Why Chilean drama A Fan­tas­tic Woman is mak­ing waves with break­out trans star Daniela Vega

Empire (Australasia) - - Contents - WORDS OLLY RICHARDS

There’s a huge FOUR five-star re­views this month. Is this sweet enough?

THERE ARE TWO rea­sons Daniela Vega should be one of the most talked-about ac­tors of 2018. The first, and most im­por­tant, is her per­for­mance in A Fan­tas­tic Woman. For Se­bastián Le­lio’s drama, the 28-year-old plays Ma­rina, a wait­ress and lounge singer whose much older boyfriend sud­denly dies. Ma­rina is left home­less and ques­tioned about her in­volve­ment in his death. She just wants to grieve as any other girl­friend would, but her boyfriend’s fam­ily and var­i­ous gov­ern­ment au­thor­i­ties won’t al­low it. The rea­son? Ma­rina — like Vega her­self — is trans­gen­der. The vast ma­jor­ity of peo­ple she meets treat her with sus­pi­cion, like some cu­rios­ity they’re try­ing to work out, and Vega plays the raw pain and de­ter­mi­na­tion of some­one who bat­tles ev­ery day just to be ac­cepted as who she is.

The sec­ond rea­son she’ll be talked about: al­ready, Vega is con­sid­ered a se­ri­ous con­tender in the Best Ac­tress race this awards sea­son.

Any nom­i­na­tions would be a ma­jor step for trans­gen­der ac­tors. In 2016, trans­gen­der ac­tor Mya Tay­lor won an In­de­pen­dent Spirit Award for Tan­ger­ine, and in TV Lav­erne Cox, of Or­ange Is The New Black, has twice been Emmy nom­i­nated, but an Academy Award nom­i­na­tion for Vega would be an Os­car first.

When Em­pire asks about all this at­ten­tion, the Chilean ac­tor, speak­ing via a trans­la­tor, puffs out her cheeks and ex­hales heav­ily. “I just hoped the movie would be seen,” she says. “What hap­pens next… We were never ex­pect­ing this ex­plo­sion of in­ter­est from all over the world.”

The level of talk around Vega, in her first ma­jor film role, seems a heavy weight to bear. With trans­gen­der is­sues in the pub­lic con­ver­sa­tion more than ever be­fore, any trans per­son with a pub­lic pro­file be­comes in ef­fect a spokesper­son, ex­pected to an­swer com­plex ques­tions about LGBT pol­i­tics, from Trump’s pro­posed mil­i­tary ban to Theresa May’s pro­pos­als to re­form the Gen­der Recog­ni­tion Act. It’s not some­thing Vega is com­fort­able with. “No, no, no, I only speak for my­self,” she in­sists. “Other peo­ple who are ac­tivists can an­swer the ques­tions about the ex­pe­ri­ence of be­ing trans.”

Vega is keen to shift the con­ver­sa­tion around

A Fan­tas­tic Woman from be­ing a film about a trans woman’s grief and strug­gle to sim­ply a story of a hu­man’s grief and strug­gle. “I think every­body has ex­pe­ri­enced vi­o­lence at some time in their lives,” she says. “I think that’s what makes any­one able to con­nect with Ma­rina — whether man, woman, cis or trans.”


Ma­rina (Daniela Vega) with lover Or­lando (Francisco Reyes). Be­low: Vega preps on set. Bot­tom: Fan­tas­tic woman.

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