“I just want people to understand.”
Years later near flashy Downtown Ft. Lauderdale and promoted by a blinking theater poster at the Cinema Paradiso, Janice Villarosa calmly took her seat behind the audience. Her visual creation was about to be understood by an eager crowd.
Shunned is Villarosa’s first feature documentary. For three years this South Californian interviewed, recorded, and followed a group of Transgendered women in the Philippines while also directing and producing the project. Now Shunned was slowly makings its way to film festivals around the world before finally arriving on my side of the planet at the Ft. Lauderdale International Film Festival. Did I mention Villarosa is a relative? There’s no way I’d pass a chance to support a creative relative.
Although the movie began with some provocative dancing by several of the cast, Shunned quickly became a heart-wrenching look into the pains and struggles faced by the young women as they retold their transformation from boy to girl. Their struggles went beyond bullying; we learn of a rape, of familial rejections, and struggles in relationships.
But among the sadness there were moments of joy as well as unexpected laughter. “I would never cut off my penis,” one gorgeous lady laughs admittingly. Another lady loudly shares her outlooks on life amidst bouts of laughter. The ladies don’t wallow in their struggles. They are sexy, beautiful, and confident.
However, for most of my viewing I kept wondering—was Shunned a good speaking voice for Transgenders in America? I’m sure the family struggles and bullying were similar, but I wondered at some striking differences. What about how all of Shunned’s ladies were gorgeous and almost all of them worked as dancers or pageant queens? When you look like a typical model, less people are likely to stop and gape at you. And in America, working as a dancer is not an ‘inspiring’ line of work. More relatable Transgenders would come from fields such as business people, teachers, firefighters, or politicians. Furthermore there weren’t any Transgender men… only women. Villarosa voiced her difficulties at even getting close to this group of Philippine women—many didn’t want to come forward. If she had created her documentary in America the research would probably have been easier.
Still, Shunned managed to deliver many parts of a bigger picture—some of its women were accepted by their families while others were not. One had a child while another had a boyfriend. Some mentioned God while others didn’t. Shunned seemed to be telling three stories about being Transgender in one film. One story followed the lives of the women while the other story showed the struggles of the Transgenders via dancing away from burdens and the third story reenacted the women’s struggles told through a young boy slowly embracing his feminimity. While each was delivered well, the cuts between all three lines seemed rather sudden although they were meant to support each other’s story.
When the lights returned, waves of viewers thanked Villarosa for broadening their understanding. The faces of the audience seemed to show all walks of life. One particular lady was a Transgender standing tall in a fitted dress and leggings. She smiled as she spoke to Villarosa.