Luana Muniz in Queen of Lapa

New Documentaries by Women — June 22, 2020

There were a number of new movies by women that came out last week. I decided to split documentaries for a separate article to make each one easier to read and use. It’s important to highlight that one of the best weeks for releases directed by women still pales in comparison to the worst weeks of releases directed by men.

If the number of releases by women matched the number by men, I probably wouldn’t be able to keep up a weekly article about it without help. While it’s great that so many new releases by women are here, there’s still a lot that needs to be done.

I also want to mention that the first three documentaries featured here are all about trans people leading very different lives in very different communities, in very different parts of the world. As of my writing this article, each of these documentaries is getting 100% on Rotten Tomatoes. They’re worth your time.

Queen of Lapa (virtual theatrical)
co-directed by Carolina Monnerat

“Queen of Lapa” centers on the housemates who live in the hostel of Luana Muniz. Muniz is a trans activist and sex worker who seeks to provide a safe place for other trans sex workers in a society that refuses to respect their humanity and safety.

The documentary engages the desires, goals, and everyday lives of the women under Muniz’s watch. Their safety is something that’s only grown more tenuous under the election of authoritarian president Jair Bolsonaro.

Carolina Monnerat directs with Theodore Collatos. A Brazilian filmmaker, she’s produced a number of documentaries, but this is her first in the director’s chair.

“Queen of Lapa” is a virtual theatrical release. That means the profits from its rental are split between the distributor and an independent movie theater of your choice. You can rent it for $10 through any of the theaters listed right here.

Seahorse: The Dad Who Gave Birth (digital purchase)
directed by Jeanie Finlay

“Seahorse: The Dad Who Gave Birth” follows the journey of a trans man who decides to give birth. While pregnancy and giving birth obviously pose their own challenges, many of the toughest aspects become societal ones. Trans people are already under grave threat from societies that aggressively devalue and dehumanize them. The idea of a man giving birth serves to create even more of a target for these hostile and hateful elements of our cultures.

It’s important to be able to understand people’s lives and their own desires and wants. A film like this is audacious in its existence primarily because it shouldn’t be. It’s normal, understandable, human, but because too many still refuse to treat it that way, a story of someone simply wanting to have a child becomes risky. Hopefully artists showing how normal it is can change that.

Jeanie Finlay is a documentary filmmaker who tends to highlight the human, lived-in moments of her subjects.

You can buy “Seahorse: The Dad Who Gave Birth” to own for $9 from Google Play, $10 from iTunes or Vudu, $12 from Fandango, or $13 from Microsoft.

Jack & Yaya (digital rental)
directed by Jennifer Bagley

“Jack & Yaya” follows friends who grew up together and both realized they were somebody different. They’re both openly trans people, though they wouldn’t always choose that term to describe themselves. They’ve maintained their friendship, and their community has largely accepted who they are. That’s worth seeing, because not all communities have managed this.

You can rent “Jack & Yaya” for $5 from Gumroad, Reelhouse, or Vimeo.

Bully. Coward. Victim. The Story of Roy Cohn (HBO)
directed by Ivy Meeropol

Roy Cohn was a power broker who used connections and brute repetition to manufacture political realities from thin air. It’s not surprising then that his most successful protege has become Donald Trump. Cohn’s story reveals connections that lead from the Red Scare of the 1950s through the rise of bigoted religious conservatism in the 80s, straight through the Trump’s presidency today.

The film takes its name from Cohn’s square on the AIDS Memorial Quilt, which simply described him as “Bully, Coward, Victim”. Cohn was gay, and died as a result of AIDS in 1986. He brought his boyfriends to Ronald Reagan’s White House even as Cohn and Reagan vilified gay people, denied their rights, and ignored the AIDS crisis.

Director Ivy Meeropol is the granddaughter of some of Cohn’s first public victims, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. They were convicted in 1951 and put to death in 1953 for spying on behalf of the Soviet Union. Though Julius was most likely guilty, there’s considerable evidence that Cohn manufactured evidence and false testimony to frame Ethel of crimes she didn’t commit.

You can watch “Bully, Coward, Victim. The Story of Roy Cohn” with an HBO subscription.

One Take (Netflix)
directed by Manatsanun Panlertwongskul

This is a documentary on Thai girl group BNK48. As near as I can tell, becoming a part of it is part reality show, part performance, and part election. Here, first and second generation performers compete to be included as performers on a single. Like many documentaries on contemporary musicians, it may be as much an extension of the brand as it is a journalistic look at anything to do with the group. That said, the window into the pop culture of other countries can be incredibly valuable.

It’s difficult to find information about Manatsanun Panlertwongskul as a director. She’s well known in Thailand as an actress and presenter, and she’s also qualified for the Swiss Open, one of the non-Grand Slam tennis tournaments.

You can watch “One Take” with a Netflix subscription.

If you enjoy what you read on this site, consider subscribing to Gabriel Valdez’s Patreon. It helps with the time and resources to continue writing articles like this one.

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