While gemstones like “Lingua Franca“,”tangerine,” and “pose“Have given transgender women a face with color through open, genuine love stories, trans-romance films are still in short supply. director Danielle Lessovitz, a queer woman, tries to expand this scope with her film. “Port Authority” In the main role Fionn Whitehead and Leyna Bloom. Unfortunately, her debut feature film remains too short.
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Born in Pennsylvania, Paul (Whitehead) comes to New York City to live with his half-sister Sara (Louisa Krause). The problem: She doesn’t show up and Paul doesn’t know her address or phone number. He wanders through town and eventually finds Lee (McCaul Lombardi) after a subway argument with two men. The gruff, dingy Lee offers the newcomer a bed in a youth hostel and a job as a moving helper: he clears out the apartments of displaced tenants. It’s a lousy gig, but Paul needs one. Lee’s homophobic crew worries Paul too, but it’s a community he believes he needs too. That changes when he meets Wye (Bloom), a black transgender woman he finds attractive.
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Lessovitz ’” Port Authority “starts out strongly as a trans-led love story, but later crumbles under a cis-white male gaze that obscures the ball culture she wants to illuminate.
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The first half of the romance is perfectly sketched: Paul has no family. Rather, he comes to New York City as a probation officer to look for a fresh start. From the first shot on, Whitehead’s distinctive features elicit an ambiguity: his tiny hoop earring, his lush, curly hair, his heavy gait and his stoic but innocent look. The trains deceive him about his anger problems, his insecurities. During his stay at the youth hostel, Paul feels drawn to the dancing Tekay (Devon Carpenter by). The young man follows the actor to the ball, where he looks Wye in the eye. And although her family, the McQueen House, warns against approaching Paul, Wye cannot stay away.
Whitehead and Bloom have a wonderful chemistry. There is real tenderness when this wide-eyed Midwest’s lips meet the world-loving city girl. Whitehead’s physical presence, the way he can fill the silence with an abundance of delicacy, pops out. And Bloom is equally impressive. When Port Authority premiered in Cannes, Bloom was the first colored trans woman in the festival’s history to direct a feature film. The security Bloom has shown in her performance as Wye is impressive. How present it is. How generous she is to Whitehead and him in return. Your lonely sex scene, rendered with a slight touch by the cameraman Jomo Fray, is also open and unabashedly intimate.
“Port Authority” plays the strongest when it comes to adding new textures to the couple’s burgeoning love affair. It also works when it is embedded in Wye’s house: We indulge in this community while these gay blacks support each other, plan and rehearse for their next appearances and celebrate in the blue light of the drag balls. Lessovitz’s efforts to contrast this pure, close-knit family with the venomous homophobic crew Lee surrounds himself with are valued, even if they are severely underdeveloped. Both offer space for Paul, a proto-family, but only one is totally healthy.
The second half of Port Authority isn’t overwhelming, however. Like Paul, Lessovitz is an outsider in the ball scene, and you can tell. She struggles to center this black queer community and completely sidelines Wye. Rather, she rejects both of them to plan devices for Paul’s self-exploration. The film resolutely adopts a cis-white male gaze as we watch this awkward intruder endanger these vulnerable blacks. See, Paul is a liar. And his lies have inevitable consequences. These looming effects add an air of predictability to the second half of the romance. The only question is what kind of arc of redemption Lessovitz will offer the character as he overcomes his teeming gay panic.
The fairytale conclusion is not entirely believable. Especially because it feels so undeserved, so neat. Paul invades a space that is not meant for him, appropriates the positive of a culture that is not his, and puts both in danger. If the director hadn’t had Whiteheads and Blooms’ incredible acting, the ending would have caught on with a more hollow blow. Instead, the film is just a disappointing bait and switch. “Port Authority” is not a transgender-led love story. But another short-sighted film that uses black people as a lesson for ignorant white outsiders. [C-]
“Port Authority” arrives in select theaters today and will air on June 1st on VOD.