By Tatiana McInnis and Shayna Maci Warner
This month’s VOD and web series picks showcase the power of community, both in front of and behind the camera. They emphasize the strength and complexity that is found in collective power, and identify how people from historically excluded groups name and respond to their exclusion — whether it’s via national political discourse or a nightmare Tinder date. Through non-fiction animation, personal documentary, and short-form dramedy, these projects are showcases of artistic collaboration and intentional production.
“Breakwater” (“Quebramar”) traces how conversations about sexuality and politics unfold in LGBTQ communal spaces in Brazil. In Rain Valdez’s web series, “Razor Tongue,” Belle (Valdez) exposes the challenges of dating, interviewing, and vulnerability as a trans woman of color. “60 Years and Still” offers a timely reflection of injustice toward Black people in the U.S., presenting a timeline across six decades of race and injustice in America through 10 incidents of Black people being killed by police.
Here are Women and Hollywood’s latest VOD and web series picks.
Brazil’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, has just been accused with “crimes against humanity” for his flippant, neglectful handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. Even before this recent development, Brazilian citizens have been continuously protesting, including in a massive general strike in 2019 against Bolsonaro’s handling of education, healthcare, fires in the Amazon, vicious homophobia and transphobia, and indigenous sovereignty, among other issues.
With this contentious backdrop, the intimate, observational Brazilian short doc “Breakwater” (“Quebramar”) follows a group of said protestors as they recuperate for just a moment, visiting a remote beach for the New Year. These young queer women — among them Ananda Maranhão, Raíssa Lopes, and Yakini Kalid — make art, write music, share stories, and support each other in building a new world amidst protests and authoritarian control. Director Cris Lyra captures conversations that cover everything from family members’ misunderstandings of lesbianism as a gender identity, to Afro-Brazilian hair politics, to PTSD responses. Gender dynamics are even discussed via campfire singalongs.
Lyra and director of photography Wilssa Esser use a versatile combination of intimate portraits and sweeping landscapes, genuinely loving its subjects as it follows them through every conversation so topical that they could be a pieces of fiction. In this short, queerness means family, and family means protection, especially when the documentary closes on two members of the collective helping their friend combat the PTSD triggered by New Year’s fireworks. They sing and heal together, holding tight to joy in times of seeming hopelessness, and for 26 minutes allow the viewer a glimpse of community ferociously persisting through the storm.
Watch “Breakwater”/”Quebramar” on Mubi.
Made during the lockdown of New York City between June 3 and 30, this mixed-media short film presents notorious and lesser-known incidents of police brutality against Black people in the U.S. The short emphasizes that while Martin Luther King, Jr. called for the end of racial injustice 60 years ago, history continues to repeat itself in 2020.
Director Sally Tran created this short with the assistance of SideProjects, a collaborative production company dedicated to “multigenerational and multicultural stories,” with a goal of working together to forward purposeful filmmaking. In the description of her short, Tran links to all of the research sources the team used in order to create this work, hoping that a combination of interpretive documentary and text-based resources will empower viewers to act upon their horror with this history of violence.
This stylish seven-episode series follows Belle (Rain Valdez) and her daily experiences, detailing how transphobia, racism, and toxic masculinity impact her life. Over the first season, she navigates dating, career, community, and debates call-out culture with unforgiving wit, but is forced to question her automatic defenses when her own judgments are turned back on her by radio host Ariel (Alexandra Grey). The series fearlessly delves into some of the most complex arguments surrounding hiring discrimination, #MeToo, and personal politics, and doesn’t let anyone off the hook for how they answer to their community.
As of this week, creator and star Valdez is now an Emmy nominee for Outstanding Actress in a Short Form Comedy or Drama Series for “Razor Tongue.” Valdez has previously appeared on “Transparent” and “Lopez,” and runs ActNow, an acting class in Los Angeles which prioritizes LGBTQIA actors.
Proudly noted on its web site, “Razor Tongue” “employs 80% trans, queer, female and POC identified people in front of and behind the camera” — a feat in an industry that has just started to acknowledge the discrepancies in opportunities for trans and queer creators and actors. You can read more about Valdez’s personal experience with transphobia in Hollywood and her vision for trans filmmaking futures in her recent guest column for Variety.