Chilean actress and singer Daniela Vega would have handled things differently than Marina, the character she plays in “A Fantastic Woman.”
“Marina is very elegant,” Vega says through an interpreter. “I only dress elegant. My soul is not elegant.”
Marina’s elegance is what gets her through difficult circumstances in the Chilean movie, which nabbed director and co-writer Sebastian Lelio an Oscar nomination for best foreign language film. (The film opens locally Friday at the E Street Cinema and Angelika at Mosaic.) When Marina’s longtime, older boyfriend Orlando (Francisco Reyes) suddenly dies, Marina finds herself completely shut out by his ex-wife, his son and the rest of his family — who refuse to let her keep their dog or any mementos, or even attend the funeral. It’s not just because Marina played a role in the breakup of the family, but also because she is transgender.
“Orlando and Marina’s love had nothing to do with [Marina being] transgender,” Vega says. “It’s the rest of the world who reminds Marina that she’s trans, using it like a weapon.”
That eventually undoes Marina’s commitment to elegance, Vega says.
“[At first, she] didn’t want to provoke anyone at the funeral; she didn’t want to take the role of being the wife,” Vega says. “Then Marina thinks, ‘Until now, I’ve been very dignified, but not anymore. I’m going to go to the funeral. I’m going to pay the cost of being who I am.’ ”
Vega, who is also transgender, is of two minds about whether her gender identity made her more qualified to play Marina than a cisgender actor would be.
“I played male roles before this, and that doesn’t invalidate me as an actress or a woman,” she says. “But there’s a political element to it as well. It’s like back when white actors would darken their faces to play black characters — that’s a political issue.” Just as skin color isn’t the sole marker of black identity, with transgender characters “we’re talking about something more than cosmetics, than clothes — it’s how you identify yourself.”
Even though Marina’s — and, by extension, Vega’s — gender identity is at the core of the film, Vega doesn’t want people to think of “A Fantastic Woman” as a “trans movie.”
“It’s not only about a woman who is a trans woman,” she says. “It’s more about love and death, and that’s universal.”