Update: Commentary from the Instant Tea blog of The Dallas Voice added to the end of this post, as well as commentary from the Tribeca Film Festival.

As most of y’all know, last April (April 2009) I covered the Angie Zapata Hate Crime Trial from the courtroom. Angie Zapata GravesiteBurned into my mind are the images of Angie lying dead in her apartment — lying on her living room floor looking as if she were just asleep — but with a pool of blood around her head. She was bludgeoned to death in a bias motivated crime; she died as the result of an antigay, antitransgender hate crime. The trial, and the conviction of Allen Ray Andrade of first degree murder and a bias motivated crime (a hate crime), has, as one might expect, effected my point of view on antigay and antitransgender hate violence.

And too, I’m so aware of why the trans community marks the Transgender Day Of Remembrance (TDOR). Each year since November of 2003, I’ve been involved with my city’s TDOR memoriam at the San Diego Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Community Center. We lose far too many trans people — nationally and internationally — each year due to antitransgender hatred or prejudice.

Thumbnail Link: Poster For The Film 'Ticked-Off Trannies With Knives'So, if a film invokes Angie Zapata’s name, and has a plot line that engages on the subject of antitransgender hatred or violence, I’m going to be very interested in the film treatment the subject.

There is a new film debuting at the Tribeca Film Festival, called Ticked-Off Trannies With Knives. It’s a film that intends to deal with antitransgender hatred and violence in the same way black exploitation films of the ’70’s dealt with racism. From the film’s synopsis:

A group of transgender women are violently beaten and left for dead. After regaining their consciousness the violated vixens turn deadly divas and with their new-found confidence and courage, slice their way to vengeance.

An homage to the exploitation films of the 70’s, this film sets out to create a new and unique genre called transploitation.

Loaded with titillating dialog, bodacious bods and extreme violence, this fantasy film shows that it takes balls to get revenge.

The film’s trailer invokes the names of Angie Zapata and Jorge Steven Lopez Mercado, who were both murdered credited to antigay/antitransgender hatred and prejudice:

I haven’t seen the film as yet, but I do have several problems with the film, even without having seen it as yet.

The wrong person made this film.

One of citable problems with many black exploitation films of the ’70’s was that most of the time it wasn’t African-Americans who were writing, directing, and producing the films. Black community was more often than not being defined in those films by film people who weren’t black.

Ticked-Off Trannies With Knives has that same issue. Israel Luna — the writer, director, and producer of the film — is identified by The Dallas Voice as a “Gay Filmmaker.” In other words, the person who is most responsible for this film apparently doesn’t identify as transgender, so it’s someone outside of trans community who has created a film about another minority group.

As I go through the other points of issue regarding Ticked-Off Trannies With Knives, I’m going to come back to this first point, because it’s a significant point.

The title of the film has a word in it that many trans people consider a pejorative.

This is how the GLAAD Media Reference Guide categorizes the term “tranny”:



Defamatory: “deceptive,” “fooling,” “pretending,” “posing,” or “masquerading”

Gender identity is an integral part of a person’s identity. Please do not characterize transgender people as “deceptive,” as “fooling” other people, or as “pretending” to be, “posing” or “masquerading” as a man or a woman. Such descriptions are extremely insulting.

Defamatory: “she-male,” “he-she,” “it,” “trannie,” “tranny,” “gender-bender”

These words only serve to dehumanize transgender people and should not be used (See Defamatory Language).

And from the GLAAD Media Reference Guide’s section on Defamatory Language:

“fag,” “faggot,” “dyke,” “homo,” “sodomite,” “queen,” “she-male,” “he-she,” “it,” “tranny” and similar epithets.

The criteria for using these derogatory terms should be the same as those applied to hate words for other groups: they should not be used except in a direct quote that reveals the bias of the person quoted. So that such words are not given credibility in the media, it is preferred that reporters say, “The person used a derogatory word for a lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender person.”

Please note that the term “tranny” is in the same section as the term “faggot.” If you’re gay, lesbian, or bisexual and you don’t like it when people who aren’t gay, lesbian, or bisexual refer to you as a “faggot,” then that gives you an idea of how people who don’t identify as transgender should approach the use of the term “tranny.” There is a number of trans people who do self-identify as trannies, but there is probably a larger group of trans people who find the term to be an epithet…a pejorative.

[Much more below the fold.]Back to the “wrong person” making this film point, one should note that Israel Luna on his own website has indicated that he’s the online segment producer for The Dallas Voice. As someone with significant ties to The Dallas Voice, he is, or should be aware of the controversy that The Dallas Voice has experienced over their use of the term “tranny.” To make a long story short, The Dallas Voice last year declared that since RuPaul approves of using of the term “tranny”, it’s alright for The Dallas Voice to use the term. Transgender activist Donna Rose, and three others, sent in letters to the editor of The Dallas Voice explaining why checking with one famous individual is not a sensitive way to determine appropriate language for describing and defining a community. As Donna Rose stated in her letter to The Dallas Voice editor:

A far more sensitive way to handle this would have been to acknowledge that these terms are considered offensive to many as pejorative, degrading and dehumanizing, and to have elicited a broad range of opinions rather than to treat it in such an off-handed, mocking way based on one person’s opinion. Your story does a disservice to you, your publication and transgender people in general.

As someone affiliated with The Dallas Voice, Israel Luna should have been aware that many trans people find the term “tranny” to be a pejorative, and that to many trans people, the term is seen as a degrading and dehumanizing term. At best, we can say that Israel Luna is ignorant and clueless of how many trans people hear the term “tranny” as a pejorative; at worst we can say that a film producer affiliated with The Dallas Voice was aware that the term “tranny” is a problematic term for many trans people, but he didn’t care — he used the epithet in the title of his film anyway.

Exploiting the hate crime murders of Angie Zapata and Jorge Steven Lopez Mercado in the marketing of this film crosses a line.

Angie ZapataOut of all the things that seem wrong with this film at first blush, that Israel Luna is exploiting the deaths of Angie Zapata and Jorge Steven Lopez Mercado in marketing a film  that The Dallas Voice describes as a “‘transploitation’ action comedy” seems to me to be a tone deaf act of egregious behavior. In the opening paragraphs for this diary, I described for you the images of Angie Zapata that have been seared into my mind. Using her name to sell a “‘transploitation’ action comedy” within the film’s trailer feels very, very wrong to me.

Israel Luna is using our dead to sell his idea of revenge and violence, depicting trans people as caricatures of crazy, unstable people.

~Ethan St. Pierre, website administrator for the International Transgender Day Of Remembrance website, and archivist for the list of the transgender dead

This film is a step backwards in the film portrayals of trans people.

Juxtaposing the Traditional Values Coalition's Imagery for transgender women and Ticked-Off Trannies With Knives imagery for trans womenWhen I think of films with trans characters, I can’t help but to think about films that portray trans people as mentally unbalanced, violent killers. These films include Psycho, Dressed To Kill, and Silence Of The Lambs. These kinds of depictions of trans people have real consequence in the real world, where trans people are often portrayed a public bathroom predators.

In the recent past, we’ve just begun to see trans people portrayed in scripted television and film as more whole human beings, as people with real feelings and real thoughts. We’re beginning to see transyouth and double minorities (black and trans, Hispanic and trans, etc) on television talk and reality shows.

And, the imagery of the film doesn’t match how many trans people who have been killed do to antitransgender hatred and prejudice. Certainly the images from the film don’t in any way match how Angie Zapata looked — a trans woman the film’s trailer cites as a trans victim of hate violence. In fact, the imagery from Ticked Off Trannies With Knives on what the filmmaker seems to believe trans women look like seems very similar to what the Traditional Values Coalition believes trans women look like.

But now having a film that is written, directed, and produced by a Hispanic gay man that appears to depict trans women — including African-American and Latina trans women — as crazed, violent killers…Well. It’s no stretch to say that this film is a step backwards in how trans women are portrayed in film.

Politically speaking, This is the wrong time for a “‘transploitation’ action comedy.”

The one thing a controversy around Ticked-Off Trannies With Knives will likely do is sell movie tickets and DVDs — controversy will be good for sales.

However, the reactions to this film are going to take a predictable arc. We’re already beginning to see that as trans people become aware of this film, there is going to be outrage expressed about the film. Some trans people are going to blame all gay people for this film because Israel Luna has been identified as gay. Some gay men are going to respond by saying that trans people are humorless and overreacting, and then some will bring up that they don’t believe trans people should be included in legislation that covers gay and lesbian people — such as the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). Then there will be a slew of ad hominem attacks on gay people by trans people, and matching attacks on trans people by gay people.

In other words, the predictable reactions of gay and trans people to Ticked-Off Trannies With Knives is going to have the effect of tearing LGBT community apart instead of building LGBT community.

And this is occurring at a time where LGBT community is working on passing ENDA, and repealing both Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) and the Defense Of Marriage Act (DOMA).

I don’t know if there would ever be a good time to release a “‘transploitation’ action comedy,” but if there is such a time, that time obviously isn’t now.

I haven’t seen Ticked-Off Trannies With Knives as yet, and I’m not sure I’d want to. However, what I know about the film from its title, its film trailer, the posted imagery from the film, and the descriptions of this film both in its synopsis and by the film’s description in The Dallas Voice, the Tribeca Film Festival should never have accepted this film.

If Israel Luna wanted to exploit a community and its dead for a film, he perhaps should have stuck to his own subcommunity of the LGBT community — although frankly, I don’t know how many gay, lesbian, and bisexual people would have felt about a film entitled Ticked-Off Faggots With Knives, or a film that exploited Matthew Shepard in it’s film trailer — in the marketing of a “‘gaysploitation’ comedy thriller.”

Frankly, I have been, and will continue to work with those who want to remove this film from the Tribeca Film Festival line-up. This depiction of trans people and community by Israel Luna and La Luna Entertainment appears at this point to be an inappropriate defining of trans people for film-going audiences.

H/t: Gina of Skip The Make-up.

Update: In the text of the post, I included this line under right below the subheader Politically speaking, This is the wrong time for a “‘transploitation’ action comedy”:

The one thing a controversy around Ticked-Off Trannies With Knives will likely do is sell movie tickets and DVDs — controversy will be good for sales.

John Wright, a coworker of Israel Luna at The Dallas Voice, wrote this in The Dallas Voice‘s Instant Tea blog, in the post entitled GLAAD issues call to action demanding that Israel Luna’s ‘Trannies’ be pulled from Tribeca (bolded emphsis added):

A while back we reported that gay Dallas filmmaker Israel Luna’s “Ticked-Off Trannies with Knives!”- which will be the subject of a feature story in Friday’s Voice – had been selected for the prestigious Tribeca Film Festival. But today comes word that GLAAD has issued a call to action demanding that the film be pulled from the festival. Why? I’ll let you read it for yourself. I’ve also left a message with Luna to get his take. My guess is he’ll be thrilled to have the free publicity.

As I said: Controversy might be good for the film’s revenues, but this is already turning into very bad news for community building. This is a very sad outcome, I think.

Update 2: Excerpts from the MovieLine post, entitled Tribeca, GLAAD Respond to TrannyGate. From the Tribeca Film Festival:

“The filmmakers provided a copy of this film to GLAAD in February, and for weeks the organization had been supportive to the filmmakers. In fact, GLAAD representatives advised the film’s producer, director and cast on how to describe the film to its core constituency.”

“Tribeca is proud of its ongoing commitment to bring diverse voices and stories to its audiences, and looks forward to the film’s premiere at our Festival next month.”

From GLAAD’s objection to MovieLine‘s use of the word “censorship” to describe what GLAAD was trying to accomplish regarding the film:

Meanwhile, a GLAAD rep wrote to Movieline to object to our use of the word “censorship,” which they called “strong editorial. GLAAD is calling for the film to be removed from the Tribeca Film Festival and finds it troubling that the respected Tribeca Film Festival would give a film that sensationalizes anti-transgender violence and misrepresents the lives of transgender women…GLAAD’s campaign ensures that the Tribeca Film Festival knows many members of the LGBT community aren’t pleased with their decision to show the film – and those of us who are offended by this film will hold the festival accountable for showing this problematic film.”


Further Reading:

* Queerty: Gay Director Israel Luna Is Sick of Bashing Victims Sucking It Up. So He Made a Movie Where They Stab Their Attackers To Death

* Skip The Make-Up: The Tranny Day of Remembrance

* Gudbye T’Jane: Appropriation Tales: Israel Luna and dead trans women

* Musings Of Hedon: Looking For Clouds In A Silver Lining

* FaceBook: Boycott ‘Ticked-Off Trannies With Knives’ at the Tribeca Film Festival

* as long as there’s sidewalks, i’ll have a job (by William, an actor in the film): Ticked-Off Trannies With Knives vs. GLAAD


Autumn Sandeen

Autumn Sandeen