Review: No Ordinary Man

Directed by Aisling Chin-Yee and Chase Joynt, written by Chin-Yee and Amos Mac, an in-depth look at the life of musician and trans culture icon Billy Tipton. Starring: Kate Bornstein, Susan Stryker, Marquise Vilson, Hennessy Winkler and Stephan Pennington.

The biggest question surrounding this film is, why don’t we know more about Billy Tipton? Within a few minutes of watching this documentary, you’ll undoubtedly be asking yourself that exact question. His story is fascinating and heart-breaking, the way that he lived fully as himself, he didn’t compromise who he was but at the same time he didn’t feel able to tell his truth to anyone. It’s then horrifying to see how he was outed after his death, used by the media in a horrendous manner to create a salacious story and almost ruining the relationships with this family, when he was unable to speak for himself.

Aisling Chin-Yee, Chase Joynt and Amos Mac made very creative and brilliant decisions in how they chose to tell this story, giving you this riveting story of Billy’s life through the eyes of transgender people. It strikes right to the heart of this story, exploring it through a lens of sympathy, these men can truly relate to Billy’s experience and feelings. As well as having Billy’s son involved in the documentary and being able to see him evaluating the relationship he had with his father, it brings a more personal, intimate perspective. One of the most interesting things is how devastating some of the information is and yet, it doesn’t feel negative, because it’s viewed through sympathetic eyes it feels purely emotional and involving.

Marquise Vilson was a wonderful addition, he has such a strong charisma and engaging personality, not to mention that his performances as Billy are fantastic. You may recognise him from Netflix’s Disclosure and this is a pretty perfect companion, if you enjoyed that one then No Ordinary Man is unquestionably a must watch. Each of those chosen to tell this story work perfectly, whether they’re providing background or playing in the auditions, it’s a film about a trans man, that’s made by trans people. It’s something that sounds so simple but means a lot, there’s a definitive need for more films that provide heritage and history for trans people in society and this puts cinema one step closer.

No Ordinary Man is an enthralling and moving documentary that tells a surprisingly underknown story that deserves to be highlighted. It both explores the emotional side and the horrific treatment that trans people have received from the media. The filmmakers created not only a unique, riveting way to tell this story, but they also told it through the eyes of people who are overtly qualified to understand Billy’s life, it gives a wider perspective and a beautiful compassion and sympathy. This film is a significant step on a long road to exploring trans history in cinema, for a community that needs to finally be able to see themselves accurately portrayed onscreen.

Verdict: ✯✯✯✯✯

Reviewed as part of BFI Flare – Available to watch until 28th March

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