A Fantastic Woman is difficult to watch. The impending sense of doom that looms over the viewer as the plot unfolds is unyielding to the point where you want to shield you eyes from what you know is coming, and yet it is simultaneously so beautiful, you could not bare to look away for even a second. This balance of anxiety and enchantment is encompassed in the main character, Marina. As her fear builds and the violence toward her increases, she remains composed and accommodating, determined to defy the “crazy tranny” image everyone imposes upon her. It is in this that we are reminded of the compromises all minorities must make in life to hold ourselves to a higher standard and police our own behavior, as to not fall into stereotypes.
At its launch party in London, Shon Faye chaired the Q&A with fellow Trans activists Kuchenga Shenje and Charlie Craggs. In her introduction of the movie, Faye remarked that the media’s focus on a trans character being played by a trans actor is indicative of how low the bar is due to years of insulting or inaccurate portrayals of trans existence prior to this film.
The film tells the story of Marina, an aspiring singer, who is in a committed and loving relationship with Orlando. When Orlando’s health takes a sudden turn, and he passes, the blame for his death is put on Marina by his family and the police. The microaggressions Marina experiences are a gruesome affair, without the abject violence that comes with them. She is misgendered and mistreated by Orlando’s family, as well as the people who are supposed to be looking after her, such as Police and doctors, creating a very real depiction of what trans people face every day.
The realism continues into Marina’s character. Daniela Vega’s performance carries Marina with a softness, which embodies the idea of femininity, but with a subtlety that can only be described as respectful to the female experience. There is not once a scene of Marina putting on makeup, or a corset, to make herself more like a woman. She is not overtly feminine in her appearance at all, contrary to the common representation of trans women in media right now. Not only hyper-feminized, but trans women often must be infallible and flawless in order to be accepted. A Fantastic Woman presents the idea that increased visual femininity does not always equate to an authentic woman. Not once does Marina justify herself visually or verbally, she simply is who she is.
While Marina works on her singing career, she earns a living by working as a waitress, where she is seen as soon as the morning after Orlando’s death. In this, we are reminded of her economic situation and can further identify with her. Most importantly, as a cis woman, I am reminded that there is not much that divides me and a trans woman in our experiences. It made me question the existence of a “female experience” that so many deny that trans women can truly empathize with.
Do we indeed have a collective experience, or is it something pushed upon us? Rather than women, are we simply individuals, who once banded together in the face of adversity via a few similarities? What version of a “woman” must trans women aim for in order to be accepted? Now that society has agreed that there is not much different between men and women, do we all become one rather than a collective?
Is A Fantastic Woman a film you will want to watch again and again? Probably not. However, to watch it once is to view an extraction of a story that has yet been told with such dignity on film, and to reflect on it is to reflect on your own behavior and experiences.