A trans teen fights for her right to education in powerful Brazilian drama Valentina
Valentina and her mother Marcia move to a new city hoping to start fresh after Valentina had been forced to drop out of her previous school. They hope to keep the fact that Valentina is a transwoman a secret, but hit a stumbling block when trying to register her at school under her chosen name. Things only get worse when a local boy learns her secret and starts to stir up the local community against her. Valentina stars Youtuber and trans activist Thiessa Woinbackk in the title role and is the debut feature from writer/director Cassio Pereira dos Santos.
For all the red tape and bigots standing in her way Valentina does have support throughout her journey in the shape of her mother (Guta Stresser) and two close friends she shares her secret with at school. It’s a beautiful mother daughter relationship, with Marcia willing to do anything to safeguard her daughter and stand up for her rights. Marcia is a fierce ally and the two portray a very convincing bond that manages to keep the film hopeful throughout.
Valentina nearly immediately befriends Julio (Ronaldo Bonafro) an openly gay classmate and Amanda (Leticia Franco) a pregnant teen who is expected to drop out soon to raise her child. All of the supporting cast turn in stellar performances managing to portray an easy friendship and sense of optimism despite having been dealt a rough hand. The inclusion of her two young friends serves to make sure this film isn’t all about trauma. Scenes of the three of them hanging out or partying are vibrant and fun, reminding us that these are kids after all and just want the chance to be young.
The film is ultimately carried by the brilliant performance of it’s star. This is Woinbackk’s film debut and she is an incredibly magnetic find, managing to give Valentina a quiet power that keeps you invested in her journey and cheering her on as she stands up against bullies and the establishment. Whilst the struggles she is presented with are cruel Valentina never feels like a victim, though she is often scared or worried she is still portrayed as strong, fierce and defiant. By keeping the scope of the film small and personal – one girl, one school, one town – the audience is able to feel that her fight is winnable and revel in Valentina’s victories, and revel we do.
The filmmakers admit that this is something of an idealised story. They use the credits to highlight the fact that currently in Brazil over 80% of trans youth are forced to drop out of education, and the life expectancy for trans people is only 35. This is a very dangerous time for trans women in Latin America, but being able to see them become their own heroes, even if just on film, can only be a positive and uplifting thing.
An empathetic film about resistance, endurance and inclusion, Valentina is a tribute to the resilience of the trans community. A moving story that is very well acted, it will surely inspire joy for many who see it.
Valentina is playing as part of BFI Flare, the London LGBTIQ+ Film Festival, between 17th – 28th March. You can buy tickets to stream it right here