This documentary’s title is at least a little contradictory, because the four people it’s about, all cultural touchstones and pioneers for transgender rights, really are New York. At least if we mean the real New York, which has naught to do with its status as a business center.
Gustavo Sánchez, the Spanish director, spent a decade chronicling the lives of Amanda Lepore, Sophia Lamar, Chloe Dzubilo and T De Long. Lepore and Lamar emerged from the milieu of what were once called “club kids,” while Dzubilo was a punk rock band leader (her group was called the Transisters, very clever) who became an AIDS activist for the same reason so many other AIDS activists did: because she had to. The artist and activist De Long was even a rapper for a time.
The movie concentrates on their distinct personalities. It’s a kind of bookend to “Paris Is Burning” (1990). Between that movie and this one, the much-bruited late-’90s “cleanup” of Manhattan steamrolled much of transgender social life — popular Times-Square-adjacent transgender hangouts such as Cats II and Sally’s Hideaway were shut down — and more. Here we have survivors of that attack, and of so much more, still standing. They are engaging, funny, brave people.
And because Sánchez followed his subjects for so long, he was able to pack some surprises up the movie’s sleeve. As a couple of its figures undergo drastic life changes, a narrative both tragic and inspiring emerges.
“Nostalgia is a cancer,” Lamar pronounces in one address to the camera. This movie makes you understand that, for people who have to fight to be seen, backward-glancing is worse than useless. Nevertheless, the sight of these vibrant trans figures cab-hopping throughout the movie, seen today, is likely to evoke a strong and entirely reasonable longing for the very recent past.
I Hate New York
Rated PG for language and nudity. In English and Spanish, with subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 15 minutes. Rent or buy on Amazon, Apple TV and other streaming platforms and pay TV operators.