The independent film “Gun Hill Road” has received rave reviews and media coverage since its initial debut at the Sundance Film Festival and now throughout its theatrical releases in New York City and other major cities.
Starring Esai Morales, Judy Reyes, and the breakout star Harmony Santana, Gun Hill Road tells the story of Enrique, a man who returns from prison after three years to find unexpected occurrences taking place in his family. Enrique comes back to the Bronx to find his wife distant and his child reevaluating notions of gender, sexuality, and identity. He struggles with how to react to these changes, and often resorts to violence and aggression in his attempts to control those around him—all while trying to avoid returning to prison.
Vanessa, the debut performance by up-and-coming transgender actress Harmony Santana, is a teenager coming to terms with herself and who she is. She grapples with two conflicting identities—her own, and that of “Michael,” who society, and especially her father, pressures her to be. Through Vanessa’s character, “the film is most resonant as a coming-of-age drama, buoyed by Santana’s vulnerable and emotionally complex performance,” writes Colorlines. Vanessa’s experience with her gender is especially interesting in the context of her Puerto Rican upbringing, and opens up conversations about the intersections of gender identity not only with family relationships, but also with race and urban city life.
Harmony brings a unique perspective to Vanessa’s character, being a transgender Latina woman herself. Like Vanessa, Harmony also grew up in the Bronx and encountered her own obstacles in coming out as transgender, including strained familial relationships. “I don’t have a relationship with my dad, either,” she says to IndieWire magazine of her similarities to Vanessa, making the filming a very emotional process for her.
Transgender and transsexual characters in film have historically been underrepresented or misrepresented in film by non-trans actors. But this year, media outlets are drawing increasing attention to the subject. The New York Times featured a detailed article about upcoming transgender actors, including Harmony’s role in “Gun Hill Road.” The Los Angeles Times writes that Harmony’s performance “leaps off the screen with equal parts joy, melancholia, and bravery.” Harmony was also part of a panel with transgender actresses Laverne Cox and Isis King in a discussion on the Joy Behar Show earlier this week.
“Gun Hill Road” first premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January and has been the recipient of honors such as the Spike Lee Fellowship, the Princess Grace Foundation Award, and a Hollywood Foreign Press Association Grant. It is the first movie by director Ernesto Rashaad Green, and is currently being screened in theatres in major cities across the nation. GLAAD urges its constituents to watch this inspiring and important film!