The Chilean film took home the Oscar for Best Foreign Film at the 90th Annual Academy Awards tonight, making it the first trans-led film to ever win an Oscar
I recently had the opportunity to go with some friends to a screening of a new, Chilean film entitled Una Mujer Fantastica (A Fantastic Woman). I was excited to see this film because it is the first Oscar-nominated (and as of tonight, Oscar-winning) film starring a trans woman, and representation like that is hard to come by. When the film began, I was surprised at how good it felt to see a woman like me on the big screen.
The film opens with Marina (Chilean actress Daniela Vega) singing in a bar as a man comes in and watches her. She smiles at him, and they go to dinner for Marina’s birthday. The man is Orlando (Francisco Reyes), a business owner and Marina’s much older cis boyfriend. That night, they go home and make love; but later, Marina wakes in the middle of the night to find Orlando sitting up, gasping for breath, and speaking incoherently. She rushes him to the hospital, where he dies of an aneurysm. What follows is the story of Marina trying to pick up the pieces of her life and say goodbye to the man she loved. All the while she is harassed and insulted by Orlando’s family, friends, and the police.
Marina’s life was easy and happy while she had Orlando—a nice apartment and car that belonged to him and which they shared. After his death, all that is taken from her as Orlando’s ex-wife demands the car and his son orders her to move out of the apartment immediately. As soon as she loses the protection afforded by her relationship, the world rushes in to attack. The police repeatedly question Marina under the suspicion that she had hurt Orlando, misgendering her, and suggesting that Orlando had been paying for her company. Apparently, cis people cannot actually love trans people. Orlando’s ex-wife, Sonia (Aline Küppenheim), deadnames Marina repeatedly, an insulting and delegitimizing act that suggests a trans person’s identity is a playact that can be observed or ignored as is convenient.
Interspersed with the story are dreamlike sequences—Marina walking along a sidewalk suddenly hit with a wind so strong she has to fight to not be blown away; Marina alone in a nightclub transformed from rain-drenched to glam makeup and silver-and-gold dance costumes dancing with an army of likewise beautiful LGBTQ people. These moments both highlight and give respite from the trials she faces every day.
The greatest triumph of A Fantastic Woman is perhaps showing cis audiences the struggles that trans people face daily as we are deadnamed, misgendered, and asked ignorant and invasive questions by law enforcement, healthcare professionals, and total strangers (why is it okay to ask a trans person about their genitals? I honestly don’t get it, and I never see or hear cis people ask each other such questions). Sitting in a dark room hearing a theater full of cis folks gasp in shock and disgust at moments trans people experience daily, I thought maybe that cis people don’t listen, understand, or believe trans people when we talk about our experiences; but seeing it happen themselves, to a character with whom they can’t help but identify after nearly two hours in the dark, drives it home.
A Fantastic Woman invites audiences into the world of trans women, creating understanding and compassion. By the end of the film, Marina gets a chance to say goodbye to Orlando, and has found the strength to fight back against the people who attacked her.
A Fantastic Woman is rated R and has a run-time of 1 hour 44 minutes. Spanish with English subtitles. Content-warning for deadnaming, misgendering, assault, kidnapping.