Fil-Am film documents struggles of Filipina transwomen

A new film produced and directed by a Filipino American looks to shed light on the transgender community and help viewers understand what they go through.

“Shunned” tells the struggles and stories of Filipina transgenders and the discrimination they experience because of who they are.

Janice Villarosa, director and producer of the film, was inspired to create the film after realizing she did not know much about transgenders, despite being surrounded by many of them while she grew up in the Philippines.

To understand them better, Villarosa said she had to immerse herself in their culture.

“Shunned” approaches transgenderism from a conservative standpoint while not touching on religion.

“It’s a very enlightening film for people who do not know anything about the community,” Villarosa said.

The Fil-Am director and producer hopes “Shunned” will remind viewers that everyone is human, to put themselves in others’ shoes before judging and let others in similar situations know they are not alone.

“This community faces a lot of discrimination and I want to help them,” she said.

Two transgenders share their stories

Among individuals featured in the film is Carla Reigne, who lives in the Philippines was shot three times in the back a few years during an airgun shooting that lasted for about 15 to 20 seconds for being transgender.

“People ask if there’s anything we can do to change our minds. Some guys think we can take a pill to get ‘cured,’” Reigne said.

““The film will be an eye-opener for everyone, especially those who don’t totally understand and accept the transgender world, and make them realize we’re normal and just like everyone else. Transgenderism is not a sickness, it’s not an illness. This is us. We’re just living in a way how we feel and what we feel,” she added.

“I feel like [with the film] we let [people] see what and who we are.”

Growing up, Reigne spoke positively of her college years. However, to her parents, she was a curse.

Now, she has received wider acceptance, particularly as she is the breadwinner in her family.

For transgenders going through tough times, Reigne offered words.

“They shouldn’t be afraid of anything or anyone who bothers them to change their personality. They just have to be true because with honest, you can never go wrong. There’s nothing for them to be ashamed of or worried about,” she said.

Former make-up artist Fiona Solis is another transgender featured in “Shunned.” Originally from Leyte, Solis now lives in Thailand and remembers being raped by three males when she was 15 years old. Today, Solis said she feels no revenge toward the individuals who committed the act.

“I don’t hate the people who did it to me. I know who they are, but just move on,” she said, adding she believes there’s a purpose she is still alive after the incident.

Solis shared she was 5 years old when she felt like she was different.

“I didn’t know if I’m a boy or a girl. I felt like a girl but my genitalia was like my brother,” she said.

Solis said she received strong support from her family for who she is. She added that she has no problem sharing her story despite the fact transgenders are not be well-received by everyone.

“I’m proud of who I am since I am young. I don’t have to feel hate for myself. I want to share [my story] because we can’t please everyone.

“I really want my story to be told,” she said.

She added that nobody has a choice in being born who they are.

“Who wants to be different if people will be cruel and judgmental?”

Solis also embraces the fact that she is different and unique.

“It’s something special. If we’re all the same, it will be boring,” she said.

Like Reigne, Solis encourages transgenders who may be caught in turbulent times and even contemplating on ending their life to stay strong.

“Whatever problems you have, hold them to God because they’re not going to last forever.

“There’s no reason to kill yourself because the world is beautiful,” she said.

A four-year project

Villarosa started working on “Shunned” while she was still in film school and invested in the project full time after graduating. She also edited the film and said she had to step away from the project a number of times.

Now, the Fil-Am is involved in the marketing process of “Shunned,” which has been shown at multiple film festivals. So far, it has won best documentary at the Long Island International film Expo in New York and Laughlin International Film Festival in Nevada. An upcoming screening at the AT&T Center in Los Angeles is also set for Saturday, June 27, at 7:15pm.

While the film is now gaining attention throughout the community, the entire process has been rocky at times.

“It was difficult to let people to know about it in the beginning, because people even [asked] me, ‘Why are you doing this film? People will not be interested. There’s only going to be a handful of people and those people basically [have] a transgender fetish,’” Villarosa said.

Still, she remained optimistic, viewing the issue as one that resonates with more than just the individuals whose stories were told through her project.

“I thought [transgenderism] was an issue that is not just for a small community, but it transcends for everybody else, anybody else that’s been bullied,” she said.

In addition to doubts about the ultimate success of her project, Villarosa has encountered negative treatment from individuals due to her involvement in the film. One outstanding incident to the Fil-Am filmmaker was when one man asked her to drop her pants to prove she was a woman.

“That, to me, was so jarring that it made me more determined to get the word out. Society’s just got to change as far as how they treat people. When that incident happened, I called one of my friends and she told me, ‘Hey, you know, we do face that every day, that men especially feel it’s OK to talk to us that way, in a rude manner,’” she said.

Hailing from a conservative background, most of Villarosa’s family was unaware of her project until she told them last year.

“I didn’t know if [they] would disown me for making this film. It was a very controversial topic,” she said.

Surprisingly to Villarosa, her family did not respond negatively to the news.

“I just told them I believe God just wants us to love each other,” she said.

“Sometimes people surprise you … but if you approach them in a different way they understand what you’re doing,” she added.

With the obstacles she faced, Villarosa said there were many times she wanted to quit.

“But I could not quit just because I made a promise to my cast to use me as their voice. So I had to keep going and they were actually my rock. They don’t know it but they kept me going,” she said.

“I wanted to give a voice to them … and hopefully make a difference in their life,” she added.


(LA Weekend June 20 – 23, 2015  Sec B pg.4)

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