For actress Leyna Bloom, the film Port Authority, which deals with both romantic love and chosen family love, was a perfect fit.
“My lifestyle has always been wrapped around love … loving and caring relationships,” she says.
The film, which opens in theaters today, deals with the love that blossoms between a Black transgender woman, Wye (Bloom), and a white cisgender man, Paul (Fionn Whitehead of Dunkirk), as well as the love of Wye’s ballroom family. Written and directed by Danielle Lessovitz and counting Martin Scorsese among its executive producers, it premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 2019, making Bloom the first trans actress of color to headline a film at the prestigious event; she’s African-American and Filipina.
It’s one of several firsts on Bloom’s modeling and acting résumé. In 2017 she became the first out trans woman of color to appear in Vogue India, and this year she was the first trans model of color to be featured in Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit issue. She’s adding to that résumé with another feature film, Asking for It, and appearances in the current season of Pose.
Top: Leyna Bloom with Fionn Whitehead; bottom: McCaul Lombardi
The road to love and happiness depicted in Port Authority is a bumpy one, just as it is in life. Paul has come to New York City from Pittsburgh in hopes of reconnecting with his half-sister, Sara, and making a new sort of life. But Sara wants nothing to do with him and won’t even meet him at the Port Authority bus station. After getting beaten up on the subway, he finds shelter in a youth hostel and employment of sorts in a gang of thieves and extortionists who target some of the city’s most vulnerable people — those facing eviction or fearing deportation. McCaul Lombardi plays gang leader Lee.
But Paul finds beauty in the city too; he’s transfixed when he sees Wye dancing on the street. When he encounters her again, they tentatively begin a relationship, and he’s fascinated by her ballroom family, led by Mother McQueen (Christopher “Afrika” Quarles) — by both their talent, displayed at glitzy events, and their devotion to one another. He initially doesn’t know she’s trans, something that leads to a confrontation but no demeaning “reveal” scene, as in some earlier films. And he’s keeping his own secrets, letting her think he lives with his half-sister and has a legitimate job.
The film mirrors some of Bloom’s life experience. She arrived at the Port Authority station at 17 without a job or housing, having dropped out of a performing arts academy in Chicago. She had been on a dance scholarship, but the school would let her perform only male roles, so she decided to seek her destiny elsewhere. She waited tables, picked up modeling jobs, and became a regular in the ballroom scenes in New York and Philadelphia, finding both a family and a way to display her talents.
“I’m so lucky that I had my beautiful family, my chosen family,” she says. And unlike some of her friends and some LGBTQ+ people in general, she could count on the love of her family of origin. “My dad was there my whole life,” she says. A Chicago police officer (now retired), he became a single parent to Bloom after her mother was deported; he’s of Nigerian and French descent, her mother Filipina, and they met while he was in the military. Bloom eventually reconnected with her mother, who is supportive as well, she reports.
At a time when trans people have unprecedented visibility but are under attack on many fronts, Bloom feels a responsibility to make her voice heard. “This is a moment for me to constantly say, hey, I’m going to do something about this, I’m going to change some perspectives around this,” she says. “If I can do this, we can do it together.”
She hopes to educate people about trans lives. “Education is a powerful tool,” she says. She is also writing a book that she says will tell “the backstory to making history,” and continuing to pursue her acting career. Asking for It, about women taking revenge on misogynists, will premiere online June 13 as part of the Tribeca Film Festival; with it and Port Authority, “I have two films coming out for Pride,” Bloom says — proudly.
Port Authority will play in theaters beginning today, with virtual and in-person screenings in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Seattle, San Francisco, and other cities. It will be available online and on demand starting Tuesday on all major digital platforms, including iTunes, Prime Video, Comcast, Spectrum, and Xfinity. Watch an exclusive clip below.