November 26, 2020

Interview: Shunned to Substance


Malibu filmmaker Janice Villarosa offers a glimpse into her thought process.


Interview:<i> Shunned</i> to Substance

Poster of Shunned that will be shown at the Cannes Film Festival on May 22, 2013.

Whether it is tacit or overt, every film has a point of view.

The great thing about Janice Villarosa’s documentary, Shunned, is that it comes from a place of expertise. Diving headfirst into the transgender community with the director provides an experience that is far more visceral. The Topanga Messenger recently had an opportunity to speak with the auteur regarding her film, which will be showing at Cannes.

While gay culture is increasingly becoming part of the American mainstream, transgender is still considered largely taboo. Why do you think that is?

Dr. Perez, the psychiatrist in my film, said, “Gender is defined by society. If you don’t behave the way society expects you to behave, they make fun of you. Because you have this kind of a structure you have to behave the way society expects your biological structure should be."

It took a long time for gay culture to be more accepted by the American mainstream. I remembered, and it seems like just a few years ago, that homosexuals were perceived as having a mental disorder. Perceptions, for the most part, have changed, but some people, unfortunately, still believe that. Because of exposure, however, through mainstream media, especially TV, wherein homosexuals are put in a better light, they are, for the most part, not shown for comedic effect. The transgender community is still portrayed as the butt of the joke. There needs to be more mainstream media showing transsexuals in good careers holding respectable positions. Hopefully, films like Shunned and others will help change people’s perception.

What was the inspiration of this film?

When I was growing up in the Philippines, there was a transsexual person working at the fashion house we were renting part of our house to. I found her fascinating but I did not know the difference. I was only four.

When I went back to the Philippines, I saw quite a number of transsexuals. I was drawn to them but I did not really know how to react/act towards them. I did not understand why they are like that. I had my own reservations. I did not know anything about them so I wanted to educate myself.

I saw how people reacted toward them and I saw the pain in their eyes. I felt I had to do something about it. I wanted to educate not only myself but also other people who do not understand. I believe that through education, there will be more understanding. I think society just needs to be informed. Because of being surrounded by them for two-and-a-half years, my perception has changed. This film has changed me and I hope it does for other people as well.

It’s in the tagline, “What it takes to be a woman.” What does it take to be a woman and, given the subject of the film, what does it take to find these principles to be universal truths considering it is males transitioning to females?

My transwomen friends believe they are women inside. This is what they are…just born in the wrong body. So some of them (not all) do go through the transition to show physically what they feel inside. I think, ultimately, everyone just wants to be happy being themselves, to lead their lives to the fullest, and for society to accept them for what and who they really are.

However, when they show who they really are, society has a hard time understanding. Most people treat them differently.

I believe everyone wants to find love. I have lots of transwomen friends who are still looking for their love. There is an extra layer of heartache with those I’ve interviewed. Most go for straight men. They don’t know if the man that they are with really wants them for who they are, or are they being used for a fantasy or a fetish. They are always in fear of the man leaving them for a real woman or another transsexual and, even if they find the man that they love, society may not approve. There is always that fear of how friends and family react. They go through so much pain just to be a woman. But that is what makes them happy. It takes a lot for them to be the woman they are inside.

The film is screening at Cannes, what is the initial destination for the film? How did that come about?

I was in Cannes last year. My short film, Heaven’s Door, screened at the Cannes Court Métrage Short Film Corner. I showed the trailer of Shunned to a number of film industry people last year and had a very positive response. As I finished the film, I decided to show it at the Festival de Cannes Marché du Film. It is being shown to the film industry, Marché du Film, [but] not in competition at the main festival.

It’s certainly a provocative topic. What is the underlying thing that you wish the audience to cull from Shunned?

Discrimination comes from ignorance. If I can just start the process of helping society understand trans-sexualism, and through that, lessen the discrimination, then I have done my job. I told my trans-women friends to use this film as their voice and I hope it did that.

What’s next?

I am working on different narrative feature films in different stages. I am also working on developing a pilot for a comedy TV show with a well-known comedian. I am still learning, but I love what I do, I am a workaholic and I’m determined to make things happen.