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Tangerine (2015); Alternative Representation at its Best

January 7, 2016


There’s the occasional film that breaks out from the bonds of conventional cinema to breathe new life into a story and the people and places within it. Tangerine is a prime example of that type of film embodying a boldness unlike anything you’ve likely seen before. This deep dive into brash waters has allowed Tangerine to claim its spot as one of the most unique feature-length films of our time. It’s a film that showcases the bonds of friendship and the shallowness of people all while bestowing a stunning, grimy view into a piece of American life that most people know nothing about or try adamantly to ignore. For this reason alone, I absolutely adored Tangerine.

Tangerine isn’t a technically sound film that’s complex or flawless, although it is a marvelous cinematic feat. It’s amateurish at times in both style and substance, but it packs a powerful punch of individuality. Tangerine is a simple story told through a day in the life narrative that speeds through what happens when Sin-Dee Rella (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez), a transgendered sex worker, returns home from jail on Christmas to discover that Chester (James Ransone), her pimp and boyfriend, has been cheating on her with “fish”, a “real” woman. Prone to outbursts and bad decision making, Sin-Dee is livid ultimately deciding to trek across Los Angeles to find Chester and the woman he’s been sleeping with so that she can sort the issue out. Meanwhile, Razmik (Karren Karagulian), a taxi driver that frequents the area, harbors a secret that soon finds its way to the surface amidst Sid-Nee and her best friend Alexandra’s (May Taylor) adventures throughout the city.


Writer and director Sean Baker pulls a stunning hat trick by bringing this unique story and colorful cast to light through a bold, kitschy technique. Baker shot Tangerine using an iPhone 5 creating the film’s fast-paced atmosphere of whipping pans and rapid tracking shots by riding around the actors on a bike and walking quickly in step with them. Baker also famously used prototypes of Steadicam rigs and anamorphic adapters for a high compression rate creating memorable shots and images. This also gives way to some of my favorite cinematic elements like the film’s overly saturated, brightly lit aesthetic and its ability to transform scenes from long shots into quick, tight close-ups that focus with hyperactive concentration on character’s movements and emotions. Following Sid-Nee as she angrily and quickly struts down the streets of L.A. feels like a cracked-out joyride full of humor and heart as Alexandra stays on her heels attempting to instill rational thinking into the situation.


The fact that Tangerine got produced and exposed to the masses proves to be a major feat for motion pictures and an uplifting reminder for viewers that while the progress is slow, the times are truly a-changing. Tangerine hosts a cast of realistic characters that are flawed, crude, and utterly fascinating. There are no good guys or bad guys (or girls for that matter). That black and white standard has no place in the world of Tangerine. Instead, the focus is on how people are just people, and they react in certain ways due to the situations they are given and the personalities they’ve come to develop. Sometimes this incites reactions of laughter, annoyance, sadness, or even anger while watching, nonetheless, you will be invested in these people and the adventure they find themselves in.

Even more fascinating is that this film was made by a white director and producers. Seeing alternative representations of people of color on film is tricky and rare if you’re looking at major motion pictures. Tangerine brings forth an amazing colorful cast of people and its choice to showcase differing socioeconomic positions is a bold one. Sid-Nee and Alexandra are broke women who patrol the streets donning bad wigs and cheap clothing. They can’t afford to keep their cellphones on and have only enough money to afford menial luxuries like a bus trip and a doughnut to share on Christmas day.

Yet, both women capture all the swag and confidence needed to get by and survive. Baker and producer Mark Duplass capsulate a stunning realism within the characters and among their atmosphere which is rarely captured in a film about people of color when white men are controlling the content. This naturalism is owed to Baker’s decision to immerse himself in the culture of L.A.’s trans Red Light District and talk to the women involved allowing him to elaborate on a real life story that influenced the film’s plot and two lead actors from these conversations.


At times Tangerine plays out like a documentary thanks to the inconspicuous style of directing and natural talents of the lead actors. Tangerine should be seen by everyone, whether you enjoy its content or not it’s an eye-opening view of a world that hardly, if ever, gets seen by those who don’t live in it. It’s a reminder that we are all humans who make mistakes, but each of us possess endearing qualities within no matter how ratchet, conservative, or deceitful we may be. I hope that the success of Tangerine in 2015 will bolster in a new wave of creativity, representation, and boldness for films in 2016.

SEE IT. Now on Netflix, then marvel at its bold and colorful vision. If this film doesn’t or didn’t impress you please comment with films that rival it cinematically and in content.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. January 8, 2016 11:47 AM

    Great review! I especially love how all of this was shot on an iphone!!!

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