I don’t usually follow the Oscars but this year I am interested to see which film wins the non-English language category. One of the contenders is A Fantastic Woman. I was able to see it last week, before it went on general release in the UK, as part of the Borderlines Film Festival (this covers Herefordshire, Shropshire and Worcestershire and is the largest rural film festival in the country).
The reason for my interest is, of course, that the film is about a transgender character acted by a transwoman. The film is written and directed by Sebastian Lelio. When planning the story of Marina Vidal he consulted Daniela Vega, a transwoman who is a singer and had done some film work. Lelio soon realised that Vega was the perfect person to play the part of Marina.
A Fantastic Woman is a love story, a tale of loss and an exploration of the treatment of transgender people in Chile. Once Marina appears, the camera rarely leaves her and we get a deep insight into her life and feelings. Unlike many stories concerning trans people, Marina is not searching for her identity, or trying to come to terms with being trans. She isn’t struggling to make a living on the edge of society. Marina is secure in her identity, has a job as a waitress and as a professional singer, and has a loving relationship with an older man – at the start of the film anyway. When things go wrong, as they inevitably do, we discover how society treats people like Marina. I don’t suppose Santiago, Chile is a lot different to many other places. It is chilling the way police, hospital workers, and the family of her lover speak to her with calm platitudes and apologies which cover up a deep prejudice and negation of any rights she might have as a human being. The word “sorry” has rarely sounded so much like a threat. There is a bit of traditional transphobic violence but for the most part Marina has to face rejection and discrimination. Not giving too much away – she comes through it.
Daniela Vega plays the part of Marina superbly. It is surprising and disappointing that though the film is up for an Oscar, Vega isn’t. Vega has said that she doesn’t mind that cis-people have played trans parts in many past films and TV shows (Transamerica and Transparent for two) as acting is acting, but her performance shows why a trans-actor fits the role of Marina far better than a cis-man or cis-woman could. Daniela is a beautiful woman but certain features such as her broad shoulders and strong chin betray her birth gender. As Marina, she often does not wear a bra and does not use false breasts to enhance her partially developed bust. This means that in a crucial scene she can be taken for a man even while topless. It is hinted, though never categorically stated, that Marina (and Vega herself) has not (yet) had gender-confirmation surgery. Being “pre-op” might make a trans-woman lack confidence, but this doesn’t seem to be the case in Marina’s or Daniela’s case. Daniela is also a superb mezzo-soprano classical and jazz/modern singer.
A Fantastic Woman is a lovely, moving film. Daniela Vega is a true star and beacon for all transgender people, particularly those whose gender identities perhaps lie between the male and female extremes.
And so to Jasmine Frame. Next week there will be news of the publication of Trained By Murder, but here is the next episode of Pose, a prequel to Painted Ladies.
Pose: Part 7
James squeezed into the IT room. Colin turned his head and glared at him.
‘About time. Where did you get to?’
James recited his excuse. ‘Uh, I thought if I went to where the van had been found I might pick up some information to help us.’
Colin scowled. ‘That’s an investigating officer’s job. Any data they want us to look at will be sent here. No need to go gallivanting off. I’m late going off shift thanks to your wandering.’ He hauled himself out of his seat.’
James apologised and squashed himself against the wall so that Colin could pass him on his way out. Technically DC Colin Green was his senior officer in the CPUEES, not that Colin usually exerted his authority. He sat down in the vacated chair still warm from Colin’s buttocks. He logged himself into the computer and accessed the files accumulating for the case of the murder of Avril Robinson.
Baz paused her key tapping. ‘What’s up Jim?’
‘Er?’ James replied as he found the link to the data on Tina’s van.
‘Why did you dash off like that? Colin’s right, any info will land up here as quick as a pizza delivery.’
James tried to think of a reason that would be convincing. Perhaps the truth, if not the whole truth, would be required.
‘I thought I recognised the description of the van.’
‘Oh, where from?’
‘Someone I know said a friend of theirs had one like it.’
James thought that Baz didn’t sound convinced.
‘Was it?’ she asked.
‘What?’ he said trying to look as though he was concentrating on the screen.
‘The friend of your friend’s van?’
‘Um, yes, I think so. Must have got nicked by kids who dumped it and set it on fire.’
‘Perhaps, but Crowley is putting a lot of resources into it. It’s pretty close to where the girl was found and it’s the only clue that’s turned up so far, other than her phone.’
‘Yes, I guess so.’ The DVLA record of the van had appeared on James’ screen along with data on Terry North. He’d picked up a few points on his driving licence but didn’t have any other criminal record.
‘I’ve got a message to look for the movements of the van on CCTV,’ Baz said. ‘Can you help, Jim.’
By the end of his shift, James was getting worried. They had not found any footage showing Terry’s van, but they had been provided with Terry’s mobile phone number. Emma North had been interviewed by police officers and had provided information about Terry, including the address he was supposed to be living at. James had read the reports as they came in. Emma hadn’t mentioned Terry’s crossdressing, but officers had paid a visit to the shared house and talked to the Romanians. DI Crowley’s team now knew that Terry had been missing for a couple of days. The search was on.
James was feeling despondent when he reached home. He found Angela curled up on their saggy sofa watching TV. They greeted each other, kissed and then Angela asked him about his day.
‘There’s still no sign of Tina?’ Angela asked when he had finished.
‘No, but Crowley is getting excited by the thought that he’s on the trail of Avril Robinson’s killer.’
‘He thinks Terry/Tina did it?’
‘Maybe. Terry’s a “person of interest”.’
‘Do you think he did it?’
James wasn’t sure of his answer. ‘I can’t believe that Tina would do that to a young girl, but sometimes people you know are capable of things you find incredible.’
Angela frowned. ‘Does it matter that you’ve met Tina? You don’t know Terry.’
James shrugged and shook his head. ‘If Crowley finds out that there’s a link between me and Terry because we met at Butterflies, I’m not sure what will happen. If it gets out that I’m Jasmine, well . . .’ Being exposed as a cross-dresser was James’ biggest dread. It came above his fear of knives.
‘But meeting Tina at Butterflies has got nothing to do with the murder of this girl,’ Angela said trying to soothe him.
‘At this stage of an investigation, any bit of information could be important. That’s what detectives do, they collect every possible fact they can and then work out which are relevant. They found Tina’s clothes at that dump of a place Terry was living at. Crowley will be wondering what they mean, and I bet he’ll jump to the same conclusion as Emma North’s friend – transvestite equals paedophile.’
‘Really? Are you sure?’
James felt sick. ‘You know what little most people know about being trans. With a murdered child on his mind, Crowley is going to see those princess dresses of Tina’s and the lights are going to start flashing.’
‘Suppose you’re right,’ Angela hugged him close to her.
‘There’s another thing,’ James said, ‘The Romanians may have told the officers that Sam and I were looking for Tina. Crowley will wonder who we are and why we were looking for Tina.’
‘Did you tell the Romanians who you were?’
‘No, but the woman, Christina, knew that we were trans like Tina.’
‘There’s no way DI Crowley can link Jasmine to you then,’ Angela said.
‘I hope not,’ James said, not totally convinced.
He was at the station early the following morning. Colin arrived to find James waiting to get started.
‘You’re keen this morning,’ Colin mumbled. He sat down at his screen and pulled a chocolate bar from his pocket.
‘This case is important,’ James said, sitting beside him
‘You mean the Robinson murder. It’s just one case. There’s lots of others.’ He chewed while his computer was booting up
‘Yes, but you know what I mean.’
‘Well, at least it’s getting somewhere. Look we’ve got the phone record for this Terrence North guy.’
A knot of apprehension formed in James’ stomach. He looked at his own screen. Yes, there they were – a list of all the calls made on Terry’s mobile.
‘I’ll go through them,’ James said.
‘Okay,’ Collin agreed, ‘I’ll see what other evidence has come in.’
James searched through the phone data. The first thing he noticed was that Terry/Tina had not answered or made any calls since Saturday afternoon. There were several callers including a number that James recognised as being Samantha’s. He bit his lip. That was one step closer to linking him with Tina.
James soon had a list of the people who had tried to contact Terry since Saturday. Apart from Samantha, there was his wife Emma and someone who Terry was supposed to be doing some work for. He could find no calls that related to Avril Robinson or her family. That didn’t mean much, James reflected. They already knew that the calls the girl had made had been to a pay-as-you-go number. If Terry was the paedophile he wouldn’t have used his usual phone to groom the kid.
It was late morning when Colin let out a grunt.
‘What’s that?’ James said.
‘Forensics have got a match for the blood found in that van,’ Colin said.
James’ heart raced. ‘Who for?’
‘The dead girl, Avril Robinson.’
A wave of cold passed through James body. ‘Are they sure?’
‘As good as. Not a DNA match yet. That’s on its way. But still, it looks like the girl was in the van anyway, doesn’t it?’
‘I suppose so.’ Now the hunt for Terry would intensify, James thought, and Crowley would be wanting to speak to anyone who had any contact with him. He’d be sending someone to speak to Samantha. He pushed his chair back and stood up.
‘Just got to go to the loo,’ he said and hurried out of the room. He walked out of the rear entrance of the police station and took his phone from his pocket. He dialled Samantha’s number. It rang for a while.
‘Don’t go to voicemail,’ he muttered. At last, just when he’d almost given up hope, his call was answered.
‘Hi, Jasmine. What’s up. News about Tina?’
‘Samantha. Look, the police are looking for Tina. They’ve got your phone number so someone will be wanting to speak to you.’
‘Because you’ve tried to contact her.’
‘Right. OK. Why are the police looking? Do they think something has happened to her?’
James knew he shouldn’t give away facts to do with the case. ‘Yes, and if they find out you’re trans they may guess that you were one of the pair who called on the Romanians.’
‘They know about us?’
‘They know a pair of trannies visited the house where Tina was living. They don’t know it was you and me. Look, they mustn’t find out that I’m Jasmine.’
There was a brief silence. ‘Oh, I get it. You don’t want your mates in the police to find out you’re trans too.’
‘OK. If they ask I’ll say I only know you as Jasmine. That’s the truth actually.’
‘Thanks. Look, I’ve got to go. Good luck.’ He ended the call.
He wasn’t sure how interested Crowley and his team would be in Jasmine, but he reckoned the only way to ensure that he and Jasmine weren’t linked was to be the first to track down Terry or find the kidnapper of Avril who had used the van. Surely they weren’t the same person.
…………………………………to be continued