Transcinema: trans presence and representation in brazilian audiovisual media

Transcinema

Brazil, June 11, 2021 – “I never imagined living in a country that kills travestis [1] and transsexuals the most. I never imagined how powerful the reference of my population could be, on and off the screen. In theater, producing music on and off the radio, dancing and encouraging the presence of our trans bodies in Brazil.” With this reference, the power of trans bodies and the Brazilian reality, Wescla Vasconcelos- director, screenwriter and presenter– opens the program, “Transcinema: Presence and Representation in Brazilian Audiovisual Media” [2]. The program was supported by the Aldir Blanc Law, the Rio de Janeiro State Government, and the State Secretariat for Culture and Creative Economy, as well as the Kinoplex Cinema Network. Written in partnership with Biancka Fernandes, Transcinema was created in order to make visible and discuss the presence of trans bodies within audiovisual media.

With the participation of actresses such as Divina Aloma, Biancka Fernandes and Rebecca Gotto, who narrate their artistic trajectories of their disobedient bodies in contrast to the prevailing gender and media patterns, which all exalt the disruptive transgender power within Brazilian audiovisual media. Through the brief accounts of their stories, many come from a long haul in this industry. Actresses narrate the evolution of trans representation beyond stigma and prejudice to demonstrate that, yes, trans people can and should be protagonist of their stories. The conquest for space and representation in the cultural sector is an arduous struggle for the trans population, usually their performances are restricted to support roles, their stores are shelved, or they’re found behind the cameras and/ or in cultural projects. Moreover, because of transphobia, many cisgender men act in roles of trans people, further accentuating the erasure and marginalization of trans and transvestite women.

It is worth highlighting that the profusion of social media and the heightened accessibility of the internet is and was important for the visibility of the trans population. Also, themes of identity contributed to the creation of audiovisual content that discuss the importance of trans representation in decision making spaces. Becuase communication is power, the symbolism constructed around trans people, needs to be constantly questioned, since the media legitimizes and romanticizes cisheteronormative narratives, leaving the trans population in an eternal contest for representation beyond headlines of violence and death. Therefore, trans representation also needs to be included in the audiovisual industry and in job generation as a means of social insertion far beyond the screens.

To tell the story of the Transcinema project, Race and Equality invited Wescla Vasconcelos, who besides being the creator of the program, is also an actress, pedagogue, she completed her masters in Culture and Territorialities in Fluminense Federal University (UFF), a Parliamentary adviser in the office of Councilwoman Tainá de Paula in Rio de Janeiro, and also acts as an articulator of the TT-RJ Forum. Wescla also discussed about the importance of the actresses’ stories, and how these stories serve as a reference of themselves and how this evolution is important for the generations to come.

Race and Equality- How did the idea of the Transcinema Program come about? How many editions will there be?

Wescla Vasconcelos- Transcinema arose from a dream I always had as an artist, which is to try to produce content that reflects, in various ways, the power of the presence of trans and transvestite peoples in audiovisual media, but also through other artistic languages. In 2020, I collaborated in a program for the National Association of Travestis and Transsexuals (ANTRA), with the first festival “Travestilizando.” This festival aimed to bring together several trans artists in order to insert them in social networks and showcase their talents at the time of the pandemic. In fact, with the support of several trans artists, we created several virtual campaigns raising funds to help supply food and basic hygiene products. The emergency appeal of the Aldir Blac law arrived in the midst of the pandemic (this law includes emergency assistance to workers in culture and support for cultural spaces). As an artist, I realized the importance of producing content that reflected the power of trans representation in audiovisual media. Together with Biancka Fernandes, we are two trans artist from the Northeast region of Brazil, we started this movement of writing a project based on trans representation in Brazilian audiovisual media. It was the first script that we wrote together, and it was also the first production that I directed and produced at the same time, along with other folks involved. It emerged from the quarantine with the need to produce content that reflects the power of trans representation in audiovisual media. At the moment Transcinema has only one edition, but for the second half of 2021, I intend to develop other content that contemplates trans people’s existence in the Brazilian audiovisual media.

R&E- As a writer and director, what influenced you to explore this issue?

WV- The main influences when constructing the script and direction of the program were based on some interviews with trans artists, both from Brazil and from and other countries. The show was based primarily on the documentary called, ‘Disclosure’ which in Portuguese is called ‘Revelação,’ available on Netflix. In addition to this documentary, I was also inspired by Bruna Benevides’ article called “11 Movies about Trans Activist that you need know” [2]. The article was written on the website Medium and it’s accessible online. It’s wonderful, and it greatly inspired me to create the program’s script.

R&E- What was the experience like working with the trans actresses, what is the message in Transcinema that you’d like to transmit to the public?

WV- The show was an experience of bringing together several trans artists from different cities, with Divina Loma speaking about Madam Satã’s time, in Rio de Janeiro, and what she went through as a black transsexual artist. Then came Rebecca Gotto who is an actress from Baixada Fluminense, guiding the issue of access, opportunities, and the fight for respect of the social name, especially as an artist. It also included Biancka Fernandes referencing aspects of prostitution in Brazil, the marginalization of the streets, poetry, and the importance of poetry as a power of her art. It was a generational conversation humanizing cinema entertainment. This production of content guides our trans people and transvestite population as a reference for ourselves. I think this is the main message that the program Transcinema brings in the fight against prejudice and discrimination.

R&E- Because of your experience as a militant and as an articulator of the TT-RJ Forum, how can ‘Transcinema’ contribute to repair transphobia in a country that kills more LGBTI+ people in the world?

WV- I believe that the Transcinema show directly contributes to discussions that are urgent in our society. We see a lot on television and on other forms of mainstream media, a linkage between prejudice and discrimination to the deaths and murders, further marginalizing transexual and transvestite subjects. Thinking from this place of social movement, the experience in the construction of Transcinema speaks about life. We transsexuals cannot limit our speech and presence in society by just debating questions of transphobia, prejudice and discrimination. We must discuss all this and fight for the right to life within a country that both murders our trans and transvestite bodies.

Nevertheless, it is important to recognize what each of us does in life, because we have many powerful and inspiring things that serve as references not only for trans people, but for society as a whole and the LGBTI+ population. The content of Transcinema contributes to this dialogue by saying that we have always been in various places, occupying various spaces of society. But it’s society that does not admit our presence.

R&E- How do you envision the journey and presence of trans peoples in Brazil’s audiovisual media?

WV- At the end of Transcinema, I leave with a message that is: to let us act, let us sing, let us dance, let us play any and all sports. Society can no longer avoid the debate around trans bodies, travestis, and their role in the labor market, university studies, and other opportunities, because we are human beings and we are included in society anyway.  We need to encourage this inclusion to happen in a more practical and concrete way. I think that the Brazilian audiovisual media today has been going through changes, to the point where I myself am surprised. Brazilian audiovisual media has been going through moments of transformations that reflect a future dialogue of narratives, bodies, and representation. The Transcinema program encourages this evolution and challenges the Brazilian audiovisual media. It’s very much linked to ourselves, the transexual artists who have gone through the entertainment industry before, commenting on their own work as a strategy of reference and exalting our work, and at the same time leaving messages such as: when I was a child or teenager, I had never seen content like this. I think with transgender children and teenagers having access to content like Transcinema, it fosters the idea that they see themselves reflected on TV, in cinema, in art and in various other places in society.

R&E- Another unfortunate Brazilian statistic that brings the trans and transvestite presence within audiovisual media is that Brazil is the country that consumes the most trans and transvestite pornography in the world, but the taboo on trans bodies remains constant. How do you see this possible paradigm breaking within the audiovisual industry?

WV- The statistic is a sad fact, Brazil is the country that kills the most trans and transvestite people not by fatality, I like to emphasize this because they are brutality filled, hate crimes. At the same time that we think about this awful statistic, we see that the consumption of pornography is very high. And in addition to the digital platforms, online pornography, and consumption of the bodies of trans and travestis is also very high. The street corners of prostitution did not completely stop during the pandemic period, and now with this vaccination movement the market of prostitution returns with acceleration. These are issues within society that have never been as present as they are today. We need to strengthen this discussion using the fact that this country kills the most and consumes the most trans pornographic content, and hires prostitution services. These are taboos that need to be debated and, furthermore, alternatives need to be thought out so that this can be something that does not harm the rights and dignity, and life of the LGBTI+ community.

Audiovisual representation can demystify, in the sense that the search for pornography and prostitution on the streets moves certain people in search of specific issues, which in this case is sex. And on the other hand, producing content with a trans diverse population in the audiovisual media, helps to humanize these peoples and express how their bodies are not only for pornographic content and prostitution- trans bodies can also serve as a reference in various points of audiovisual content, and moreover by encouraging their presence in society, we demystifies this taboo. The participation of trans people in Brazilian audiovisual media can help reduce both discrimination and prejudice.

R&E- The popular Madame Satã served as a symbolic figure who always had to appear strong to be able to survive, moreover the cinema perpetuated this image. What image of trans people do we need to (re)build in order to decolonize symbolic ideas of trans bodies?

WV- Madame Satã is referenced in our program, Divina Aloma is one of the few trans artists who had contact with Madame Satã. Unfortunately, we recently experienced the death of Rogéria and Jane di Castro from the Divine Divas. Aloma’s participation in Transcinema is an enormous gift. She’s a legacy in life, in live production, commenting on Madame Satã is one of the defining moments of our documentary. With Madame Satã, we witness a figure confronting fascism and prejudice, vulnerable to the intersectional prejudices, and dealing with the political violence and abusive apparatus that the state ideologically imposes in our society.

Continuation WV- In order to imagine a reconstruction of symbols and struggles that can decolonize trans bodies, it is necessary not only to have trans people acting, but to think in what ways the LGBTI+ debates and trans debates are structured in society. In addition to acting through mediums of art and cinema, I think it is important that we are also aware of these processes. We need more and more writers, editors, content producers, trans creative directors to play a role in the structure and functioning of these large areas of society. Because from the moment we do that, we’re going to see not only trans people acting, but also directing, producing, scripting and creating a distinct presence for the trans and transvestite community using their professional talents. This will all contribute to embolden and decolonize the experience of trans bodies in society. From the moment we still see that there is a great absence in the presence of trans people in various sectors of our society, it is important to think that when this access is facilitated, these people will increase their presence in society, and in a way, weaken forms of prejudice and discrimination.

In order to contribute to promoting the cultural sector with recognition and appreciation of popular expression, Race and Equality recognizes that the right to culture is essential to the contribution of the history of a people and its traditions. Moreover, the appreciation of culture from a plural perspective is intersectionally connected to the struggle for basic rights of peoples. Thus, our engagement in the defense and promotion of racial and indigenous LGBTI+ agendas aim to restructure a world designed for unique bodies and peoples. Therefore, we recognize that diversity is a fundamental right and we congratulate the diverse cultural productions.

 

 

[1] Far from being a pejorative term, according to ANTRA (National Association of Travestis and Transsexuals of Brazil), “travesti” is an identity in the country, claimed by those who, despite having been identified as belonging to the male gender at birth, recognize themselves as belonging to the female gender and have a female gender expression, but do not claim themselves as women. Associação Nacional de Travestis e Transexuais (ANTRA); Instituto Brasileiro Trans de Educação (IBTE). Dossiê dos assassinatos e da violência contra travestis e transexuais brasileiras em 2019. São Paulo: Expressão Popular, ANTRA, IBTE, 2020, p. 11. Available in: https://antrabrasil.files.wordpress.com/2020/01/dossic3aa-dos-assassinatos-e-da-violc3aancia-contra-pessoas-trans-em-2019.pdf

[2] Watch the Transcinema program here: https://www.instagram.com/p/CPJZ6HfDEaR/

[3] https://brunabenevidex.medium.com/11-filmes-sobre-ativistas-trans-que-voc%C3%AA-precisa-conhecer-a2eb9654b4ee

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