Lupe is an emotional queer story about a Cuban immigrant who comes to New York City in search of their lost sister, while also trying to make sense of their sexual and gender identities.
Telling authentic queer narratives featuring transgender characters hasn’t been easy for Hollywood. There are just so many problems that can occur, especially the ones that arise due to TPTB not giving a platform to actual transgender voices. Lupe is different.
While it might not be a film that everyone will appreciate (it’s important to remember that the queer community isn’t a monolith), at least it’s a project that involves actual transgender talent behind and in front of the camera.
The premise of Lupe deals with Rafael (Rafael Albarran) walking around NYC looking for their lost elder sister named Isabel (Lucerys Medina). Isabel took care of Rafael back in Cuba. But one day she disappeared. As far as kid Rafael’s concerned, Isabel’s been sold off to work as a prostitute in NYC and Rafael has to save her. An adult Rafael’s days involve training others at the gym and finding sex worker hotspots for a lead on Isabel’s whereabouts.
The main narrative themes in Lupe involve finding the strength to move forward and self-discovery. It’s clear from the get-go that Rafael has a lot of issues to address. Over the course of the film, we see Rafael come to terms with their identity as a transgender woman and how Rafael’s truth collides with having a masculine physical appearance.
Being a film featuring some heavy topics, a lot fell on the cast, especially Albarran. In my opinion, being non-binary helped Albarran bring authenticity to their role as Rafael. Yes, Rafael can beat you up; however, there’s a lot of vulnerability to such a character. The scenes where Rafael’s looking in the mirror and exploring their feminine side or silently wondering about stuff are quite powerful.
I really liked the scene where a man hit on Rafael in the subway and there’s instantly a lot that starts going on in Rafael’s mind. They want to continue interacting with the man (he’s a very nice guy), but Rafael’s just not ready.
I also loved the scenes between Rafael and their transgender friend Lana (Celia Harrison) as she helped Rafael move closer to their true self.
Coming out as transgender is accompanied by a lot of baggage due to how other people perceive such individuals. Rafael’s true identity serves as a shock to one of their friends at the gym. The good news is that both characters work it out.
Now, I know there are people who don’t like watching sad queer movies. That’s why, without spoiling the main plot, I’ll let you know that Lupe has a happy ending as it opens a new chapter in Rafael’s life. So, give it a watch.
Lupe was co-written by Celia Harrison, André Phillips & Charles Vuolo (the duo also being co-directors), and executive produced by transgender talent Kerry Michelle O’Brien.
It was made available to stream on HBO Max and HBO Latino on February 26, 2021. This film does have nudity, violence, and sexually intimate scenes. So, keep that in mind.
If you have watched it already, feel free to share your thoughts with us.
Farid has a Double Masters in Psychology and Biotechnology as well as an M.Phil in Molecular Genetics. He is the author of numerous books including Missing in Somerville, and The Game Master of Somerville. He gives us insight into comics, books, TV shows, anime/manga, video games, and movies.
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