“I’m not a gold digger. I just want a better life.” So says Raquela Rios, the transgender “ladyboy” who is the subject of the new film, The Amazing Truth About Queen Raquela (being released in LA this Friday by Regent Releasing/here! Films). The movie won the “Teddy” award for Best Queer Film at the 2006 Berlin Film Festival.
Born Earvin, Raquela was working the streets of Cebu City, Philippines when documentary filmmaker Olaf de Fleur met her. de Fleur was struck by Raquela and her “Tgirl” friends’ dreams of a better life in Europe or the United States, and was quickly inspired to make Raquela’s journey the subject of his new film. The director recently called from Bangkok, Thailand at the end of a well-deserved vacation to discuss his acclaimed feature.
“The fascinating thing was that Raquela, like many of her ilk, was chasing an impossible dream,” de Fleur, who is from Iceland, explained. “Although they are men in the biological sense, their deepest wish is to find a heterosexual man to marry. That conundrum seemed like a snake eating its tail.”
de Fleur continued, “Having seen several other films about transgender girls told from a more biological perspective inspired me to do a visual film about the dream most of these ladyboys have: to live as a heterosexual woman.”
Initially, most Tgirls put on make-up and women’s clothing as an expression of who they feel they truly are but primarily just for fun. They soon learn, though, that there are men willing to pay to spend time with them, which more often than not leads them to prostitution. As de Fleur put it, “They are all trying to dress as Paris Hilton, and their best hope for a job is the sex industry.”
Raquela comes across as charming, well-intentioned and smart, if naïve, in The Amazing Truth About Queen Raquela. One scene shows her interview for nursing school but, sadly, she isn’t taken seriously by the interviewer.
In another part of the film, Raquela goes to a clinic to be tested for HIV for the first time since she began having mostly unprotected sex years earlier. As she awaits the test results, Raquela says of her decision to not use condoms, “I can’t help it, I love being careless.” I asked de Fleur about Raquela’s disturbing lack of concern.
“Raquela and her friends believe life is short, topping out at 28 or 30,” de Fleur replied. “They are trying to exploit life to the fullest. It’s a collective self-destructive element.” The scene where Raquela has the HIV test was, according to de Fleur, “very emotional for everybody in the film, but the strain was mostly on Raquela herself, who had to admit that she lived a dangerous lifestyle by not using condoms.”
After receiving her test results and after drawing international attention doing Internet porn, Raquela gets invited to Europe as a potential first step toward a more legitimate life. Her first stop, Iceland, requires major cultural and climatic adjustment. It isn’t long, though, before she has an opportunity to visit her dream city: Paris.
For de Fleur, uncovering The Amazing Truth About Queen Raquela requires an indictment of the west, and the United States in particular, for its negative influence. This is embodied in the film by Michael, a New York-based internet pornographer played by co-producer Stefan Schaefer. “Stefan mostly ad-libbed the part,” de Fleur revealed, “but we wanted to portray the stereotypical self-centered westerner with the character.”
de Fleur doesn’t let himself off the hook either. “I feel a responsibility to Raquela, since I was the one who polluted her world and introduced her to the west.” He remains in touch with Raquela and tries to support her. “I did arrange for her to attend the Berlin Film Festival, which was pretty amazing.”
At the end of The Amazing Truth About Queen Raquela, her journey having led her back to the Philippines, Raquela realizes that the dream she shares with her Tgirl friends can’t come true in this life but perhaps will in the next. “We’ll be the make-up artists of the angels,” Raquela muses. It is a hopeful conclusion to de Fleur’s revealing film about their difficult lives.
For more information on The Amazing Truth of Queen Raquela and to watch the trailer, visit the film's official website.
on DVD from Amazon.com.
Interview by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Orange County and Long Beach Blade.