These Transgender Filipinas Are Philippine Cinema’s Historic Trailblazers

Unstoppable and groundbreaking Filipinas.

From Kaladkaren’s recent historic win to the Pinay director who rewrote the history of the oldest film festival in the world, here are the transgender Filipinas who proved they are queens of Filipino cinema.

Representation in film matters because it has the power to shape public perception and influence cultural attitudes towards different groups of people. For members of historically marginalized communities, such as the transgender community, representation can be especially impactful, as it can break down harmful stereotypes and misconceptions. 

Thanks to the passion, dedication, and groundbreaking successes of the following transgender Filipinas in the film industry, the colorful and complex experience of the trans community becomes more visible and the discourse on acceptance and inclusivity is furthered. The trailblazing queens that they are, here are the Pinays who shattered glass ceilings with their cinematic talents.

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In 2013, Davaoeña actress Mimi Juareza broke a few records in Philippine cinema: she became the first transgender actress to win a lead acting honor at the Cinemalaya Philippine Independent Film Festival and (sadly) be nominated in the best actor category at the Gawad Urian Awards. Cinemalaya hailed Mimi’s performance as a conflicted mother in Eduardo Roy Jr.’s gritty drama Quick Change for her “bold take on a gender-bending role” and for “endowing [her] portrayal with a right mixture of repulsion and sympathy.”

Mimi accepted the Balanghai trophy in a stunning blue dress (as she should) and expressed her gratitude to the late director for his trust. “Binigyan mo kami ng konting espasyo sa Cinemalaya para makita ang maliit at makulay naming mundong mga transgender,” she said in her emotional acceptance speech. While Mimi should have been deservingly included in the best actress lineup, she knew then that for her work as a transgender actress to be recognized was already a win. “In my opinion, it doesn’t really matter what category they put me in,” she says in an interview. “What’s important is that they noticed and valued my work in Quick Change.

At the 37th Gawad Urian Awards, Mimi Juareza stood proud in its best actor lineup with industry greats like the late Mark Gil, Joel Torre, Sid Lucero, Ping Medina, Alex Medina, and Jhong Hilario. Having worked as a singer in Japan for a decade, Mimi admits that she has already forgotten about her dream to become an actress and that it’s impossible for a transgender person to enter show business. Yet she persisted and proved herself wrong. After her historic win for Quick Change, Mimi would later star in Jun Robles Lana’s Die Beautiful and Eduardo Roy Jr.’s Fuccbois.


History books were rewritten again in 2018 when comedienne-actress Iyah Mina became the first-ever Filipino transgender woman to receive a best actress recognition. The longtime stand-up comedienne made her acting debut in Rod Singh’s equally groundbreaking offering, Mamu: And a Mother Too, as a trans woman sex worker, who suddenly has to be a foster mother to her transgender niece. “Ito po ay para sa trans community, sa LGBT,” an emotional Iyah Mina says in her acceptance speech. “Para sa atin ‘to. I-celebrate na natin ang equality. Babae ako!”


In an interview, director Rod Singh shares that one of her motivations in mind while she was writing Mamu was to have a first Filipino transgender woman win best actress. And while Iyah Mina has deservingly achieved this, Singh also has quite a historic feat herself. Apart from winning the audience choice and the best supporting actor (for Aaron Villaflor) awards in Cinema One Originals Film Festival on top of Iyah Mina’s trophy, Singh also received the best first feature film plum from the Young Critics Circle in 2019, the first trans woman director to ever get recognized in the award-giving body’s 29-year history.


Kaladkaren with her MMFF Summer Film Festival best supporting actress trophy

Another herstory was made just last week when host and comedienne Kaladkaren, nabbed the best supporting actress honors at the inaugural Summer Metro Manila Film Festival. She is the first transgender actress to win the award in the fest’s decade-spanning history and the first in, well, the history of Filipino cinema.  

For her role as pageant veteran Wilhelmina in Chris Martinez’s soul-swapping comedy Here Comes The Groom, Kaladkaren bested crowd favorite Maris Racal and newcomer Ana Abad Santos. “Itong parangal na ‘to ay hindi lamang po recognition ng aking trabaho kundi pati na rin ang aking pagkatao,” said Kaladkaren while in tears during the Gabi ng Parangal. 

“I wanna share this to all transgender people, drag artists, members of the LGBTQIA+ community,” she continues, “whose lives and existence are being threatened in the world right now, para sa inyo pong lahat ito. And I wanna remind all of you, that we are more than enough.”

In an interview with her “twin sister” Karen Davila, Kaladkaren shares how being nominated as an actress is already a “huge victory” for her and how being able to give life to a transgender character is a big hurrah for representation. “They respect my gender identity and gender recognition is important!” And just recently, Kaladkaren made yet another momentous feat as she became the first trans woman Star Patroller of TV Patrol, the country’s longest-running Tagalog news program.


Dubbed as the “queen of sensual cinema,” U.S.-based Filipina filmmaker and Academy member Isabel Sandoval is the writer, director, producer, editor, and lead actress in another groundbreaking cinematic offering, Lingua Franca. In the film, Isabel plays an undocumented Filipino trans woman caregiver faced with the threat of deportation and a complicated relationship with a lover, who’s oblivious to her true identity. A transgender woman auteur in her own right, Isabel made history in 2019 as the first trans woman director of color to screen in competition at the Venice International Film Festival, the oldest film fest in the world.

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