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On the eve of the world premiere of Ticked-Off Trannies With Knives at the Tribeca Film Festival, director Israel Luna announced Thursday that he would blur out some letters in the controversial film's title treatment and many marketing materials effectively immediately, a decision reached with input from Academy Award-winning Milk screenwriter Dustin Lance Black.
Luna and Black discussed the change in a call with The Advocate.
"I will be modifying or altering a lot of our marketing materials to greek out, or blur, some of the letters in the word, tranny," said Luna, who called the film's title the biggest point of contention in a video posted Thursday. Critics also have denounced the violence against transgender women in the film, described by Luna, who is gay, as a campy revenge fantasy in the style of I Spit on Your Grave from 1978.
Both champions and detractors sought advice from Black in recent weeks as the controversy expanded. It grew to encompass broad questions of free speech, exploitation, and narrative authority.
"I was being asked to jump in on both sides of this," said Black, whose friend Willam Belli stars in the film. "The alarming thing to me is that it was shaping up to be an LGBT on LGBT scuffle. I stepped in to see if there wasn't a way we could turn this into a constructive conversation."
Black said that after conversations with community members including transgender women, he contacted Luna to suggest the idea of greeking, the practice of removing a letter or letters from a title and replacing them with an icon or asterisk.
"I said, 'Hey, is there any way that we could acknowledge that this word is pejorative to so many in the community, in the trans community, and acknowledge that in a way in your artwork, in your posters, and then it starts that conversation, so that when people see it, they go, 'Wow, why is that greeked out? Why is there an asterisk for an N? Why is this the same treatment the n-word has in the black community?' Hopefully, it starts that conversation and opens the door for trans people to be able to start telling their stories of why the word is hurtful. I know it's really difficult as a filmmaker to change anything and I really applaud Israel for taking this step."
"We're thinking there will be two asterisks in the middle so people will still know what the word is, but out of respect for this conversation, it will be blurred or bleeped out," said film publicist John Murphy, who joined the call along with producer Toni Miller.
"In general, we've seen examples of how transgender people have been referring to the movie title, and I think we're really kind of taking a cue from them on that," said Miller. "With the use of an asterisk to replace two letters within the word 'tranny,' I really think we're honing in on that."
Murphy said the change would affect materials including the film's website and press releases, with the acknowledgment that printed materials already in circulation cannot be changed.
It remained unclear whether Tribeca would adjust their marketing materials for the film. The prestigious festival previously announced it would not yank the film from its lineup despite calls from advocates including GLAAD, and a protest by transgender women in New York City on April 6.
"We have informed them of our decision," said Murphy of the festival. "We're talking to them about that."
The changes do not aim to alter the original title beyond recognition, which Black conceded might not satisfy critics, although he supports keeping the reference obvious.
"I think it's important that you do know what it was because that starts the conversation about why it's greeked out," said Black. "As opposed to perhaps just changing it completely which would then leave no room for conversation, this is more of a conversation starter. I think it's really smart and potentially hopeful."
How people will pronounce the film's name with blurred out letters is an open question. Transgender activists announced Thursday they would hold an "education rally" hours before the film premieres near midnight.
Both modifications suggest complications inherent to the genre Luna calls "transploitation," of which his new film is the first example.
"When I wrote the film, I wanted to take a serious subject matter but give it in a very light and entertaining way to where you don't realize you're in a way being preached to until the next day after you've left the theater," he said. "If the violence in the film is slightly over the top, it's also very serious in those parts, which also fits in with that genre. I was wanting to do an old-fashioned revenge flick but with transgender women and it seemed to make sense to call it 'transploitation.'"
Luna, who said he has transgender family members, added that he has been surprised by the extent of opposition to his film.
"I never expected this to happen with it," he said. "All of my films have sort of that camp value. I don't know if I could make a serious movie from beginning to end. As brilliant as a movie like Boys Don't Cry was, I loved the film and it deserved everything it got and all of the awards, but I would never watch it a second time. Because it was just, you know, torture, torture, rape, beat up, torture, and then the movie ends. I didn't want that. I wanted something more entertaining, I guess."[youtube https://www.youtube.com/v/p0NXgcJGjgE&hl=en_US&fs=1& expand=1 site_id=25879312]