Paul B. Preciado turned a 100-year-old Virginia Woolf novel into a trans cinema masterpiece
Orlando: My Political Biography is an extraordinary manifesto and generation-spanning reflection on trans life
Here & Queer is an interview series hosted by Peter Knegt that celebrates and amplifies the work of LGBTQ artists through unfiltered conversations.
"Someone once asked me, 'Why don't you write your biography?," Paul B. Preciado narrates in his new film Orlando: My Political Biography. "I replied, 'Because f--king Virginia Woolf wrote my biography in 1928.'"
That thought was essentially the catalyst of Preciado's inventive and bold blurring of reality and fiction, which brings together 26 contemporary trans and non-binary people, aged 8 to 70, to play the title character in Woolf's iconic 94-year-old book Orlando.
The great queer film critic B. Ruby Rich has already called it "the first real trans masterpiece," and audiences will soon be able to see why as the film opens in theatres across North American this November.
We were privileged enough to have Preciado — who, beyond this film, is a celebrated writer, philosopher and curator whose work often focuses gender and sexuality — stop by the set of Here & Queer to talk about the film. You can watch the episode below:
Like many, Preciado first encountered Woolf's book was when he was a teenager in school.
"For people that maybe don't know, I was born in Spain in the 1970s," Preciado explains. "It was still the time of Franco. We were still under a kind of fascist regime. So reading this book at school, for me it was groundbreaking."
"Of course, I was not in a class where anyone said to me, 'This is a trans book' or something like that. Absolutely not. It was supposed to be a book of adventures."
At that time, Preciado said he felt like a non-binary person but couldn't name that feeling. But then he read Orlando.
"The book gave me the possibility of imagining my life differently, much more than anything else," Preciado says. "Because if I looked around, nothing would allow me to think of myself as a non-binary person or as a trans person. In the book, it was possible. So as soon as I read Orlando, I said to myself, 'Well, if this is possible, then I might have the chance of living the life that I want to live.'"
Decades later, Preciado took that moment as an entry point into his first foray into filmmaking, which ultimately proved a life-affirming experience in itself.
"It's an amazing political journey for all of us," he says. "Seeing the eight-year-old kids speaking with the 70-year-olds, it gave all of us the sense that we belong to a larger genealogy of struggle and resistance and survival. As we used to say, 'We are here and we queer.' With this it's like: 'We are here, we are non-binary, we will always be here and we are alive."
Orlando: My Political Biography opens in cinemas this November. For Canadian screenings, check the distributor's website.