Portraits of Black Trans Men

Kortney Ryan Ziegler's new documentary examines the degree to which gender is fluid but race isn't.

By Jorge Antonio Vallejos Jul 29, 2009

July 29, 2009

Exclusion is something Kortney Ryan Ziegler does not tolerate.

An accomplished blogger and filmmaker, Ziegler noticed that movies about transgender people ignored the stories of Black people. “Trans films are predominantly white. They give space to trans bodies, but they exclude people of color,” says Ziegler.

No more. Ziegler’s film Still Black: A Portrait of Black TransMen was released last year (clips can be seen at stillblackfilm.org). The film has been shown in several LGBT film festivals including Frameline in San Francisco and Outfest in Los Angeles.

Putting out a casting call through various LGBT list serves and through word of mouth, Ziegler initially conducted phone interviews before choosing to focus on six Black trans men: Kylar Broadus, Ethan Young, Louis Mitchell, Jay Welch, Nicholas Rashad and Carl Madgett. Charismatic and honest, the men demonstrate that there are as many ways to be Black and trans as there are Black trans people.  

“They may change their bodies and who they are, but they’re still Black. It’s sexy,” says Ziegler. “Whatever they do with their lives, their Blackness is still visible.”    

Ziegler leaned on personal experience to make the film. The Black 28-year-old identifies as genderqueer and rejects both male and female pronouns, preferring the plural “they.”

Raising $25,000 through online fundraising, Ziegler shot the film over a six-month period and edited for another six months. “If you don’t get a grant you can still make a film—you just have to be creative,” says Ziegler, who earned an undergraduate degree in film at University of California at Santa Cruz and has produced five films. Still Black is Ziegler’s first feature documentary.   

Working now on a Ph.D. in African American Studies at Northwestern University, Ziegler is the writer behind the award-winning blog Bla(k)ademic (blackademic.com). “Academic writing is exclusive. The blog helped me reach a wider amount of people than my seminar papers can do,” says Ziegler, who is now achieving that goal with the new film.

“We get emails from all over, from people of different colors saying the film has changed their lives,” Ziegler says.

But Ziegler notes that no invites have come from film festivals, which routinely fly out white trans filmmakers for screenings and talks. “We would like to be treated the way white trans filmmakers are treated. We’re not stupid. There’s a pattern where people of color are second. Whites come first,” says Ziegler.

Despite these disappointments, Ziegler is still positive and hopes viewers of the film will step outside their comfort zone. “The people in the film stepped outside of theirs. I hope people see the film and feel the same way.”
For more about the film, go to stillblackfilm.org.