Hot Docs ’22: Framing Agnes obscures its own powerful premise and story

Framing Agnes / Hot Docs

In the 1950s and 60s, researchers at UCLA conducted a study into sex disorders. The resulting archive of data contains a cross-section of trans history in the form of interviews conducted with the study’s participants. One of the participants -a woman known only as Agnes- used the study to receive gender-affirming care and then seemingly disappeared.

With Framing Agnes, director Chase Joynt takes a handful of the stories collected in the UCLA study and presents them to the audience. The interviews themselves are re-framed as interviews on a late-night talk show and performed by trans performers. The performers themselves, along with trans researcher and advocate Jules Gill-Peterson, are also given the opportunity to reflect on the people they are portraying as well as their own life experiences.

The former is a brilliant take. Unfortunately, the latter interrupts the stories that we really want to hear. To put it more succinctly: Framing Agnes fails to get out of its own way.

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