Mya Taylor is having a stressful day.
On the line from Los Angeles with the Straight, she’s walking to her room, searching for her keys, being interrupted by others around her, and sighing in exasperation.
As she tries on a wig with brown curly hair, her mood shifts abruptly: “This hair looks ah-mazing! I’m going to have to buy another of these. I have to!”
Hair, you must understand, plays a pivotal and poignant role in the relationship between Taylor’s character, Alexandra, and her best friend Sin-Dee (played by Taylor’s former roommate Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) in the firecracker indie comedy-drama Tangerine (opening on Friday [July 31]) that was a hit at Sundance, not to mention numerous other festivals.
The two transgender sex workers traverse the mean streets of L.A. when Sin-Dee finds out her boyfriend and pimp Chester (James Ransone) cheated on her while she was incarcerated. Alexandra gets dragged along on the revenge-driven rampage as Sin-Dee hunts down the cisgender “fish” Chester hooked up with.
Impressively, the entire film was shot on iPhones. Just as impressive is the gritty, engrossing authenticity provided by Taylor and Rodriguez’s streetwise performances. Taylor didn’t have much previous acting experience or training, and improvised her role through the entire feature.
Looking back at the film, she also cringes at the memory of some of it.
“When I was creating the movie, I was very insecure at that time because I had just started my transition so I still looked half and half,” she says.
However, she loves the positive reaction to the film. And while Taylor thinks that transgender representation in media has improved, she feels there’s still some ways to go.
“I just wish that the whole world was more understanding because people make fun of stuff that they don’t know about, like if they see something different, then they say something mean about it,” she says.
Even though the characters are sex workers, Taylor says that this reflects the ugly hardships that some transgender people face.
“You have to ask yourself, what were Alexandra and Sin-Dee doing in the streets and why are they so close to each other?” she says. “They’re close to each other because they don’t have family and most likely they’ve tried to look for jobs and people won’t hire them because they’re trans. So the last resort is to do sex work because you need money and you need to live somehow.”
What’s up next for this breakout performer? She’ll be portraying LGBT activist Marsha P. Johnson in a short film and has started working on an album (her vocal chops are showcased in the film).
She’s also in love with a “total sweetheart”.
“The reason why I bring this up is because it’s very hard for transgender people to find love,” she explains. “It’s hard for us to find a guy that’s gonna accept us for being trans and treat us as if we were born as biological women. And I found that.”
Whether scoring a great wig or great men, we should all be so lucky.