Carmen Moore isn't your typical up-and-coming Native actress, nor is her role in Drunktown's Finest, which premieres at the Sundance Film Festival on Saturday, January 18, the sort of character we've seen before in Native film. Moore, a transgender woman with a career in the adult industry, plays Felixia, also transgender, who is trying to figure out her place in the world while harboring a professional ambition that seems out of reach. Moore spoke with Alex Jacobs about this unique part and unique film.
So you’re Native American?
Yes, I was born and raised on the Navajo Reservation in Arizona, I’m based in Las Vegas now, been living here for about seven years.
Can you give us a quick read on the film and your character?
It's about three young Native Americans growing up on the rez. Morningstar Angeline as Nizhoni Smilesis a Christian who was adopted by a non-Native family, she’s going to go to college but she’s also trying to fit in with other Navajos. Jeremiah Bitsui’s character is rebellious, a gang banger, he’s going to be a father, going to join the military, he has a lot of issues. Felixia is my character, she’s aspires to be a model but is routinely rejected, because she’s a transgender woman, just like I am. At first she’s promiscuous, she wants to be loved by men and accepted by women. She wants to be accepted by those surrounding her, but that’s not really happening. They all find out in the end that it’s family that will always accept and support you.
You have had a career working in adult movies, so being on set, being in front of the camera is not new to you. Did that give you an advantage in bringing Felixia to the screen?
With the other work I do, I had confidence. I felt I could bring the character to life. It was challenging but nobody would’ve done a better job than me. Sydney Freeland is such a great director, I had no problem being in front of the camera, and she kept at me, saying “You’ve been there before, remember what it was like and how you reacted.” She brought it all out of me. It was easy being myself on camera but it was also hard bringing up some of those memories. It was all hidden until I had to bring it out. It was a state of mind I could get into and it just exuded on camera, I guess.
So you'd agree that there is a lot of of Carmen in Felixia?
Yes, I’ve gone through everything Felixia has. Being rejected, harassed, looking for acceptance, looking for a partner to love you back. In the movie she is promiscuous at first, going from man to man. She is looking and looking for any acceptance. I’m lucky in that my family supported me, my grandparents were very loving. There’s acceptance with being Nadleeh, a Two Spirit person. And I did leave the rez to go out into the world. I’ve already gone through all that. Now I have found love and I’m very happy about that. Very happy.
You feel accepted now as a woman?
Yes, I’m happy with my life, I feel accepted everywhere I go. I feel like a normal woman, and that’s what feels good. I’ve been going through this transition and I’m exuding confidence in public.
Do you feel like you’re part of the LGBT community?
I don’t really belong to any community. I want to keep feeling like a normal woman, I don’t feel like I have to make any statements, none of us should be labelled at all. I believe in equality for all people, in transgender rights, in freedom of speech. I have the same issues as most other women, except I can’t get married. (We then had a discussion that the New Mexico Supreme Court just clarified the right of gays to marry, as an equality issue.)
Is this your first indie film? What was it like getting the call for this film and what were you thinking when you started?
It’s my first Indie film, outside of adult movies. Well, I did audition for the part. Sydney wanted me to try for the part, she thought I could do it. So when I got it I was so happy. I guess I never expected to get the part, never expected any of this type of attention, to be able to change things in my life, to be involved in such a great project. But I’m very glad I did it. I was so happy, I was on cloud nine. Once I got into the filming, I felt very confident that I could bring a lot to this role. I knew that these were real feelings and I’ve had them before, wanting to leave the rez, to go out into the world, looking for acceptance.
What about during the filming, on location around the Navajo Nation, there were so many Native actors and people involved, that must have been some experience.
Yes, it was a great experience! Personally I haven’t been back to the rez in years. I recognized places, memories came back, it was emotional.
How are you and your fellow cast members feeling about the premiere at Sundance? You know it’s going to be a big movie, lots of attention, and you’re probably going to be tagged as a role model.
I’m so excited, we all worked so hard on the film. I’m so nervous, it’s my first time, I’ve never been to anything like Sundance, with all the actors and fans and press. I just want people to know my capabilities, that hopefully I will transition from adult movies to Indies and features. As for being a role model, I’m just an everyday person, I wouldn’t want to be labelled, to be known just for that. But I hope I can be known for transitioning into feature films and changing my career. And yes, I’ve counselled transgender girls before. If I’ve been through it, experienced it, then I can counsel others who need advice. Girls can just ask me.
What did you think when you were presented with this premise about Gallup as Drunktown USA, the country’s worst. It’s like we all could write a story, a terrible story, with just a few facts and the stories we’ve all heard. So where does this movie take us instead?
I don’t really know about the "Drunktown" thing. I think the story presents itself to the audience from the beginning that these characters are portraying real life, of growing up on the rez, and not everyone has grown up on the rez so it’s important to show what it’s like. I think everyone did such a great job that viewers will get it right away. It’s a good story and a good movie. It’s not about Drunktown, it’s about family, it’s about real life.
So I’m guessing this film project must’ve energized, motivated, and inspired the cast and crew and all the Native people on location. And now the Sundance Festival.
I’ve never experienced this before. Everyone was working so hard, doing 12 hour days. You know I felt, “This Is It, I got to give it my all, it’s now or never.” And I got spoiled, with all the hair and makeup, the wardrobe, picking out what Felixia would do and wear, sometimes using my own personal things. I could just roll over and someone would do my hair and make-up, that was fun. I’m feeling confident now and looking forward to Sundance and hanging with the cast, networking, transitioning.