‘No Nos Vemos‘, the latest hymn from Puerto Rican producer Skeptic, is a contained, patient, lucid melody that wanders fluently through piano lines like morphine on drip. Comatose, the track puts you in slow motion as the soundtrack for your day unfolds in careful synchronization.
Read on, as I converse with film-makers, Antonio Santini and Dan Sickles, about their most recent project, a documentary about the LGBT scene in Puerto Rico, Mala Mala.
Dingus: Mala Mala is a documentary examining the trans-gender scene in Puerto Rico, its rise, and its cultural significance. What first inspired you two to team up and focus on this one, very specific narative?
Sickles: Antonio and I went to Austin about a year ago for a film festival Antonio had a film screening in. It was for a short film Antonio directed called Killer Tranny. While we were out one night at some bar, we stumbled upon a drag show and we watched it play out, and became drawn to this one trans female who ended up losing the competition and getting kicked out that night. Her name is Maggie McMuffins. We approached her, and we told her we were film makers, and that we wanted to film her. So she ended up inviting us over to her house in Northern Austin, where we met her and her family, and we ended up leaving Austin with a 5 mintue portrait of who she is.
Santini: We don’t know what it was about her. Maybe it was the fact that everyone had WHAT THE F*** written across their faces. She didn’t know her lyrics, she was sweaty, she couldn’t dance. We found out during our visit to her awesome home in a rich suburban neighborhood, that she knew all these things, and couldn’t care less. She was Maggie McMuffins!
Sickles: I remember driving back to the hotel, after we left her house, essentially in silence. I know, for me, it was one of the most humbling experiences of my life.
Santini: I think we cried? One of us definitely cried.
Was the humanity that struck your hearts? or was it the cultural challenge?
Santini: We were at a club, you know. In Austin, looking for fun. And we went to this chick’s house and we were still looking for trouble. But once inside her house, we were inside a person’s house, you know? She invited us into her home, family, life, and those were six hours we will never forget.
Sickles: Everything kind of came together in that way.
You met her in Texas, how did the transition to PR happen?
Sickles: Well it pretty much came organically. We had made shorts. So we wanted a feature. We knew what our subject was going to be. We knew hardly anyone makes films about Puerto Rico.
Santini: There comes a time in every director’s life when he says “no more shorts”.
Was there a large difference in communities between places like New York or Austin and Puerto Rico?
Sickles: New York, being as liberal and open minded as it is, as well as being one of the homes of the gay movement makes it a place where being trans is less unusal than in someplace like Austin or Puerto Rico.
Santini: Much of Puerto Rican history hasnt been told yet. It doesn’t exist in school textbooks in the United States, so imagine the lack of LGBT history from Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico is an island that’s around 50% impoverished. Dan and I have found, to our surprise, that lower income communities are more accepting of individuals than maybe middle/upper middle class communities. Life is less private, people are physically closer together and I think that forces people to be more open. In San Juan, the metropolitan area, everything is gay OR straight. The further we drove out from the metropolitan area to film the more mixed the bars and clubs were. Clubs weren’t gay or straight, they were for everbody.
Sickles: Even apart from socio-economic status and location there will always be something intriguing about the trans scene. From both “straight” and “gay” people, there is the fear of what’s different, a fear of “the freaks”.
Santini: But the thing is, when we were hanging with the queens, we were definitely with the cool kids. At least, that was the magic of it all, they weren’t freaks, and if they were, it was the only way to be.
Sickles: We should also probably distinguish the relationship people in PR have towards drag queens and transgendered people, because they’re different.
Please, enlighten me.
Sickles: For drag queens, the threat lies in the fact that they wear womens clothes, but they are still their biological gender. It’s about performance and performance is inteded for the another, so in that way I think drag is less taboo.
Santini: Drag queens are all stars (like Queen Bee!) and well some are wannabe stars. But its about having an audience. And like Dan said, its about performance, its about a display of power and feminiity, its definitely about confidence. And I suspect its about the confidence lacking or latent when they are naked in their male bodies.
Sickles: Transgender, however, is a decision someone makes themselves. The fact that it’s a decision, let a lone a permanent one, can already complicate understanding from other communities. And the transition is lonely.
Santini: Yeah, the chances that there’s two other boys or girls in your neighborhood that want to transition when you want to transition are slim, so these people gravitate. - Drag queens literally recreate a family dynamic to support each other. They each have a role within the family unit. I get chilly thinking how beautiful that is, an imagined family that is very much as real as any biological family.
Sickles: We haven’t found “families” like this within the transgender comminty, not one in which they refer to each other as “sister” or “mother”. To me, transitioning seems to be something much more about one’s own subjective life experience. While drag, and participating in drag, seems centered around the idea of community.
So am I correct in understanding that the two scenes are separate?
Santini: They coexist.
So there is acceptance between the two?
Santini: Of course!
Sickles: I think it’s important to say too, that one of the things we try to do with this film is actually expose the fact that there are no real answers for looking at the community as a whole, at least I don’t believe there is.
Santini: This entire community is about acceptance, it’s about healing, it’s about supporting each other. Whenever a new girl gets on stage and her dancing is off and her makeup sucks, someone steps up to help her. Publicly, every drag queen is a friend. Literally, they are all friends on Facebook – social networking plays a major roll.
Let’s get back to the film. As a vehicle for change, what do you hope to accomplish by exposing this lifestyle?
Sickles: If I could only get one thing, it would be a red carpet premiere, in San Juan, for all the girls. This movie really is for them, and they’re eternally brave for trusting in us to have made it. I just want the girls to love it. I want it to be something they can be proud of.
Santini: Dan and me have been dreaming about partying with the girls. They really are the funnest. I think, for example, people love Drag Race, and I can see why it’s entertaining, it has drama and conflict and challenges, but thats not real life. Its not a made up situation you are thrown into. Dan and I are telling the story of what actually happens in this community. Imagine spending months in Puerto Rico hanging out with people youve never met before? Thats what the movie will be like. A crazy ride filled with all the people to meet and stories to hear. Dan and I are not the same people after all of this. I think we want everyone to go through the same experience. We’re dreaming of a movie that links all of us, in a human way. So that everyone who watches it can look at each other and be like: “Yo, you just watched that? Yeah man, I watched that!”
It’s truly a nobel effort propelled by our generations new thought process of global acceptance. What is the underlying phlosophical message within, what can be taken from this movie, and applied to any life situation?
Sickles: There’s been too many times in all of the girls lives where they’ve been told that they’re ugly, or that because they break convention, they’re less than perfect, or going to hell, or some other crazy bullshit made to instill fear in those that choose to be bold. I just want to make a movie every single one of them can point to and think “I am beautiful, and I am bold, and I am abso-fucking-lutely perfect the way that I am and no bully, or parent, or law can tell me otherwise.” - This film could be proof of that.
Santini: These people are testaments, within themselves, that being true to your identity is not that scary. That, not lying to yourself and others about who you are and who you want to be is not going to make the world end. In all likelihood, it will make it way more magical.
1st Cuts by The Bee’s Knees is a pseudo-surf-punk recording that promotes endless nights and rancid venues. Coming prepackaged with the ‘fuck-its’ aesthetic, they hit every chord in stride and wheeze every lyric in stressful anticipation. The conclusion comes too quickly and the hooks point to a simpler, more joyful youth. The kind of irresponsibly drunk youth that could easily last till your 30′s
With technology growing exponentially, personal computing is challenging the recording business and the internet is challenging the publishing business. Now more than ever, we see the pool of music and design growing deeper. But as always, the more music there is, the harder it is to find what really matters.
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