One of my earliest significant film ventures was the creation of a documentary. When I was nineteen, I decide to chronical my little cousin in the month leading up to her fifth birthday. She was assigned male at birth and started presenting as female before she could even form complete sentences. Before that project, I considered her to be a flamboyant little boy who liked to play with dolls and wear dresses. Through observing that child’s kindness, creativity, genuineness, and unapologetic resilience, I became inspired to research transgender issues. I followed up with another documentary following four Southern transgender women of different racial and socioeconomic backgrounds as they dealt with different stages of transition. I became heavily invested in queer advocacy, queer theory, and intersectional feminism, and these concepts have become integral to my morality and artistic identity. Since the start of this journey, I’ve been looking for a way to incorporate these themes into my narrative filmmaking.
In my struggles with explaining my cousin’s identity to my less progressive family members and friends, I began to search for ways of talking about gender that would let them engage empathetically with her struggle. One of the best analogies I came up with was to imagine waking up tomorrow in a body with a different sex. To imagine the frustration of having to defend your expression of your inner self. That analogy developed into an intersectional allegory: a changeling. Someone who wakes up every day with constantly changing body.
Many of the struggles changelings face in The Way You Look Tonight– self harm, body dysmorphia, and documentation issues – are all directly drawn from the lived experiences of queer people I’ve met. I chose to make the changeling the love interest rather than the protagonist because I wanted a point-of-view to which the heteronormative majority could attach themselves. It is Peter’s responsibility to engage empathetically with Heloise and her experiences just as it’s the responsibility of the privileged majority to understand the disenfranchised minority. Rather than a direct one-to-one representation of transgender identity, this allegory forces the viewer to look at gender and sexuality through a broad queer lens. To do this, the film masquerades for a time as a generic straight romantic comedy with a mystery element to draw in the viewer. Once the intrigue is established, the film develops to a relationship dramedy, exploring the larger struggles of loving a person when they don’t have a consistent physical identity.
That’s why this project has to be a feature (and why I came to UCLA to make it): love is not a moment. It is not a short story. It is complicated, consistently unfolding series of triumphs and struggles. This film does not encapsulate love. But it does look to present a significant change within one person as they learn to love another, and that, for me, is the biggest thing in the world.