has created a shift in transgender representation in media and created new conversations surrounding the criminal justice system. With her role on the show, Fox became the first openly transgender person to be nominated for an acting category at the Emmy Awards in 2019.
“Paris Is Burning” (1990)
A boots-on-the-ground documentary showcasing the transgender, gay, Black and Latino experience of New York City in the ‘80s, “Paris Is Burning” candidly and heart-wrenchingly succeeds in taking its audience into a lesser-known perspective — one all too telling of humanity’s base aspects and traits. Between love, passion, community, competition and aspiration — both attained and abolished — the film encompasses the viewer in the vogue and veracity of what they’ll come to know as ball culture.
SOPHIE - “OIL OF EVERY PEARL’S UN-INSIDES” (2017)
Hyperpop is quickly making its way to the forefront of the modern music movement, and producer and artist SOPHIE is one of the masterminds behind the exciting new endeavor. From Charli XCX’s 2016 “Vroom Vroom” EP to a collection of singles with Kim Petras, SOPHIE has made her mark with some of pop’s most recognizable figures, but the crown jewel of her work is her 2018 solo record “OIL OF EVERY PEARL’S UN-INSIDES.” The songs seem to morph as they play on, twisting and turning until the end product is almost unrecognizable relative to its starting form. The sweeping soundscape, complete with spiking synths, pounding backbeats, electronic accents and vocal modulations, is magnificent in its execution and a masterful display of musicianship. Ranging from ethereal with tracks like “It’s Okay To Cry” and “Is It Cold In The Water?” to enigmatic with tracks like “Ponyboy” and “Faceshopping,” SOPHIE’s magnum opus is an acquired taste. But if it’s any indication of what the music landscape may look like in the coming years, “OIL OF EVERY PEARL’S UN-INSIDES” is certainly worth a spin.
“Assassination Nation” (2018)
Sam Levinson’s comedy/thriller tackles the world of social media, sexism, cancel culture and teenage living through the lens of violent suburban vigilantism. The film’s graphic nature reflects the bandwagon mentality plaguing the American public, warning against passing judgment without justification or jumping to conclusions without context. Hari Nef gives a particularly profound performance as Bex, who bears the brunt of some of the film’s most brutal moments. It’s worth noting that while most of the plot points are hyperbolic, the suffering of Nef’s character as a transgender woman, extreme as it may seem, is not a stretch at all. “Assassination Nation” is an important depiction of the struggles trans people can face, as well as a triumphant reminder of the unimaginable strength they possess.
Another Sam Levinson production, this time on the small screen, “Euphoria,” examines addiction, identity and other adolescent issues through a neon-tinted high school landscape. A show about teenagers written by an adult has the potential for a stereotypical and one-dimensional account of an incredibly nuanced experience, but thanks to detailed writing and genuine attention, “Euphoria” is carried by characters, not caricatures. Jules, played by Hunter Schafer, plays an especially powerful role in transgender representation. Where some depictions of transgender characters center their arc around their road to actualization and acceptance, “Euphoria” sees Jules post-transition, completely comfortable and confident in her identity. She loves, loses and learns the same as her cisgender counterparts - all without her identity completely defining her. As a character who exists outside of her gender identity, Jules is a step in the right direction for transgender representation.
This Netflix dance musical set in the 1980s explores life and society in New York City. The main character Blanca forms a house to create a self-selected family that provides support to LGBTQ youth who have been rejected by their birth families. A character named Damon joins the house, and together the two characters compete in ball dances across the city. The show has two seasons, and it won a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series.
Arca - KiCk i (2020) and Lime - Lime II (1982)
Experimental reggaeton and other future sounds, the latest from electronic producer Arca is weirdly wild to match 2020. Lime II is a snug HI-NRG disco record for an unspoken ‘80s era.
Shawnee Kish is a Mohawk Two Spirit singer who transforms her life stories into empowering songs. From a soft to a full sound, she sings from her soul. Shawnee is donating the proceeds from her song “Warrior Heart” to the We Matter Campaign to advocate for Indigenous youth.
Namoli Brennet is a transgender singer-songwriter who was acclaimed as one of the best folk-rock artists in the U.S. by the Tucson Weekly. Her poetic lyrics are intricately woven with acoustic guitar chops. Through her journey of self-discovery and healing, music offered her solace.
Held annually on Nov. 20, Transgender Day of Remembrance commemorates those lost to anti-transgender violence.
Chloe Greenberg, Avenue Staff