Review: I Am the Tigress

Directed by Philipp Fussenegger and Dino Osmanoviç, Tischa Thomas cuts a beguiling figure in a tight dress, with strawberry blonde wig and enormous biceps. Her extraordinary transformation from overweight mother-of-three to disciplined athlete and dominatrix speaks volumes about the relationship between gender and race.

What’s utterly brilliant about this documentary is how it forces you to face your own preconceptions and existing social expectations. Tischa Thomas is the perfect case to show how the preconceived standards of beauty still massively affect how people are received. Striking an impressive figure, which has taken her a long time to build, instead of admiration and respect, Thomas receives an onslaught of hate when she simply walks down the street. It’s a damning comment on society and expectations of race and gender, and it doesn’t even have to directly acknowledge or discuss it, it’s entirely transparent. Instead it focuses on who she is and her struggle to compete in competition, and to be happy.

Not only is the topic itself fascinating but so is her personality, she is undeniably fierce and yet completely charming, a woman who can easily move from sweet talk to aggressive. That’s probably one of the elements that led her to also be a dominatrix. The film often takes a foray into the more adult world, it’s an interesting balance between her emotional story and the image she puts out with her profession. It can be a touch more explicit than it needs to be but not to the point of discomfort. What is uncomfortable is watching the transphobic, racist and homophobic attitudes which are constantly thrown at her. It’s heart-breaking not only by itself but in the context of just how hard she works at her craft and is entirely undermined by societal expectation.

Visually it’s an up-close and personal style, it doesn’t so much feel like it’s observing her but that you’re actually a part of her inner circle. At only 80-minutes it’s a brief look into Tischa Thomas’life, but feels as though it captures a rounded view of her as a person, you get to see the strength both inside and out, as well as her insecurities and vulnerabilities. It also exposes her refusal to quit, even to a point of putting herself in harm’s way. On top of which it sweetly explores friendship, how important it is to have someone who, even after hurling insults at one another, refuses to leave your side and supports you through anything and everything.

I Am the Tigress is a fascinating and damning exploration of the rampant prejudice in today’s world. Tischa Thomas is an impressive woman, with an unfailing dedication who repeatedly doesn’t get the respect she deserves. That’s not to say she’s a wallflower, this film clearly explores her wild side and she’s not all sweet and charming 24/7. It gives a captivating view into her life and speaks volumes to how we need to improve as a society, how transphobia, racism and homophobia run rampant. It’s a sad state of affairs that a woman as strong and vibrant as Tischa can’t simply walk down the street without being harassed.

Verdict: ✯✯✯✯ | 8/10

Reviewed as part of BFI Flare 2022

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