Mala Mala: Tribeca Review

Mala Mala Still Tribeca - H 2014
Tribeca Film Festival

Mala Mala Still Tribeca - H 2014

This beautifully photographed documentary delivers movingly dignified portraits of its diverse subjects.

Dan Sickles and Antonio Santini's documentary chronicles members of Puerto Rico's LGBT community.

Profiling members of the transsexual and transgender communities in Puerto Rico, Mala Mala depicts its subjects with an uncommon degree of empathy and understanding, not to mention glamor. Antonio Santini and Dan Sickles’ documentary recently showcased at the Tribeca Film Festival examines the myriad personal issues of its interviewees who emerge as articulate spokespeople for their largely marginalized subculture. Sure to be a staple at gay-themed film festivals, the film should garner significant attention upon its commercial release.

Its subjects are indeed a fascinating and diverse lot. They include Sandy, a sex worker who faces complications plying her trade due the fact that she hasn’t yet gone through genital reassignment surgery; Ivana, a transsexual who has devoted herself to the advancement of LGBT causes through such methods as providing free contraceptives to sex workers; Soraya, a 65-year-old hair salon owner who talks movingly about her struggle with “gender dysphoria”; Samantha, who resorted to black market hormones to advance her sexual transition, only to suffer debilitating side effects as a result; Sophia, who moved to the island after a successful transition in New York City and who briefly owned a popular gay nightclub; April, whose hero is RuPaul and who landed a spot on the sixth season of RuPaul’s Drag Race; Queen Bee, a popular drag performer who aspires to competing in Chicago’s famed Miss Continental Pageant; Alberic, another successful drag performer who tires of the scene and pursues his dream of being a corporate attorney; and Paxx, who wants to transition from female to male but has yet to come out to his family.

Interspersed with the insightful interviews are glossily photographed scenes of the subjects clearly relishing playing to the camera, from Alberic sexily splashing about in his bathtub to Samantha bathing nude in a river to Sophia lip-synching a Barbra Streisand song using a dildo for a microphone.

On a more serious note, the film chronicles the efforts of several of its subjects working on behalf of the Butterflies Trans Foundation, an organization promoting civil rights for the LGBT community whose activism led to the historic passage of Bill 238, banning employment discrimination based on sexual and gender orientation. Their continuing efforts provide an upbeat coda to this film whose profiles are marked by both dignity and joyousness.

Tribeca Film Festival (Killer Films, Moxie Pictures)

Director-producers: Dan Sickles, Antonio Santini

Executive producers: Christine Vachon, Pamela Koffler

Director of photography: Adam Uhl

Editors: Sofie Subercaseaux

Music: Flavien Berger

Not rated, 89 min.