If you don’t know who Rhys Ernst is, you need to do some contemporary film and art reading up on him. Rhys is an amazing filmmaker working in narrative and documentary formats who has been sharing trans stories for a few years now and has, most notably, helped produce Transparent. He’s kind of the leading trans filmmaker right now.
He also has some new work out. It’s a project called We’ve Been Around that tells the stories of a few trans figures in American history that you should probably know about. The five mini-movies are wonderful history lessons about these pioneers that have largely gone unnoticed as the G in the LGBTQ community seems to take all the attention. The stories are told through photos and animations that serve as a light backdrop for the sound of the pieces, for the voices of fantastic trans narrators like Alexandra Billings and Wyatt Gray to tell you a little history. The movies are catchy and cool and, clearly, emotional since the stories are so unknown—and that’s devastating.
They all start and begin with the resonant “we’ve been around,” a reminding chorus of these stories that have always been here, in concert with lesbian, gay, bisexual, and more stories. Like all of us, we want to know that our stories are unique yet a part of history: these short films are exactly that. These films about home chef and prohibition alcohol provider Lucy Hicks Anderson, the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (S.T.A.R.) activists Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, who were involved with the Stonewall Riots, Civil War soldier Albert Cashier, gospel singer Wilmer “Little Ax” Broadnax, and trans activist Lou Sullivan, who Ernst has made a film about before: these are reminders of of that history. These are required watching for all LGBTQ persons as we need to be aware of our past, our forefathers and foremothers, of all those who have come before us.
Thanks for the reminder, Rhys. (And thanks to Zackary for pointing them out.) You can watch the films below.