GenderGP writer and passionate film buff Giulia Castagnaro reviews 2021’s The Actress, a piece that has left a lasting impact on them

Spoiler Alert: This article will discuss the plot of the short film The Actress.

The Actress is a short film written and directed by Andrew Ondrejcak and released in 2021. It features trans actress and filmmaker Isabel Sandoval in the lead role.

The film feels like a tribute to old Hollywood cinema and a walk through film history, however, reimagined through the perspective of a trans woman. In Sandoval’s own words, this film is a ‘dazzling bold stroke of cinematic graffiti’, touching upon and revisiting iconic moments from various periods in time, such as Hollywood’s 1930s, 1970s, and 1980s. It includes recreated scenes from cult films such as Blue Velvet, Jane Fonda’s Barbarella, A Clockwork Orange and Marlene Dietrich’s iconic look in Morocco. Sandoval embodies all these mostly female characters in a way that feels as if she is gaining ownership over them for that brief moment.

There is an ongoing theme of ‘dressing-up’ which follows the narrative of the short film, showing up in every different scene over different time periods. However, dressing up is not portrayed as a falsehood of identity but rather as the power of transformation, able to become various versions of oneself through it. Even the title suggests a sense of transformation as actors often take on different roles who have the power to become extensions of who they already are.

Subverting the ‘Male Gaze’

Ondrejcak’s main character also reclaims the narrative around how women are portrayed in film and through the camera, stating that while she might have been someone else’s fantasy, she is now her own fantasy, in charge of how she presents herself to the viewer. This seems to somewhat subvert the male gaze, a term coined by Laura Mulvey who explains how the camera often objectifies and sexualises women through said male gaze. Thus, women become the passive object to the man’s active gaze. However, by reclaiming the narrative and fantasy as her own, the protagonist of The Actress successfully subverts the male gaze.

The most heart-warming moment in The Actress comes towards the end of the short film, when the protagonist embraces her childhood self, taking on the role of her parents during a kind of flashback scene. In this embrace, she gently whispers to her younger self, ‘you could become anyone’, a statement which she had longed to hear.

This emotional scene feels as though the protagonist is becoming the person her childhood self would have needed, affirming herself in her gender journey, not being limited by other people’s expectations of her. She finally heals her trauma and becomes the person she was meant to be.

“I wanted so badly to belong, that I lost myself in someone else’s dream.”

Besides it being refreshing to see a trans woman of colour in the lead role, the film also manages to leave audiences wanting more, craving more exploration of oneself in the hopes of finding our own true identities as well as wanting to discover more about who the protagonist truly is.

Is ‘The Actress’ a recommended watch? 100%

Make sure to take some time off from whatever you are doing to watch this incredible short film. If you would like to see more of Isabel Sandoval, you can check out her film Lingua Franca which she starred in, wrote and directed.