SCUM BOY QUEER DELIGHT
A local film focused on a trans artist throws a thrilling light on its subject matter, writes Sandiso Ngubane
Filmmaker Allison Swank’s short film Scum Boy is viscerally refreshing in its portrayal of queer love, in spite of the fact that this is only just a part of the film’s 17-minute run time. Scum Boy, the young trans man who is the subject of the film, takes the audience through what would otherwise be an unremarkable story of his transition, work and love life.
But as common a narrative as it may seem — if you know any trans people, that is — the film’s empathetic approach, coupled with its subject’s easygoing manner, makes for delightful viewing. It’s punctuated with humour and smileinducing giggles shared by Scum Boy and his girlfriend Beulah, imbuing the film with a softness that’s atypical as far as what’s available out there in the mainstream when it comes to trans stories.
Too often, what we get to hear and read of trans people is the violence and tragedy society aims at them. While of course these stories are important as they spotlight the abhorrent plight this community faces, it’s a plausible argument that these narratives only provide a flat, one-dimensional engagement with the humanity of trans people. It sees them only as helpless victims of violence and dispossession rather than full human beings as multifaceted and complex as any of us. So it’s rather thrilling to see a trans man in this light — tender, loving, laughing, free.
True, it’s mostly black trans people who are at the coalface of society’s virtual criminalisation of their existence, but this does not negate the value of this humane portrayal of transness — Scum Boy’s race and Jewish heritage notwithstanding.
Based in Cape Town, Scum Boy is a 3D artist whose exhibition “A Journey Through the Unconscious Mind” recently wrapped at Kalashnikovv Gallery in Braamfontein, Johannesburg. The 3D prints on exhibition were a visual representation of the artist’s intent to trace his dreams and figure out how they fit into his real life.
Describing his own work, Scum Boy says it’s about creating a world beyond our own. “Anything I want to make I can make in this world, and I design the whole world for myself,” he says early in the film. “Whatever the human body can’t do in real life, I can 100% achieve in this world. I can wake up and be like: ‘Whoa! That dream was crazy, bro!’ and then … make it!”
Still, the artist expresses a sense of “impostor syndrome” when it comes to his work, which he admits has become more popular than he’d ever imagined it would be. “I’m like, does everybody know this is bullshit or is it just me? And then I’m like, but this isn’t bullshit. You do this and it’s fun! This is what you do.”
The film delves into Scum Boy’s politics, where he speaks of “human crises” that have given rise to movements like #BlackLivesMatter. Beulah chimes in about her generation’s concerns about climate change. “A lot of people of our generation are afraid that we won’t be here when we’re grown up. And that’s a real fear,” she says.
An award-winning documentary filmmaker whose work is grounded in a passion for sharing stories that empower and amplify, Swank says her motivation for telling Scum Boy’s story is his “powerful message”.
“He’s a wholly unique individual, but his struggles and views are representative of a broader generational narrative that’s worth learning from,” she says.
Towards the end of the film we see Scum Boy and Beulah showing off the new place they’d just signed a lease for. He stands in the kitchen and says he can already imagine Beulah preparing meals there.
Scum Boy concludes with its subject reflecting on his life, saying his formative years were filled with fear and uncertainty — something that’s since changed for the better.
“Some nights, I didn’t know what was going to happen,” he says. “Going to bed not feeling secure is a terrifying thing. I’ve had the privilege to escape that. A lot of people don’t have that. I dreamt of becoming who I am now. When I was a kid this is exactly what I wanted.”