SEXHUM adopts a creative methodological approach integrating ethnographic observation and semi-structured interviewing with collaborative ethnographic filmmaking (ethnofiction) through which groups of migrant sex workers expressed their lives and realities.
This innovative approach is inspired by Jean Rouch’s ethnofictions, which included research subjects as active producers and performers of their own interpretations by transcending the distinction between fiction and non-fiction, participation and observation, knowledge and emotions.
SEXHUM’s films emerge from the co-creative writing of fictional characters and stories as a strategic way to for migrant sex workers to analyse and express their individual and collective understandings and experiences of agency and exploitation.
They were co-created, produced and edited in collaboration with associations representing communities of migrant sex workers, some of whose members also acted the roles and histories they wrote. This methodology seeks to maximise the possibility for migrant sex workers to own the terms of their representation while protecting their identities from stigmatisation, when they so wish.
CAER (CAUGHT) is a collaborative documentary that was produced in the context of SEXHUM, a research project on migration, sex work and trafficking using collaborative filmmaking as a strategic research method.
Film website: https://caer-film.org/
The film was co-created with the TRANSgrediendo Intercultural Collective, a grass root association defending the rights of trans Latina migrant women in Queens, New York City.
The method of the film, ethnofiction, is based on the use of fictional methods to include stigmatised populations in the collaborative production of their own representations.
The story and the roles in the film were written by members of the TRANSgrediendo Intercultural Collective and are played by non-professional actresses, including some of the original co-authors, who were also involved in the editing of the film.
CAER expresses the lives and struggles for recognition and justice of a very stigmatised social group. It shows the two protagonists, Rosa and Paloma as they fight transphobic violence, persecution from the police and defend their cases of trafficking in an increasingly anti-migration political environment in the US. The film also shows trans Latina women fighting for their rights through public demonstrations and by applying for humanitarian protection (T Visa), while expressing their identities in positive ways during a drag show that allows them to counter their marginalization and stigmatisation.
CAER includes several debate scenes during which the film protagonists talk about important issues concerning the trans Latina population in Queens such as police persecution, the difference between sex work and trafficking and the lack of occupational alternatives to sex work.
The fictional story is framed within the feedback screening of the film to the members of the TRANSgrediendo Intercultural Collective who collaborated in its making ahead of the final editing, who discuss their involvement and the story and characters they wrote in relation to their personal and collective experiences.
CAER is first and foremost a tribute to the work and legacy of Lorena Borjas, the mother of Latin trans women living in Queens, who was one of the first victims of COVID-19 in New York and passed away on 30 March 2020.
CAER was selected for the Outfest Fusion LGBTQ People of Color Film Festival 2021; the Sheffield DocFest 2021 (UK competition); the Vancouver Queer Film Festival 2021, and the Newfest LGBTQ+ NYC Film Festival 2021. It won the 2021 International Trans Film Festival Divergenti in Italy, which is run by Italy’s leading trans rights organisation Movimento Identita Trans – MIT.
On 17 December, International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers 2021, the Colectivo Intercultural Transgrediendo was awarded a Certificate of Recognition by NYC’s Mayor Bill De Blasio for making CAER, which was recognised for having
‘amplified the rich and diverse experiences of trans Latina women throughout the five boroughs and beyond’, for ‘strengthening our thriving Latin American and LGBTQ community’ and for ‘inspiring all New Yorkers in your efforts to create a brighter, fairer and more inclusive city’.
These are some very positive reviews of the film, highlighting its collaborative methodology and ethos:
CAER was awarded a special mention by the community based 2021 AL BORDE Festival Internacional de Cine Transfeminista:
‘Enchanting. The methodologies implemented propose a mirroring game of an inside and an outside that remains consistent, natural and very consistent, natural and very intimate. The fact that the women had the opportunity to build their characters, gave them an indisputable dignity. The biopolitical critique of identity and white feminism is very profound. The fiction evoked that particular language of the Latin American telenovela and its influence on our modes of socialization. The homage at the end awakens a lot of empathy, to the extent that we have all have all lost someone to Covid.’
On 4 June 2022, CAER was included in the events framing the organisation of the first Marcha de las Putas (Slutwalk) in San Francisco by local trans Latinx sex worker activists. The film was made available for free as it belongs to the community.
The short article Liaam Winslet and Nick Mai wrote on the co-creative process that led to the making of our film CAER is now out as part of Special Issue No. 19 (2022): Special Issue – Migration, Sexuality, and Gender Identity guest edited by Svati Shah!
Mai, N., & Winslet, L. (2022). CAER: Co-creating a Collaborative Documentary about the Lives and Rights of Trans Latinx People Working in the Sex Industry in Queens, NYC. Anti-Trafficking Review, (19), 130–133. https://doi.org/10.14197/atr.2012221910