Caitlyn Jenner turned some of her spotlight as arguably the world’s most high-profile transgender person onto a micro-budgeted drama called Tangerine — shot entirely on iPhone 5 cameras by director Sean Baker for just $100,000 — at a special screening last night in West Los Angeles.
“Honestly, I learned so much from the film,” Jenner said after joining producers Mark and Jay Duplass on stage for a post-screening presentation. The indie story, which debuted to raves at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, follows two transgender prostitutes, played by Mya Taylor and Kitana Kiki Rodriguez, around the rough-and-tumble streets of Hollywood on a fateful, frenetic Christmas Eve.
“These characters have always kind of been on the sideline of TV shows and films, and the butt of jokes, and victims,” Jenner said. “But in this movie, they’re front and center. They’re right out in front of us. And trans-ness isn’t really the center of the story, the characters just happen to be trans. It’s above the curve in so many ways.”
Jenner also connected the story on screen to her personal journey. “Over the last nine months that I’ve been out, I have learned so much throughout this community. I was totally isolated. I obviously couldn’t out myself for so many years. And then I got to a point in my life where I felt I really had to live my life authentic and [as] who I was, and maybe in doing that I could make a difference.
"Movies like this are so important, because this is about honesty,” Jenner said. “This is about actually what happens out there in the community, played by people in our community. So for me, it was brutally honest.”
Taylor, a non-actor discovered by Baker and co-writer Chris Bergoch, has opened eyes in her Tangerine role, winning a Gotham Independent Film Award for Best Breakthrough Performance and an Independent Spirit Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress. She recalled how she was driven to prostitution herself at points, having faced constant discrimination as a trans person in numerous job interviews.
Tangerine’s January premiere helped kick off a banner year for trans characters in entertainment. The Amazon original TV series Transparent (starring Jeffrey Tambor as a retiree who begins identifying as a woman) scooped up Golden Globe and Emmy awards, while Tom Hooper’s new period drama The Danish Girl (about trans pioneer Lili Elbe) has inspired Oscar buzz for lead actors Eddie Redmayne and Alicia Vikander.
Still, Jenner acknowledged films like Tangerine are just the beginning in a shift in the American mindset, undoubtedly galvanized by the former Olympic star’s very public transition. “We need a lot of acceptance,” she said. “Stories like this are nothing but good for the entire community. It really kind of humanizes the experience. But we have a lot of work to do.”
Tangerine is now available on DVD, Blu-ray and on-demand.