Mala Mala, a new documentary from directors Antonio Santini and Dan Sickles, defies standard identification. It revels in fantasy as much as reality. And its subjects, nine women and men from Puerto Rico’s transgender and drag communities, are anything but standard.
April Carrión from RuPaul’s Drag Race Season Six—who went to school with Santini—is one of these unique individuals, whose gender and sexual identity defies the binary.
She may have broken out on Drag Race, but one of the many pleasures of Mala Mala is the intimate peek inside April’s drag house, as well as a variety of colorful communities that exist in the Caribbean country.
The film’s subjects have different stories—from Ivana Fred, an outspoken trans activist, to Paxx Moll, a trans man who laments access to proper healthcare—but are connected by their difference from the norm.
At key moments, Sickles and Santini capture the more performative aspects of their subjects’ lives, from drag shows to the seductive game of picking up a trick. But the camera’s gaze never feels exploitative—it offers insight into their sometimes bleak but always exuberant lives.
And the climax, at an equal rights march on the steps of the capitol building in San Juan, offers an emotional moment we won’t soon forget.
Mala Mala opens July 1 at the IF C Center in New York. Watch the trailer below.
h/t: IndieWire; Photos: Natalie O’Moore