M.I. - A Different Kind Of Girl

by Jake Mulligan

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Saturday October 6, 2012

M.I. - A Different Kind Of Girl

"M.I., A Different Type of Girl" illuminates an underrepresented subculture, and in that finds a fresh spin on the age-old questions of gender identity and our response to it. Drag queens are the subject of many a documentary, narrative feature, and even sometimes major releases (hello, "Kinky Boots"!) Drag kings, on the other hand, are hardly represented even within the context of an LGBT film festival. Leslye Cunningham's short feature (it clocks in slightly under an hours length; perfect for the intimate, small-scale story it aims to tell) blends together verite style performance footage, one-on-one interviews, landscape shots, and more to create something that, despite its flaws, has something to say in both a very specific and very broad sense.

With its sub-feature length running time and slightly haphazard construction, "M.I." can't compete with the professionalism and dedication behind some of its comparable competitors. But it is a perfect fit for those looking for something quick yet substantial to watch (it's available for rent on Amazon video-on-demand for a few dollars,) and also for those with an hour to kill at a film festival. Cunningham breezes through her numerous interviews with a digestible pace, profiling Laine Brown, a 'Male Illusionist' who spends her nights (she, along with her troupe mates, rejects the 'trans-' label,) as Nation Tyre, the talk of North Carolina's male impersonating scene.

It's from her story that the majority of Cunningham's observations originate; Brown's pulled and pushed into gender roles from all angles. Her group wants her to be "harder," to disappear into the role of a man, on and off the stage, 24 hours a day. Her family wants her to be more feminine, to abandon her performances, and to fit into a more "traditional" gender role. Tyre, on the other hand, simply desires her freedom, her ability to be what she wants; to embrace gender as a spectrum rather than a constant.

It's in this hypocrisy that Cunningham's vision seems to peek through: Tyre's troupe is being just as cruel to her as her family, or her society (should you want to push the blame that far). Here's a film that says gender is what you make of it, what you feel - not what you're born with, or what anyone tells you to be.

In turning her eyes on prejudices within the African American community (the film takes place mainly in black neighborhoods in North Carolina) and within the drag community (who also find themselves pushing Tyre in directions she'd rather not go,) Cunningham presents the idea of prejudices, and of 'putting people into a box', as a natural human urge, a knee-jerk reaction we all succumb to, rather than a symptom of a broken culture. Whether we can learn to embrace people for exactly who they are remains to be seen, but what we do know is that Tyre will go on with her stunning work as an 'Illusionist,' with or without the people trying to shape her.