While transgender characters are still underrepresented in the general media, there are a few films willing to break down the walls and give us stories about trans characters. Here are just 10 of the best films which have transgenders as one of the primary characters.
1. Beautiful Boxer
This inspirational Thai film is based on the story of real-life transgender boxer Parinya Charoenphol. Raised as a boy in a remote, poverty-stricken village, she turned to kickboxing to support her family while secretly saving up for reassignment surgery. She publicly came out as a woman after becoming an international boxing champion. Her signature move was donning a wig and red lipstick before defeating male opponents!
2. Wild Side
Not to be confused with other films of the same name, Wild Side is a 2004 German movie about a transgender sex worker who begins relationships with two very different men. Despite the subject matter, it isn’t a provocative movie; it’s nuanced, thoughtful and heartfelt. It also stars a real trans actress instead of relying on clothes and makeup to signify her transition, so it gets points for authenticity as well as style.
How young is too young to know who you are? The French film Tomboy explores this question through the eyes of Laure, a 10-year-old girl who starts to dress, speak and identify as a boy named Mickael. Though not explicitly trans, she questions her gender and sexuality as she navigates the tricky world of prepubescent social norms, and both viewer and character are left wondering who she really is at the end of the movie. As with life, there are no easy answers.
4. The Crying Game
A classic of the ’90s, The Crying Game was one of the first mainstream films to portray transgender characters in a sympathetic light. While the “twist” of the movie was that its main female character was actually in possession of male genitalia, that didn’t lessen her importance to the story one bit, and audiences were encouraged to understand and empathize with her.
5. Breakfast on Pluto
Breakfast on Pluto follows Patricia “Kitten” Braden, a free-spirited transgender woman growing up in 1970s London. Abandoned by her mother at a young age, Kitten looks for meaning in everything she does, and her adventures take her on a ride that’s both funny and dramatic. It’s definitely a film worth checking out.
6. 52 Tuesdays
A moving film about the power of family, 52 Tuesdays follows a sixteen-year-old girl named Billie as she struggles to understand her mother’s transition from female to male. They meet every Tuesday to talk about their lives, hopes and dreams, and as they grow closer, Billie starts to accept her mother’s change. This independent Australian film was shot in real time over the course of 52 weeks, and the actors often improvised lines for maximum realism.
This unconventional film follows a transgender woman named Bree who receives a call from her long-lost teenage son on the eve of her transition. He’s in jail and needs to be bailed out! Deciding not to tell him that she’s trans, Bree liberates him from his cell and takes him on a zany road trip where they get to know each other while dealing with complications both funny and bizarre. Though it’s a strange story, it’s also one with a lot of heart, and it will leave you smiling as the credits roll.
8. Boys Don’t Cry
This isn’t a happy film. In fact, it’s downright depressing. But it’s an important piece of cinematic history because it’s based on the real-life tragedy of Brandon Teena, a young transgender man who was raped and murdered after his secret came to light. Raised as a girl, Brandon began passing for a boy when he moved to a different state, and his “friends” reacted violently when they learned the truth about his gender identity. Though you might cry yourself while watching it, Boys Don’t Cry is an important lesson in video form.
9. Ma Vie En Rose
Literally translated as “My Life In Pink,” Ma Vie En Rose follows a small Belgian girl named Ludo as she struggles to convey her true identity to her friends and community. Everyone insists that she’s a boy just going through a phase, but Ludo remains true to herself and continues to express her feminine identity. It’s a good movie if you feel like pumping yourself up and fighting for your beliefs.
10. Iron Ladies
Another great transgender film from Thailand, Iron Ladies follows the true story of an LGBT volleyball team as they fight for their spot in the national championships. Some players are gay; others are trans; others are kathoey, a unique Thai concept that means “third gender.” If you like fun but heartfelt stories that celebrate diversity in every way, shape and form, Iron Ladies is a rollicking good time.
These are just 10 films with trans characters in prominent roles. There are many more, of course, but these should be enough to get you started. Happy viewing!