MALA MALA is a series of happy accidents, of the sort that ends up being a rather better film than might have happened through deliberate intent. First time directors Dan Sickles and Antonio Massini took on the vast project of recording the trans community of Puerto Rico and were young enough and sweet-natured enough that they came across to the vulnerable people they were trying to talk to as trustworthy because utterly without guile. They were worried about not representing trans masculine people, but then Paxx not only dropped into their laps but turned, almost as they watched him, into as much of an activist as Ivana, who was one of the first people they talked to. During the months they were filming, a nascent activist scene moved on from just ensuring the safety of trans sex workers to agitating for trans inclusion in legislative change – in succeeding in bringing that change about and being able to take advantage of it. They were lucky in who they chose to concentrate on talking to – and just by being there filming were a sort of catalyst.
I loved this film because it showed how much people leading dangerous lives on the street can look out for each other and move on from looking out for each other to actually doing stuff. It is a film that shows that successful political engagement does not have to mean respectability politics – except at the level of a bunch of people who mostly work street corners and bars, putting on team shirts over their miniskirts and hotpants. Above all Sickles and Massini had the sense to let well enough alone – to let a bunch of bright sassy young trans people tell their own stories and just be there with a camera.
It made me happy.