Over the last 50 years, the talk show host has defined what society understands about transgender people. From Mike Wallace to Joan Rivers, talk shows have sensationally exploited their subjects by obsessing over three things: genitals, pain, and deception. Despite the eruption of trans content in the mainstream – from Caitlyn Jenner to Laverne Cox – the media narrative remains largely unchanged. Framing Agnes is a feature length doc-fiction hybrid that turns the talk show format inside out in response to media’s ongoing fascination with trans and gender non-conforming people. The film features an all-star cast of trans artists who recreate four previously unknown stories from the archives of the UCLA Gender Clinic in the 1950s.
Through reenactment, we meet Georgia, an ex-military op turned married southern belle, portrayed by American Horror Story actress Angelica Ross; Denny, a working class factory machinist played by A Kid like Jake director Silas Howard; Henry, a reclusive writer played by poet Max Wolf Valerio; and finally, Agnes, an enigmatic young woman played by performance artist Zackary Drucker. Within the frame of a TV talk show – hosted by director Chase Joynt as a Mike Wallace type in the late 1950s – we contrast the boundary-breaking stories of Agnes, Georgia, Henry and Henry with the vibrant contemporary achievements and continuing struggles of Zackary, Angelica, Silas and Max.
Throughout, Framing Agnes engages multiple interpretations of the verb to frame: to frame as in to feature through the lens of a camera and/or to focus on, but also to frame as in to set up, to position in order to persuade, and to manipulate in order to produce certain outcomes. In doing so, Framing Agnes asks urgent questions about stereotypes, equity and access, and the media’s ongoing influence on the lives and futures of transgender people.