’Riot Acts’ not afraid of a little flaunting
When Madsen Minax and Simon Strikeback, the Chicago-based activist-artists behind the "indie-grass" music project Actor Slash Model hit the road for a tour three years ago, they had more on their minds than playing live music for audiences. While their music was certainly a major part of the adventure, Minax and Strikeback had a loftier goal for their journey: To tap into and strengthen a coast-to-coast network of transgender musicians, performers and artists.
In so doing, they hoped to paint a picture of transgender and gender-deviant lives that challenge the depictions of isolation, depression and victimhood all too often misappropriated by media, gay and straight alike. The culmination of their work is Riot Acts: Flaunting Gender Deviance in Music Performance, the "transfabulous rockumentary" being screened Saturday, March 6, as part of the Chicago International Movies & Music Festival.
Hot, creative, critical and talented
"Someone asked me once what our thesis of the film is," Strikeback told EDGE. "And it’s this: Transpeople have friends. We’re hot, creative, critical and talented. And we’re not so isolated as we’re often made out to be. This is a much more honest portrayal of our lives. We wanted to address that three-dimensionality."
The film, released last fall, draws from over 100 hours of footage featuring many prominent transgender musicians in performance and in interviews, including names like the Cliks, the Shondes, Jessica Xavier and Lipstick Conspiracy. Drawing from Strikeback’s strengths as an organizer-activist and Minax’s as a filmmaker, they address a number of issues that play into the lives of musicians who don’t fit conveniently into boxes marked "M" or "F," including the concept of passing or not passing, the personal as political and perhaps the film’s drive-it-home point: The trans experience is not exclusively defined by tragedy.
Nor is it exclusively defined as "transgender." Through their conversations with the film’s artists, a number of identities come to light for the filmmakers. While the artists share the powerful bond of music performance and some degree of gender nonconformity, many do not identify as trans. This created an issue for some people who saw the film.
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Watch a sample from Riot Acts: