On International Transgender Day of Visibility, we’re celebrating the work of six transgender and intersex filmmakers who’ve been carving a way forward in the representation of LGBTQIA+ communities on screen.
The present-day fight for equality and safety is not over.
In 2023 alone, over 120 new bills were introduced to restrict LGBTQ rights. Around the world, transgender and gender non-conforming people are disproportionately victims of violence and targeted by laws that seek to restrict access to gender-affirming health care. There has always been an urgent need to center trans storytellers who offer nuanced and expansive portrayals that uplift and empower LGBTQ communities.
We encourage you all to celebrate, watch, and support these filmmakers' work!
1. River Gallo — writer, actor, director (b. 1992)
“I firmly believe that until there is a work of art, be that a film or a TV show, that could enter the popular culture in which people would learn about intersex people in a way that touches their hearts, there will be no change on a legislative level-- widespread change at least. Because that's just the way culture works. Culture is always five or 10, 15 years ahead of legislative change.”
Photo Credits: Sahar Nicolette
Salvadorian American filmmaker, writer, actor, and intersex activist River Gallo wrote, starred in, and co-directed the short film “Ponyboi,” which won Best Narrative Short at NewFest in 2019 and was nominated for Best Narrative Short at the Tribeca Film Festival. “Ponyboi” made history in cinema as the first film featuring and created by an intersex person and is currently in production to be expanded into a feature-length film. For their work, Gallo was awarded the 2019 GLAAD Media Rising Star Award and named to PAPER Magazine’s list of “100 People Taking Over 2019”. River received their BFA in drama at NYU and their MFA In film and television production from the University of Southern California.
2. Bilal Baig — writer & actor (b. 1994)
“Sort Of sends a clear message that we are here and we aren’t invisible. It's so important for trans and non-binary people and people of color to see representation that is not clouded in stereotypes. I got tired of the empowered sassy, bitchy queer character. We all deserve a lead character who doesn't always know what to say but has a great beating heart and a real drive to help people out.
Photo Credits: Vanessa Heins/Toronto Life
Named one of TIME Magazine’s “Next Generation Leaders,” Bilal Baig has been making inroads for queer Muslim and Desi representation on our screens with their HBO Max dramedy series “Sort Of.” They are the co-creator, co-writer, and executive producer of the show, in which they also portray Sabi Mehboob, a genderfluid Canadian millennial navigating life, faith, and family. “Sort Of ” won top honors at the Canadian Screen Awards, and Baig’s performance marks the first queer South Asian Muslim lead in a Canadian primetime television series. When they were 23, they started as a playwright in their one-person play “Acha Bacha,” which similarly explored the experiences of a queer Pakistani Muslim in Toronto.
3. Isabel Sandoval — filmmaker & actor (b.1982)
“Being an auteur is not just artistic or aesthetic; it’s political. It’s about gaining that ownership and control over our own stories and how they are told.”
Photo Credits: Crown Heights/Passerby
Isabel Sandoval is a Filipina filmmaker and actress who became the first transgender woman of color to compete in the Venice Film Festival with her feature "Lingua Franca." The film was then nominated for the John Cassavetes Award at the 2021 Independent Spirit Awards and won the best narrative feature award at the Bentonville Film Festival. In addition, for her performance in "Lingua Franca," Isabel was named Best Actress at both the 18th International Cinephile Society Awards and the Pacific Meridian International Film Festival. Earlier this year, Isabel directed "Shangri-La" for Prada Group's acclaimed Miu Women's Tales. Presently, Isabel is writing a drama for FX and a feature film regarding the supernatural hauntings of a Spanish conquistador in the 16th-century Philippines. Her first two features, "Señorita" and "Apparition," can be streamed on The Criterion Channel.
4. Sydney Freeland — Director (b. 1980)
“From my personal experience and working in Hollywood, the words “film industry” and “community” don’t necessarily go together. It’s hyper-competitive and you’re fending for yourself. It’s so refreshing and heartening to see the Indigenous side bleeding into the process and making shows as we would want to make them, with us at the helm.”
Photo Credits: Shane Brown/FX Photo Credits: Taylor Jewell/Invision/AP
Born and raised in Gallup, New Mexico, on a Navajo reservation, Sydney Freeland poured her life experiences as an Indigenous transgender woman into her first feature-length film Drunktown’s Finest, which won critical acclaim when it premiered at Sundance in 2015. A Fulbright recipient and participant in the Sundance Screenwriter’s and Director’s Labs, Freeland has been trailblazing a path forward for trans and Indigenous filmmakers in an industry where UCLA has found that Native directors make up less than 1% of top Hollywood filmmakers. Freeland has directed episodes on shows like “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Star Trek: Strange New Worlds” as well as the award-winning Native-centered shows “Rutherford Falls” and “Reservation Dogs.” In addition, Freeland is working on the Netflix feature-length film “Rez Ball” and directing the upcoming Disney+ Marvel series “Echo” featuring a Native superhero.
5. Chase Joynt — Director (b. 1981)
“I learned to make movies on account of being mentored by people like John Greyson, people who were making work throughout the AIDS crisis in the 80s and 90s in Toronto. I really feel indebted to a kind of activist impulse and aesthetic that says we have to make movies with what we’ve got, with the people we love and care about most, in the most urgent way possible, for immediate circulation.”
Photos via @chasejoynt
Chase Joynt’s debut documentary feature, “Framing Agnes,” made a ground-breaking premiere at Sundance in 2022, where it won the NEXT Audience Award and NEXT Innovator Award. “Framing Agnes” turns the idea of a traditional historical retelling on its head by having the viewer rooted in the past and the present as actors including Joynt, Angelica Ross, Jen Richards, and more re-enact transcripts from UCLA’s gender clinic in the 1960s. Prior, Joynt co-directed “No Ordinary Man,” a documentary about jazz musician Billy Tipton that has been described by “Indiewire” as “the future of trans cinema.” The breadth of Joynt’s filmmaking has been featured in NPR, The New Yorker, The New York Times, and more. Joynt is also a published author. His first book, “You Only Live Twice,” was a Lambda Literary Award Finalist. He has also directed television episodes for CW’s “Two Sentence Horror Stories” streaming on Netflix. Joynt attended theatre school at UCLA and credited his background and ties to the activist community in Los Angeles for informing his work as a documentary filmmaker.
6. Yance Ford — director & producer (b. 1972)
“What’s next for me? I don’t want to do another crime story. And I’m not interested in making movies about slavery; I’m not interested in making more movies about the past. I want to make work that imagines black people into the future.”
Photo Credits: Teri Pengilley/The Guardian
In 2018, “Strong Island” was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, making Yance Ford the first out trans man ever to be nominated for an Academy Award. “Strong Island” is a deeply personal story about the murder of Ford’s brother and racial injustice on Long Island. His work on “Strong Island” won him the Emerging Filmmaker Award from the International Documentary Association in 2017. From 2002 to 2012, Ford produced the PBS documentary series “POV,” which won 5 Emmy Awards and 16 Emmy nominations during his time. In addition, Ford has received fellowships from the Sundance Institute and Guggenheim and grants from the MacArthur Foundation and The Ford Foundation.