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Tangerine’s Mya Taylor to Trans Teens: “You Have to be Very Strong and Just Live Your Life for You”

by HRC staff January 14, 2016

HRC recently caught up with Mya Taylor, who delivered a stellar performance as Alexandra in the critically acclaimed film “Tangerine.”

Shot on an iPhone, “Tangerine” is the story of enduring friendship between two transgender women on the streets.

Though, after much buzz, Taylor did not today receive the nomination for Best Actress in this year’s Academy Awards, she’s still our pick.

HRC: In the past year, there’s been so much visibility for the transgender community and the film has played a role in that. Can you share a little bit about your experience and your perspective on the film’s role?

TAYLOR: I have to speak from my own experience, but let me rewind a little bit before Sundance, before even making the film and meeting Sean Baker, the director, and Chris Bergoch, the writer. Before that, I was in and out of sex work. I got tired of doing that, but the reason why I was doing that was because I had applied for 121 jobs one month, then 146 the next month, then 186 the next month. I went on 26 interviews one month. And I did not get a job, period. I know that I was more than qualified for all the positions I was applying for. I wasn’t picky. I was applying for everything that I could possibly physically and mentally do.

I was just hoping and praying to God: Please just give me a job so I can live a normal life. Because I would be sitting at the bus stop and I would see a man or a woman driving their Audi or Jag or Mercedes or BMW, going to work or going home and living successful happy lives, you know? They’re doing something for themselves. They don’t have to live off welfare or sell their bodies just to live. They’re living an honest, God-fearing life and that’s what I wanted to do so badly.

I don’t know anybody who’s ever put as much effort into finding a job as I did. But, you know what? God didn’t have that in store for me. God said, “You’re gonna be an actor.”

My idol was Aaliyah. Aaliyah was killed in the plane crash in 2001 with her last video in the Bahamas and I remember like the reviews of her first movie, people said, “This doesn’t look like this is your first movie. You look like you’ve been acting for a long time.” And that’s the same thing people say about me too.

I was very blessed to have met Sean and Chris because they gave me opportunities and I said, “If I’m going to do this movie, I’m going to put my all into it. I’m going to show the world what I got.”

HRC: Was there an ad for casting call or had you been looking for acting opportunities?

TAYLOR: No. It all started [when] I was at the LGBT center on Santa Monica and McCadden outside the courtyard. Sean Baker and Chris Bergoch were walking around, trying to talk to some of the other people in the area and a lot of people were blowing them off. They wanted to know about the area, to get some history to be able to make a movie about it. But, there was no script yet or anything. They were just doing research. They came and they talked to me. Sean says he saw me from across the room and he said I just had that star quality.

They asked me, “So what goes on in this area?”  I just started pouring out my information to him. This is what I have experienced, what I have seen. Some of the scenes in the movie, like where I have to fight the guy because he won’t give me my money that he owes me? That’s happened to me before. The scene where –at the end –she gets the piss thrown on her? I’ve seen that before. So, we added some of those elements to the movie.

HRC: You mentioned that you wanted to be a singer. I thought the most vulnerable and beautiful, poignant moment of the film was actually Alexandra singing. Is your love of singing something that you injected as part of the film?

TAYLOR: That is true. That is very true. You know, it’s funny. I told Sean that I wanted singing to be in the movie because I’m an amazing singer. And I’m going to go ahead and toot my own horn when it comes to my voice because my voice is amazing. (Laughing)

HRC: It was beautiful!

TAYLOR: Sean wanted me to do this song called ‘Toyland.’ It’s very different from what I would normally sing. He wanted me to sing it like a lullaby, so I had to do it really soft and I only had like two days to get the song right. I felt like I could have done a better job on it, but I showed Sean what my voice really can do. I plan on getting into music this year.

HRC: It’s been a phenomenal year for you. Do what do you think this next year holds for you?

TAYLOR: I am working on a TV show. Basically, it will be very funny, but it’s going to be educational at the same time. It has to do with a trans person growing up. You get to see the struggles that she goes through as she’s transitioning and going through school. But, also, you’ll see a lot of funny moments. It’s going to be created by me, so it’s funny.

We have an amazing writer and Sean Baker’s helping. I have a lot of amazing people that’s on board with it, so I’m really excited. I don’t do anything without running it by Sean because he’s amazing. And music will be next for me too. I want to release at least one song to present it to the world and then build on from there.

HRC: What do you think is important advice that you would give to either youth who are trans or parents of trans youth?

TAYLOR: My advice is you cannot give any fucks about what anyone else has to say about you. To the trans teens: You have to be very strong and just live your life for you. You cannot think about what anyone else has to say about you because, at the end of the day, we came into this world alone and we’re going to leave this world alone.

As far as parents go – you have to protect your kids and teach them right from wrong. Just make sure that you support your kids with everything that they’re doing.

People just happen to be hateful because they want to be and it has nothing to do with religion or anything because I am a very religious person. I believe highly in God. But I can tell you this: The Bible nor the Koran nor the Torah teaches hate. God put me in the world for a few reasons and that is to be the best person that I can be and honor and worship Him.

HRC: Is there anyone that you look up to now?

TAYLOR: I love Laverne Cox, I really do. The reason that I love Laverne Cox is because I can totally relate to her. When we’re talking together on the phone, everything that I threw at her, she’s been through it. So, she can help me through whatever I go through.

Caitlyn [Jenner] and I can relate to a whole bunch of stuff too, like how people can be so hateful and say such mean things about stuff that they really don’t even know about. Caitlin understands that.

Another role model I have is Caroline Tula Coffee. I have one more trans role model: Ts Madison, AKA Madison Hinton. Madison is an ex-porn star, but now she’s a business mogul. She’s also a trans activist and she speaks the truth about every single thing and she doesn’t give a fuck about what anybody has to say. That’s what I love about Madison.

HRC: Mya, is there anything that you want people to know about the film? Is there anything you want to share about it or anything that you think is an important takeaway about the film?

TAYLOR: I just want people to love it and adore it the way that I do.

HRC staff
HRC staff


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