In the early 2000s, director Daniel Peddel She turned her gaze to the lives of several young, masculine-looking lesbians of color living in New York City. She called her documentary “The Aggressives,” in a nod to the label the women featured are given but also adopt. The film was groundbreaking then and remains enlightening today. For its sequel, “Beyond the aggressors: 25 years later”, Peddle has reunited four of the characters who made the 2005 film as insightful as it was inspiring. The original was filmed between 1997 and 2003. The sequel covers the years 2018-23, with Peddle and editor Yvette Wojciechowski cleverly intercutting footage from the original documentary.
It’s good to see Kisha Batista, Trevon Haynes, Octavio Sanders and Chin Tsui again. In the original, they were teenagers struggling with their identity amid issues of race, class, sexuality and, it turns out, gender. Beneath their arrogance lie questions about belonging, labels and identity. In “Beyond,” those dilemmas have been addressed, if not always resolved. They have evolved. What must it feel like to be a character in a time capsule like that? And then come back for more?
In the original document, almost all subjects stated that their masculine presentation should not be confused with wanting to be a man. Meanwhile, years in which transgender identity has advanced, Trevon, Chin and Octavios have transitioned or identified as men. As in the original, the artist Kisha Batista, who then identified herself as “aggressive feminine,” is the exception. She was also the person who introduced Peddle to her (or AG’s) circle of aggressive friends.
If the sequel is decidedly authentic, it is because that quartet continues to be so. Now, in middle age, subjects face the typical obstacles of adulthood: loss of loved ones, relationship problems, health care scares. It’s that minuet that makes the film specific and deeply human. These journeys have not been easy, but many of the challenges are those of getting older and a little wiser.
After a prologue using footage from the original, Peddle begins the follow-up documentary with Kisha taking photographs of queer youth. (It’s hard not to refer to the subjects by their first names; the film makes them feel like old friends.) The former model has been painting and photographing over the intervening decades. One of her projects is to document LGBT people, some of whom provide the film with interstitial information about what the previous document and her characters meant to them. They are called “transcestors.”
The film finds Trevon in Palm Springs, working in the gig economy but also trying to forge domestic bliss with his fiancée, Jade. Having lost his mother when he was 13, Trevon longs for a family. His concerns about having children with Jade are the kind of concerns that should resonate with other couples facing fertility issues. But while he shares his frustrations in finding gynecological services, the film makes clear how clumsy the healthcare system is when it comes to addressing the needs of transgender people.
For many years, Octavio chose not to undergo major surgery because he wanted his son to have a clear idea of him as a mother. As an adult, his son Tyquan Sanders turns out to be a compassionate soul, navigating his own ideas about what it means to be a black man in a world where representations of masculinity have often reduced his possibilities. . He finds no contradiction when he declares: “I am proud of my mother. He’s happy.”
Swept up in the immigration maelstrom, American citizen Chin Tsui spent almost 19 months in solitary confinement in an ICE detention center in Georgia. (In a “Free Chin Now” protest, Chin’s sister, Nancy Benabe, speaks on behalf of her brother with loving, furious clarity.) His imprisonment reflects the failures of the immigration system but also his transphobia. he. Whether the lawyers who have taken up his case will be able to get Chin out of detention provides the documentary with added if irritating suspense.
“Beyond the Aggressives” is itself an example of the evolution of standards in documentary. From time to time, Peddle appears on camera. Several times he can be heard asking a question. Interactions with subjects often feel guided by the subjects, rather than the filmmaker. The documentary is also indicative of Peddle’s own growth: as a white gay man, he is more aware of the privilege that whiteness affords him.
The sequel provides a growing understanding of the tension between labels and identities, between a changing self, an expanding queer “community,” and society at large. An essential theme in “Beyond Aggressors” could be that when it comes to the individual, the labels – “identities” – that we all carry, while liberating, are also insufficient for the complexities and poetry of the human being.
When subjects stated that they did not want to be men, they were not being evasive or in denial. Instead, they were being sincere as people are at any given time, working with the language of that period and grappling with their own understanding of themselves. They did not want to be men; They wanted to be themselves. Michael Apted’s pioneering “Up” series (which revisited its subjects every seven years after the original 1964 group portrait) eloquently championed longitudinal documentaries. The same goes for Peddle’s tender and revealing sequel. “Beyond the Aggressives” makes it easy to wonder what joys, sorrows and epiphanies a future sequel might bring.