Photo: ‘September Mornings’/Amazon Studios
In 2018, Black Widow superstar Scarlett Johansson gracefully bowed out of the, as of yet to be made, film ‘Rub & Tug’, a movie revolving around massage parlor kingpin Dante Gill who also happened to be transgender. For a time, Johansson’s casting as Gill triggered an intense conversation about the actress’s right to play a transgender role versus an actual transgender actor, a conversation whose intensity was only rivaled by Johansson deciding to forfeit the project for the sake of the LGBTQ community’s own comfort.
Three years ago, I would’ve argued until I ran out of voice that Johansson made the wrong decision, and her abandoning the project almost guaranteed that ‘Rub & Tug’ wouldn’t have cultivated the commercial awareness that a story of its caliber might have deserved. But after watching Josefina Trotta’s ‘September Mornings’, it’s surprising how my position on the stance wavered a bit, as if the TV series was directly and aggressively challenging my opinion on the matter. Apart from being an enlightening experience, ‘September Mornings’ is simply a well-thought-out, well-put-together TV series that breaks stereotypes and refuses to compromise its identity for friendlier, more mainstream approachable storytelling.
‘September Mornings’ Is Unlike Any Show Today
‘September Mornings’ follows Cassandra, an Afro Latina transgender who recently left her hometown to pursue her career as a professional singer. The five-episode season is the first of its kind. Although there have been shows like ‘Orange Is The New Black’ and ‘Shameless’ that feature transgenders as notable characters, shows starring a transgender person have been few and far between. ‘Chad’, broadcast on TBS, is one of the only popular trans-led shows that comes to mind, but ‘Chad’ takes a somewhat comedic tact to its issues. ‘Mornings’, however, leans heavily into the drama surrounding Cassandra’s life as a transgender, while blending in natural humor to give the series a very raw feel to it that’s true to real life.
Apart from its down to Earth, gritty style of storytelling, the show’s talents lie in juggling multiple subplots at once with a magician’s technique. Cassandra is in the process of forming a life she feels she can be proud of. She finally has her own place, she’s hard at work at her delivery job while trying to launch a successful singing career, but on top of all that has to deal with the subtle and not-so-subtle challenges that automatically come with being trans. By the first episode, it’s clear she already has a lot on her plate. So when an ex-girlfriend, Leide, appears out of nowhere to inform Cassandra that she has a ten-year-old child named Gersinho, Cassandra’s immediately worried that this new revelation will cause her life to unravel.
And at the same time, I’m immediately worried that, with so much already going on in ‘September Mornings’, that the show itself will start to unravel as well. Thankfully, however, the show never becomes the melodramatic, soap-operatic mess that Leide and Gersinho’s intrusion could turn it into. In series creator Josefina Trotta’s capable hands, Leide and Gersinho’s inclusion serves to enhance the storytelling, and adds more dimension to Cassandra’s character. With most people who opt to change their gender, they can truly leave their past selves behind to completely immerse in their new role. The problem with Cassandra, however, is that Gersinho is a reflection of who she was prior to her sex change. He’s living, breathing evidence of a past self she’s tried extremely hard to wipe off the face of the planet, and Cassandra can’t have that.
Especially when she’s on the cusp of having the life of her dreams. But nevertheless, Cassandra can’t ignore her parental instincts or her conscience, and finds herself consciously and subconsciously tending to the needs of her child, a tug of war within herself that splits her life into two irreconcilable halves. Thanks to Leide and her son Gersinho, Cassandra’s identity is redefined when she’s confronted by the reality of being a parent. Can she, technically, still be a father to her child even though she’s a transgender woman? And even if she could, would she be able to without compromising her own newfound identity? How do her son and ex-girlfriend feel about potentially having two mothers? It’s a fascinating, subversive experience that will leave you asking yourself those same questions.
Its cultural relation to Brazil also further distinguishes ‘September Morning’ from other shows of its DNA, if only for aesthetic purposes. It transports you to Brazil, familiarizes you with the country’s customs, mannerisms, and traditions, so much so that if you were to actually visit the country of Brazil you’d feel as if you’d actually been there. But despite ‘Mornings’ cultural sensitivity, the themes surrounding the show are universal. Cassandra faces confusion about her own roles as a parent due to her identity, she’s misjudged and mistaken, with her “son” only extrapolating her problems. It shows that the problems and burdens that come with being so freely transgender applies to the community no matter their culture or their nationality.
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Liniker fits Cassandra Like A Glove
I’m convinced there was no person on Earth who could play Cassandra like Liniker. Liniker, being a transgender singer herself with a similar background to Cassandra, helps add authenticity and real-life grit to the characters that I’m not sure would’ve been as effective with another actor in the role. Liniker inhabits Cassandra, which is no easy task because Cassandra can easily come off as an unlikeable protagonist. She’s driven to her dreams to the point of selfishness, almost neglecting and abandoning her own child so she can follow her passion and maintain the lifestyle she’s crafted for herself. But Liniker irons out the character’s hard edges, and adds a vulnerability that allows the viewer to sympathize with her reasoning even though we might not overall agree with it. Her performance is nothing short of exceptional and inadvertently makes an argument for why more transgender actors should play the role of transgender characters.
As a black man, I’m particularly sensitive to the issue, because I often imagine how it felt for black men and women to see themselves portrayed on screen for the first time by an actor who wasn’t in black face I reminisce how it felt watching the kind of representation in films like ‘Black Panther’ and ‘Hidden Figures’ that showed African Americans ascending to new heights in Cinema that were once a pipe dream. So remembering how vindicated I felt living vicariously through these larger-than-life characters makes me empathize with the LGBTQ community a bit more on their issues of representation. To see a transgender character played so well by a transgender actress was a refreshing, celebratory experience that I hope opens the doors for more LGBTQ actors in the not too distant future.
‘September Mornings’ Finds Beauty in Poverty
‘There’s a modest attractiveness in the environment that Cassandra is a part of. It’s very much blue-collar working class, full of people scraping by paycheck to paycheck or doing the best with very little resources. Sometimes the apartments and houses seem a bit too close together, almost congested. And since Leide and Gersinho are homeless when we meet them, we’re more up close and personal to the poverty situation than maybe we’d like to be. But directors Luis Pinheiro and Dainara Toffoli frame that poverty with a sense of style that doesn’t necessarily glamorize it, but finds a bit of magic in even the poorest circumstances. Outside buildings are tagged with graffiti that decorate their walls with art, occasionally the lighting in Cassandra’s own apartment makes it feel as though she’s somewhere majestic and romantic. It’s as if Cassandra herself is trying to set the mood of her apartment to accommodate her audience, concealing the building’s less attractive features. At times the setting is very atmospheric and shows that, with enough creativity, a place succumbed by its own poverty might contain as much beauty as an upper-class suburb. It all depends on how you look at it.
‘September Mornings’ is a quiet triumph that I hope gains some much-needed momentum, as it’s an important story told in an elegant, creative way that’s as provocative as it is powerful. It’s slow in its approach, but methodical. It relies on a lot of subtlety and nuance that feels like it’s meant to drive discussion, and is a gorgeous film to watch. ‘September Mornings’ has everything going for it and more.
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Tony Stallings is an avid follower of the entertainment industry who uses his passion for writing to relay meaningful, positive messages and narratives from the world of Hollywood. Tony doesn’t just focus on covering entertainment, but delving into it. He prides himself on focusing on the bigger picture, concerned with how entertainment culture affects and shapes the world at large with utmost honesty. Tony’s dedication to journalistic integrity, reliability and passion is a common bond that he shares with Hollywood Insider, and he’s eager to help people recognize the value of entertainment through their platform.