She gamed a transphobic medical system – and now this hybrid documentary about trans identity gets playful in telling her community’s stories.
In the early 1960s, the pseudonymous Agnes Torres (played by trans icon Zackary Drucker) participated in a landmark study of gender identity by UCLA sociologist Harold Garfinkel. A decade earlier, she’d craftily navigated a hostile medical system to receive gender-affirming medical care. She wasn’t the only trans person Garfinkel interviewed, however. This zesty, intellectually challenging film by Chase Joynt (No Ordinary Man, MIFF 2021) summons six voices who went missing from history but were recently rediscovered in Garfinkel’s case notes, buried in the UCLA archive.
Joynt once again deploys his signature blend of archival footage, academic interviews, informal musings and captivating re-enactments, using performance and performativity to challenge media and medical perspectives on trans people. Here, he also portrays Garfinkel, ‘interviewing’ a stellar cast that includes Angelica Ross, Jen Richards, Silas Howard, Max Wolf Valerio and Stephen Ira – who occasionally break character to shed light on their own experiences. Transforming a clinical office setting into a TV chat-show stage, Framing Agnes offers an incisive and humane look at trans people’s search for acceptance then and now.
“A film of quiet but decisive radicality … Bring[s] vividly to the screen the burdens borne by trans people of even the modern past.” – The New Yorker