Gay Essential Review: Mala Mala at BFI Flare

A fascinating documentary essentially about the Puerto Rican transgender community in Santurce, San Juan.  Mala Mala introduces the audience to a number of personalities, their background, culture and infringement of rights inflicted on the community by the state.  Featuring a wide variety of locations both indoor, outdoor, and lighting conditions Dan Sickles and Antonio Santini present a beautifully filmed debut.

Mala Mala



“Your Soul Is Your Essence” opens as a narrative as transsexual Ivana Fred drives around late at night, handing out condoms and supplies in support of the street sex working trade.   There is no embarrassment, people hiding their face from the cameras, this is a transparent community.  The stunning Ivana has become an unofficial spokesperson for the transgender community, dedicating her life in working to raise their profile, human rights and is a popular activist celebrity on television.

Soraya Santigao Solla a mature hair salon owner who initially comes across as bit of a battle axe with a case of verbal Diarrhoea (she can speak for Puerto Rico). Soraya has staunch opinions about the transgendered community.  A sex change pioneer herself having suffered from gender dysporia, Soraya speaks openly with philosophical viewpoints, and quickly warms to the audience as a much loved Aunt.  “One thing to feel like a woman, another to feel like a beauty queen” says Soraya and adds “No one wants to be a middle-age Barbie” in a shaddy retort to the glamorous Ivana Fred sitting next to her.  We learn towards the end of the documentary, that she has published her memoirs “Hand Made” unfortunately, not available on Amazon as this viewer would very much like to read them.

The documentary chronicles throughout, the community working alongside the Butterflies Trans Foundation to support the signing of Bill 238.  The historic law will ban employment discrimination based on sexual and gender orientation.  “If we are on the streets, its because the government doesn’t let us work!”  Denise “Sandy” Rivera a pre-op sex worker who will complete her transition when she retires from prostitution, makes it very clear as do others that she is keen to work in a less demanding job than as a sex worker.  Three months later from when the historic bill is passed, Denise has a job in public housing – however street fashion is hard to give up as she wears outrageous high heels to work, that would be better suited on Lady Gaga’s feet.

The Dolls House is the drag factory of Puerto Rico, up to season six of RuPauls Drag Race, five of the six contestants have come from the collective.  “This isn’t party city it’s Haute Couture” Everyone wants to be Rupaul and be on Rupaul’s show due to the fame and money it can bring in.  Hold on to your wigs American contestants, these future Puerto Rican contestants are not participating to make up racial diversity on the show.  The audience has a sneak peak of April Carrión (Jason Carrión) preparing to leave for RuPaul’s show, and as April packs his luggage he shares a very useful tip – vacuum pack your clothes and then pack them into a suitcase (how have I never thought of this).

Clearly within a minority, Paxx Moll believes he is the only female transitioning to male in Puerto Rico, and struggles to access hormone drugs. “I always see myself shirtless in dreams” he goes on “It’s so much easier for a man to transition to a woman”.  When the audience is introduced to Samantha Close you feel concerned about the route which Paxx may take.  Samantha bravely interviews without being made up, it’s difficult to ignore her cosmetic flaws.  Samantha’s economic restriction led her to experiment with black market hormones which ultimately cost her a relationship and pines for happiness.  At the opposite end of the economic spectrum, a Barbara Streisand lip-synching into a dildo (perhaps borrowed from Lady Bunny) former New Yorker Sophia Voines, moved to Puerto Rico following her transition as a transsexual.  “People think I’m deaf because I don’t speak, it outs me” Sophia comments, and wants to be passable at the supermarket “My goal is to not be an amazing queen, but to be passable as a woman.”

Mala Mala is a highly entertaining emotional documentary that takes the audience from the seedy nightlife, and ultimately onto the steps of the state capital in a rousing upbeat finale.  Keep your eyes peeled on a brilliant solo performance by Queen Amor who sadly is not interviewed in the film.

4 Stars

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Alexander Ryll
Launched in June 2014, Gay Essential is the world’s largest gay themed film blog promoting new and rare features. I am helped by some amazing writers and we also cover film festivals in the UK and USA. We are 100% independent, without advertising or funding by film distributors. Help to keep Gay Essential independent by purchasing our merchandise GET (Gay Essential Tees)
Alexander Ryll
- 8 hours ago
Alexander Ryll
Alexander Ryll