Latin America is moving forward, but Venezuela is moving in the opposite direction,” says Andrea Baranenko, a 28-year-old Venezuelan filmmaker whose recent documentary, Yo Indocumentada (I, Undocumented), exposes the struggles of transgender people in her native country. The film, Baranenko’s first feature-length production, tells the story of three Venezuelan women fighting for their right to have an identity.
Tamara Adrián, 58, is a lawyer; Desirée Pérez, 46, is a hairdresser; and Victoria González, 27, has been a visual arts student since 2009. These women share more than their nationality: they all carry IDs with masculine names that don’t correspond to their actual identities. They’re transgender women, who long ago assumed their gender and now defend it in a homophobic and transphobic society.
For as long as she can remember, Baranenko has had LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) friends and acquaintances. She used to work in her mother’s trendy boutiques, which were frequented by a sexually diverse staff and clientele. Her academic background, however, also exposed her to Venezuela’s conservative attitudes toward gender roles and identity. She studied communications and audiovisual arts at the Universidad Católica Andrés Bello (UCAB), a private Jesuit university that is also the employer and alma mater of Adrián, a renowned LGBT rights activist and UCAB law professor who is the main character in the film.
It was in the halls of the university that Daniel Ruiz Huek, the producer of Yo, Indocumentada, met Adrián for the first time. Struck by the irony of a transgender woman teaching in an environment dominated by men and machismo, Ruiz Huek invited Baranenko to collaborate on a project about Adrián’s life. They soon embarked on a two-year journey to document her case, one of the most emblematic accounts of transphobia in Venezuela.
Although the Bolivarian Constitution prohibits any form of discrimination, transgender Venezuelans have no legal mechanism to change their names. Adrián petitioned the Tribunal Supremo de Justicia (Supreme Justice Tribunal) in May 2004 to legally change her given name from Tomás to Tamara, but despite Adrián’s reputation as a lawyer and the fact that she succeeded in presenting her case to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Adrián’s cédula de identidad (national ID) and all forms of identification still recognize her as Tomás. Eight years later, she is still fighting to change her name.
After researching LGBT rights in Venezuela for a year, Baranenko filmed Yo, Indocumentada in Caracas in 2010 with funding from the Centro Nacional Autónomo de Cinematografía (National Autonomous Center for Cinematography), the state entity that promotes and regulates Venezuelan filmmaking. Since it premiered in May 2012, the film has received positive reviews from LGBT and human rights organizations in Venezuela, as well as recognition in film festivals throughout the region.
Baranenko credits the success of the film to her decision to tell the story as one about civil rights, which “helped viewers identify with the characters.” She adds, “Transgender individuals must be seen as normal people whose rights deserve to be recognized.”
Baranenko hopes the film will break stereotypes—such as those that associate transexuality with prostitution. Her next project is a feature film based on Adrián’s life, which she is co-writing with renowned Venezuelan director Elia Schneider.