On film, the true story of trans Africans who are honored

Scene from "Tchindas" (Photo courtesy of Tchindas.com)
Scene from “Tchindas” (Photo courtesy of Tchindas.com)

Journalist / filmmaker Marc Serena of Barcelona is preparing for the premiere of his film about a respected, honored and — surprisingly — African trans community.

The respect shown for their trans neighbors by the residents of the Cape Verdean island of São Vicente, off the coast of West Africa, contrasts with many  countries’ violently homophobic and transphobic attitudes.

Two tchindas preparing for carnival. (Photo courtesy of Tchindas.com)
Two tchindas preparing for carnival. (Photo courtesy of Tchindas.com)

The documentary is called “Tchindas,” named after its main character, Tchinda Andrade, who  is one of most beloved women on the island of Cape Verde, especially after she came out as a transgender person in the local newspaper in 1998. Since then, her name has become the term used by locals to name queer Cape Verdeans.

The screening will be at 7:15 pm, Wednesday, July 15, in Theater 2 at the Directors Guild of America building, 7920 Sunset Blvd, Los Angeles.

Marc Serena (Colin Stewart photo)
Marc Serena (Colin Stewart photo)

Tickets, at $15 each, are available online. Serena, who co-directed the film with experienced director Pablo García Pérez de Lara, will be on hand to speak at the premiere showing. The 94-minute film is in Cape Verdean Creole with English subtitles.

The premiere of “Tchindas” is part of the LGBT film festival Outfest. The festival described it as “a lush, perceptive documentary that at times feels akin to a fairy tale.”  Further, Outfest said:

“Within a small, tropical Cape Verdean Island, the beloved Tchinda is hard at work preparing for a Carnival she hopes will capture the town’s imagination. Tchinda is openly transgender and deeply respected. Her choices, direction and vision centralize a collection of people that few beyond the island know to exist. …

‘Tchindas’ reveals a hidden landscape tucked far away from the world we know, where trans inclusion and teamwork make up the fundamental structure of a truly magical community and culture.”

Serena said about the making of the film:

“Cape Verde became an independent country from Portugal in 1975, known worldwide because of its most international singer, Cesária Évora. Her songs are in Cape Verdean creole, a language without a dictionary that I’m lucky to somehow understand.

Carnival in São Vicente, Cape Verde. (Photo courtesy of Tchindas.com)
Carnival in São Vicente, Cape Verde. (Photo courtesy of Tchindas.com)

“That’s why, four years ago, when I visited Cesária at her house, we could handle a conversation. I remember perfectly when she told me: ‘You have to come back again to see the Carnival, it’s the best of Africa!’. She died 36 hours later… so I took her words seriously and I came back to shoot this  documentary.”

García  added:

“In São Vicente, the year starts and ends with the Carnival. It’s impressive to see how it has become the center of their lives. We want to share this emotion in a film that’s beautiful, sensitive, poetic, and a final celebration.

“We’ll be using a few local words impossible to fully translate: ‘sodade’ (nostalgia often considered positive), ‘morabeza’ (hospitality) and, obviously, ‘tchindas’ (queer). The island is a true exception for the way trans people are respected, it’s definitely an untold African story we all have to be proud of.”

Serena is the author of “Esto No Es Africano” (“This is Not African”) about the lives of LGBTI people in many African countries — from Cairo to Cape Town, and from Cabo Verde to Kenya. The book has been published in Spanish and Catalan, but not yet in English. It was reviewed last year in this blog.

Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, Erasing 76 Crimes. Contact him at [email protected]

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