A duo of unbeatable women
Roshell Terranova is a Mexican actress and businesswoman who as been transgendered for many years because, as she says, “one is born that way”. Liliana Alba is also an actress and activist, but she doesn’t consider herself transgendered so much as an “everyday transvestite”. Originally from Mexico City, they both came to the 20th edition of the Guanajuato International Film Festival to proudly represent Casa Roshell, a film by Chilean director Camila José Donoso, in which the feminine mirage within these women is a beautiful participant.
Walking a thin line between reality and fiction, this film shows us what happens on a regular night in Casa Roshell, which is really called Club Roshell, which was founded by Roshell 13 years ago as a place where men could be women. The Club was born of a necessity for Roshell to have a place for herself because, as she says, making a transition is not easy. In her case, despite being a part of Generation X, which looked down upon transvestism, even seen as a symbol of delinquency and mental illness, this process wasn’t as difficult for her thanks to the support of her family. “I thought I was a gay kid until I realized I was actually transexual”, she says. That’s how Roshell left the advertising agency she worked to open up a beauty parlor with a partner in which transvestite people arrived and asked for tips about their makeup, their hairstyles, their wardrobe and even legal and psychological help. She started offering workshops and then to sell all the necessary tools for transvestism, “and that’s how the Club was born”. Liliana and her story as a transvestite began 10 years ago when she met Roshell and she mentions how much she admires her as a businessperson and as a person.
They both shine in this magical, reddish universe that is Casa Roshell, not for the sequins, but for the melancholic beauty of the feminine inside and outside the big screen.
Fiction aside, how close is Casa Roshell to the actual Club?
Roshell: They’re very similar because that shelter that the film represents, that sanctuary, it’s for the entire LGBT community, most of all the trans community. It’s a reflection of the camaraderie that arises, how people find their feminine side in a place where they don’t feel discriminated against. It’s the same in both places. The movie only tells one day of what happens there, only a few stories out of many in the 13 years that Club Roshell has been running. It’s a small piece, but it’s essentially what happens.
Liliana: Roshell’s business vision is admirable. Everything we do there and the support we get is very important to the LGBT community. Yesterday, for example, a lesbian author presented her book. It’s not just for the trans community, but for the gay community and for everyone else, everyone’s welcome.
How did you approach Camila?
We do a cabaret show every Friday in which we’re visited by filmmakers, actors, entreprenuers, people of all kinds. One day a group from UNAM brought her because she was doing a documentary on the subject. She loved the place. She stayed in Mexico for a little while and we became friends. She wrote us to say she wanted to make a film about us and that’s how it all began. She stayed in Mexico for four months and came in like any other customer, she got to know the community and everyone told her stories. It all came together with a tiny budget and a six-day shooting schedule. When a project needs to happen, everything starts to flow.
Do you think Casa Roshell could sensitize particularly the chauvinistic audience in Mexico?
Liliana: Beyond sensitizing, there could be an openness toward the stories told by the people who go in. Someone watching the film could say “today’s the day” or simply decide to stop being a homophobe or say “there should be a Casa Roshell where I live”. That’s how the film may help our Mexico. We went to Monterrey recently and people were curious that such a house existed in real life. There were trans people there and now they approach us and they don’t feel so alone anymore.
Roshell: The film shows us behind a locked door, free of society’s prejudices and it shows us being human, which is what we are. People connect to that need we have to be accepted and recognized and to live free in this country like any other citizen. It connects to our fundamental needs and rights as individuals.
What would you recommend the community and the people who want to be more active in terms of fighting for their rights?
Roshell: We’re in touch with REDAC, which brings together organizations to prevent discrimination in Mexico City. We work together and we guide people who arrive with a discrimination issue in the home, at work or having been assaulted. The work done with these organizations is important, but we need to speak that same language in the entire country. Every state is making its own movement and some are turning to us for guidance on how we compare to other initiatives at the forefront, like the one in Argentina.
Liliana: They should visit us at the Club and look us up on social media, or even Roshell directly and we’ll gladly help out with anything they need, be it something legal or personal.
Do you consider cinema a tool for change?
Roshell: It should be, because there are other kinds of content and it’s unfortunately still an elite. People who seek culture can see these kinds of films and it’s very important, but cinema and television build people and progress is slow. People who have no access to cable or social media or the Internet are stuck with what basic television offers and our society is always ridiculed and stigmatized in this content. I’ve been offered parts I don’t like because I refuse to further ridicule my community. If it’s a good project that shows us with dignity, it’s very important. Cinema in general and our community in Mexico has rallied around this industry and made social culture in our country better.
Liliana: When cinema takes on issues such as racism and crime, it raises awareness. Cinema with content is here to help.
“It’s important for us to be close to people, which is why when we accept an interview, it’s important for us, for example in conferences we give at universities, we tell the students they are the new parents and educators and to teach the new generations respect. That’s enough to move forward, respect for community, the human being, life, the planet, everything”.