Tribeca 2018: Call Her Ganda

A photograph of Jennifer Laude, the transgender woman brutally murdered by a U.S. Marine in the Philippines, rests on the altar at her mother's home. From CALL HER GANDA. Photographer credit: Mike Simpson.

Call Her Ganda is a documentary that follows the investigation into the murder of Jennifer Laude, a Filipina transgender woman.

PJ Raval’s documentary follows attorney Virgie Suarez, transgender journalist Meredith Talusan, and Jennifer’s mother, Julita “Nanay” Laude as they seek justice in the aftermath of the 2014 murder.

Jennifer Laude was found dead in a hotel toilet on October 11, 2014 when she was discovered by a friend and receptionist.  The suspect was believed to be then-19-year-old U.S. Marine Joseph Scott Pemberton after learning that she was transgender.  The marine was on “liberty leave” at the time.  This is where members of the Marine Corps and Coast Guard can spend time on dry land.  It took quite a while for Pemberton to get arrested and later indicted.  The US looks really bad by not even allowing him to be turned over to the Philippines when was sentenced in 2016.  At the time the film was completed, Pemberton was still awaiting appeal.

Suarez is one of the good attorneys.  She fought valiantly for justice in the aftermath of Jennifer’s death.  It’s just unfortunate that the battle is still ongoing as a result of the appeal.

As she was covering the story, transgender journalist Meredith Talusan had to deal with a number of transphobic comments.  During her investigation, Talusan headed to Pemberton’s hometown to learn more about the environment in which he grew up.  It turns out his own sister is a lesbian.  One would think that Pemberton would have more of a sense of what it means for someone to be LGBTQ.

The documentary also takes a look into the history between the US and Philippines.  After the Spanish-American War, the US took over control of the Philippines in the same treaty in which Guam became a US territory.  As a result, the United States has maintained a military presence on a base for quite some time.  It’s because of this history that the citizens take a strong approach in seeking justice for Jennifer.

As a transgender woman, there are some issues I had in viewing the film.  Some parents have a tough time in adjusting upon a child coming out as transgender but Jennifer’s mom made the choice of deadnaming her daughter and filmmakers kept it in the film.  This is one of the areas in which the media needs to improve and that goes for documentaries.  It’s bad enough that the news reports featured in the film deadnamed her.

While proving some insight into the US-Philippines relationship, Call Her Ganda is just one of many transgender stories needing to be told.

FEATURING:  Virgie Suarez, Meredith Talusan, Julita Laude, Naomi Fontanos

An official selection of the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival, Call Her Ganda held its world premiere in the Documentary Competition.

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.

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