Open book on transgender visibility

Framing Agnes is deeply introspective, insightful and intellectually stimulating. Director Chase Joynt brings to life never-before-seen transgender voices that deserve to be heard. However, he structures these stories in a way that aims to educate and inspire, as well as reflect. Framing Agnes is essential LGBTQ documentary viewing in its exploration of trans storytelling.

‘Framing Agnes’ talks about transgender identity in the past and present

Zackary Drucker as Agnes | Ava Benjamin Shorr / Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Joynt takes audiences on a cinematic journey that blends fiction and non-fiction. It follows archival data found on Agnes, the pioneering trans woman who participated in Harold Garfinkel’s gender health research at UCLA in the 1960s. The life stories of several trans people speak to the history and current state of gender identity.

Framing Agnes takes on a talk show format that features trans stars. Zackary Drucker, Angelica Ross, Jen Richards, Max Wolf Valerio, Silas Howard and Stephen Ira bring these stories to life through re-enactments. During this time, they connect to the material through a current lens through their own experiences.

Director Chase Joynt acts as education and historical preservation

Joynt establishes a sense of character in various ways. This process is visible as he works with his co-stars to bring these stories to life. As a result, the UCLA Archives itself is a character, having an immense impact on the past and present. There is something particularly humbling about hearing these perspectives on life.

Framing Agnes seeks to break down boundaries, assumptions and stereotypes around trans stories. Historian Jules Gill-Peterson offers a unique angle that is both educational and philosophical. She demystifies much of what makes these legendary characters so inaccessible. As a result, Gill-Peterson generates real conversation that is constantly thought-provoking and invigorating.

Joynt’s documentary tackles a wide variety of issues that continue to impact trans people over the decades. It explores the benefits and challenges of trans visibility, what it means to be generationally “transient,” gendered work, and relating to the LGBTQ community. Much of this is in the context of how the media portrays trans people, but also how people who identify themselves perceive their own journeys.

‘Framing Agnes’ amplifies transgender voices of the past, rather than replacing them

'Framing Agnes' Casey Minatrea (kneeling), Chase Joynt (seated), Carmen Dianne (standing), Zackary Drucker (seated) prepare on set for an interview

LR: Casey Minatrea (kneeling), Chase Joynt (seated), Carmen Dianne (standing), Zackary Drucker (seated) | Jacob Charton

Framing Agnes is a beautiful amplification of trans voices. They are explored through an inventive talk show format and interviews that simultaneously hold personal meaning for Joynt in terms of spreading gender conversations in the media. Framing Agnes generates a unique format that remains emotionally invested.

Perhaps the most impressive quality of Framing Agnes is his ability to question himself. He talks about people like Agnès as icons, but is it dangerous to treat anyone under such a title? How do these stories resonate in the real world? What does it mean when people take what they want from someone’s story that may not be representative or true? Framing Agnes asks a lot of questions. Some may never have answers, but they are essential for examining the stories of the past to make sense of the present.

Joynt wonderfully weaves together the past and the present in an academically thrilling and emotionally captivating documentary. Framing Agnes preserves voices that have remained inaudible for too long. This documentary is most fascinating as it examines the ebb and flow of trans visibility through temporal context. Framing Agnes is about claiming power over one’s narrative and Joynt examines this subject successfully.

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