Living outside the binary is not an easy task especially for transexual and drag queens living in the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. MALA MALA: A Transformative Puerto Rican Documentary, takes a thought-provoking look at the places where gender identity and cultural identity intersect, while capturing the search for selfhood and the love shared between friends.

Additionally, the film looks at Trans/homo/queer phobia issue in Puerto Rico. Over the last four years, there have been over two dozen documented hate crimes committed against gay and transgendered people in Puerto Rico alone. In 2011, just months after the U.S. Department of Justice released a report which highlighted the under-documentation of hate crimes on the island, Puerto Rico’s legislature introduced measures that would remove protections from their existing hate crimes law for people based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Gender Reel Chair Joe Ippolito had the pleasure of talking with Filmmakers Dan Sickles & Antonio Santini about the documentary:


Joe: “What inspired you to make this film?”

Dan: “During a trip to Austin last year for a film festival we had a film screening in, we stumbled upon a drag show and watched it play out. We became drawn to this one trans female who ended up losing the competition and getting kicked out that night.  Her name was Maggie McMuffins and she ended up inviting us over to her house in Northern Austin, where we met her and her family. We met her 3 months into her male-to-female transition, amidst a difficult divorce from her former wife, and a beautiful 9 year old daughter to take care. Soon after, Antonio found out a former high school classmate from Puerto Rico, Jason, was a now April, the queen of drag queens in San Juan, so we had a hunch there were more stories like Maggie’s that we needed to tell. We realized that gender reassignment was a lonely and difficult journey that thousands of people embarked on every year. We wanted those people to realize they weren’t alone and we wanted to share, on screen, this process and every person who is a part of it, whether straight, gay, or trans.”

Joe: “Since the onset of making this film, what is one of the most profound things you have learned about trans youth living in Puerto Rico?”

Dan: “The two most important lessons we’ve learned through this filmmaking journey are the importance of community and of being yourself. Drag queens literally recreate a family dynamic to support each other.  They each have a role within their family unit. Together they form an imagined family that is very much as real as any biological family. And of course, after hearing Samantha’s struggle with her dad’s acceptance and her courage to transition, and after watching the girls from The Doll House drag family go on stage every night fearlessly, we knew ever double-guessing ourselves was no longer an option. You are who you are and at the same you always have the opportunity to evolve into the best person you can and desire to be.”

Joe: “How do you plan to use the film to educate others about the experiences of trans youth?”

Dan: “There’s been too many times in all of these boys & girls lives where they’ve been told that they’re ugly, or that because they break convention, they’re less than perfect, or going to hell, or some other lie made up to instill fear in those that choose to be bold. The members of this community are testaments that being true to your identity is not that scary.  That, not lying to yourself and others about who you are and who you want to be is not the end of the world. It’s growth, it’s life. We plan to use this film its stories to educate others to feel the same: to take off their masks and put on their wigs.”

Support for the making of this film is still needed, so please consider donating today through their  Kickstarter account: