Monday, 11 November 2019

MAN MADE review

Now available on demand to coincide with Trans Visibility Week, Man Made follows a group of transgender bodybuilders as they prepare for the only competition in the world open to transgender men, Trans FitCon.


Following four of the contestants as they prepare for the event whilst also living their day to day lives as transgender men with vastly different stories to tell, director T Cooper (a writer and producer on The Get Down and The Blacklist) gets intimate access to their struggles and fight to be recognised as the people they always wanted to be. The Trans FitCon event is not one that is solely judged on mass or technique, but rather encourages its participants to express their physicality on stage through body building poses, no matter what their physical form is (the event is open to anyone who self-identifies as a transgender male).

Aside from the last act of the documentary when we arrive at the competition, Man Made is hardly about body building at all. What drives this documentary is much more personal, spending a long time getting to know each of the four main subjects and the different struggles they all face on a daily basis. Dominic is the first bodybuilder we're introduced to just as he's preparing for his top surgery, allowing Cooper to film some of the procedure, along with his recovery afterwards. Dominic competed at the previous Trans FitCon event before top surgery, and plans to use this year to show off his scars and how pleased he is with the results. In a film that is all about self expression, Dominic, a lively 26 year old rapper, is very much the voice of the film. His trans story is the most eloquently expressed, along with his search via Facebook for his birth mother.

If Dominic is the voice, the next body builder, Mason, is the heart of the film. Mason, as well as Trans Fitcon, has competed in mainstream body-building events but has recently learned that he is barred from competing in a local event due to his transgender status via a passive aggressive email that starts "Hello Mr/Ms". With 4% body fat and a strict eating regimen, he is focused on winning the competition with a dedication that may border on obsessive; but over the course of the film reveals some of the darker, more confusing times in his past when he contemplated suicide, and also thanks to the magic of videotape, a surprising and very moving segue to when he was younger and got to tell Ellen DeGeneres how inspired he was by her story.

The two remaining key subjects, Rese and Kennie, have incredibly touching stories that hammer home how making the decision to transition has affected their families and loved ones. Rese no longer has contact with his mother, and after a spell being homeless, is now hoping to move his son along with his new wife to pastures new. Kennie's story is a unique one in that it has impacted his relationship with partner DJ, who as a proud lesbian is now unsure if the romantic relationship will withstand both a change in Kennie's appearance after starting on testosterone, but also her own status as a gay woman.

Cooper's documentary has plenty of human interest boxes ticked, and offers a unique and interesting look at how the world of body building and self expression have clear correlations with the trans journey. All four main subjects have inspiring and vastly different stories that mean they are all driven by different things, and although success at the event clearly means more to some than others, the fact they have a place to participate and express their physicality is important to everyone. Towards the end of the film some of the contestants take part in the Atlanta Trans March on the morning of the competition and have to face off against the bigotry of the uneducated transphobes. Although the film doesn't often stray into darkness and it's encouraging to see that through events such as Trans FitCon that strides have been made to promote inclusivity, Cooper's film doesn't want us to forget that it's still a dangerous world out there for the trans community.

What Man Made makes abundantly clear is that there is no one single trans story. This film just about manages to include four, but from the 12 men who have entered the competition and the voices of some of their families, it's clear that every single person has a different story to tell. Although success at the Trans FitCon event is a common goal, it's the acceptance rather than the trophy that they're after.

Verdict
4/5

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