Hollywood has become an inclusive market over the years and continues to grow in that field daily. People from all walks of life come to try their hand at filmmaking, hoping to cement their status as serious players in show business. However, one group making headway in Hollywood is those in the trans community with their innovative storytelling and thought-provoking perspective on life. For example, Lana and Lilly Wachowski, the imaginative sibling directors of The Matrix films and Sense8, have come out as transgender and kicked open the door for other trans filmmakers.
Although they were not the first trans filmmakers in Hollywood, their influence ripples throughout Hollywood. In addition, many more transgender filmmakers have created projects that have been highly successful or shone an informative spotlight on their community. Accordingly, as trans stories are becoming more common in our media, trans people must tell these. We highlight some transgender filmmakers making considerable strides in Hollywood and beyond.
The Navajo filmmaker has been heavily active in the film industry since 2008. Sydney Freeland became a staple in Hollywood when her film Drunktown’s Finest (2014) garnered acclaim after premiering at the Sundance Film Festival. She would continue that success with her 2017 movie Deidra and Laney Rob, a Train — which was bought and released by Netflix. In addition, the multi-award-winning director has worked with production studios like The Food Network, Comedy Central, and National Geographic. The director will work with Walt Disney and Marvel Studios on their latest Disney+ streaming series, Echo, to premiere soon.
Seyi Adebanjo is a genderfluid queer media artist born in Nigeria and a prominent figure in the art community. They aim to generate social awareness about race, gender, and sexuality issues through photography and film as a director and writer. Trans Lives Matter!: Justice for Islan Nettles is a seven-minute film focusing on the murder of transgender woman Islan Nettles, screened on PBS and Museums across the country. The media artist continues to influence future generations of filmmakers and thinkers by teaching at the prestige New York University.
Sam Feder’s projects explore the intersection of visibility and politics along race, class, and gender. The director and writer have gained success for their work over the many years in the filmmaking business. Feder’s films include the 2006 feature, Boy I Am and 2013’s Kate Bornstein is a Queer & Pleasant Danger. The latter is about trans icon Kate Bornstein and was named the best documentary of 2014 by The Advocate. In addition, the film won Feder the James Aronson Award for Social Justice Journalism. But Feder’s success would not stop there.
The director was nominated for a Peabody Award for their work and created a highly successful Netflix documentary, Disclosure (2020). The documentary is an in-depth look at Hollywood’s depiction of transgender people. It features several notable trans-creative talents. Consequently, Feder is developing a scripted TV series called Weimar, a Netflix original animation program, and collaborating with Trevor Noah on an MSNBC TV Series.
Yance Ford is an African-American transgender producer and director that has been making big waves in filmmaking. The creative has shown up on The Root 100 annual list of the most influential African Americans, ages 25 to 45, and continues to receive reconnection for his work. Ford has been a series producer for PBS for ten years and counting. Consequently, He has gone on to work on projects for Showtime, Netflix, and FX. His documentary Strong Island (2017) capitulated Ford’s recognition. The documentary garnered critical acclaim and the 2018 Academy Award nomination for Best Documentary Feature — making Ford the first openly transgender director to be nominated.
Silas Howard is a Lon Angeles-based filmmaker that tells honest stories through groundbreaking narratives and characters. The award-winning director, writer, and producer have been influential since his feature film By Hook or Crook in 2001. The film has been a seminal work in the New Trans Cinema movement since premiering at Sundance in 2002. His talent for sharing thought-provoking stories through film and television has continued in shows like Pose, Transparent, 2022’s A League of Their Own, and the recent incarnation of Quantum Leap. Howard has showcased his filmmaker with significant studios like FX, Amazon, Netflix, NBC, and HBO. Additionally, he continues to be influential in the film and trans community.
The filmmaker and artist burst onto the scene with their debut feature film, Adam, back at Sundance in 2019. Rhys Ernst has won multiple awards from Outfest, Oslo Fusion, and the Mezipatra Film Festival and has a nomination for a 2020 GLAAD award. In addition, his work recognition continues by winning awards from the Chicago International Film Festival and the LA and Seattle Transgender Film Festivals. Ernst’s projects explore transgender identity, and his documentary, This is Me, showcases that and expands on transgender issues. Ernst garnered such acclaim that Amazon Studios came to the filmmaker with an offer to help produce and direct numerous episodes of their hit show, Transparent. He continues to work in film and television and pushes the boundaries of filmmaking.
The multi-talented artist has been a powerhouse in entertainment for years. She continues to make an impact to this day. Janet Mock is a writer, director, and producer who has worked on hit shows such as FX’s Pose and Netflix’s Hollywood. Her rise to stardom continues as she is one of the leading producers on the streaming service’s show Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story. Mock made history in 2019 when she inked an essential deal with Netflix. The deal makes her the first trans person to sign a production pact with a major studio. Mock continues to share her talent and stories through her books Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More and Surpassing Certainty.
We would be remised if we didn’t talk about Jill Soloway and her influence on the trans community of filmmakers. The director/writer has been a driving force in the entertainment industry since 1992. They have helped produce such hit shows like HBO’s Six Feet Under, ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy, and Showtime’s United States of Tara. Their success continued in a big way when they became the creator and showrunner of Amazon’s widely popular show, Transparent, which they also produced and directed. However, Soloway’s talent doesn’t stop there. Their writing skills garnered success for their memoir, Tiny Ladies in Shiny Pants: Based on a True Story. In addition, the Emmy-nominated filmmaker will be the executive producer of the highly anticipated Red Sonja remake alongside other projects in the future.
These are just some very talented trans filmmakers working in today’s entertainment business and continue to influence others. Their work and art are a peek into the lives of transgender people. Sharing their transformative stories will affect those in a big way and continue the trend of making Hollywood an inclusive playground.