The Washington Post Sunday - - ARTS & STYLE - BY MICHAEL O’SUL­LI­VAN michael.osul­li­van@wash­

Sean Baker learned some new slang while film­ing “Tan­ger­ine,” a drama about trans­gen­der pros­ti­tutes.

Sean Baker has al­ways been fas­ci­nated by the peo­ple who haunt so­ci­ety’s mar­gins, by the char­ac­ters who “hide in plain sight,” as the New York Times put it in a re­viewof the di­rec­tor’s 2008 drama about a street hus­tler and sud­den fa­ther­hood, “Prince of Broad­way.”

The 44-year-old film­maker’s latest pro­ject, “Tan­ger­ine,” takes place on Christ­mas Eve, in a sun­baked Hol­ly­wood land­scape of strip malls that’s the work­place of two trans­gen­der pros­ti­tutes, Alexan­dra and Sin-Dee, one of whom has just dis­cov­ered that her boyfriend (James Ran­sone) has been cheat­ing on her. Played by new­com­ers Mya Tay­lor and Ki­tana “Kiki” Ro­driguez — trans­gen­der as­pir­ing per­form­ers whom Baker be­friended at Hol­ly­wood’s LGBTQ Cen­ter — the char­ac­ters are vivid, vul­ner­a­ble and some­times vul­gar de­lights. We reached Baker by phone, mere days af­ter Pride week­end and the Supreme Court de­ci­sion le­gal­iz­ing same-sex mar­riage, to chat about the film, its place in the larger cul­ture and the Hol­ly­wood dough­nut shop — known to lo­cals as the “tranny dough­nut shop” — that’s the epi­cen­ter of the film.

What does the ti­tle re­fer to?

It’s not lit­eral in any­way. It’s just this sense you get from both the color and the fruit.

And what is that sense? Tangy? Bold?

Sweet and strong, yes. Rich. Any of those ad­jec­tives that can be ap­plied to the fruit can be ap­plied to our char­ac­ters as well.

Along with a bit­ter af­ter­taste, per­haps?

That is true, es­pe­cially with what is go­ing on in to­day’s world. I think we’re at a great time, and it’s only get­ting bet­ter in terms of trans aware­ness, but at the same time what re­ally trou­bles me— and should be trou­bling ev­ery­body— is the fact that there’s been a 13 per­cent in­crease in the mur­der rate this year of trans­gen­der peo­ple.

The trans aware­ness move­ment just got a big bump from Cait­lyn Jen­ner.

There is def­i­nitely some­thing in the zeit­geist. I knew, 21/2 years ago, when we set off down this road with “Tan­ger­ine,” that there was some­thing grow­ing. I re­mem­ber say­ing to James [Ran­sone] that if we’re go­ing to change so­ci­ety’s views and help move to­ward ac­cep­tance, it’s go­ing to re­quire one of our big­gest celebri­ties out there to ei­ther tran­si­tion or to get into a re­la­tion­ship with a trans per­son. And guess what? A year and a half later, it hap­pened.

Did you orig­i­nally en­vi­sion the film as play­ing any kind of role in that cul­tural shift?

Most def­i­nitely. But it hope­fully wasn’t go­ing to be just that. It’s an in­sti­ga­tor. If au­di­ences em­pathize or sym­pa­thize or are in any­way just in­ter­ested enough in these char­ac­ters that they’ve fallen in love with, they will then take it to the next de­gree and jump on Google, start try­ing to un­der­stand what these women have to deal with, why they’re out there, the op­pres­sion and dis­crim­i­na­tion that got these women there. This is a piece of en­ter­tain­ment. We could have done a doc­u­men­tary, but we didn’t.

As a self-de­scribed out­sider to the world de­picted in the film, how­did you and your co-writer, Chris Ber­goch, in col­lab­o­ra­tion with Mya and Kiki, go about shap­ing the story of “Tan­ger­ine”?

It was an ed­u­ca­tion for me. I could write some def­i­ni­tions for the slang dic­tionary now. I’ve learned a lot of new ter­mi­nol­ogy. With allmy films, col­lab­o­ra­tion is vi­tal. Chris and I, when we first met Mya and Kiki, we had only three things in mind. It has to take place in one night, be­cause we have a lim­ited bud­get. It’s about two peo­ple com­ing to­gether— could be a love story, could be a re­venge story. Then the third thing: I want all ofmy char­ac­ters to con­verge at the end at Donut Time. . . . In the end, it was Kiki who told us this wo­mans corned story about one of the girls who found out her boyfriend was cheat­ing on her and who was go­ing to go track down this “fish” [a woman who is bi­o­log­i­cally fe­male]. I said: “What? Ex­cuse me? What’s a fish?” She de­fined it for me. I wanted to make a film that peo­ple from that world would be able to ap­pre­ci­ate and be able to be en­ter­tained by.

But not just that world, right?

For me, there are uni­ver­sal themes in there. There’s friend­ship, in­fi­delity, jeal­ousy, fam­ily. Hope­fully, if some­body doesn’t even know that there’s a cor­ner dough­nut shop some­where in Los An­ge­les that is fre­quented by trans­gen­der-women-of-color sex work­ers, they will still be able to some­how iden­tify.

I un­der­stand the movie was shot en­tirely with iPhones.

We used the iPhone 5s. We bought three of them, think­ing we would al­ways be fill­ing up our phones, but that never hap­pened. We only shot with, at the most, two at a time, us­ing an anamor­phic lens adapter that al­lowed us to shoot true Cin­ema Scope. I think that re­ally helped el­e­vate this to a cin­e­matic level. Ra­dium Cheung is an amaz­ing di­rec­tor of pho­tog­ra­phy. It’s funny. He was work­ing on the TV se­ries “The Amer­i­cans,” shoot­ing 35mm one week, and then he came to Los An­ge­les to shoot on iPhones. He wasn’t ex­actly happy about it.


Di­rec­tor Sean Baker castMya Tay­lor, left, and Ki­tana “Kiki” Ro­driguez af­ter be­friend­ing them at Hol­ly­wood’s LGBTQ Cen­ter.


Mickey O’Ha­gan, left, and Ki­tana “Kiki” Ro­driguez in a scene from ‘ Tan­ger­ine,” which is set in Hol­ly­wood on Christ­mas Eve.

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